Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Reminiscence, 24 x 36 inches, oil on linen

Here is a recent commission painting.  Sometimes commissions are really hard to do. Having to create a painting to someone else's satisfaction - the client may or may not have the same aesthetic or even a sense of what works and what doesn't - is not what you'd call a walk in the park. I stopped doing illustration work for that very reason.

This painting, however, painted itself! It helped that I had done several studies and variations of this facade over the years, and that my client gave me full freedom to do whatever I wanted. As complex as the details are, it was a real pleasure to work on them. I wish all commissions were like this~

A detail shot of the sculpture. Five years ago, I probably would have painted more detail in the face, defining each feature more clearly. I'm particularly happy that I was able to resist the urge to differentiate the hair (the funky Catholic monk do) from the face.  Simplification like that doesn't happen intuitively, but it's a result of a conscious decision to say more with less. Lots of trial and error and leaps of faith.

 Decorative arch detail. The reflected light is lighter than the dark underpainting, and it is opaque as opposed to the transparency of the dark notes underneath.  I think of the dark notes as shadow - defined as "state of not being lit" - therefore it makes sense for them to be transparent (recedes when juxtaposed against opaque notes)  and being underneath the lighter notes of the reflected light.

Reflected light is painted opaque because it's light (not direct light, but still light) and I think of it as illuminating the areas which, without its presence are the transparent, dark, receding shadow areas represented by the underpainting.

 To be sure, dark receding spaces and reflected lights can be painted opaquely or transparently - Any value can be achieved independent of it's opacity - but doing it this way make logical sense to me, and without logic, I can't do anything. You may be able to, but I can't.

Figures emerging from the darkness. The values are subdued (white blouse is nowhere near white) and edges are soft or lost, so that these figures don't become "stars" of the painting. The painting isn't about these people. They're bit players in the story, so they need to be treated that way.

A side note: I used a photo reference for the building, but the lighting is altered a little bit. The figures are made up.


  1. Beautiful Terry! And thank you for your "illuminating" (sorry : ) passage on opacity and reflected light. That was tremendously helpful.

  2. Beautiful painting! And thanks for explaining the thinking process behind it. I am sure your customer is very satisfied and happy with this.
    Best wishes,

  3. It does make sense to treat the shadows that way. I had not made that connection of keeping reflected light opaque. Thank you. Another beautiful painting.

  4. I really appreciate your explanations; when I first saw your painting I thought 'I would have detailed this building to death'. Then I read your text about that very thing, and it was clarifying. Also thanks for that opacity vs. transparency part; that's something when it happens in one of my paintings (I guess accidently) I like it, but I didn't really know why until now;
    'Light dawns on me!' - an old Chinese expression.

  5. This is wonderful!The painting and the post!

  6. Thanks everyone! Happy to savor all the positive vibes~

  7. Hey Terry, Thank you for making this clear for me. Very concise! Sometimes it helps to hear it explained in a new way, something you kinda already know. Well kinda. It's the consistant effort that I forget!
    Thank you for your help and good word with Susan my friend.

  8. Great work as usual Terry. Thanks for the explanation of your thinking on reflected light. I have never heard that and it makes so much sense I have to consider it in my work. Thanks for keeping the brain moving.

  9. Fantastic as ever Terry. Like your simple confident handling of the figures and architectural details.

  10. thanks for your positive feedback, Randy, Steve and Angus! Much appreciated.

    Randy, lots happening in 2011. Glad you'll be a part of it!!

  11. so beautiful - and the process notes so helpful - great work as always terry

  12. Thanks Thomas! You just made my day~