Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, October 29, 2010

Brooke At Rest

This is from figure open session at the School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks, Ca. (if you are in the area, you must come join me. $10 / session, nice people, steal my techniques.)

I remembered to take some shots along the way for your viewing pleasure. Please keep in mind these shots are taken with my phone, so the colors aren't so great. But you can still see the thought process, and there's a lot to be learned from that. I'm not saying you should learn anything from these. I'm saying I have a lot I can learn from retracing my steps this way. One of the great benefits of seeing a progression like this is that I can see where I made dumb moves and where I made smart ones, on purpose or other wise. And the next time I paint, I might avoid making the dumb moves, and I might be able to do the good moves on purpose.


I started this one with a massing approach. (as opposed to drawing with line). I didn't tone the canvas, because I knew I wanted the background to be fairly light. As you can see, it's very loose and general. I'm looking for general proportion relationship and gesture.


 Here you can see the model seated on the stand.

Into this scrubbed-in mass, I drew in with a small brush, trying to find anatomy and smaller shapes. (relatively, that is. the shapes are still pretty big.)


 And then I washed in a tone around the figure, so now I have a better sense of the figure-ground value relationship. I pulled out a few lights using paper towel wrapped around my finger, and hit some darkest dark notes.

 Starting in with the colors. I began with the shadow side of the skin. I wanted to it be relatively high key. It's a mixture of blue, red, brown, and white.

Nearly all the shapes are blocked in with approximate colors, and the value structure is more or less working now.  Looking back, I like the roughness of this stage the best.

 After everything is blocked in and working in traditional representational sort of realm, I start messing around with abstraction for abstraction's sake. Softening some edges, sharpening others - not necessarily based on "rules of realism", but in less expected ways. I switch back and forth between representational thinking and pure abstract thinking. Often it's a big conflict between the two modes of thinking, but I've been putting more muscle behind the abstract side lately.

I had a momentary vision of Brooke sitting there in a leotard. So I altered her clothing. I can't make up clothes and render them convincingly if I were painting tighter, but a leotard is basically just a silhouette, so I can just suggest where the hems are. 

In the end it got pretty messy but I liked it that way. I'm such a left-brained person, that anything this abstract feels like magic to me. Even though I did it, I can't figure out how I did it. It feels... not exactly foreign, unfamiliar in some sense, yet I can see a lot of my personality in it. It's like my subconscious spilled out. OOOooohhh I don't know if I want to go there. Haha~


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Subtle Skies

What can I tell you about this painting...?  It's a 9 x 12, oil on linen, in-studio painting. No references. 

Painting from memory is a good way to edit out the unnecessary junk that tries to sneak into your composition when you're painting from observation or from photos. The theory goes, we only remember what's worth remembering, so naturally everything that goes into a memory painting is important. It's pre-edited by our inability to remember everything. 

In actuality, I find that I remember all kinds of stuff that I'd rather not remember. And they do sneak into my paintings. But I still think there's a lot of merit to the theory, if only to force us to make design a priority over copying literally.

But enough about that. Recently, I've been trying to make subtler skies in my painting. Closer harmonies between the blue of the sky, the lit and shadow parts of the clouds.  I'm not sure why I'm drawn to subtle skies more than dramatic ones. I think there's a mood in skies like these that's hard to explain, and I'm looking for an emotional trigger of some sort. It's like trying to remember what a Sunday afternoon felt like when I was a kid, and for whatever reason none of my neighborhood friends were around. I remember having this anxious awareness of self, alone in a world where time has slowed down. Anxious, as I said, but somehow familiar and comforting too. Is there a name for this kind of emotion? I dunno. 

The relatively active brushwork of the trees, and the big value range in the land mass helps to make the sky seem even more subtle by comparison. I thought I might be able to exploit the active vs. passive contrast here, and I think it worked pretty well. Who was it that said, "if something looks too dark, make something else darker."   It's the same idea. if the sky doesn't look quiet enough, make the trees louder.

Just thinking out loud.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Landscape Class

Big Remembered Sky, 24 x 36 inches, oil on linen.

For purchasing information please contact Anne Loucks Gallery

My six-part landscape class started last week with fourteen students. This is an in-studio class where each week, we investigate a specific topic, such as trees, the sky, creating depth, atmosphere. 

