Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mules, Cylinders, Brushstrokes and Leaving Stuff Out

Ready for Work, 18 x 24 inches, oil on linen

This painting is currently on view at the Harrington Gallery at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton, Ca. The group show is all about the Eastern Sierra pack trips. For the last seven or eight years I have been going up to the mountains with a group of painters to spend a week up in high elevation (10,000 ~ 11,000ft) and painting the Edgar Payne country. 

The exhibition features plein air sketches and studio works by some 25 artists who have been on the annual expedition in the past, and I have to say, it is a privilege to be counted among these great artists.

So the painting is above is a studio piece that I did using photo references and sketchbook notes. These pack mules haul our gear (art supplies, tents, etc) as well as a week's supply of food, and we hike in with a light day pack on our backs. 

Not being all that familiar with horses or mules, I found it a great challenge to try and capture their gesture without overworking the small forms. 

I was interested in presenting the mood - sunny, dusty and atmospheric. Pushing the atmosphere by flattening out the shadow side and obscuring much of the information - without getting too dark - accomplished this, and at the same time, allowed me to keep literal detail information to a minimum.

All the visual information of the "stuff" is in the light. I was very careful to modulate the values to show the volume of the beasts. Also I followed the form with my brushstrokes to help with the illusion where necessary.

On the main mule, the strokes describing the legs go with the form, rather than across it, whereas the strokes describing the drum-like torso go around the form. There's good reason for this; They're both celinders, but the torso is foreshortened, and the legs are not. 

When painting cylinders, I often prefer to go with the form if I don't have a foreshortening situation, (not a rule set in stone, but my tendency) to describe instead other ideas such as flow and rhythm.

I can show the cylindrical form by modulating values, and most of the time, that's enough. With a forshortened cylinder, sometimes I need more visual cues than just modulating values, so I use my brushstroke direction to help accomplish that.

In the atmospheric shadow area where details disappear and everything goes flat, my brush strokes more or less go in the same direction, to emphasize the flatness. By not distinguishing the mules' head/neck area from the areas below them, I'm telling the viewer that I'm not painting heads and necks and background - I am painting the veil of dust catching light in front of the said heads and necks and background.  

This is also why the values of this area can't be very dark–because the dust is lit up by sunlight.

Still, must be darker than the lit parts of the mules if we are to suggest what's behind this translucent veil of lit up dust is all shadow stuff.

If you look at the legs of the mules on the right, we do see dark shapes within the dusty shadow. I tried obscuring those just like I did with the left side of the canvas, but then it looked like too much information was lost, and it was too simplified. So I brought some distinction back into the shapes. 

It makes sense, actually, if you consider that those legs are closer to the viewer than the ones on the left. And there may just be more dust kicked up over there, too. 

I hope I was able to convey the fact that what look like casual and spontaneous-looking brush strokes have logic behind them, and same with the values and edges. I try to end up with fresh-looking applications, but in reality, you can't do it thoughtlessly. And more often than not, the final look of any given area is the result of multiple attempts.

The exhibition runs through February 17th. There are some amazing works in this show, so if you're in the area, be sure to check it out! 

More info here: http://www.firehousearts.org/gallery/current-exhibits/

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Improv from Life

Study for The Traveller, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

A couple of months ago, we had a long pose session (6 hrs) where we had a clothed model take a seated pose in my studio. He was a dapper fellow, skinny jeans and Italian shoes and all. 

The sketch above is a pretty literal depiction of how he looked.  I actually tried to be faithful to what I saw, in terms of colors and values. Making an accurate visual record is not important to me, but once in a while I like to do it if only to prove to myself that I still can.

So the above oil sketch took about 40 - 50 minutes (2 sets of 20 or 25 min.) and at 12 x 9 inches, it's not very big. My aim was to practice accurate, literal depiction - true, it's not rendered and I didn't paint details, but there's nothing subjective about the drawing and colors. 

