Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Process - A Recent Figure Painting

As it is very difficult to convey what I mean by thinking abstractly , I thought I'd share process shots of one of my recent figure paintings. I think, even if I can't articulate all that's happening in my head and on the canvas, these shots will help to illustrate some of what I'm talking about better than showing you just the finished image. 

This painting is fairly typical of the direction my figure paintings have taken in the past several months. My brushwork had been (slowly) moving towards becoming freer and more expressive for years, but this year it sort of made the jump from "describing body parts" to just plain "expressing". 

Here's how I started the painting;

On the left is a charcoal drawing I did a few years ago. Probably a five minute drawing from the looks of it. I taped a piece of linen (Claessens #66) on board and loosely drew the figure with a pencil. The original drawing had a nice gestural quality, which I wanted to push further. I thought leaning her body a little bit more would add grace, so that's what I focused on.

Using black and Liquin, I drew over the pencil lines and mapped out the shadows.  My aim here is to separate light and shadow clearly. Organizing the figure into two values simplifies the problem. (Hair mass represents a third value here, but that's not a function of light and shadow)

Now that I have my values organized, I'm ready to go in with opaque colors. (up to now I've just used black and painted transparently with the help of Liquin)  I blocked in the shadows with a single color, for simplicity's sake.  I didn't get into local color shifts at this point, because that would be moving towards literal description. Besides, I'm working from a charcoal drawing so any local color shifts would have to be made up.

I did the same with the light side of the figure. Single color, very simply blocked in.

I wanted to see what it looked like with a dark background, so I quickly filled it in, paying close attention to shaping the figure from the outside.

This is what my palette looked like at this point. You can see the four colors I've used so far; a dark color for the back ground, the black w/ Liquin for the underpainting, the light side of the figure, and the shadow side of the figure. Nothing really tricky so far.

The colors that I actually have around the edges of the palette are,  clockwise from the bottom left;
  • Ultramarine
  • Cerulean (this is where I put a greenish blue. Sometimes Cerulean, sometimes Prussian, Sometimes Phthalo)
  • Ivory Black
  • Titanium White
  • Cadmium Lemon,
  • Warm Yellow (a mixture of Cad Lem and Transparent Earth Red)
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Permanent Red
  • Alizarin
  • Transparent Earth Red

I have filled in the rest of the background, and now sneaking in color variations into the figure. I have no references other than the charcoal drawing, so everything other than the construct of the figure is invented. This includes all colors, suggestions of environments.  This contributes greatly to making abstract decisions.

Working variations into all areas of the painting, losing edges and finding them, pushing and pulling the paint. It's starting to look like a painting.

Finished. If I were working with a live model or a photograph, I'd be influenced a lot more by what I saw. The colors would probably conform more to actual colors, and shapes would likely be based on existing things around the figure.

As it is, the temperature shifts on the figure are sort of generic - at least, they start out that way and slowly become less literal as I respond to subjective color decisions I'd made outside of the figure.

I'll post more figures like this soon~


  1. I'm just new to your blog and I'm blown away byyour figurative work! It's also wonderful to understand the thought process as you progressed through the painting and love the looseness of your brush work!

  2. Terry this is great! I'm excited! Did you let the liquin dry before each step?

    To me,each step could be art ready to hang on the wall.

    I also realize I am taken by art that artists do from there ideas, or as you put it, "invented"

    Invented paintings seem to hing on the artists experience of what & how.
    I'm thankful you have shared this.

  3. Thanks Wendy! and welcome to my blog!!

  4. Thanks bill!

    I didn't let Liquin dry, as I did the painting in one sitting. If I had more time, I might let the first transparent block-in dry, but the rest is opaque wet-into-wet, pretty much.

    If I had to leave the studio and then had to resume later, I'd just keep painting on top whether the previous layers dried or not. I find it's somewhat irrelevant in this series of paintings where I'm trying to think abstractly - I'm not rendering anything "realistically", so the restrictions imposed on brushwork by the need to describe form is, too an extent, a non-issue. Which means wet into wet or wet on dry, it doesn't matter much.

  5. Love your work and find your blog to be the most instructive source that I have come across. A true inspiration for me.

  6. Thanks Chris~!
    Just went looking at your work on your blogs. Really awesome stuff :-D