Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, March 14, 2011


Union Street Blues, 24 x 24 inches, oil on linen

This painting is not (yet) available.

I have several cityscapes in the works. Many will be for my yet-to-be-announced solo show in the fall, for which I plan to produce 20+ paintings. So far, I have... two. Haha~

I've mentioned this many times before on my blog, but cityscapes are hard to do!  Mainly because the drawing needs to be accurate, even if you were painting loosely. It's all contextual, of course, but if you want to end up with convincing perspective, then you need to pay attention to every line. 

You do, of course pay attention to every line when you're painting landscapes (of course you do!) but as you know, a crooked building doesn't look nearly as convincing as a crooked tree.

I don't know how other painters approach the motif, but I have to draw out the main lines on the canvas with a ball point pen before I start painting. I use a grid and a straightedge to help me get it right. Here is one of the studies I did before I started on the 24 x 24 canvas. The study is 12 x 12, and if you'll click on it you can see some of the lines I made with the pen quite clearly.

The perspective lines, verticals, and horizontals of the buildings (as well as the grid lines I used to transfer my drawing) are laid down as accurately as possible, where as objects such as cars, trees, street signs, and figures, are just roughly indicated because those are relatively easy to eyeball. You can also see where my clumsy brush deviated from the carefully drawn pen lines.

In the beginning I did much tighter underdrawing for compositions like this, but with experience I began to understand which lines were necessary and which ones could be made up at the painting stage without too much trouble. Obviously this saves time but more importantly, not being a slave to tight underdrawing for every little element, helps to keep the brushwork much, much fresher and expressive.
And that's the main struggle with painting cityscapes: balancing accurate drawing with expressive brushwork.

Here's another study, also 12 x 12.

I highly recommend doing two (or more) studies for a complex painting. Doing one study is great, but having two allows you to analyze what works and what doesn't comparatively. And this is enormously helpful. You can see two different options of handling in many aspects of the comps, and understand why something works or not by referencing the one another.  Often, when I see a difference in value, hue or saturation between the two pieces, I think, "OK, this one works better than that one. How about if I push it farther in that direction?"  If I only had one study, I wouldn't necessarily think to push that element in any direction, and if I did, I wouldn't have a clear idea of which direction it needs to be pushed. 

Of course I can look at a painting and see what's wrong with it, and fix it. But I have two versions, I find I can improve a painting even if I can't readily see anything wrong with either one. 

Time consuming, yes. But worth it!


  1. Extremely good lesson and beautiful paintings as always. Would love to see you do a demo on your great trees! They are my absolute favorite!!!

    Anne Marie

  2. Terry, looking forward to more visions of the City. Ballpoint pen? Also looking forward to seeing that one!

  3. Thanks for sharing this.
    I'm taking my first steps in outdoor painting and I must say that I really enjoy it, but it's a completely different experience, compared to painting in a studio.

    I could ask you a zillion questions but I'll just stick to the following few for now:
    How much time do you spend on your studies compared to your final piece?
    When the light changes too much, do you quit for the day on that particular piece and come back on a day with similar light?
    Do you take a photo so that you can finish your painting in the studio when you were unable to finish it in one session?
    What about making an underpainting in paint? Curious to hear why you prefer ballpen.

    Thanks for your valuable time!

  4. I think I've seen and even painted this scene before! Your version is so much better, of course. I too love hearing of your thoughts and processes, Terry.

  5. You struck the point! Detailed drawing with expressive brushwork!
    Love your work!

  6. Thanks for your comments!

    Johan, I'll try and address your questions in a post soon~

  7. Thank you, Sir.
    As always, looking forward to your next post.