Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, August 1, 2011


City Noises, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

So I continue to explore abstraction, in terms of how I paint and what I paint. 

This painting in particular, has taken an interesting path. It originated as one of the pieces I did during the Sonoma Plein Air event in May. Standing there on the sidewalk in the town plaza, I sketched fairly quickly – the morning light changes rapidly – and this is what I got;

The backlit set up and moving targets were chosen because they allowed me to simplify and abstract what I was seeing. That actually was main concern - I couldn't care less about the local colors or details - that was unimportant to me.

I was pretty happy with the sketch, and later on in the studio, I decided to do a different crop, at a slightly larger size:

All the action was at the street level, so I cut out the sky and the trees. The best part about the top half of the painting were the telephone poles and I hated to get rid of those for I thought they added to the small-town charm. I had to ask myself, "but is this painting about small town charm?  I decided no, I was more interested in the activity that one might witness on a typical early morning. Sure enough, once I cut out the sky and the trees, the scene looked more like Brooklyn (where I used to live) than the sleepy town of Sonoma.

This was worth investigating and pushing further, as I intended this painting to be included in my solo show, which would be very urban in theme.  I liked the painting well enough, but something bothered me about it and I couldn't figure out what it was for a long time. I decided to set it aside and let stew for while.

Weeks later, it hit me. It's too frick'n quaint!  That little truck is just too cute. I don't want cute paintings.

Now that I started to fixate on the unpleasant cuteness of the truck, it started to seem to me like the painting was about the truck, and not about the morning activity / mood. It kinda looks like a spread out of a children's book about life in Brooklyn. Or something. Nothing wrong with that, if I were illustrating such a book, but I'm not. So the truck had to go. As I painted over it and tried different kinds of cars, I realized I could make this feel more urban by adding more visual noise - more cars and people.

I also noticed that the more "defined" the central car and other visual elements, the more narrative the  painting seemed to become. That must mean that the more abstract they were, the less narrative it would become. Well I knew that already (I was an illustrator for 17 years so...) but was delighted to rediscover that notion in this painting. Like magic, the painting became more about the city bustle than the stupid cute truck that couldn't.

Much better.


  1. What an evolution of a painting! Thanks for sharing all of that. Maybe you gave it all too much thought though???? Love your work.

  2. Terry, These posts are incredible, so full of useful information. As a student, I wish information on developing a painting was as common as all the info out there on basic technique. Your posts hit the spot. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks Stephanie~ Too much thought? well, maybe. I do have two left brains so... LOL

  4. Thanks Candace~ I appreciate that very much :-)

  5. GRRRR@ Melanie. How about if I painted roadkill in front of the car. hahaha~

  6. Thank you for explaining the wonderful thought process that goes behind each of your paintings. No wonder they are so successful. Some time ago you said that you painting "Early Delivery" has developed into something altogether different. I couldnt have imagined this. Just amazing.
    B.t.w. you said have painted over your painting after weeks, how did you achieve the lovely wet-in-wet continuity with the changes?
    Thanks again and best wishes,

  7. Thanks Vinayak~ the painting over thing... I brush Liquin over the entire surface (of course it must already be dry) and wipe off most of it with a cloth. That brings back the deep darks and brilliance of the colors to its "wet" state so I can judge the values and colors better. This helps a little bit with painting wet on top, but it doesn't feel the same by a long shot. So I basically go over the entire surface. Essentially painting the whole thing over again.

  8. Thanks for sharing your process. Love how the painting evolved.

  9. Cute painting, but it needs some road kill in front of the car!!! All kidding aside, I love your city traffic series.

  10. I especially love your 'just say it' way of explaining/teaching.

  11. Thanks Kimberly, DaLo, and Barbara!~

    Barbara, I know no other way! :-)