Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Delta Towns

Schoolhouse, Locke, 9 x 12

It's been a very, very busy week. Five straight days of teaching and drawing and painting from morning to night! I can't remember ever being so tired, except when my kids were little babies - you parents know what I'm talking about.

The figure drawing workshop I taught last weekend was, as expected pretty intense. Going from 15 second stick figures to sanguine-and-conte-on-toned-paper in just two days. That's a lot to cover in such a short time and of course it's impossible to learn to draw the figure in two days, but I hope at least some information will have stuck and the students can use it to further climb the learning curve.

The next few days were spent on the Sacramento Delta with my friend Georgia, an artist visiting from Australia. We went from town to town along the river painting whatever caught our eye. Our first stop was Locke, a little one block town (literally) which was a Chinese settlement. Established 1915(?), it still looks pretty much as it must have in the olden days. Very narrow road flanked by old rickety buildings, none of which are standing straight. Talk about character!

The first painting is the old schoolhouse at the edge of the town. That is to say, it's at the end of the block. We were situated under the eaves of buildings across the street, so we had plenty of shade. It did start to heat up mid morning and quickly got into the 90's.

Boarding House, Locke, 12 x 9

But we pressed on. This is my second sketch. I just turned the easel 90 degrees and painted this boarding house - which is now restored and made into a museum ? I think. That bright lime green is something you rarely see in my paintings, but that's what caught my eye, so there it is. I did knock back the saturation a little bit to make it look like a Miura painting.

Beer Stop, Walnut Grove, 12 x 9

After lunch at a truly fabulous old dive called Al the Wops, we drove a mile down the river to Walnut Grove. We parked the car intending to paint another funky restaurant, Tony's, but I saw this view and went for it instead. It just meshed better with my recent Road Trip series. As they say, you don't paint what you see, you see what you paint.

This is mid afternoon so the light is still sort of achromatic. Later it became really warm and orangey and moody, but I wasn't going to chase it. I'll just have to do another painting in the studio later. The cars came and went, obviously (it's a gas station!) so the ones I painted are non-specific. Just montages of different cars that stopped to fuel up. Worked out pretty well.

Hotel Del Rio, Isleton, 12 x 16

The next morning, we started in the town of Isleton, 10 miles down river. Isleton is just slightly bigger than Locke and Walnut Grove. The economy has done a number on this town too, and majority of the businesses along the main street were closed and boarded up. Kind of sad and depressing. A lot of history here too, and the buildings have great character. It must have once been a thriving little community.

We were able to set up on the covered balcony of a closed business and paint this view. We had a really interesting back-lit situation, and I set out to capture the nice mood it suggested. But I got a little carried away and injected too much atmosphere, thereby ending up with something other than what I wanted to do. That's OK, I like parts of this painting and I think I've got a good point of departure for a studio painting. That's what these plein air sketches are anyway.

River Road, Isleton, 9 x 12

After lunch we drove around a little bit looking for spots. Because we've been painting a lot of town stuff (read; drawing-intensive), we decided we needed a break and do something more organic. We had a little bit of trouble finding a spot, though, because the land around here is so flat, and there aren't many places where we could park safely, set up in the shade (temperature was in the mid to upper 90's) and have a decent view with something to hang a focal point on.

The river itself is interesting but again, not easy to find a spot that meets the minimum requirements. Anyway, we finally settled on this shady spot under a giant oak, and I did one of my familiar motifs.

The design is such that the eye falls off the right hand side of the canvas, so that's something I will fix if I decide to develop this one further.

Worker's Quarters, 9 x 12

And this is the last sketch of this series, done on Day 3. With this one, I really tried to paint in as few strokes as possible, not fussing over anything. I also tried to do that now-you-see-it-now-you-don't thing, where only a small amount of recognizable detail pulls together an almost abstract painting.

Now that I look at it on the computer, I see I could have pushed the abstraction further. Abstraction is so elusive for me that it continues to tease me into trying harder.

There is so much poetry in a painting in which abstraction is executed beautifully, and yet, there is no way to define how that works. For an artist with two left brains, that is just maddening.

It's like a drug.


