3 min 6 sec
Thanks to Dana Ross for the video and audio.
3 min 6 sec
Thanks to Dana Ross for the video and audio.
Understanding the makeup of light and shadow is a fundamental art tool. Indeed, you cannot create forms without it.
Three-Quarters Classic Light
A 3/4’s light is falling on this egg form. This means that 3/4’s of the object is directly lit and the rest of it is in shadow.
Four Key Elements
Just looking at the form, there are four elements: highlight, mid-tone, core shadow, and reflective light.
In the light: the mid-tone and the highlight are the areas that are being “hit” by the light source.
In the shadow: the core shadow and reflective light.
Mid-tone: The tricky part here is to mold your mid-tones so that they accent the form of the object. Artists tend to flatten their mid-tones by making them too light, and by making the contrast between the core shadow and the mid-tone too strong. It’s crucial to round the shapes with your mid- tones, and it helps to have them become darker and blend a little bit with your core shadow.
Highlight: To be effective, the highlight has to pop a bit. It should be many tones lighter than the other tones.
Core shadow: The core shadow runs along where the light ends, and the shadow begins. This is perhaps the most difficult part for artists to get right. It is not intuitive to darken an area inside the outline/edge/contour of the shape. One common problem is that many artists make the outside edge the darkest. This will flatten your form. Therefore, look for the darkest part of the form to be near where the light ends and shadows begin.
Reflective light: The reflective light compliments the core shadow and rounds off the form of the object. One mistake to look for is that the reflective light is not a bright light. Think of it as the moon compared with the sun. If you make it too bright, you kill off the direct light hitting the light side of the form.
Two Elements that Complete the Picture
Cast shadow: Here is a tutorial about cast shadows.
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of rounding off the mid-tones and not making them too light. After you get the forms looking great in the mid-tone section, you can achieve a sense of light in that mid-tone area by making your negative space darker at the outside edge of the form.
Here, I have backlit the form, but you will see that the same essential ingredients make up this form. It has about 1/5 of its surface in light, the rest in shadow. The sliver of light has a highlight and mid-tone. The shadow area is dominated by a large reflective light area capped by a core shadow skirting the light area.
Backlighting is a device that Bouguereau often uses to light his people, and Disney films tend to light people with a similar light creating a silver lining effect.
da Vinci, Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is a textbook on how light falls on forms. Here are all the key aspects.
Just as knowing anatomy is a great tool for figurative artists, knowing the anatomy of light fall is a phenomenal resource for creating forms bathed in light.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the anatomy of light.
New York, July 11, 2007
Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting
Part 2, Color
This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are a means to place identities/forms through spatial depth.
In Part 1 I discussed how this theory works with gray tonal scales and in paintings with limited color range. Let’s see what happens when we introduce intense colors.
It’s important to note that contrast in color is not so much about light and dark but, rather, it is about color opposites. For example here is a classic color wheel in which opposite colors, also known as complimentary colors, are juxtaposed. Three major contrasts are:
Red vs. Green
Blue vs. Orange
Yellow vs. Violet
In this diagram, blue-violet is the background color and the discs that come the closest to it in color recede, while the yellow one, its opposite, pops forward.
Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, September 1888
Oil on canvas, 81 x 65.5 cm
Rijksmuseum Kroller-Mueller, Otterlo
This Van Gogh painting has an intense blue background and the orange-yellow café comes forward. Notice the buildings beyond the café are variations on darks and blues. The window straight up above the café is literally transparent but if you look closely you will see the blue sky winking throughout sections of the buildings, giving them a transparent quality as well.
Shifting to the opposite extreme from blue we go to a scarlet background. The light turquoise disc comes forward.
In art school I was taught that cool colors go back and warm colors come forward, this diagram contradicts that idea.
Van Gogh,Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, 1889
Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Intense yellow-orange sky and ground. The green silvery leaves of the olive trees come forward to us. The ground recedes towards the sky as it gets intensely orange.
I think you are getting the idea of the diagrams. You can take any color as a background, mix in a few closely matching colors and then smack in an opposite color; it will pop forward.
Newberry, Pastels, 1991, oil on wood, 11 x 14 inches.
This still life has a red background. Notice the wood base underneath the pastel boxes at the upper right side of the canvas–it is intensely colored with oranges which help it recede from us towards the red floor. Also notice the box of red, orange, and magenta pastels and how it is visually underneath the “blue” box with its “cool” colors popping forward.
