Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, February 25, 2011

Back To The Grind

Well! Thanks so much for all your encouraging comments on the last post! You guys made my good news even better :-)

However, I must switch gears and get back to the grind before this unexpected good fortune goes to my head. That would really mess up my painting mojo which is already always precarious.

So back to the dirty palette, to a humble value sketch. This here is a 9 x 12 oil sketch using black, brown, and white.  The idea behind the extremely limited palette is simple enough; Focus on the value and the big design and worry not about color... too much.

As you can see, by using both black and brown (Ivory Black and Transparent Oxide Red in this case) I can actually get a range of hues from blues to reds, and all the violets in between, albeit very muted. By juxtaposing blueish notes and reddish notes and taking care not to mix them up – that is, keep each color note's identity intact – I can get a sense of more color than I might expect from this measly set up.

Monochromatic value studies as you know are a great first step in learning to paint with oils. After spending some time (for example, a year of nothing but serious charcoal studies in a traditional atelier) getting to know how the paint handles can best be learned by focusing just on value studies for a while, so that you're not worried about color. With just one color, the problems we have to solve are still challenging, but nothing compared to the overwhelming amount of information we have to process and execute in full color. It's like learning your alphabet looooong before learning to write a novel, right?

This black+brown+white, then, is the next logical step in the study of learning to paint. By just adding one muted hue, we can start to explore hue and temperature in addition to value, but in a very limited way. In fact, you won't get a sense of color unless you're careful to keep your strokes alive, so it is a very good way to get in the habit of paying attention to your strokes, too.

"But it's so...dull! I like lots of color!", a student might say. Well OK, that's fine, but this isn't about expressing yourself with lots of color, it's about control. And without controlling your values, color is not going to do your bidding. We have to learn our ABC's first.

After you get the hang of working with this limited palette, you might try switching the black with ultramarine, thereby increasing the saturation range, or adding yellow ochre to the mix, completing the primaries. Practice, practice, practice!!


  1. Hi Terry,
    I missed your last post as I could not come online. Heartiest Congratulations on such a wonderful achievement!
    Thanks also for this wonderful lesson.
    Best wishes,

  2. Such a gorgeous piece, Terry. I wish I could approach art in an academic way. The foundations are so important and I have a tendency to gloss right on past the important things like values.

  3. Thanks Autumn~

    I tend to skip over the important foundation stuff too. that's why I do these exercises. when you do monochromatic, you kinda don't have a choice but pay attention to value.

  4. Great advice. I've definitely been tending towards the middle range of values and need to expand. I love this one, and wouldn't change a thing. Study, maybe, but it feels strong to me.

  5. The more I paint, the more I believe this is true! Thanks for the reminder and a great lesson!

  6. Great advice! I like using the limited palette! Congrats by the way!!