Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not Just Limited Palette

I'm limiting more than just my palette, which is already limited. Striving for fewer, more meaningful brushstrokes, and limiting description of superfluous detail, I continue to pursue simplicity and abstraction.

I'm particularly happy with this little sketch, which is about 8 x 16 or thereabouts. Here are some rules I gave myself in my attempt to get at the essence of what this painting is about.

- One hue per visual element.

- Two values per visual element. (light and shadow)

- Paint no wrinkles in the fabric. only big folds.

- Lose an edge on every shape.

- Identifiability dictates the number of stokes. If, after one stroke, I can tell what it is I just painted, stop. No need to put down a second stroke. Unless the first stroke is in the wrong place or wrong shape – then re-do the first stroke, rather than add to the first stroke.

- Gesture is the primary concept for this painting. Every stroke should be about gesture. Suggesting patterns on the shirt, for example, has nothing to do with the gesture, so I didn't paint it. Same for pockets and stitching on the jeans, bracelets and ear rings, even facial features did not contribute to defining the gesture, so none of those things were painted. Minimal amount of definition in the face was suggested by painting the light and shadow pattern, because it was necessary to suggest how the head/face was oriented - that's part of the gesture.

- Reassess frequently. "Does that stroke help to describe the gesture? or does it say something else, like the fabric-ness of the fabric?" Stick to the concept.

- Deviate from the above rules only as far as necessary to pull together a painting as a whole. (the near arm has more than one hue and more than two values, for example)

I stuck to my rules for the most part.  The temptation to just paint what I saw in front of me was really great and it took considerable effort and some back tracking to stay on course. But that's always the case when we are pushing ourselves do a little better.

Giving yourself simple, specific rules like these is a very effective way to practice your craft. Write them down before you start and tape that piece of paper onto your easel. At the end of the session, see if you have followed your own rules. If the painting doesn't look so great but you followed your rules, give yourselves an A. If you deviated from your rules because you forgot or was tempted by your ingrained habits, you get an F. Too harsh? Not really, it's just a question of whether you stuck to your own rules or not. If you got an F, just try again. And again, till you get an A. And then do it again.

If it makes you feel any better, I've given myself thousands of F's. :-)


  1. Good post Terry and a great painting. I tend to get a lot of F's or perhaps straight fails for not even trying! ;-)

  2. Interesting rules you gave yourself. I have to agree with you. Improvement lies in deviating from our normal habits. Though it would be nice to "not" have to think while painting, it's necessary to keep some things in the forefront of our minds. Otherwise those nasty habits just crawl right back in. Very nice painting.

  3. thank you! i think these rules are a great exercise. i need homework and might try this

  4. Thanks for your comments Angus, Susan and Melanie~

    I like rules 'cause I have two left brains. :-)