Rhythm a Beautiful Way to Organize Chaos

Rhythm a Beautiful Way to Organize Chaos by Michael Newberry

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Joseph, acrylic, 16 x 12 inches.

This is a portrait of a friend, architect Joseph Castro, with dark brown leather as the backdrop.

Any complex subject is visually chaotic; with incongruent shapes and lots of details. When you look at something like a person’s face or a panoramic landscape there are a million things to look at – out of all that stuff which do you draw/paint? One of the fun and great challenges for an artist is to organize this chaos in a meaningful way through the use of visual rhythms.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Joseph in conversation would often raise his eyebrow and curl his lip. I noticed how these two things curved into arches, and arches would become the visual theme.

Visual rhythms are made up of similar or complementary angles, contours, or lines.

In the process of composing painting I was looking for shapes and lights that could “double” for an “arch.” Was it possible that I could accent an arch of the lip, nose, brow, collar, or ear?

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

The more I looked for them the more I saw “arches” everywhere. A consequence of looking for rhythms is that you don’t get lost in details but are constantly looking over the whole painting.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Here you can see all the rhythms of detail of shapes and light I was seeing in his face. I would like to mention that I was not making them up where I did not see them in real life.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

The folds in the leather background were perfect for finding more “arches” to accent and to integrate the whole painting.
Michael Newberry

Advancements in Painting Light

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

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.

Chauvet Caves Horses
Horses’ Heads, Chauvet Caves, 30,000 b.c.

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.

Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
There are few examples of ancient Greek painting. Here is one faded example from the tomb site of Alexander the Great’s immediate family.

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.

 Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai.
Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai. The only complete example of an ancient Greek painting that has yet been found.

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.

Roman Europa

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.

Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern  Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern
Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern

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.
The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

In this da Vinci we have one light source, unlike the van Eyck work above.

Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5
Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5

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.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

leonardo-da-vinci-lady-with-an-ermine

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.

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514
Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

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.

St. Nicholas, early 14th century
St. Nicholas, early 14th century

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.

David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610
David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610

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.

Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642
Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642

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.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

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

The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61

Vermeer Milkmaid demo light

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.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 24, 2007

Imagination

Imagination by Michael Newberry

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Imagination is one of the cornerstones of art. Its use can be quietly subtle, or flagrantly push beyond the bizarre, or inspire generations of people to dream beyond their immediate circumstances and envision a world of possibilities.

One of the more quiet ways to use imagination is to recreate a real scene from life, yet include additional real objects to complete the idea of the work. Here, David Gallup created an idyllic setting of the Pacific Ocean replete with dolphins, birds, and surfers.

Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946

Here Dali uses some realistic elements and then distorts aspects of them to create an imagined world in which the unbelievable interacts with the real.

Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881
Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881

A variation on the unbelievable subject with the real comes from Gerome’s Pygmalion and Galatea. He conveys the legend of the sculpture of Galatea being so perfect that the stone turned into living flesh. Gerome does make the far-fetched scene look as if this is really happening.

Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913
Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913

Kandinsky’s Sea Battle conveys a rather freewheeling imagination – an ambiguous collection of forms and colors. Is that a strawberry or blood? A wing of a bird or a splash of water? A sail? A rock? It’s rather like looking for animals, and things in the shapes of clouds.

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People uses a great deal of imagination in the subject, a half naked woman leading the masses in a revolt against a regime. Yet, the scene is meant to feel genuinely real–not like a surreal dream or like an impossible physical transformation.

By how an artist expresses their imagination, such as an escape, a playful distraction, as entertainment, or as a beacon, one can get some insights into the artist’s philosophy of life. And see something of your reflection as well.

I hope you enjoyed imagining art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, March 2009

Oil Paint Glazing

Oil Paint Glazing by Michael Newberry

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing is one of the greatest tools in the artists’ repertory that no artist should be without. It is relatively easy to do, creates beautiful luminosity, and can free a painter’s inhibitions.

There are many variations on glazing, but I would like to show you the method I like best.

For this demo, I am only glazing, but glazing also works great in combination with other painting techniques, and for delicate finishing touches.

Start here by drawing the composition with a soft and sharp charcoal pencil.

Glazing Technique Demo

Blend a little mars black and raw umber with lots of painting medium to create a fairly drippy consistency, and start painting from light to dark.

Medium

Years ago I used the classic oil painting medium of 1/3 dammar varnish, 1/3 turpenoid, and 1/3 stand linseed oil. Since then I have cut out the varnish and turpenoid because it toxic and I paint every day, and those toxins add up. I love to paint with medium and do so outdoors while painting plein air. The one other new info I have is to use Safflower oil, it is the best medium for true color and no yellowing.

Note: This glazing technique also works great with acrylic paints, substituting water for the oil.

The glaze application should be transparent, almost runny. The idea is that it should tint or stain the canvas, creating see-through layers. For those of you familiar with watercolor, the oil paint glaze should look similar.

Glazing Technique Demo

Watercolor Effect

As with watercolor, you want to apply the tones in one or two goes. And you can blend in a little oil paint directly on the canvas to make an area darker.

