Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, July 8, 2011

More on the Figure Sketch

Upon seeing my last post, a couple of students asked me what I actually did on some of the stages, as they couldn't tell from the small video. Also, they wanted to know why I did what I did in certain stages because it didn't quite make sense to them. Admittedly my "messy method" is sometimes a little confusing to students who're looking for a clear, prescribed process because the sequence doesn't really go from point A to point B in a straight line. It strays and meanders, depending on how I'm responding to the problem at hand.

So in an effort to clarify my intentions at each stage, here's the step by step, with running commentary.

I started with a very general wash, trying to get the figure placed on the canvas. The figure is placed in such a way that I have more foreground than background because I really had nothing to say about the background and I liked the psychological distance between me and the model, provided by the near end of the sofa and its emptiness.

Here's my view of the model. Unless I'm doing a portrait, which is not often, I like set up farther back in the room so that 1) I'm not tempted by little teeny detail, 2) I get less of a fish-eye distortion because at a distance I don't have to move my head up and down to see the whole figure.

On top of the wash, I started drawing with a small brush. Sometimes I draw first then put the wash in. Other times, I wash in first. I generally wash-then-draw when I want the painting to be looser.

Here I'm pushing the darks to separate light from shadow. The colors look pretty red (brown) but that wasn't intentional. I use a mix of Transparent Red Oxide, Ultramarine, and solvent, and I just happened to have more red oxide in the mix. Had I gone more blue, it would have been fine, too.

With a lighter, opaque (has white in the mix) color, I roughly blocked in the lights. It's sort of pinkish, because at this point (actually, from the get-go) I'd already had in my mind to do this painting in a blue-violet atmospheric tonalist sort of structure. And the pink is just that violet pushed toward warm, toward red-violet. Warm light, cool shadow. 

Blocked in the shadow areas, roughly, in dark violet. Just the couch, head (hair) and the dress - I wanted to separate the skin from the darker fabrics.

The shadow side of the skin is blocked in (see arm) with a lighter violet. Now the pink I used a few stages back makes more sense, no? 

Defining the sofa by cleaning up the shape of the lights on it. Doesn't take much, does it.

Background is blocked in with what I thought was a very light blue violet. Obviously it wasn't very light, so I'll be lightening that later, but now I have a better sense of the color context.

The figure gets better definition. Keepin' it all simple. Careful to define the front plane of the head with shape, plus the nose is indicated. I don't need any more information in the face than that.

Now I'm pushing the lights further. I also brought the background violet down into the couch behind the figure, and also into the figure itself near the head and shoulder area.

Lightened the background a little bit, plus the far end of the sofa got some reflected light pulled into it. I decided to shorten her legs a little bit because the horizontal lines in that area seemed to have too much impact.

Added the orange of the scarf as a color accent. I wasn't sure if I needed a color accent, but decided to try and see if it worked - how else will I know, right? It seemed to work OK.

Encouraged by the orange color note, I pushed the blue violets in the shadows, and lightened the background even more. In the background, I mixed in a small bit of cool yellow to give the painting a more of a hue range. It still feels tonal, but not as monochromatic. Small refinements on shapes and edges, like the light on her left knee. The angle of the bottom edge is changed to reflect the top leg casting a shadow across the bottom, so that the left leg tucks under better. 

I debated whether to paint the shadow side of the legs but decided against it, leaving the transparent brushstrokes as they were. The variety of surfaces it provided seemed to trump a nice opaque reflected light in that area. Probably would have worked either way, but that's one place where I can't "do it just to see what it looks like" because once you go opaque, you can't really go back to that fresh transparent stroke-y look.

That's it.  I liked the color scheme very much, and I wondered how it would look if I pushed the saturation further in certain areas. So I did another painting with that in mind, (different session, different model) and I will post that one next so you can see the difference.


  1. Very, very good stuff Terry. I am encouraged to try a figure session. Wish I had more time. I'm so dang focused on trying to complete a series of still lifes for a gallery that I can't think about adding that in yet. Will do great to get some landscape painting in on Thursdays. Not enough painting time to be an artist right now - at least it feels that way. You have a family so I'm sure you know what I mean.
    Thank you for the detailed summary of the painting and for sharing your process.....

  2. Thanks Randy~ Glad you liked the post. Yes, family is number one! When you get a little time, come join us for some figure painting. Crossing genres can give you fresh perspective on your primary path, and that's always a plus:-)