Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Painting in the High Sierras: Day 2

On Tuesday, we all woke up really early to watch the first light blast the Western peaks. Despite being tired from the hike up, I don't know if any of us slept well because the wind picked up during the night. If you've ever slept in a tent during high winds, you know what I mean. It is LOUD. You can hear it coming, too. I would be lying there, half asleep, and and I start to hear the wind blowing in the distance. The volume grew steadily louder as it came closer, and closer, and all of a sudden, BAM! it hits the tent and threatens to blow it away. The anticipation of the impact is almost as bad as the shuddering and fluttering when the wind actually hits. Needless to say, it's not easy to sleep under those conditions.

Bleary eyed, I emerged from the tent to watch the peaks turning rosey in the morning light, greeted my campmates, ("mornin'..... sleep well?..... me neither.") and sipped my gritty cowboy brew.

We were eager to get painting, though, and so we set up around the camp and got to work. I faced my easel toward the mountains to the South;

The big rocky hill in the middle distance was still all in shadow when I started, but light quickly changed and half an hour into it, it was all lit up. I decided to keep it in shadow in my painting. It was pretty cold (temperature in the 40F 's?) until the sun hit the valley. The paint felt a little stiff and so did my fingers, but I was loving it~

Breakfast!! Ahh...eggs, bacon, fruit, and english muffins. At home I usually never eat in the morning but out here, I pigged out. I could feel my senses waking up finally.

After breakfast, I set up atop some rocks overlooking the lake, and painted the far shore.

You don't see me use THAT color very often, but there it was, so here it is.

Look how clear the water is! We got our drinking water straight out of the creek feeding into the lake. Just pure glacier water. It tasted so much better than the bottled water we usually get from the stores. Didn't get sick, either.

Can you hear the Sound of Music soundtrack in the background?

My last sketch of the day. For a few hours after lunch when the sun is high and the light flat, I lounged around in my tent, trying to take a nap. Even though I was sleepy, I couldn't sleep because the tent was in the sun and it got a little too warm inside. So I read, I sketched, I strategized. I walked around and watched my friends paint, and waited for the golden hour. At around 3:30, I set up and started to paint. The sun leaves the valley early up here because the surrounding peaks are so high. But the tops of the Eastern peaks stay lit for a long time before it finally turns pink, and then indigo. Very pretty.

I didn't paint THAT, because by then I had a glass of wine in my hand and dinner was almost ready.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Painting in the High Sierras: Day 1

Hey everyone! Sorry for the long absence - those of you who thought I fell off the edge of the world and sent me concerned emails, thanks so much! I got the warmfuzzies :-)

But I did have a good reason for not posting. You see, the day after the Napa Valley Art Festival, (a big THANKS to you guys who came and said hello~ It was great seeing/meeting all of you!!) I left for a week-long painting expedition into the Eastern Sierras.

And now I'm going to tell you all about my trip~

My friends and fellow artists Bill Cone and Paul Kratter invited me along to this painting trip up to the mountains and I eagerly joined them. I've gone with them once before and I knew this was going to be another amazing expedition that I couldn't afford to miss. I mean, what painter wouldn't love to spend a week in the awe-inspiring splendor of the Eastern Sierras, doing nothing but painting, eating, drinking wine, and sleeping? (Notice I didn't mention cooking, or cleaning?) If you are familiar with Edgar Payne's work, you know the kind of vistas in which we were immersed.

Anyway, we convened Sunday afternoon in Mammoth Lakes to begin our adventure together. I drove alone up to Tahoe and over Carson pass, and down highway 395, one of the most picturesque highways I've ever driven. I drove alone this time which I actually didn't mind - I stopped many times on the way to take reference photos and extended a five-and-a-half-hour drive to about seven. The scenery is breathtaking all the way down to Mammoth, so I found myself rubber-necking the whole way.

I did get a speeding ticket over the Carson Pass, though, which pissed me off (going 65 on a 55 zone. Give me a break, it's a highway with no other cars on it! but I didn't say that.) but the anticipation of the coming week soon lifted my spirits.

After a quick lunch at Whoa Nellie Deli (if you're ever on a road trip this way, a good place to eat) I continued down Southbound and rolled into the lodge in Mammoth Lakes and met my friends.

The members of this year's trip consisted of Bill Cone, Paul Kratter, Bob Watters, Carolyn Hesse-Low, Michele de Bragança, John Fernbacher and myself. I'd never met Michele and John before, but they turned out to be really great. The rest of the crew are old friends, so we couldn't but have a good time in the coming days.

As per tradition, we got together for some beers at the Taproom, caught up on some gossip, and continued our chatter over a very nice dinner at Nevado's up the street.

We started early the next morning. We all drove down half an hour to to the Rock Creek Pack Station, where we dropped off all our gear. Mules were hired to take our stuff to the base station, which was some 3 miles up the mountain at Chickenfoot Lake.

Here we are at the pack station where Craig, the proprietor, entertained us with harrowing stories of mountaineering. Then they fed us a hearty breakfast, and off we went.

Mules loaded with our stuff. I don't know how many mules we actually had, but we each brought in a ton of stuff, and anything over 70lbs (per person), we carried in on our backs. All I can tell you is, bottles of wine quickly add up to heavy loads.

The climb up to the base camp was an easy hike. But at an elevation of 10,790 feet, even a little bit of climb can be strenuous. Especially if you're like me and not very fit~ I was panting like a dog soon after we left the base station.

