Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, October 21, 2011

Recent Class Demos

Here are more recent demos from my Thursday landscape class.  I sometimes think ahead and prepare my demos to make sure I don't crash and burn. Other times, I take requests –often students have questions about specific issues that their trying to figure out in their own projects– and try to do my best on the spot. Riskier, but that makes it interesting too. Sort of like improv comedy. Except it isn't funny.

The pic at the top is my latest demo, done just last night. Among other things, I wanted to emphasize two things. The importance of paying attention to brushwork, and keeping temperature shifts between light and shadow subtle and under control.  I used a pen sketch out of my sketchbook as my reference, so the colors are invented.  Which was not a big deal in this case - both the tree trunk and the ground are kind of gray so there's no critical local color to worry about.

 China Camp, I think? Gail was working from a photo and asked me if I could do a demo with it. My first reaction was, "hell no, that looks like a recipe for a crash and burn demo!" I didn't say that, but I thought it. Then upon closer inspection, I decided to give it a go. The clutter in the middle really was the only tricky part, and that was all in the drawing. Once I resolved that, the peripheral stuff was just back drop for the main dish. I believe that "strategy" of defining a few recognizable elements in a grouped clutter and leaving everything else loose, is what I focused on in the demo.

Here's one from a few weeks ago. I decided to do a street scape out of my head. The main theme here was how to simplify complex stuff like cars. I demonstrated how atmosphere and edge control can be used to accomplish this. It isn't about how to paint cars. It's about how to edit. Or more precisely, how to think in order to edit effectively. As you know, there's a whole lotta thinking required when you're painting but most of it has good logical reasoning to back it up.

Fog demo from two weeks ago. It's all about atmosphere, baby~  Organizing your values logically, I dare say fog isn't hard to paint (compared to some other climate conditions, that is). What's difficult is shaping the trees so that they're both interesting and convincing. Mine is just hastily done (these class demos are done in 30min to an hour usually) so it doesn't quite work, but another couple of hours would do the trick. 

It's true that sometimes, reading or hearing about the hows and the whys of painting doesn't translate to problem at hand, even if the information makes perfect sense to us. But seeing it done right in front of our eyes is a whole different experience and we hear lots of "Ohhhh that's what you meant!" After all, painting is a process. A picture really is worth a thousand words!


  1. I am so impressed by your paintings...and your very interesting blog....ticks all the boxes! One point, though, had me shouting at the screen. 'A whole lot of thinking when you're painting'....NO! Do you really think and analyse every brushstroke and colour and element of your paintings? My best work comes when I don't think about it....instinct takes over and a painting just seems to happen. OK, so it's not like that every time I paint, which makes me wonder that perhaps I should spend more time planning! Thanks for the insight.

  2. Hi Sharon, and thanks for your thoughtful comments~

    I think the short answer to your question is, yes, I do tend to think about every stroke.

    But it's also true that when I'm "in the zone", it feels much more intuitive. I think what's happening is that my analysis and decision making process become a whole lot faster when I'm confident that the colors and values that I'm mixing are exactly what I want.

    I heard once an interview with the great jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan in which he said (paraphrasing) in order to play intuitively, first you need knowledge, understanding, and experience. You have to know your stuff so thoroughly that you don't have to think about it. Only then you can play intuitively.

    And I thought that's exactly like painting! When I paint "intuitively", I'm still thinking about the strokes so I'm not quite at the point where I can paint like the great jazz masters play. Once in a while, I get a glimpse of it though, and it's very, very exciting.

    One thing I do quite consciously is to separate mixing and application into two separate steps. I only think about mixing the correct color / value on the palette, and I only think about edge quality, paint handling, and integration when the brush touches the canvas. That way I can devote my brain's full processing capacity to each aspect of making a good note.

  3. Thank you, Terry, you are absolutely right and put it all so much better than me. I do not have the brain power to analyse anything, that stuff is so boring, so it is very enlightening to know your thoughts. The jazz pianist is a great parallel and spot on. Thank you.

  4. I should mention that I'm one of those people who has two left brains and logic is my religion. LOL. It boggles my mind that some artists who seem to just feel their way through a painting and come away with gorgeous stuff.

    Abstraction eluded me for years and years because it never made sense to me, (no logical framework that I can spell out) and I had always been jealous of people who can "just do it". Now I'm getting heavily into abstraction, but my entry into it was just as Tommy Flanagan described. I feel I'm still just at the beginning of it but I love it when it works.

    When one starts to learn a new language, some, like me, have to think about grammar and construct sentences, checking each word and conjugation of verbs mentally and what not. My wife doesn't think about any of that but dives right in and is able to communicate by just sounding out phrases, the repetition of which eventually gives her a much better command of conversing in another language.
    I think painting works the same way. I'm a grammar constructor. You must be a phrase sounder. I think the wise thing to do is to embrace what we are, and develop our craft accordingly~

  5. You are very wise....must be the two left brains....wish I had one! I have learned that however much I would love to paint like Sargent or you...yes, you....I know I never will. I paint like me, and that is to slap it on and see! I have also been aiming for a more abstracted viewpoint and, also like you, I am pleased where it is taking me, my way. I am, however, grateful to folk like you, who can articulate just how I feel.