Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How About Blue?

Urban Blues, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

In back-lit situations, there are several characteristics that I really like, and I try to exploit these to my advantage. I mentioned them briefly in the previous post, but let's see if we can dig a little deeper. The most obvious of these is that you are looking at the shadow side of things. We might get a strong rim light, or at least a clear light-shadow pattern that describe the construct of the thing –a car, for example. And because we don't see any detail, we are forced to simplify the car into two simple values. One for light, and one for shadow. It's tempting to add more detail, but if we stop and take a look at the two-value car in the context of the painting, it may occur to us that it already looks like a car without any detail. If we defined the wheels or the fender, will it help make our statement more clearly? Or will it just
give us a more detailed car, and lessen the impact of our statement. Do we have a good reason for the car being more than merely identifiable as a car? Maybe the simplest depiction possible is enough? May be, May be not. It depends on the context.

And often, we get a silhouette and nothing else. If the silhouette has a strong identifiable shape say, a pedestrian walking, we don't even need a light-and-shadow pattern on the form itself for it to be identifiable. That's even simpler than a two-value construct, right? Because I'm trying to say more with less, this is an enormously handy device.

If you look at the painting at the top, you might say "but you're painting the cars with more than one or two values!" And that would be true, but only in the foreground. I do paint them all with one or two values at first. Then, I ask myself is that enough? Sometimes the answer is yes. Other times, especially when they are closer, I need a little more. I add a third value. Or a hint of a headlight or something. Each time, I ask, is that enough? More often than not, I don't know that it's enough till I've gone too far, and then I have to take stuff out. The goal is to say it with as few values and details and brushstrokes as possible. Obviously what is enough depends on what I'm trying to say with that element.

Another thing I love about back-lit views is the heavy atmospheric effect. The sun has to shine through all that "stuff" in the air, emphasizing the veil effect. It contributes to a sense of mystery, depth, and again, simplicity.

The color of the light through the atmosphere dominates everything else, so the local color becomes nearly irrelevant. What does that mean? That means I can choose whatever color I want as a theme, and not worry about all the disharmonious city colors fragmenting the picture. Yesterday's painting was done predominantly in yellow, and today's is done in blue. The choice is entirely subjective.

And when the color structure is tonal like that, I can use really dark colors without them looking out of place. I don't know why you can get away with really dark shadows in a tonal painting but not in more naturalistic palettes, but that's the way it is. May be it's just me. I dunno.

So a lot of advantages to painting back-lit. All contributing to simpler, moodier, more atmospheric statements. And that is right up my alley, don'tchaknow.

Before I close today's post, I thought I'd share a little fix on yesterday's post. After I saw the image on the blog, I noticed a design no-no. The two cars have angles that come together in a confusing tangent. I don't know why I didn't notice it before. Sometimes it takes shrinking the image to take in the whole, and only then I notice mistakes like that.

So I just moved the profile car down a little bit. Much better.


  1. I found these last two posts very interesting and educational. Your work is so excellent. One day when I have LOADS of time, I am going to go back through your posts and read (and re-read) to get more tidbits. Will I be able to paint like you when I am done? :)

  2. thanks dan :-)

    You'll want to set your goals much higher than painting like me, though. I'm just a hack.

  3. I so appreciate how articulate you are in identifying the things in painting you're striving for. You isolate a very clear thought: how much is enough? That's an idea that I've only recently become aware of but will now be a mantra. I look at what resonates in other artists' work then forget, ignore or don't listen to myself so reading what you write helps to make it tangible, more concrete. There's so much in your posts to digest and incorporate---very valuable in trying to find clarity in all the complexities of painting. Thank you!