Oh but the views! Just check out these photos. These are shot on our way up to the base camp. We could have stopped anywhere along the way and had any number of great paintings! (well, that would depend on our painting abilities, but we sure as hell didn't have any excuses!)

We passed several small lakes before we got to Chickenfoot Lake, all beautiful and paintable.

View Larger Map

We arrived before the mules did, so while we waited we explored the area a bit. There were smaller lakes farther up the mountain (Gem Lakes, 11,000ft) so some of us hiked up there to scope out possible painting sights. But it's stunning everywhere! It wasn't like we had to try very hard to find views to paint, ya know.

After the mules arrived, we each picked out a tent site and pitched our tents, and settled in. Not only did we have mules haul our gear, we had a cook who would be preparing all our meals and doing all the clean up, so we could just concentrate on painting. What's not to love!?

After some much needed rest, I decided to do a painting near the base camp. I pulled out my sketch book and started drawing a few views around the camp. One rock outcropping nearby caught my eye, and I decided to give it a go. It wasn't super complicated as far as visual problems go, so I thought it would be a perfect warm up.

Here it is. a 9 x 12 sketch of the rocks jutting out into the lake. I worked on it for a few hours at a leisurely pace, changing my mind several times about which rocks to include and which to edit out. I was reasonably satisfied with it. A pretty good start to a great week.

Kate, our cook, called us in for dinner, we popped open some nice wines and enjoyed our first evening together. What a hoot! When the sun went behind the 13000+ft peaks to the west, the temperature dropped rapidly and soon we adjourned to our individual tents. Tomorrow morning we would get up at dawn and start slinging paint!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Napa Valley Art Festival 2010

Napa Valley Art Festival is this Saturday!! I'm really looking forward to catching up with peeps of my tribe. I am also in need of being inspired by their artwork, as I'm in a middle of a serious rut that's kind of dragging on (as evidenced by the drop in the frequency of my posts).

I will be showing a dozen or so recent paintings, both studio and plein air, so if you are in the area, come on out to Napa Valley, enjoy some fine wines and come see some art. And if you do, don't forget to say Hi! (psst! mention this blog and I'll give you a discount!)

You can find more info on their website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monterey Sketches

Sorry about the longer-than-usual absence! When my frequency drops, it usually means 1)I'm busy, or 2)I have nothing good to share. This time around it's 3)Both.

I'm a little frustrated by the fact that my paintings haven't been energizing me. I can't seem to figure out why, either. They're not bad paintings –I think they're fine, but I'm starting to want something different from them and I'm not seeing it. If I knew what that something was, I could at least tackle this problem head-on, but at this point, it just feels a little blah.

So for a change of pace, I went down to Monterey with my family and spent a few days there visiting the aquarium, (I love the tuna tank!) eating seafood and just taking in the coastal environment. I did get a few sketches in, too. I think I'm getting better at sneaking away and getting a little painting time on these family trips.

The top pic shows my easel on the craggy rocks in Pacific Grove. The weather was mostly gray and chilly, especially in the early mornings. But I didn't mind that, as long as it didn't get too wet or windy. I did have to be extra careful with my footing though. I have a habit of stepping back from my easel without watching where my feet land, and as you can see from my pic, there isn't much room to step back!

This is the view I painted;

It had a lot of visual activity and one of the things I wanted to do was to simplify that mess. In doing so, my strategy was to resolve the focal area first, and paint the surrounding rocks more gesturaly as I moved away from the center of interest. This is in contrast to bringing up the whole thing at the same time and tightening up the focal area at the end, leaving the surrounding areas un-tightened.

Both are perfectly valid approaches. I find the first method works better for me, especially if there is a lot of visual activity.

Anyway, here's my start with very loose washes, just placing the main elements and blocking in the darks.

Getting started with the main rock. I tried not to deviate from literal color too much in this painting. Often I ditch the actual colors I see in front of me in favor of subjective color choices in order to make the kind of paintings that I want to see on my wall. But for this one, I decided to treat it like an exercise in staying reasonably close to what was in front of me.

The value structure of the main rock is more or less resolved, so I move on to areas around it.

I had to fight the urge to render the foreground rocks too much, as they were just a supporting cast and I didn't want them to have a greater role than just being there.

And this is the finished painting. About an hour and a half in the painting, it started to drizzle a bit, which put a veil of sorts between my rock and the background. I decided to go with it, even though we're not supposed to chase the light, right? The light also became cooler, which is why this pic looks a little bluer. It's not because I repainted the rocks to match the cooler color. It's just the light under which I photographed the finished painting.

My other painting was of some boats in the harbor. This was a much wetter, colder morning and I didn't even have my coffee. How can you paint without a good dose of caffeine running through your veins?

The main boat was a non-descript fishing vessel, and I kinda liked the tired look of it. The painting turned out so-so, which is not surprising considering my less-than-positive attitude, but that's OK. At least I was out there painting.

This is my painting toward the end. By then the boats have all turned around to face the opposite direction. Such is the challenge of painting boats like these, eh?

I don't have a proper shot of this painting because I scraped it after I got home.

The highlight of this trip, I have to say was the discovery of a wonderful restaurant in Monterey called Esteban. It's a tapas restaurant, and though little pricey, I highly recommend it. It's not often that I go to a restaurant and be inspired and impressed by the restraint of flavoring. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though there was a wedding reception going on on the other side of the dining room wall and it got pretty loud – a big turn off under normal circumstances, but I was so taken by the food that I didn't even mind Kesha blasting right through the walls!