As I was painting, I started to think about the narrative. He was sitting on a trunk, and that hat he was wearing suggested to me the theme of a traveller of some sort. May be he's waiting for a train. May be he's just arrived to America, disembarked a ship and is waiting to be processed on Ellis Island, but he doesn't know what comes after that. All kinds of storylines popped into my head, and chatting about them with my fellow painters made for a lively painting session full of imaginative plot lines and character development.

So in my mind, the model became a new immigrant to America, may be in the 1920s... I'm no historian so I can't claim accuracy of detail, but images from books and movies helped me to make alterations to his clothing.

The skinny jeans became baggy brown trousers, the stylish shirt-and-jacket combination became tired and careworn, and the snappy new hat became brown and well-travelled. 

The Traveller, 24 x 18 inches, oil on linen

Once the main character was more or less worked out, I improvised the environment in which he existed. I thought there should be other travellers around, wearing dark cloaks and scarves. Sitting on trunks or just standing around, waiting for.... something.

I chose to paint it in earth tones to suggest an older time, which helped to pull all the elements together. Grays and browns harmonize without much effort, yet careful modulation of values is necessary to avoid shapes getting too jumpy.  A subtler shifts in colors and values within a given shape helps to keep things from looking oversimplified. 

Compositionally, I wanted to group together the figures by connecting the darks. There are darkly clothed figures around the main figure,  which sets him up nicely in terms of value contrast and amount of detail. (The surrounding figures get very little detail, if at all.) 

Even though our main guy's eyes are hidden in the shadows, we see much of his face in the light. In comparison, I chose to increase the amount of anonymity of the rest of the group by obscuring their faces by cropping, or turning them away from the viewer. 

One of my favorite compositional devices is juxtaposing a large passive area (foreground) against smaller active areas. The large foreground with the cast shadows is meant to invite the viewer into the picture, and at the same time suggest the presence of still more figures outside the picture. 

I was very happy with this painting - it's 24 x 18, which is much bigger than the original sketch. But I was able to do most of it with the model sitting in front of me, which I think was very helpful in keeping the brush strokes fresh - I tend to not get really tight when I'm painting from life. (Not enough time to overwork it!) 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quick Gestures in Oil

Happy New Year everyone~!  Sorry, it's been forever since my last post. I keep thinking I need to post more often but I keep reaching for the much shorter format Facebook and Instagram.  I guess I've become a creature of the social media - just thinking about writing something longer than a sentence sometimes overwhelms me.

...and to think, I used to do blog posts twice a week! Times have changed, eh?

But I'm not done with this. I will try and do better this year. (One of my resolutions!) And in an effort to keep my resolution without burning out too quickly, I'll keep my posts relatively short.

Today, I have a bunch of sketches from a figure session last month. These were done in one session, where the model, dressed in everyday street clothes, changed poses every 12 minutes.

So each of these poses is a 12 minute quick oil sketch. And I have to say, it is a great exercise!

It requires focus, and quick decision making. No time to noodle form or dilly dally on detail. Just the basics, folks.

The key is to concentrate on gesture - to communicate what the figure is doing, rather than what she looks like. 

We can simplify the form by generally separating a given element (red shirt, for example) into two shapes: light and shadow. Each color element (shirt, skin, etc.) only needs two puddles, see. If you want more variation in the skin tones, you can come back to it after the two-value thing is established. But if you run out of time, you still have a strong structure.

Darker shapes like hair mass and black pants don't even need separating into light and shadow. If the overall shape is strong, a simple silhouette may do the trick. 

Again, if you have time left (we only had 12 minutes) you can come back and separate it into two values (or more). 

With this last one, I attempted a multi-figure composition by painting one figure at a time, not knowing what the next pose was going to be. The model changed clothes / props, and I was able to combine them in one study as if there were three people at a bus station or something. 

