Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Ate Too Much

Because that's what I do on Thanksgiving. I eat too much.  How can I not? The feast is irresistible. 

So I was down South all week, hanging out with my kids and their cousins at Legoland and Wild Animal Park (now called Safari Park, but it'll always be Wild Animal Park to me!). I wasn't sure if I'd have any time to paint at all, but I brought my gear anyway. I'm glad I did, too, because I did manage to get out a couple of times while the family was still asleep in the mornings.


 The hotel where we stayed was only a block or two from the ocean, so I didn't have to travel far to find a spot. In fact, I didn't even have to look around - it's a long stretch of coastline like this, and I can pretty much just park anywhere and I had a nice view. I should just pick up my family and move there!

My thumbnail. I saw this composition as a two-value structure, which keeps things very simple. In direct light situations where light / shadow patterns are clear and interesting, I often use a two-value structure. Just light and shadow. Ignore all local value variations. I can add those in the painting stage as necessary, but the main organization will stay the same. If you'll look back at my painting, you may notice that variations within the lit areas (or shadow areas, for that matter) are mostly hue / saturation changes, and the values are kept very close and tight. This gives me enough variety visually without breaking up the structure that I established in the thumbnail.

Here's my set up. I brought my Soltek easel with me. On family trips, I sometimes bring an Open Box M because it takes up less space in my car. This time around, I was able to squeeze in my bulky gear.

On the following morning, I was out again but it was a little windy and chilly. I got my coffee and sat in the car, contemplating whether to freeze my ass off for my art. I felt that I should do something, but I was just getting over a nasty cold and I didn't want to get sick again. 

This was the view from my parked car - it's not particularly picturesque or anything, but it had that California beach town feel and I wondered what makes it feel like that? The lack of tall buildings?  The big open sky? The style of the buildings? I concluded that it was a combination of factors, but I couldn't really define it satisfactorily. So I decided to paint it. If I can't articulate it with words, may be I can do it visually.

As I pondered, I did my thumbnail in my sketchbook. Under an overcast sky, I'm not dealing with light/shadow patterns. Rather, I have to use the local values to give me structure. Light / dark, rather than light / shadow. Big difference. Still I was able to describe it in just two values. How much definition do I need to create a believable scene? Not much. 

Most things in this picture were going to be just abstract notes of color. I just have to pay attention to where I place them, so that the perspective doesn't get out of whack.

I was able to set up my easel next to my car, which conveniently served as a windbreak. I think of my SUV as an essential part of my gear for that reason.

Anyway, I wasted too much time thinking about whether to paint or not, that when I finally got going I had only about an hour. (else I would miss breakfast!) I quickly sketched in the drawing, and filled in the main shapes, added a few color variations on bigger shapes (the road, for one), sharpened a few edges and used the knife's edge to add telephone wires, and that's all I did with this one.

From inside the car. My palette is the French Companion, a wooden box with a 12 x 16 mixing surface. The lid flips open to serve as side trays, on which I lay out my brushes, palette knife, the cleaning tank. On the left side tray which is out of view, I typically have my clean brushes and a cup of coffee.  It's made to be used with a French easel (hence the name) but it works really nicely with a Soltek. It is heavy and bulky though, so it's not so convenient for hiking in, but for roadside painting, it's a great set up.

Now I'm back home in Sacramento. It's time to get back to work!

Friday, November 19, 2010


 Today's figure session. I just had a 9 x 12 panel, so I decided to do a head study. I wasn't set up close enough to the model to do a portrait, so that wasn't my aim. Having some distance from the model does help me to subordinate the details and work with the larger forms of the head.

I started by drawing the basic form and placing the features. As you may have seen in recent posts, I don't always start this way - sometimes I just wash in a mass and start modeling the big forms by pulling the lights out. I tend to start with a drawing when I'm working larger (scale). This head is about 7 or 8 inches from top of the head to the chin.

 There's the model. See Molly, the studio mascot on the floor? She looks huge in this picture!

 Using a few different values, I blocked in the face in a manner that might be described as overlapping mosaic tiles. The paint is opaque, but not thick.

 A little modeling and starting in with the shirt. He's looking more Caucasian than the model. As I'm using the model only for structural reference, it doesn't really bother me. I like changing nuances of the features to see how it affects the look of my painted head.  In the course of a study like this, I make many changes just for kicks. Often my friends will make a comments about something they noticed in my painting and I'll just run with it. It's kinda like improv, see.

 So someone said he looked like a warlord. OK, let's go with that. How do I make him look more like a warlord? The word conjures up flavors of the Orient, so I started to manipulate the features somewhat. Sharper eyes, a mandarin collar, etc.

Of course he needs hoop ear rings. And a fu manchu! Oh! and a red Chinese dragon embroidered on his jacket! I was vaguely recalling that opium den painting by NC Wyeth.

I cleaned up some edges, lightened the background, and voila! 

The tops of the photos are a little washed out and glary, unfortunately. As usual, I just snapped the sequence shots with my iPhone. I'll be sure to take a proper shot of the finished painting once it's dry.

Another fun session!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Miniature Season

 Many galleries put on a small works or miniature show around this time of the year. The idea is to make affordable paintings available for the gift giving season. For the collector or the would-be collector, this is an opportunity to snatch up some really nice paintings by their favorite artists. Some big name artists whose works are usually very expensive can be found at surprisingly reasonable prices because of the small formats! Sometimes, the small pieces you find at these shows are studies or sketches. I personally really enjoy looking at studies by artists I admire as much, if not more, than their large finished works because their working methods and thought processes are more readily visible in a study. They offer glimpses into the the artists' minds. Needless to say, such a glimpse can be extremely instructive.

