Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, February 11, 2011


You may have noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. It's not for lack of trying! You see, being a clumsy oaf that I am, I dropped my camera and apparently broke something in the lens. It doesn't function properly anymore. Oddly, I can get it to take an OK picture some of the time, if I keep shooting away. Of course I can't rely on an instrument that only works when it wants to, so now I have to buy a new lens for my camera. Boohoo~  Luckily, the camera body itself seems to be working fine so I won't have to replace the really expensive part of it. Whew.

Ok so this painting I'm posting today is one of those fluke shots that came out ok. If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you'll recognize the motif as I've painted the same facade from the same ref photo several times before, each time trying out something new. A different cropping, color scheme, abstraction, treatment of surfaces, etc. With this one, I wanted a tighter cropping and a softer transition between the lit half and the shadow half. Also, I kept my paint strokes thin and patchy in the beginning and built up the surface more or less gradually, as I sometimes do with my landscapes. 

This type of painting requires that the drawing be accurate, which poses a real problem when you also want to be expressive. How do you balance the two? I think there are many ways to do it, but in this case I started with a tight drawing that I carefully transposed onto the canvas surface using a grid. When I say "tight" drawing, I don't mean rendered–just placed the main elements as accurately as I can, with just the outline of shapes.

As I separated the darks from the lights with thin paint, I kept my drawing intact. I then started to build up the surface with opaque colors, first thinly, and getting thicker as the image developed. As I put more paint on, I deliberately lost edges (thereby losing the drawing) in small patches, and found them again immediately with fresh colors. 

If, in trying to be expressive I worked all over and lost edges everywhere, I would have had a very difficult time finding them again. But if I lost only small areas, leaving tiny clues as to where the accurate edge was (barely visible through brushstrokes), I can find and redefine it, as long as I keep my attention on it and do it immediately. If I looked elsewhere and let my attention wander, forget it. I wouldn't be able to find it.

In this way I developed the entire picture, and after a while the image told me where I can cut loose and lose edges and leave it alone. Where it was ok to mush up the detail. Where it wasn't. Some edges needed to be absolutely accurate, others could be treated with more gesture and expression. 

No detail is painted really tightly though. The distinction between "tight" and "accurate" is important, I think. 

Anyway, that's how I did this painting. Sometimes I take the opposite approach –especially when working small or en plein air– where everything is loose and gestural in the beginning and I gradually tighten things up. Really hard to do with a large painting though.

I'll post again when my camera is behaving, or when I get a new lens!


  1. Just beautiful and i appreciate the lesson! Thankyou, Susan

  2. What a fabulous composition and a highly detailed and successful piece. It is stunning Terry.

  3. Could be my monitor or my eyes, but do I see a faint violet tone in the shadows and a warm, yellow one in the sunlight...subtle complements...?

  4. Wonderful painting Terry! Thanks for explaining your process. Sorry to hear about your camera, I'm cautious when useing mine.

  5. If you ever want me to post bail for you, I'll be there, Terry. Your paintings rock!

  6. Thanks all!~ this one took a while, but I'm happy with the soft abstracted edges. I keep hoping it gets easier but of course, it doesn't!

    Vicki, your eyes see correctly. Violets in the shadow and yellows in the light. But just barely~

  7. Great post and great painting...thank you.

  8. Great piece....caught my eye instantly!