The first session was devoted to an overview of sorts, whereby I did a two-and-a-half hour demo taking a painting from start to finish. 

Starting this week, I plan on having more of a routine; a quick look at homework, demo/lecture, topic-specific exercises. This week's topic is trees! Hmmm let's see, what am I going to talk about? Form, gesture, color, massing, trunks and branches, sky holes, shaping, integrating into the landscape... Lots to cover. I'm sure I won't run out of stuff to say about trees~

With this class, I'm also trying something new, and that is to incorporate technology more. I started a blog-based course supplement, where I can post images and notes, homework assignment details, and the students can post their images and questions too. This way I have a single point of communication for everyone to share knowledge and information. Yes it's a lot of work but it will enrich the learning experience. I hope it will, anyway. I've never done it before so it's work in progress. 

OK, now I need to work on my lesson plan~

Friday, October 22, 2010


I'm writing tonight from a hotel room in Reno. I'm here with my family for the weekend to watch my son swim. I like swim meets, but boy, I don't like driving on mountain roads in the rain. Even if it's a big freeway.

I'm posting the little painting sequence I did today at the figure session. The model sat in the chair cradling a trumpet and sporting a tired fedora(?).  In contrast to the previous head study, I started this one with a loose mass. No initial placement of the features, and the paint is washy.  I was just concerned with placing big masses within the limited space.

Next I pulled out some lights in the face to separate light from shadow The resulting pattern is simple but now we can see where the features go.


I then used an opaque mixture and a couple of variations to bring out some of the topography in the lit area. We see a little bit of volume defined now, due to the value changes but also because the form shadow edges and cast shadow edges are (overly) clearly deliniated.


I started filling in the shirt area with a couple of grays, and sketched in the hands and the trumpet. I placed the trumpet before the hands because it was easier to draw and I could reference it to position the hands accurately. If I tried to fit a trumpet after painting the hands, I would have had a much harder time.


Starting to define the shirt, and laying down some paint in the background. The background at this point is very similar to the shirt color. The actual background was dark green, but I wanted something more subjective. I thought losing the shirt's edges into the background might be a good start.


More definition, and bold abstract marks toward the bottom of the painting.


Hmmm, rather than using the light of the shirt for the background, how about the shadow side? That blue violet thing might be nice. One way to find out~  Also messing around with the sculpting of the head. More definition? less? I did a lot of pushing and pulling, going back and forth between rendering and obliterating.

 Some highlights on the brass, finding the drawing in the shoulder areas, struggling with abstraction in the shadow side of the face. I want it to be sort of loose and receding, but more I manipulate (read: get fussy) the less it recedes.

In the end, I lightened up the background, hit a few prominent reflected lights in the shadow side of the head to show big volume but no detail, gave him a smirk, and blasted the white of the shirt with thick paint. I also sharpened the trumpet's edges and hit highlights on it to make it more metallic. 

I'm pretty satisfied with it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Head Sketch

A little head sketch. Actually, it's just the beginning of a sketch. I didn't get very far because I was doing this in between my "rounds" during class, but I did manage to take shots of the process with my iPhone. (That is to say, sorry for the poor quality of the photos :-)

The first pic shows the basic darw-in.  Pretty loose. I'm just trying to indicate the volume of the head mass (note the front and the side planes are differentiated) and place the features more or less where they should be.


 And then I drew in the neck and what's visible of the upper torso.  The little near-vertical line across the collar of her shirt indicates the center of the front of her torso, defines which way the torso is facing.

 Roughly filling in the shadow areas. Sometimes I use washes. This time I used a more dry-brushy scrubby technique. Either way works. No particular reason why I used this method except whim.

 Switching to opaque colors (up till now, it was transparent), I started in on the shadow side of the face. I'm still painting pretty dry, but noting three or four main variations all in the shadow side, and loosely indicating them.

 I now filled in the lit side. Sometimes I start with the lit side, other times I start with the shadow side. I'm not sure what the deciding factor is, if there is one. This particular head was nearly back lit, so I decided to go really light in the light side, almost washed out. And the shadow side is also keyed up as well. 

