Details Don’t Mean A Thing If They Ain’t Got That Swing

Details Don’t Mean A Thing
If They Ain’t Got That Swing by Michael Newberry

da Vinci detail

Artists often agonize over the completion of a painting. The bugaboo for many realists is the detailing. Details are the crowning touches and yet, more often than not, they can rob the painting of its vitality.There are many great artists that manage to solve the “detail” problem. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is brimming with life and her famous smile is one of the most detailed details of any painting. I have viewed her close up and have seen how da Vinci has broken down the form of her lips into hundreds of tiny planes.So why is it that when other artists pay special attention to details, they do not come up the same results? I believe the answer lies in the swing of the big forms. In other words, details only work when they maintain the integrity of the big forms and their place in space.

da Vinci

Da Vinci, Mona Lisa

Stepping back and looking at the Mona Lisa as a whole, you can see that her head “sits” in the middle foreground, while her chest and hands rotate towards us, “locking into” the foreground.

da Vinci demo

Here you can get a sense of “leap-frogging” from her hand in the immediate foreground, to the corner of her breast, and then further back to her lips.If da Vinci had painted too strong of contrasts or gave too much, or too little, volume to her lips, he would have killed the lively dynamic of the swing of the forms through space.

There is no simple technique for placing objects in space. The contrast of light, dark, and color play a role, as well as high definition, perspective, and expanding the forms. All of these contribute to bringing objects forward. Transparency, less contrast, and blurring help make forms recede.

Rembrandt
Rembrandt, Young Woman at the Window

Very similar in the setup as the Mona Lisa is this Rembrandt. Her head “sits” in the middle foreground and the corner of the breast comes forward.

Rembrandt demo

If you look for it, you will see how Rembrandt is wrapping the figure in light; he is swinging the light current around, behind, and up front on her form.

Rembrandt detail

Notice the meticulous detail of the leather cord and metal key around her neck.

Rembrandt detail

The earring also has extremely fine detailing, yet it occupies space way behind that of the cord and key.

Picasso woman_and_child
Picasso, Mother and Child

An interesting contrast to the above paintings is this Picasso. It is all form with very little detail. It is extremely deceptive in its simplicity. All the forms work in space as they do in the Rembrandt and da Vinci.

It only takes a little painting experience to discover that details are time exhaustive. Picasso opted to save time and sacrifice details.

If you are detail orientated, try to establish the big forms, like Picasso, has done above, and then embellish the forms with as much detail you like. Be careful not to flatten the form!

Beert1600

Beert, @1600, Still Life of Flowers

Here is a 16th/17th Century Flemish still-life. It is loaded with detail, but it is a flat painting. It is as if the flowers have been compressed and share a two-inch space of depth; as if the flowers have been painted from side to side, but not front to back. I would call this an example of indiscriminate detailing. The artist is not considering the interrelationship of the flowers’ positions nor their forms, hence, sacrificing the vitality of depth for superficial decoration.

The swing of forms through space excite eye movement and, for many observers, this creates an emotional response. Details that embellish and complete the forms bring with them an irresistible reality. Adding details to big forms is a tour de force of artistic skill.I hope you enjoyed seeing art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, November 18th, 2006

Integration, Part 1: Light

Integration, Part 1: Light by Michael Newberry

Integration is, perhaps, the most complex problem in making art. Often it is the cause of an artist’s agony and ecstasy.In this series on integration, each tutorial will focus on one problem and show how the solution fits into the whole.

The theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. At that time in my life, it reflected my quest to pull together many different aspects of art and life and to balance them.

I have removed the color from this image so that we can focus on the tonal values of the light.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo

Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″ (Black/white photo)
Notice the dramatic difference between the highlights on her face and fingers and the dark casted shadows. I am purposefully using light and shadow to support the painting’s theme of contrast.

In the orange circle, you can see the high contrast of the fabric of the folds.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo
Almost every part of her body has an element of contrast between the light and shadow. You will notice that the highest contrasts are in the foreground and as parts of her body recede away from us the contrast diminishes. This also allows for her body to be integrated into space, which, of course, is another tutorial.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo
As a foil to Counterpose, the theme of Denouement is about the radiance of love. It has a much softer, diffused light which radiates out from the lamp on the floor.

Though these b/w photos are of the finished paintings in color, I did paint a monochromatic underpainting for both of them. The advantage of monochromatic under-painting is that it is easier to organize all the tonal values and details without the added worry of the hue (color values) of things.

If you are a painter struggling with a mess that isn’t coming together, take the color out and it will immediate help pull the work together. From that point, go back into color, carefully matching the color with your monochromatic tonal values.

Newberry, b/w of Denouement

Denouement, 1987, oil on linen (Black/white photo)

Here is a side by side comparison of Counterpose in color and without.

Newberry, Counterpose contrast

The next tutorial on integration will be about the high contrast of color in Counterpose.
Michael Newberry
New York, July 28th, 2006

Integration, Part 2: Color

Integration, Part 2: Color by Michael Newberry

Newberry, Counterpose demo

Newberry, Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″
In the tutorial, Integration of Light, I mentioned that the theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. I showed how I painted extreme contrasts in light and dark. In this tutorial, I am showing how, keeping to the theme of contrast, I painted extremes of color contrasts.

The main color theme is about the contrast of her hot red hair and warm colors of her body with the cool blues of the futon cover.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

Perhaps more important than that, and perhaps much more subtle is the color contrast between the objects in the light and the objects in shadow.

The set up started with a yellowish-orange incandescent light bulb, which gave the objects yellowish highlights.
Here, in the areas circled with blue, I am showing the violet and blue-violet shadows on her body. Her foot is shaped with light and dark violets, yet her foot is essentially bathed in shadow; it is not touched by the direct yellow light.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

The contrast between violet shadows and yellow highlights is one of the most radical color contrasts possible. And yet, I believe, I have given them a natural-looking, harmonious glow.

To understand how color contrast works, a color wheel is indispensable. It is out of the scope of this tutorial to discuss how a color wheel is based upon natural visual phenomena; for the moment trust me on that.

Newberry, Counterpose demo colorwheel

The classic contrasts are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet. One reason they are considered opposites is that when you mix them you get a non-color; something neither gray nor brown.

When you juxtapose contrasting colors they serve a bit like contrasting black and white, you get an intense burst of color vibration. If you put violet next to yellow, it pops and excites the eye.

Here I outlined a few of the highlights on the blue fabric. These highlights have a slight greenish tint to them because of the yellow light. If you add yellow light to blue cloth you get green.

Newberry, Counterpose
As we get further away from the direct yellow light that is smacking green at the front the futon, the blue of the futon merges progressively with the violet color.

Newberry, Counterpose demo
Whether it is a high contrast of color in the light, or the color contrast of flesh, cloth, background, and hair in this painting, you will find an endless kaleidoscope of pure color contrasts: blue vs. orange, yellow vs. violet, and red vs. green.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

As simple as Counterpose may look, it’s a very complex painting with many variations on the theme of a harmony of contrasts.

Next in the series on integration I will be discussing how her pose embellishes the theme.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 17th, 2006