This multi-figure exercise is really challenging because you have no idea if the next pose will fit the context, and there's no guarantee that each subsequent pose will work with the existing image. I didn't have high expectations, but I did commit to try and at least paint them the same scale so that they looked like they belonged in the same environment.

Connecting the dark shapes of the shadows and pants helped to tie the individual figures together so that they visually read as a group. 

Each figure is about 8 inches tall.

I used scrap pieces of linen taped to boards. The linen is Claessens No.66.

I loved this exercise so I'm going to do this again. soon. It's excellent practice for painting figures quickly and gesturally, a very handy skill to have if you like putting figures into environments, especially en plein air!

'Hopefully, it won't be another 6 months before my next post!!

Monday, October 2, 2017

More Color Games

Here's one with Cad Green, Cad Lemon, Cad Orange, and White. That green isn't as tricky as it may seem. Even with a full palette, one often reaches for greens to mix a cooler part of the skin tone, so there's nothing too surprising there.

The challenge, again, is the fact that with this set of colors, I can't get a really dark value. So again, I have to work within the compressed value range.

The Impressionists often worked in a limited range in the higher key, so it's perfectly do-able. Mine isn't really Impressionist in approach, but still, limiting the value range has that atmospheric feel, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Color Games Part III

Just because you use a specific limited palette, it doesn't mean your paintings will have similar looks. Especially if you have all three primaries represented, we can mix all kinds of in-between colors and values and as a result, two studies painted in the same three colors +white, can look very different from one another.

Both studies I'm posting today were done with a limited primaries palette of Transparent Earth Red / Yellow Ochre / Payne's Gray / Titanium White.

In the example above, the colors are very pale and except for the leotard, the values are pretty light.

Easy to make a good starting point for a skin tone (the lit side) with TOR and Yellow Ochre and White.

For the shadow side of the flesh, It's the same mix, with less white, and teeny bit of the blue. (Payne's Gray) to cool it down and desaturate. There isn't anything else on the palette, so it is what it is.

Payne's Gray and White make a nice blue-gray, which is my starter puddle for the shadow colors in this painting. Here and there, I tried to vary it by adding a little Yellow Ochre, or the TOR, or white, in varying amounts. 

Losing edges entirely in the shadows made an interesting–and still identifiable–shape. I even lost edges in some light areas. You can see that it doesn't affect the recognizability of the visual elements. 

If two shapes can be combined by losing the edge in between, they become one shape. One shape is simpler than two shapes. If the recognizability is maintained, simpler is better. It's like using one well chosen word to describe something, rather than two. 

The second example uses the same exact set of colors, but it looks very different from the first.

Over-all it's much lower keyed - the lights and shadows are both darker in value.

The greenish tone is achieved by mixing blue and yellow (of course!), that is to say, Payne's Gray and Yellow Ochre. There's probably a little white in there too, to lighten the value a bit.

Unlike in the first painting, where I pushed the flesh-tone-in-the-shadow toward violet by adding enough Payne's gray and white into the mix, in this painting, the shadow side of the flesh is still very much in the Orange hue range. That is to say, it's just a darker brown. I used the same Payne's Gray to neutralize the same mix of TOR / Yellow Ochre / White, but not enough to alter the hue of the mix.

You can see a lot of variations in the shadow side, and again, they're just varying amounts of the same limited set of colors.

It's amazing how much range you can get out of just four tubes of paint, and none of them very intense, either.

Do you have a favorite limited palette? Do you find it limiting or liberating? Do your paintings start looking similar? or can you get a good range out of it?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Color Games, Part II

So in the previous post I showed a few examples of painting the figure using different sets of primary colors out of the tube. If that's too easy or too conventional for you, here's another tweak on the color game; use only two colors plus white.

In these examples, I tried complimentary colors; Red / Green / White for the first one, and Blue Violet / Yellow Orange / White for the second example. You can see they're of the same pose.

