Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, April 1, 2011

Canyon View

Study for Canyon View, 21 x 12 inches, oil on linen

One of the great benefits of a limited palette, as I mentioned before, is color harmony. It's (relatively) easy to keep your harmony in check when you don't have the means to go crazy with color. 

It so happens, that one of the things that make cityscape so difficult (aside from the obvious tedium of perspective drawing) is the fact that in the city, we are bombarded with all kinds of unnatural colors and they really don't care that we are trying to create unity on our canvases. Sure, it shouldn't matter what wild colors we see out there, since the color of the light makes everything harmonious, right? In theory, yeah. But in practical terms, it never works out that way (for me, that is. You master colorists may keep your smirks to yourselves :-) 

Does it not seem logical, then, to employ the limited palette to tackle the unruly city colors? It makes sense to me, and this here is a good example of that. I basically ignored all local colors and painted more or less tonally. Any indication of hues in the buildings (reddish grays, yellowish grays, etc) is purely invented. In fact I used a b/w reference photo so that I may not be tempted. Toward the bottom there is a tiny bit of color notes (red of the tail lights, for example) which act as accents and makes the whole painting look not so drab.  That, and big value contrast in strategic places gives it a sense of crispness which make up for the lack of bright colors. 

The result is an overall cohesiveness, despite the busy-ness inherent in a cityscape. 

Using this study, I'll be doing a little bit bigger version –18 x 31– in the final, I plan on defining the shapes a little bit more, and adding more color accents toward the bottom, keeping a close eye so that the additional color notes don't start fragmenting the moody composition.

I'm eager to get started!


  1. Thanks for the tip Terry. Just this evening I was painting a cityscape and ended up running in to a confusing battle of color vs value.

  2. Thanks! Monochromatic is not so bad :-)

  3. Thanks for the nice tutorial Terry. The painting is really beautiful, cant wait to see the finished larger version. May I ask how you manage to keep those electric / telegraph wires so sharp and straight? Its one hell of a problem for me, every time I paint those.

  4. Thanks Vinayak~

    The wires are done with the edge of my palette knife. I use an ordinary trowel shaped knife, about three inches in length. It works pretty well, but it can look gimicky, so I try not to over do it.