More paint and manipulating edges and transitions, adjusting anatomy and defining the center of interest. (the eye closest to us)


I got some paint in the background, and started defining the contour a bit from the outside. On her lit side I wanted to lose edges almost completely.  The drawing started to get wonky but I ran out of time. I figured I'd just take it home and finish it up.  Later I realized I didn't take a photo of the model. I tried to paint from memory, something I do often enough but this was a sort of a portrait treatment, which means I really needed accuracy. Without the model or a photo reference, it just got sloppy and too generic so...

I got a nicely toned canvas for another painting!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some Recent Goings On

It finally feels like autumn around here. Chilly weather and wanderlust. I want to GO somewhere! Italy sounds great right about now, but no can do. Parental duties take priorities. When my son was little we could just pull him out of school and go on a trip sometimes, but now that he's in the eighth grade we can't do that sort of thing any more. And my daughter is three and a half - not an easy age for travel. 

So I've finished and mailed off twenty some-odd paintings to Anne Loucks Gallery in Chicago. They should be up on the walls by now. If you're in the area, please stop by and check them out. I've made some progress on my landscape chops this summer, and this series of paintings hopefully show this. May be not. But humor me, will you?

I am currently working on several commissioned paintings. They are coming along really great - I am very happy with them so far. I will post them here after they're finished, delivered, and OK'd.

Figure painting class continues. Although mine is not a sequential class, it's been really great working with a group of dedicated artists. Sometimes we get discouraged because it's so damn hard, but sticking with it will always bring us the next victory, the next high. Teaching this stuff makes me a better painter too, because I have to articulate the concepts, which means they have to be clear in my head. I can't just push paint around "and see what happens".  If you ask me, once a week is not nearly enough but hey, we take what we can get. 

This week, I begin my six-part, in-studio class; Landscape Painting; The Essential Concepts. You see, as we head into the winter months, it becomes very difficult to schedule plein air workshops and classes due unpredictable weather.  So we've come up with a six-week studio class where, each week we explore a specific issue of the landscape painting process. For example, one week we would do just trees. I would do a demo, talk about what to look for in different types trees, light situations, approaches in visually articulating trees, sky holes, edges... the works. Then I would have the students do some simple exercises, and may be give out homework.  The following week, we do it all over again, this time focusing on the sky.

Of course one can't cover all the essential concepts in just six sessions, no. But I think we can cover a lot. By breaking down the problems to smaller, simpler chunks, and focusing on them - and not worrying about orchestrating an entire picture - I think it will be a good way to understand and learn the basic concepts of landscape painting.  

I don't think one can learn how to paint the landscape solely by painting from photographs. At some point we have to go outside and observe what nature really does, and learn how to interpret that onto our canvases. But as anyone who has ever tried painting en plein air  knows, it is a hell of a lot of information out there that need to be processed in order to make one little painting. The more prior knowledge you have about how to handle each visual problem, the easier the actual battle will be.  And some of this knowledge can be learned inside where it's warm and comfortable. Not all, but some. In fact it might even be more effective if we isolate the problem from the context of the actual landscape.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing starting this Thursday.  The class is already full (sorry, it filled up before I even announced it) but if it goes well, I will definitely repeat it in the spring, and I may add a part II to look into more advanced ideas, and work plein air sessions into the series.

Right now I gotta go work on my lesson plan!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lie Down. Relax. Go To Sleep.

 For the model, reclining poses are sometimes very easy and relaxing. Depends on the pose, obviously, but since I look for more natural poses, I tend to direct them that way. I'm not particularly a good director, so I rely a lot on the models to give me what feels natural and unforced. Needless to say, I value competence in models. It ain't an easy job, that's for sure.

For the painter –in a classroom set up, anyway–a reclining pose can be very challenging. Suddenly there are all these unfamiliar angles and foreshortening that you never had to deal with in a simple upright pose, and it really tests your drawing skills. 

In a classroom, there are only few lines of sight where you don't get difficult foreshortening challenges. While some are up to the challenge and actually like the extreme angles, many less experienced students find only frustration with a reclining pose. 

In this particular painting, I had one of the more direct, easier angles, which suited me fine. The challenge for me, was that the figure gave me this snaking M shaped thing- from the elbow to the shoulder, down the torso, and to the leg.  It just looked like a really boring composition on my canvas, so I had to figure out ways to break that shape up. I tried light background, dark background, losing edges, changing shadow shapes...  