The Red / Green was a little easier because it allowed me to mix a pinkish color for the skin tone, as well as a very dark color / value for the clothes by mixing red and green together. I had a full range of values to work with, and easily shift from warm to cool within a mixture by adding more red or more green. The red is Cad Red Medium, and the green is Viridian.

The drawing is not as good on the second one, and the colors were more difficult, too. Mainly because with this set of colors, I couldn't get a very dark value. It meant that I had to compress the value range quite a bit and put everything in med to light range.

It does make it feel more atmospheric - one of the effects of dense atmosphere is that the values become lighter and the range more compressed.

I can't remember what the blue-violet color was, exactly. I think the yellow-orange might be Indian Yellow, but again, I'm not sure. It didn't matter enough for me to remember, I guess. After all these are just games we sometimes play in the studio.

When you go to a figure session and you're just not inspired by the pose (or whatever), this might be a good challenge to try, to get your enthusiasm going again. Try it with friends and see how similar or different your results are. I think you'll find it eye-opening!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Color Games

I host figure painting sessions at my studio once a week, where artists can come and paint from the model. The model is sometimes nude and sometimes clothed - I try to mix it up. Usually we have one long pose (with breaks) so there's plenty of time to study the figure.

In these sessions, my aim is just to practice. I'm not trying to do a gallery-bound painting because the poses have to be based on what works for a roomful of people viewing the model from different angles. That has to be the priority. I can't just have the model pose based on a concept that I may have for my own paintings, because that usually only gives us a limited range as far as good angles go. 

For example, I may want a reclining figure, but then some artists will end up with extremely foreshortened views. That may be exactly what they want, but usually, nobody wants that. 

So as I said, these are practice sessions for me. I may do a portrait study, or a value thing, or I may focus on a particular approach, or may be I'll do an anatomical study of feet, say. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for and what I feel like I need to work on more.

Sometimes, I like to set up challenges for myself, and this color game that I do is a great example. Basically, I take myself out of my comfort zone by using colors I don't usually use. I may ask to borrow a red, a yellow, and a blue from the others in the room - to make sure I'm getting colors I don't have. 

The painting above is done in Phthalo-zinc blue / Hansa Yellow / Brilliant Pink / Titanium White.  These are colors I don't own, and therefore very unfamiliar to me. But if you have the primary colors and white, you can pretty much pull it off. Theoretically, anyway.

All three images I'm posting here are from the same session. You can see that they're the same pose. So I spent may be 45 to 50 minutes on each one.  Fairly quick and sloppy attempts but like I said, they're studies and I was specifically interested in color games, not in finished paintings.

For No.2, I believe I had Cerulean / Indian Yellow / Alizarin / Titanium White. It's not quite a scientific comparison because I wasn't trying to match colors or anything. I was just trying to work with unfamiliar colors.

I could easily have mixed a much more intense green with Cerulean and Indian Yellow, or matched the background green in example No.1, but I didn't even think to try. 

This last one has more colors. I think I used colors from both No.1 and No.2,  and tried to push the intensity a little bit.

It's a fun exercise. When I do this as a demo, I do it to make the point that it doesn't really matter which tube colors you use. If you have a few different colors, you can do a believable figure painting. It's not about specific ingredients or brands, and it's not about recipes. 

I get questions like "which blue did you use?" and I answer "Ultramarine" (or whatever I was using at the time) but then  I follow up with "but I could've used Cobalt, or may be Prussian or Phthalo, Cerulean...Paynes Gray..."  

In the beginning, it's probably a good idea to stick to one set of colors and really learn how they behave when mixed with each other. And you do start to have favorites. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but if you really want to learn color mixing and how color works, exercises like these are really helpful because you are forced not to think in terms of recipes and formulas, but focus instead on color relationships. Get good at that, and you will have a lot more control and freedom!

