Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, December 11, 2010


The neighbors have put up Christmas lights. I guess I can't put it off much longer. I must put down the brush and go get a tree! Hey, it's for the kids, ok? Not that I'm the Grinch or anything, but if it were just me, a Festivus pole would be just as good.

Here's a painting I did last week. Sonia was our model, and she was very petite and elf-like. And, to my delight, she possessed this natural grace in her movements which came through in her poses. Subtle, but undeniably lyrical.

So I just had her sit as if she were waiting for something, and she gave us this slight lean that I really liked.  She thought she could hold it, so we went to work.

On this painting, I started by massing in the figure in a very loose wash just to see how the silhouette would fit in the rectangle. Satisfied, I wiped it to tone the canvas, then started over by drawing the figure with a brush.

After I got the main shapes placed, I continued by blocking in the dark areas.

Switching to opaque colors, I blocked in the skin tones in two values. The shadow side of the skin, at this stage has two variations; a more violet color in the face, and a greenish ochre in the arm. Very close though.

Here I've blocked in the rest of the figure with opaques. I do like the look of this stage, but I had other things in mind that I wanted to try so I didn't stop.

I filled in the background with a dark color, and started to refine some edges and shapes. Still very brushy at this point. This shot was at the end of the session. I took it home and worked on it further.

The main thing I was interested in was to resist making this into a portrait. I didn't want her to be a specific individual,  but a more general representation of a young woman. I worked on playing down her identity by simplifying the eyes into just simple shadow shapes. The difference between defining the eyes and hiding them is like night and day. Individual vs. Everywoman. Identity vs. anonymity. A portrait of a stranger (a viewer can't necessarily relate) vs. an archetype (expression of the universal).  There really is a lot to be explored in how a portrait-type painting is handled.  I remember when I was a student Skip Liepke came to give a lecture and he said something to the effect of "the most universal is also the most personal". That always stuck with me, and also explained why I am more drawn to the generalized treatment of the figure than your typical portraiture, which is about expression of the sitter's identity and all that encompasses.

The great ones (Rembrandt, Velasquez, Sargent, etc.) could do both in one painting. They could express the universal in portraits of specific individuals. They could show not only likeness, but temperament, personality, intelligence, grace, emotional state of the subject, and in doing so, the viewer is made aware of something larger and transcendent; the human condition that resonates with all people, and not just the sitter's family and friends. That's why those guys' works stand the test of time.  It's a lot more than technique. That's for sure. (I'd settle for a little bit of their technique, though)


  1. omg, what a way worked painting and what a handled, congrats!!!!

  2. Another helpful demo and comments; I'll have to read this one a couple of more times, thanks!

  3. Thank you for sharing this, it is a big help to me for my own work.

  4. Thank you for sharing this Terry!
    It's helpful to me. The looseness and brush work has a lot of personality. I have to try this at home!
    (Now go put up that tree!)

  5. "And now it's time for the feats of strength!"

    Happy Holidays Terry.

  6. This is beautiful! The lost and found edges are great and so is your commentary on the process and your priorities while doing this piece.Is it easier to get that generalised feel in the painting if you do half of it with the model and the remaining without the model? But I believe that must also require a lot of previous practice and experience with figures. Your comments please .....

  7. Wow. Now I wish I hadn't wasted the weekend decking the halls. It IS for the kids, though. (But I'd even bought a new brush...) Congrats, this is fantastic.

  8. Its obvious you were moved by this petite model, by the results of your painting. As I read your opening phrases, the words you used to describe the model were the exact words I would have used to describe your work! Amazing how our emotions transfer out our paintbrush and land on canvas. Wonderful piece.

  9. Thanks everybody! This *was* a fun little session~

    Vinayak, I don't know if it's easier. Often it works out that way not because it's easier, but because I get sloppy. But the my best efforts at a generalized figure happens when I have a clear idea of what I want to do from the start, and with a good model.

  10. Merry Christmas and Loads of inspiration for 2011

  11. right back atcha, gilberto! cheers~