It was a three hour pose and I couldn't resolve it in that time so I worked on it a few more hours at home. Only when I no longer had the model to look at, was I able to see the painting in the abstract and make some big changes. It was a big reminder that having the reference available - whether it's a live model or a photograph, really limits my ability to freely change what I have on my canvas. I can't paint a figure like that strictly from memory, but when it comes to making decisions in the abstract, I have to put away the reference to switch gears.

Speaking of big changes, what finally worked was to change the figure's gender. You see, the model we had was male, and very angular and sinewy, with more muscle definition.  Hard to explain without a "before" picture, but his form contributed to the funny composition. In the end, I gave it a more rounded, fuller form, with a suggestion of a breast.  I could have made her more curvaceous, I suppose, but I decided it was unnecessary.

This one did not under go any sex changes. She's a beautiful model but built more like a runway model. I wasn't sure if I could get into painting her nude, what with those really long arms and legs - I don't particularly want to paint Barbie Dolls, in other words.  But reclined and twisted, she looked great. 

 Come paint with me. On Fridays, I paint at The School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks, CA. We have a model, sometimes nude, sometimes clothed. 10am - 1pm. $10. No instruction. Bring your own materials, including a portable easel.

I also have a few spots in my weekly figure painting class which happens on Wednesday afternoons. I demos and provide individual instruction for this one. $144 / 4 sessions. You don't have to be "already good" (if you are, you don't need my class!) but some experience with oil paints is highly recommended. We've got a fun and supportive group and nobody will bite :-) 

Since space is limited, you do have to sign up to take this class. Please contact the School for more info and to register:

The School of Light and Color
10030 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some Sunny Sonoma Shots

OK so here are some sunny shots from the workshop. See? It wasn't all cold and gray. Here I am doing my demo at the edge of the cliff. Can't tell from this picture but it's a hundred foot drop to the water, straight down. I had to set up inches from a certain death to get the view I wanted. No, not really, but it made a good photo! Some of the ladies scolded me (they're motherly) for being a crazy fool.  I knew I was safe.


 My first demo, the block-in stage.

'splaining my set up.  Soltek, French Companion, Gamblin paints, Blick brushes, etc.


 At our base camp. Ronan and I are manning the grills, enjoying Cline old vine Zin. The deck is huge and covered, so if we had rain, we could still paint en plen air. Finding a good plan B spot like this is one of the biggest challenges of putting together a workshop. We were fortunate to have good weather so we never used it for class, but it gave me a peace of mind to have this option. We did get good use out of it for our little party!  Check out this view from the deck:

 The totem in the distance marks Timber Cove Inn, which is where many of us stayed. Looks far from here but it's only a mile away.

Look at the blue shadow in the water. Is that actually lighter than the lit part of the blue water? how about the dark, wet rock? hrmmm...


 Heather sketching, planning her attack.

The view to the South. Gawjus!


 OK these shots aren't sunny but I thought you might like to see a few process shots, starting with my thumbnails.

Drawing in the main shapes.


After blocking in with thin, transparent paint. Some areas are washes, others are drier. Basically, it's just breaking down the view into really simple value structure.


 On top of that, I started to put down opaque colors, trying to get them if not accurate, reasonably close so I wouldn't have to make huge changes later.

This is close to finish. The far landmass wasn't actually there. I put that in to demonstrate atmospheric perspective.  I took out many of the rocks and simplified my picture - if it weren't a demo, I probably wouldn't have edited so severely. But I couldn't take up everyone's painting time, so I kept it small, and simple.

Want to come join us next time we go there?  Your best bet at getting in is to be on my mailing list. If you wait for me to tell you about it on my website or this blog, it'll be already filled. 

Got some figger paintin's to show ya on the next post!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Last Thursday I did a little demo in front of a room full of people. Basically, I painted a landscape from memory, from thumbnail to finish in two hours - which is about how long I usually take if I were sketching en plein air.  The actual painting time was probably a lot shorter because I was talking the whole time, explaining what I was doing and why.

 I have enough experience now painting in front of people that I don't get nervous but I think I still went too fast. I paint too fast and talk too fast. But then if I slow down, I can't get the painting to a stage where it looks decent. (my paintings look pretty much a mess until the last 10%). 