If you live in the Sacramento area and would like to come to my studio to join our (uninstructed) figure painting sessions. (or short-pose figure drawing sessions on Monday afternoons) , just email me at terry@terrymiura.com.   The sessions are $12 /person

As of this posting, I also have a couple of spots open in my weekly figure drawing / painting classes. I don't often have openings, so if you've been thinking about taking my classes, this is your chance! Please email me and I'll be happy to answer any questions!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Value Studies

I like doing value studies.  When I'm out in the field, I always do at least one thumbnail sketch in my sketchbook using a ball point pen. It's a great way to visually organize the value structure and think about what's important, and what should be edited out.

If I'm in the studio, I still do these pen-and-sketchbook thumbnails, but sometimes I like to do them with paint. I have a lot of scrap pieces of canvas which are perfect for these little studies.

The idea is not to copy the photograph, but to figure out how to simplify the value structure and tweak if necessary to come up with a design which, with very small amount of information, communicates the sense of time and place in the original photo. 

The main challenge in doing these is to reduce the number of values to three or four. Dark, medium dark, medium light, and light. Sometimes a simple composition only needs three values, sometimes as many as five. But no more than five. If I need more than five, I probably won't develop it into a full color painting because it would be too fussy and will lack a clear statement or impact.

You may see more than four or five values in my value studies, but when I start out, I only have three values. I may end up with a few more due to softening of edges or transitioning one shape into the next, and these "in-between" values are ...not exactly incidental... but just minor enhancements to make a design make visual sense. If you were to squint down, they simplify back (or they should, anyway) to four values. 

In the above example, you can see that the shadows on the ground are much lighter in my sketch than in the photo. This is a decision I made consciously, to make good use of the four values I had at my disposal; since I had to use my darkest value for the tree silhouettes and the windows in the doorways, I wanted to distinguish the ground shadows (and the same shadows creeping up the side of the building) by using a lighter value.  A couple of benefits in making this decision - the shadow areas are much more luminous, which is fitting because we are outside where a lot of ambient and bounced light make everything lighter. (the contrast in the photo was looking too much) Secondly, it allowed me to separate the paved walkway from the grass (?) area flanking it.

So the point, again, is not to copy the photo, but simplifying and organizing the value structure - how best to convey a given light/shadow situation with just four values?

While doing these studies, I often have ideas about editing that I hadn't considered before starting the study. And this is an excellent place to try these ideas out, because well, these are just quick small studies–most are 5 x 7 or 6 x 8 ish and only take 10 to 20 minutes.  If I try out an edit and it doesn't work out? Big deal. I'll do another study or keep working on it. I don't feel like I've wasted hours or days of my life trying things out (which may be the case if I were to be making these decisions on a big, full color painting).

There's no need for detail, or subtle modeling. It's really easy to see what's going on in the study, even though it's very simple and crude. What does that tell us? We really don't need much to make a scene "believable". So why do we feel the need to put more stuff in a painting? Hmmm. something to think about, eh?

Painting, especially painting en plein air, is sometimes intimidating and frustrating. Often we may talk ourselves out of trying to paint a certain scene because we feel like it's too difficult. Or we have a hard time seeing anything worth painting, even though we are surrounded by a ton of potential paintings.  

I find that these quick value studies are incredibly helpful in getting over that fear and tackle a task that seemed at first to be too difficult. The reason is that these are first and foremost, exercises in simplifying the problem. If we can simplify the problem, we can simplify the answer, no?

If you can get into a habit of doing these quick value studies in limited values, you have a great advantage over someone who's trying to paint every little thing in view. Simplifying forces you to consider what's important and what can be ignored. It forces you to make a clear statement, and it forces you to think about hierarchy of impact in your composition. Without the awareness of which, you really don't have a statement. And without a statement, what is the point of painting this scene?

This last pair shows a value study, and a color one, both done from observation. Thanks to the simplified value study, I was able to maintain a simple structure in the color one, and not get caught up in the little details in the background - and there were a lot of visual activity there which I didn't bother to include. The value study told me it was OK not to paint them.