Van Gogh, Irises, 1890
Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 29 in. (92 x 73.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam
Three things here to notice:
1) The intense blue irises that overhang in front of the jar.
2) The color of the irises that drop behind the jar have more yellow mixed in with the blue. This is a less intense blue of the forward flowers which helps increase the distance between them.
3) The central highlight on the vase is transparent, almost the same color as the background. This helps increase the distance between it and the intense blue flowers in front.
Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55 x 36 inches
There is a combination of both the high contrast of light and dark, and the color contrast between the orange and the blue. Notice the spatial distance between his left foot and the right. The left foot has a lot of blue mixed in with it to help it recede. Like in the example of the irises of Van Gogh. Notice also the contrast of light and dark of the tip of his head at his hairline and compare that to the less intense contrast of the lights and darks of his shoulders.
Look at the arch of the blue sky and how it recedes towards a pale magenta at the horizon. Notice how the water mirrors the sky in this same manner.
On the left see the intense orange of the trees and notice how they are closer to us than the trees on the right. And look how the trees further away from us have a much more pale magenta mixed in with them.
Another thing is the high contrast of color of the orange reflections of the trees and the blue sky on the water, shooting the water underneath our feet.
Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are a means to place identities/forms through spatial depth.
I hope you enjoyed my idea on how artists have used transparency and contrast to create spatial depth on a two-dimensional surface.
New York, July 31st, 2006
This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.
We have examples of artworks from 30,000 years ago to the present in which artists have worked with spatial depth in their drawings and paintings. I have been fascinated by this phenomenon and, for years, I have asked myself how did these artists achieve these startling effects. The result of my query is the formulation of the concept that:
Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are the means to place forms in spatial depth.
Transparency will place the forms in depth away from us, and contrast will raise them towards us.
Great artists are doing other spatial things as well: lighting, modeling form, and perspective drawing. But for this talk, I will focus on this transparency issue.
The first figure shows a gradation of light to dark stripes on a white background. The stripes ascend like steps towards us as they get darker. The darkest “pops” out in contrast to the white background. Conversely, the lightest of the stripes recedes into the distance of the white surface.
Chauvet Cave, 30,000 B.C.
Horses’ Heads from the Chauvet Cave dated 30,000 years ago. Notice the gray scale of the receding heads and the black modeling of the head closest to us. Also, notice how the light gray of the surface also comes through the receding heads literally making them transparent.
When the background changes to black, the principle of transparency still holds true. The closer to a black tone the background becomes the discs further recede; the white pops forward.
Here we have two white discs, a large and a small one; now we have an example of perspective; the bigger one comes a bit more forward than the small one.
Rembrandt, Hendrickje Bathing in a River, 1654
Oil on panel, 61.8 x 47 cm
National Gallery, London
Due to the extreme lightness of her body, she comes forward off the background off the dark background. Notice the transparency of her left shoulder; it sends her left arm back away from her chest. Rembrandt is working with a gray/brown/black scale, not with a full range of color. He sets objects back by making them merge to this dark tone. Compare the brilliant lightness of her shift to the middle tone glow of the material behind her on the bank. Her lightness is popping her forward.
Here we have a gray background, the discs that come forward have become either more white or black respectively.
Michelangelo, Christ on the Cross
In Michelangelo’s Christ the closest part of his body to us is his right knee, then it would be his right big toe, and then his left chest. These areas have the greatest contrast between light and dark. Compare the high contrast of tone of his right foot to the more muted left foot behind. Or compare the transparent area of his left knee to the intense light and dark of his right knee. Also, notice that his arms share a depth of space and have an equal range of tonal value that is less high in contrast as his forward knee. Also, notice how delicately transparent the background figures are.
I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting. Part 2 will cover how this theory works with color.
New York, May 2006
Molding a shape with light it is helpful if the light glows from inside then blur towards the edge.
Lights and Darks in 3’s by Michael Newberry
One big problem that artists face when developing light and shadow in a work is that they tend to have the exact same darks and lights scattered around the surface. The result is that it kills the life out of the drawing!
A great way to solve that problem is to celebrate a hierarchy of lights and darks. The simplest way to do that is to focus on three different tones of lights and darks.
Here I will take you through what I mean.
After I had lined up the proportions of Kelly, I was ready to organize my tones.
The real-life background was a dark, cobalt blue felt air mattress. Since the darkest object was going to be her hair, I chose the mattress as my 2nd darkest object.