 Not all "small works" are studies, of course. Some are quite more involved and fully resolved. I dare not say whether there are more "finished" works than sketches in these shows - some painters sketches are indistinguishable from their finished works, too. But I do like hunting for the more sketchy works if I go see a miniature show. 

For the participating artists, these shows are opportunities to reach a wider viewership and perhaps new collectors as well. The financial benefit from miniature shows is usually nothing to write home about. We are offering low priced items, with high cost to the artist (gallery commission, framing, shipping) and often you're just one of dozens of artists each showing several paintings. The gallery may do well, but the individual artist? Not so much.

Still, I like doing little paintings anyway, and I have collectors who look forward to adding a miniature painting or two to their collection every year, so I participate in several of these shows usually.

The three paintings posted here are all 6 x 6, and will be shown at Randy Higbee Gallery in Orange County, Ca.  I don't know who all's participating, but I do know many of my friends are. There will be some real gems in this show. If you're in the area, don't miss it!

6 x 6 Show
Randy Higbee Gallery
102 Kalmus, Costa Mesa, CA

Opening Reception: Saturday, December 4th, 5pm - ?

The exhibition will run through December 23rd, but the really good stuff will be snatched up on the opening night.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I'm a coffee drinker. Or more precisely, an addict. But I've cut back considerably in the last twenty years - I'm now down to only one pot a day! I like my coffee fresh, and I like it strong but not so strong that its acidity or bitterness overpowers the nice roasty flavor of a good French Roast. I drink my coffee black.

I drink coffee whenever I'm working.  If I have to work at night, I still have to have coffee. This wasn't a problem when I was younger and my schedules more flexible, but with kids in school it does beat me up. Drinking coffee won't keep me up at night but I often wake up exhausted, and I'm no good the next day.  I have a night class to teach once a week, so on Fridays I'm a zombie. It's a good thing that these open figure sessions are on Friday mornings - a no pressure, ease into your groove kind of thing. Surrounded by other painters of considerable skill, it's both inspiring and energizing. Just what a zombie needs.

This painting was done at yesterday's session. No, we did not have the session in a restaurant - that junk is made up as usual. If you want to see what the set up actually looked like, my pal DaLo has some pics on his blog. Check 'em out~  You'll see just how much I abuse and exploit my artistic license! There are other good painters in there but I don't think they have blogs, or if they do their efforts haven't been posted. Too bad, because it would be really interesting and instructive to ponder upon each artist's decision making process that lead to the final outcome. (Are you reading this, Susan?)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams, oil on linen

I painted this yesterday. Brooke was our model again, struck a reclining pose for us. It took a while before this painting took shape. I experimented with a very light background first, with the idea that I would lose much of the lit edge (top) of the figure into the background, thereby defining less. 

But as her hair is dark, it put too much contrast in that part of the picture. I didn't want a lot of emphasis on her head / face, because mystery and anonymity is top priority for me. (That's also the reason why I often don't paint facial features) 

I tried dark background behind the head area, and light background behind the rest of the figure but it just looked too contrived. I finally settled on a dark background, popping the contrast between her back and the darkness beyond. "Poppin' it" is something I've been avoiding lately in an effort to define less (that mystery thing again) but throwing her face in the shadow here effectively took care of the mystery aspect. I decided to overemphasize that line of her back. I mean it is a beautiful line! I used a super sharp edge there, (if I were to be more academic, that edge should be softer because it's turning away from us, and into darkness even) which I hope looks intentional.

I like this a lot.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Here's one from last week. It's about 12 x 16 ish. Pushing abstraction more and more lately, and I like the direction in which my figurative works are going. I like the fact that it's going in a certain direction at all. And it's picking up momentum, too.  I'd better get serious and do more of these! Once a week is not nearly enough to keep this train moving forward. I have to do more, more and some more~

Too bad there aren't more hours in a day!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Brooke At Rest, Redux

Brooke at Rest, oil on linen

 Staring at the images of the earlier stages of this painting, (see last post) I can easily see that in the process of building the painting I lost the gesture somehow. Mainly, I lost the slouch, the relaxed curve of her back. The more I looked at it, the more I felt I needed to have that slouch back. I decided well, there's nothing to lose here because I don't like what I have, as is.

It seemed like an easy fix, but upon trying to figure out what needed to happen, I realized that to move the spine means moving everything else too. The head had to be moved to the left and lowered. In the course of doing so, I ditched the red scarf thingy. I thought in the previous version, the red fabric made too big a statement. I left a little bit of it, like a hair band or a ribbon of some sort, mainly for color accent but I wanted a more generalized head - I opted for a tight bun that I see dancers always wear. Of course, it meant that I had to repaint the head entirely, so that's what I did.

Curving the back outward meant that the front had to go inward, else the torso would be too thick. I repainted the torso.

 Moving the torso didn't affect the positions of her legs because her hips stayed where they were, but I was bothered by her left (the one closest to us) leg having too much of a "sausage effect".  I decided to bring her other foot closer to the body, so the left knee would overlap the right heel, creating a continuous shape.  Doing so created an isolated triangle framed by her leg masses, but given the choice between that and a big sausage, I thought it was a better choice. I did lose the rough, transparent and textural quality that the original leg had,  (because I had to paint it opaque to cover it up) but that couldn't be helped.

Moving the leg meant I had to repaint her hand, too. I'm still working on the gesture of it. It's a tricky thing, to say the least.

The background had to be redone also, because there was considerable shaping from the outside.

So pretty much, I ended up painting the whole thing over! Looking at it now, I think I can work on it some more. It's interesting to see how the painting keeps changing on me. It's got a life of its own, that's for sure~