Warning: don’t fiddle too much with the wet paint, because at some point the paint will not adhere to the canvas. If this happens, simply let the canvas dry then resume painting.

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing Technique Demo

To create the subtle effects of light, it is important to tone the entire canvas, then add lights.

Glazing Technique Demo

Wipe the area with a cloth or paper towel, blue shop towels are the best! I can’t say enough great things about this wiping method – it is intuitive and gives a lot of feeling to your image.

Glazing Technique Demo

If it needs to be even lighter, dip a clean brush in medium and apply it directly to an area, diluting it, then use a paper towel to wipe off the excess medium and paint.

Glazing Technique Demo

Now we have a finished stage of painting using glazing.

For a more realistic effect, let this dry and continue glazing for darker areas and details. But, to lighten areas and details, switch techniques to scumbling.

You can continue to glaze and scumble for countless layers. But, remember that the painting medium can act as a solvent, just as water does for a watercolor. So, only paint one layer at a time, let it dry, and then resume.

Final note: glazing works incredibly well with color. Look for that has an upcoming tutorial.

I hope you enjoyed seeing technique in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, June 2009

Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art

Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art by Michael Newberry

Erotic Symbolism in Art
O’Keeffe, 1923, Grey Line with Black, Blue, and Yellow

Representational painting, such as landscapes, people, and furniture, is normally viewed at face value. A flower is just a flower; a chair a chair. But the manner in which an artist uses shapes can convey more than the literal content of the painting.

Once you grasp how an artist plays with shapes to convey another layer of meaning it can open up a universe of deeper insight and, sometimes, powerfully erotic subtexts. You may never see art again in the same way.

When thinking about erotic symbolism in art Georgia O’Keeffe springs to mind. The painting to the right is a detail of a flower, but it is also an excellent visual symbol of an open and flushed vulva.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
At first glance you see a flower and, on reflection, you might grasp features of female anatomical details such as the clitoral hood, the clitoris, the labia majora, and the labia minora.

O’Keeffe is making an interesting statement in associating the vagina with a flower. The vagina is to humanity what a flower is to nature: it is life-giving, beautiful, and fragile, yet resilient.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
O’Keeffe, 1924, Light Iris
Continuing with another O’Keeffe painting, notice that there are no sharp vertical lines here. Rather, there are organic, fluid shapes and outlines. These shapes are easy metaphors for the soft lips of the labia and the yellow bud serves for the small erectile body of the clitoris.

There is a strong sense that we are entering into the flower, but we also get a sense that inside is a whole new universe open to us.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
Velázquez, The Surrender of Breda

A painting that has intrigued artists, such as Dali, is The Surrender of Breda by Velázquez.

This painting is loaded with phallic shapes: vertical, rigid spears, as well as thrusting weapons meant to penetrate human flesh.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

Erotic Symbolism in Art

On a less obvious note, the spears in the upper part of the canvas are balanced below by phallic shapes of the men’s and horse’s legs and the vertical negative spaces between them.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

In a fantastic stroke of scope, Velázquez incorporated feminine, fluid, organic forms into the panoramic landscape. It is as if the organic landscape is imprisoned by the bars of weapons and the soft feminine mounds of earth are pressed underfoot by the rigid men’s legs.

Though this painting is literally about the civil and very polite-looking surrender of Breda, it is not a stretch of the imagination to see, through Velázquez’s use of erotic symbolism, that this painting is really about destructive rape.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

Going back to the first O’Keeffe, it’s easy to see that the inner lips are made up of phallic shapes.

I find it amusing that in constructing this painting O’Keeffe used phallic shapes, not as a dominant force as in The Surrender of Breda, but in subservience to the feminine whole.

I hope you enjoyed this escapade in seeing art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 15th, 2006

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 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

5-Minute Palette Clean Up

5-Minute Clean Up by Michael Newberry

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

If you are like most artists, you love to start with a clean oil painting palette. But like most of us, a day or a week of painting goes by and your palette becomes crusty with dried paint. Okay, some of you have decades old palettes that have morphed into abstract sculptures. Nothing can help with that, but for relatively recently dried paint, the following is an awesome way to quickly clean your wood palette.

What you need:

A palette knife, painting medium or stand oil, turpenoid, paper towels, and a copper sponge.

Start by scraping off any excess paint with a palette knife. This palette had about a week’s old dried paint.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Pour on the palette any leftover medium, or stand oil.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Grab the copper sponge and scrub the palette, going in the direction of the wood grain.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Magic presto, 4 minutes later, the palette is scraped clean and ready for the finishing touches.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Take a paper towel and a little turpenoid, and wipe the palette down, cleaning up the residue.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Now finish the job off by pouring a tablespoon or two of leftover medium or stand oil on the palette, take a clean paper towel and rub the oil into the wood. This will protect the wood and prepare it for fresh oil paint.

Palette Clean Up in 5 Minutes

Five minutes from beginning to end! Now you have a primed palette just begging for a slather of oil paint and your vision.

I hope you enjoyed this tidbit on cleaning up.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, December 2011