Here I have two things blocked out–her dark hair and the background.
My choice for tones was not arbitrary. I compared and contrasted all the tones in my field of vision. Kelly has a lovely light skin, so I knew she was going to be the lightest thing in the drawing, even though she was predominately in shadow.
After I mildly block out the light of the floor I was ready to start on her. The light on her leg looks almost shockingly bright, but, technically, I knew that brighter whites were to me.
For you artists, I was using soft charcoal pencils and a kneaded eraser. The kneaded erasers are wonderful for lightening the paper, yet it takes some hard erasers to bring out the brightest whites.
For the lights, the highlights on her shoulder, breast, and forearm are the brightest. The rest of her body is the second brightest while the surface of the floor is the least bright.
Towards the end of the drawing is the easiest place to lose sight of your hierarchy of the lights and darks. For example, I began to add the details of the shadows and highlights of the mattress’ circular cushions. There were many really dark shadows, and, of course, the mistake would have been to make them as dark as her hair. So it took some discipline to make them as dark as possible without stepping over the boundary to my darkest black.
The consequence is that her hair has a kind of brilliant, rich freshness to it that would have been lost otherwise.
It should be a lot of fun for you to try this technique out–or to look for a hierarchy of lights and darks in other artists’ works. Enjoy.
New York, September 17th, 2006
Advancements in Painting Light by Michael Newberry
Light delights us. In paintings is easy to see, but the development of it through history is anything but simple.It has been the focus of some of the world’s greatest artists. It is worthwhile to get a glimpse of some of the innovative artworks that advanced light in painting.
Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514
Light in a painting is tied primarily to the form of the objects. Also, it has a yin/yang relationship to shadow. No shadow, no light. An artist will use light and shadow to mold forms.
These horses’ heads from the Chauvet Caves in France are a great example of forming with light and shadow. It is awe-inspiring that this artist had this knowledge 30,000 years ago.
In contrast to the Horses’ Heads, this flat image of a Minoan fisherman is without light. It is a fresco painting from Santorini, 1650-1500 b.c. The images are recognizable by their blocked-out silhouettes (like a cardboard cut-out).
I really like the colors and the balanced silhouettes of this image, but it lacks the substance of light and form.
The addition of light complicates visual imagery. It catapults a flat image into a 3D universe. It imbues the image with more weight and realism–closer to how we see real objects.
Here we can make out shadows molding the mouths, eyes, chins, and undersides of their arms.
In these Pompeii frescos in Italy, we get some idea of what might have been classical Greek painting.
The environment is bathed in light. Notice the hierarchy, a key component in creating light, from the bright light behind the two woman and the more muted light between the bull’s legs.
Also, notice the light’s sweep up the half-naked woman’s torso.
Europa and the Bull, 1st C. AD, Pompeii
This is a great example of the artist using light to bring out the form of anatomy. Notice the flicks of highlight along the man’s arm. And the flow of light along the woman’s torso.
Renaissance artists’ works are noted for attention to extravagant details. In The Arnoflini Portrait below notice the tour de force of exquisite details. The painting is very neatly broken down to each object’s color group: brown for the fur of the coat and dog; pale flesh tone for the people; red, green, and purple for the clothes.
The light here takes a subservient role. It is used to simply set off all the details of the objects. Light is coming from behind our left shoulder. But there is also light coming in from the left far window, behind the couple. This can set up objects competing with each other for our attention.
In this da Vinci we have one light source, unlike the van Eyck work above.
Here is an important, though a subtle difference in developing light in painting. Notice the women’s shoulders. Van Eyck used just enough light to give shape to the green cloth and white scarf. In contrast to that, da Vinci cloaked a sheen of light over both her flesh and cloth of her shoulder.
Raphael makes a great breakthrough with the light in The Dilerverence of St. Peter below. He takes the idea of the halo, yet he wants to make it feel real. Behind the angel is glowing light, as if the light was coming from the end of a tunnel.
An interesting phenomenon is the transparency of the angel and it’s wing tips. Often I have shown students a fact of how translucency works. You need to have a bright window in a room full of shadow. Then you hold up your finger: half of it against the light and the other half against the shadow. Then you squint looking at your finger. You will see a very delicate border dividing your finger, making it literally transparent–exactly like the angel’s wings here.