  1. These are all awesome Terry. Well done!
    My favorites are probably the first two, but they're all fantastic.

  2. What a fabulous post, each and every painting is eye candy for the soul! Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  3. Great post! Love the composition in the Hotel del Rio piece, but my favorite is the green boarding house.

  4. Hello,
    I think your painting oF the 'BOARDING HOUSE' is one of your best ever. Something hypnotic about the ridged road. Color and composition are fine, indeed.

  5. good work Terry, the light and shadows are very good

  6. Those first four paintings just literally take my breath away, Terry. I especially love the first one, though I am at a loss to explain why. What a busy couple of weeks you have had! Amazing work has sprung from them, however. Beautiful just isn't descriptive enough...

  7. I fell in love with each one of those paintings! I shall study them more for ideas on composition, simplifying, and color. Are you working with a limited palette or maybe mixing up a few colors before you begin to paint? The one with the neutral colors and red orange porch steps is just yummy color.

  8. This is a tour de force. Bravo, Terry! My eyes were glued to these landscapes, and for a minute my brain hemispheres were both left sides.

    I'll take this opportunity to tell you that you wrote a post a while back that explained tonalist methods. I have been using them a little, and of course the most successful painting sold this weekend.

  9. Great work Terry - and so close to home for me here in Rio Vista. Hope to see these or the studio works in an upcoming show (Lodi?).

  10. Just what I suspected, Terry! You have been putting your plein aire time to good use! A beautifully painted collection.

  11. Thanks everyone! Your comments are, as always, much appreciated!

    Connie, I'll do a post on my palette set up soon~

  12. Terry thank you so much for a wonderful 3 days of painting together~ i had so much fun with you : D I love seeing all the works here together~ they work so well as a series and each one is excellent in its own right. So glad i got to paint with you after all!! hugs to you my friend~ georgia

  13. They are all incredible, and it's such a treat to travel with you through the description of your road trip. What amazing artistic output. Each painting is fresh and lively - there's no indication of the fatigue you mention. Great post, great art.

  14. OMG... These are all wonderful Terry!!

    I think I love the Beer Stop and the River Road best but they are all terrific.... What a great memorable trip you had... Lucky Georgia... lucky you!

  15. Thanks craig, georgia, belinda and marian!

    Georgia, Al the Wop's and Giusti's will forever be associated with you. I'm definitely going back~

  16. Great stuff as usual Terry. The one you point out as a problem really got me thinking. I know your a better and more experienced painter than I and I would not presume to tell you what you should do. I will how ever ask a question. Looking at the trees and road painting I wondered if instead of the bright right side being an exit, it might not serve as an entrance. I know conventional wisdom is that we read paintings from left to right but often I find that the first thing I see is a spot of dramatic contrast or (as in this case) chroma. Do you think that heightening the value and chroma contrast in the lower right corner to make it an entry point would work? I really like the river showing so that it's not just another "keyhole" painting and I recognize the line from the lower left to the tree line tends to roll down the river bank and out. If that's the entry though isn't it less of a problem? As I say, just thinking and curious what you think.
    Steve Baker

  17. Fascinating work.
    It has been delightful
    to visit your gallery.
    Good Creations

  18. Steve, thanks for your thoughtful comment. It's true that sometimes what looks like an exit to one looks like an entrance to another viewer. In this case, I think that the road is such a definitive element which suggests direction of movement that it becomes a dominant point of entry.

    I think, however, with a little bit of tweaking on the grass area, it can contribute to the sense moving into the picture rather than falling off.

    I think the main problem is that it is lacks a suggestion of perspective. the lit grass area is the same width from left to right, and the strokes go that way too. Had I suggested one-point perspective with my strokes and worked on the shape of the lit area to reenforce that aspect, it would read as moving in, and not falling off.

    Tweaking value contrast and chroma definitely helps, but I feel the drawing has to come first. I'll play with and see if I can improve it~

  19. Thanks for your reply Terry. I see what you mean about the shapes. I am always interested in how people think about the work as it progresses. Some people are very intuitive, myself, I have to be constantly analyzing, comparing and anticipating or I end up scraping down again.

  20. many nice ones! the boarding house being my favorite. Your work keeps kicking up and away!

  21. thanks Bill! I actually did think of you when I was exploring Isleton's back alleys~

  22. late to the party! but I just wanted to say these are particularly lovely.