I think doing live demos and talking at the same time, is a very difficult thing. Some artists do it really well, while others hardly talk during their demos. An experienced painter can get a lot out of another's demo without any verbal explanation, but for everyone else, I feel like I need to give a running commentary, if only to make me feel like I'm doing my job. I'm not a multi-tasker so (walking and chewing gum at the same time is the extent of my multi-tasking). painting and talking is quite a challenge for me.  I've gotten better over the years, but still I can feel my gears rapidly switching from painting to explaining and back again, obviously using different parts of my brain, and not running concurrently. It's a weird feeling. 

To be sure, I have learned to enjoy it. I've always had a tremendous fear of speaking in public, but if it's a painting demo, I don't seem to have a problem. Probably because the assumed relationship is that the people are there because they want to hear and see what I have to offer, and that they see some value in the information.  At least, I have to convince myself that is the case, or I'll get way too nervous to function properly. Not fun.

Here's the painting I did in front of 35 people. This was, as I said, painted from memory. I had set up a small camera and projected the palette onto the wall so everyone can see what I was doing on the palette as well as on the canvas. I didn't have high-end equipment so the colors on the projection were off,  but at least they could see which colors went into each mixture. I always like seeing stuff like that when watching other people paint, so I thought it might be fun to do it here, too. 

The demo panel is 11 x 14, oil on linen (claessens #66) mounted on 1/4 inch MDF board. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back From The Coast

I'm back from the edge of the world! This weekend I taught a three-day workshop at Timber Cove on the Sonoma Coast. What a beautiful place!  These pics don't do justice. 

A quick recap then. On Friday we arrived at Timber Cove just before lunch. The drive up the coast from Bodega Bay was nothing short of spectacular, as it was sunny and clear and the waters looked cerulean and phthalo and ultramarine.  I was antsy to get started. 

After a quick lunch, I greeted everyone and right away set up on the clifftop to do my demo. I painted the rocks jutting out into the cove with the afternoon sun hitting the side of the cliff, explaining what I was doing and why.


 The demo went smoothly, and afterward some of the students set up to get to work, while others went into the lodge for something warm to drink. (It got a little chilly later in the afternoon)

That evening we gathered at Fort Ross Inn, where I had reserved a big suite in case we had adverse weather. It had a big covered deck from which we could paint even if we had rain.  The room itself was big, so we could have potentially held class if the weather was really bad. The other purpose of the room was to have a gathering place where we could have a party on Friday evening. We fired up a few grills, threw on some chicken and veggies, popped open some wines and had a merry ol' time. 

Half the fun of doing these workshops is getting to know people and making new friends, ya know? Good food and wine after the working day is done makes these workshops extra fun. 

 I woke up in the morning and a foggy, gray day greeted me. This was expected, actually, and I thought the fog would be a good thing to show people how atmospheric perspective works. 

At times, the fog got pretty thick, which made painting easy in some ways but quite challenging in other ways.

 I mean, to paint thick fog, you need a couple of shades of gray and not much more. But then it's just big flat shapes and can be pretty boring. And when it gets too thick...

You just have to stop what you're doing for a while. 

It did clear up in the afternoon and we saw some beautiful colors, and patterns. I didn't get any sunny shots but if I get some from my students, I'll post them.

At the end of the day we convened at our big suite for a crit and wine session.


 On Sunday we had another gray morning. It was less foggy during my demo but still plenty moody-gray.  Afterward everyone worked on more gray-day paintings. I can't believe my students' stamina! They're like marathon runners. Or Energizer Bunnies.

By mid afternoon, they were running out of fuel, which is typical of a three day workshop like this. When we stop actively engaging the painting process and start going through the motions on auto-pilot, it's time to stop.  We still had time so I did an impromptu demo. Someone asked about memory painting, so I turned my easel away from the view and did this quickie from memory. I wanted to make a point about the nature of memory painting, that it's not really about remembering exactly what something looks like, but retaining information about that something's defining characters, whether it be colors, gestures, textures or what have you. A lot of it is building imagery using logic and "rules of realism".  I think it's important to practice as much memory painting (or making stuff up) as painting from observation. Each will help the other greatly.

Anyway, the workshop was a great success and I went home exhausted but very satisfied. I'll definitely do this again, so if you missed out this time, please make sure you're on my mailing list. (link on the sidebar). If you are getting my e-newsletter, (goes out maybe once a month, or every other month) you're already on it.

I just realized I never got a chance to post about last month's Amador Wine Country workshop. I'll try and get some pics up from that one soon, too~