I encourage you to do these kinds of studies when you don't have a whole lot of time to devote to bigger painting projects. They only take 10 to 20 minutes, and you only need black and white paints, and scraps of canvas or some other surface. Don't think of them as little masterpieces. Don't even think of them as something to keep. Crappy composition? So what. Do another one and make improvements. A lot can be learned by doing these studies using snapshots as references - photos that were never particularly well composed and were never meant to be made into frame-worthy paintings. They're just studies and practices, much like a musician practices his scales.

My musician friends tell me it's boring but necessary. Here we artists are better off; these are not boring to do! Far from it. I really enjoy doing these, and you will too. Don't believe me? Just try it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Free Demo this Saturday, June 3!

This Saturday, June 3rd,  my friend Paul Kratter and I will be doing a dual (duel?) demo at the Holton Studio Gallery in Berkeley! It starts at 2 pm, and the admission is free, so come see us sling paint and divert all our trade secrets! 

Paul is a great painter and we've been friends a long time. We are currently showing our works together at the Holton Studio, and the demo is part of the exhibition. We don't paint the same way, but we often paint similar subject matters, so it's fun to see them side by side.

If I weren't actually doing the demo at the same time, I'd love to just sit and watch paul do his demo!

Knowing Paul, I think the demo will be quite entertaining and will be full of good information on techniques, methods, and just how one may think about various aspects of solving visual problems.

The event is free, so come early and get a good seat. We'll start at 2 pm and take a painting from start to... I don't know, may be we'll even finish. 

Holton Studio Gallery is located at 2100 Fifth St. Berkeley, CA
Their website is http://holtonframes.com

Paul Kratter's works can be seen on his website; http://paulkratter.com

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Color of Reflected Light

I just had this conversation with a student in my class, so I thought I'd do a little post. It's a simple, basic lesson on the color of the reflected light. 

The question was, "what color is the shadow?"  The answer: "Depends."  On what? A few things. The color of the thing itself, and the reflected light.  

The reflected light is the primary light source bouncing off of some surface and illuminating the shadow side of the object. If there were no bounced light, you can't see anything in the shadow.

So if you can see anything - color, detail, value changes.... then something is illuminating it. It's either the reflected light, or the ambient light.

The ambient light is the secondary light that's not obviously a reflected light - say, the blue sky on a sunny day, or the diffused florescent light that's illuminating the studio in addition to the strong direct light on the model. 

One can argue that cool ambient light provided by the sky is in fact reflected light, since it's sun light bouncing off of condensed water vapor and other particulate matter in the atmosphere, but for the sake of simplifying the point, we'll just limit the definition of reflected light to something that's caused by a surface near the object and facing the planes in the shadow side. 

It's not complicated. In the painting above, the direct light hits the red couch, which bounces off and illuminates the back of the model, causing it to appear red. Her leg isn't affected by the red bounced light, because it's not facing the lit up red couch.

Her arm too, is not as red - it was receiving a lot of cool florescent light, which made it appear more violet. Note her breast is getting a lot more red bounced light than the arm.

In the painting above, the couch is blue. You can see I snuck some blue reflected light into her arm and the leg that's in front. Her left leg doesn't get the blue reflected light, because it's not facing a blue lit surface.

I'm not a strictly realist painter so I do use subjective colors a lot, but when I want the shadow colors to make sense, and am looking for luminosity, I pay more attention to the color of reflected lights.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that sometimes the reflected light appears really light and bright, and you may get excited about the intense color in the area, but the value of that reflected light must be darker than anything in the lit side (of the same surface). The rule is, the darkest light is lighter than the lightest shadow.  Or, the lightest shadow is darker than the darkest light. You can also say it this way; Everything in light is lighter than everything in shadow. 

Why is that? Because the light bouncing off of something can't be as strong as the original light source.

It's a simple rule but one that is often forgotten by beginning painters. The next time you're wondering about the shadow color, you might just ask yourself, what is illuminating that plane?