The flatness of this symbolic halo is a good contrast to the realism of the Raphael. Actually, there is some effect of light on his forehead, collar, and hand, but the light is by no means consistent.
Caravaggio went after light with a vengeance. He dramatically contrasted light adjacent to dark. Notice the boy’s eye with its startling brilliant highlight and almost black shadow.
In exploring these high contrasts, Caravaggio ran into some spatial difficulties–Goliath’s head doesn’t feel like it is a yard in front of David. Rather, it rests on the same plane. Contrast with the Rembrandt below.
On the other side of Europe, Rembrandt was taking light further than any previous artist. Rembrandt spotlighted the people and things in his paintings. He used light to highlight the things he wanted us to focus on. But he also solved the difficult problem of spatial relationships. It is quite simple for us to track the spatial relationships of all the people in his painting. Contrast that with the David above.
It is interesting that The Night Watch setup is similar to the van Eyck couple portrait. In both paintings, there are two light sources, one from behind us left, and from further back left.
The key difference between the two paintings is Van Eyck used light to heighten all the details, while Rembrandt stylized the light, making everything else subservient.
It is impossible to talk about light in painting and not include Vermeer. Radically different than Rembrandt in style, Vermeer pushed the envelope of how far one could realistically perceive light.
I could spend volumes in comparing nuances of light effects here. Let me just point out one for now.
The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61
Just above her head there is an extremely subtle pink tint, somewhat in the shape of a rectangle. It is probably the cast light formed by the shape of the window. Lower right, behind her body, are several, increasing subtle shifts of cooler colors than the pink tint above.
Vermeer’s eye probably sees more nuanced light shifts than any other artist, before or since.
This is part 1 in the innovation series on light. In part 2 I will show how artists developed the light based on complimentary colors.
New York, September 24, 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.
Denouement, 1987, oil on linen (Black/white photo)
Here is a side by side comparison of Counterpose in color and without.
The next tutorial on integration will be about the high contrast of color in Counterpose.
New York, July 28th, 2006
Integration, Part 2: Color by Michael Newberry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New York, September 17th, 2006
Charcoal Drawing Part 2 by Michael Newberry
In Charcoal Drawing Part 1 you will find what are quality materials you need to get the best results.
With this tutorial, I will take you through the drawing stages.
The preparation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Now that you have prepared the paper you are ready to roll.
The charcoal rub on the paper is neither black nor light, but solidly in the middle of the tonal range. Here I am drawing with General’s charcoal pencil 6b. You will notice that I hold the pencil at the back end. It may not seem important, but you might be amazed at how the mark making becomes more fluid.
After the drawing the composition, I begin to “block” out the darker areas using the soft compressed charcoal stick. Notice that with this too I hold it lightly at the back end. My preference is to drag the charcoal barely touching down on the paper.
Shadows are s difficult business, it is crucial that they feel mysterious and transparent. If you are too firm they will “sit” on the surface, destroying the spatial depth, and any hope of the drawing creating a feeling of light.
Using a kneaded eraser I block out the lighter areas, but only a small degree. As with the charcoal, lightly drag the kneaded eraser over the paper. I tend at this stage to draw and erase with uniform rows of lines, a la da Vinci. This keeps the whole image calm, and uniform.
Below, I roll the kneaded eraser into a nub, which I use to erase the charcoal. These erasers need to be kneaded. If not, the charcoal cakes it. Think of a dishwasher sponge covered in bacon fat. That analogy is a little extreme, but just keep kneading the eraser, and it will stay fresh and clean for a long time.
Here are the results of blocking out both the lights and darks.
Below, I start refining the details I see, both erasing and drawing.
Now I am at a difficult stage. The drawing is set up well, but I have to drive it home. Most important now is to clearly visualize the where the objects are in space. I compare the front corner of the glass vase, with other corners, and with the back and front of the table. Below you can see I am accenting the front corner with darker marks, which helps the corner pop forward.
While I am drawing and looking at details, I am squinting most of the time. Squinting enables us to see the nuance of tones and the essential details of light and shadow.
The kneading eraser will only wipe out so much of the charcoal. To make the brightest lights, the Pink Pearl eraser does an outstanding job. It is too powerful for the subtle earlier stages but perfect for slashing the shimmering brights.
Newberry, Glass Vase, 2012, charcoal on Rives BFK, 22 x 14 inches.
I hope you enjoyed seeing erasers in a fresh way.
Los Angeles, May 2012