Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Even Quicker

 After reading my recent post on doing quickies, a friend of mine reminded me that another great way to make use of limited time was simply to draw in sketchbooks, rather than set up all that gear and paint. 

Even when I'm doing quickie oils, I do these little drawings anyway, and I hadn't given them much thought, but he's right. Drawing is not only a great way to do limited time studies, but absolutely essential in keeping your chops greased. If you don't practice drawing, you won't get very far.

These are sketches from my sketchbook. I use a 8 x 5 Moleskine,  and an ordinary pen or a pencil to do my sketching. I'm not really picky about my sketching materials. Any paper and pencil / pen combination will do.

 As with oil studies, I try to think about what aspect of the model (or the landscape. or whatever I have in front of me or in my mind's eye) I'm studying. Is it the gesture? The shapes? Light and Shadow patterns? Form? Composition? As I focus on that particular aspect, I try really hard not to dilute my focus by also emphasizing other aspects. This habit of defining your emphasis translates to automatically thinking about hierarchy of importance when you are actually painting, I noticed. 

Trying to do everything is not only difficult, it's counterproductive in a quick study. I don't need that kind of pressure anyway.

Perhaps because I avoid that pressure of trying to do everything perfectly, I find that drawing in my sketchbook to be a very relaxing activity. I can do it just about anywhere, whenever I have five or ten minutes. I don't plan on showing these to anyone (oops I just did in this post, didn't I?) so I don't care if my drawings come out badly.

 The above drawings were done as warm ups before the oil quickies, and here they are. The oils too are just quick studies. Not as quick as the drawings, but still done with very limited time per sketch.

When I first do the pen sketches and then do the oils, the painting goes faster as well. At least, with less frustration. I've already gone through some of the editing process during the pen sketch, and I've also identified some problems and solutions before starting the oil studies, so I have an easier time working with paint.

 Sometimes I get hasty and in my eagerness to start painting, I skip the sketchbook stage. We all do that. But almost always I kick myself later because I can easily see that I gave myself unnecessary frustration by not pre-solving some of the problems. Easy to say "I got lazy."  As long as I keep getting lazy, though, I'm not getting any better. And that's a fact.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My New Studio

As promised, here are some shots of my new studio! It is a work in progress, and it does need a lot more work, but I'm finally able to actually paint in here! Pretty exciting.

 That wall in front of the big window will be taken out. The window faces North so I want to take full advantage of the big indirect natural light source. The space was previously occupied by a gallery, who erected the wall to hang more art. But for me a big north light window would be much more useful - I have plenty of hanging space already.

My wall of loose-canvas studies. A painted brick surface, to my surprise holds up the taped canvas well. Nothing has fallen off the wall. Yet.

Because it was a gallery before, the space already had track lighting, hanging systems, and art-friendly wall colors. Saved me a lot of money there.

This is the view of the "West Wing" from the front door. I have my flat worktable (as yet unfinished) set up, and my vertical rack against the far wall. The curved counter is where the gallery receptionist used to sit. Now, it's where the wine pouring will take place. The door to its right leads to the classroom. Very convenient!

View from the vertical rack. The curved ceiling is left over from the building's original purpose: Wells Fargo Bank. See, this was where the bank tellers had their counter.  Waaay back there you see my Ikea bookcases, which I'm filling up with art books. A nice cozy library / lounge area to come.

I'll have more pics soon~

Friday, January 14, 2011

Beer Stop

Beer Stop #2, 12 x 16 inches, oil on linen
This painting is available from Anne Irwin Fine Art in Atlanta.

I keep forgetting to take photos of my new studio. It's slowly taking shape though. So far, I disassembled my vertical rack in my garage studio and reassembled it in the new studio, built a 36 x 80 work table, and took two trips to IKEA to buy enough cabinets/shelving to serve as a partition between my studio and the public area of the building. Assembling those shelves have been tedious and I just can't do it all at once – I go nuts after a while. 

But it's looking good so far. Hopefully I'll finish the bookshelves this weekend and start to fill it up with my art books. A nice little library in the corner of my studio. I still need to build a few other things but I'm losing momentum. I want to go there to PAINT, damnit, not to build shelves.

Today's post is a painting I did a few months ago. I did a very similar painting on location in Walnut Grove, Ca last summer. I wanted to do a larger version so that I can suggest a few more small details, like lettering and the cars in the distance. At 12 x 16, it's still not that big, but if I went any larger, I think I'd lose the fresh sketchy quality. 

OK, so note to self: post photos of the new studio next.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Here are some recent quick studies from life. I probably spent 30 minutes to an hour on each.

I'm really liking limiting the time spent on each of these. It forces me to think about the hierarchy of importance, and go after the most essential elements, and leave the canvas before I get bogged down with subordinate stuff.

It also helps me to say what I need to say in fewer strokes. Sometimes that means using the brush strokes gesturely, and other times it means just simplifying complex areas.

Limiting how much time you have to paint may encourage one to paint faster by using rapid strokes, but I think this is a mistake. It tends to result in sloppy, thoughtless sketches.  I'm guilty of it myself, and my impatience shows when I get into that rapid brush mode.

So what do you do if you have limited time? I think it's far better to gain speed not by faster strokes, but by using fewer strokes. Each stroke still need to be executed with care. In fact, more so because you have to say more with fewer strokes.

What if you allow yourself a limited number of strokes, instead of limited time? And when you have reached your limit, just stop, and move onto a fresh canvas and start again. If you didn't get far with the first one, you know you need to economize with the second, and so on.

Just how many strokes is enough for a head, depends on many things; how you paint, the size of the head on the canvas, the size of the brush, how much paint is on your brush, etc... You ultimately have only your own work to compare with, so I'd suggest painting a head as you normally would, counting your stroke. If you find that you used 500 strokes, try to do the next one in 250. If you're successful, perhaps you can try the next one in 125.  You may or may not like the sketches you've produced, but I guarantee that your strokes will be more thoughtful and intentional, and that will undoubtedly improve all your paintings, not just the limited time/stroke studies.

Another way to simplify your sketches - and thereby lessening the time it takes to execute it – is to limit your palette.  This one, as well as a few of the others in this post was done with the Zorn Palette; Cad Red, Yellow Ochre, Black, and White.  Plus a transparent brown to tone the canvas. 

Or how about limiting the number of distinct values? You only need two values to describe form, and you can add third and forth values if you have time. It's a logical way to simplify something complex. The idea being, you don't have to guess at - and be confused by - the task of simplification.

So go enjoy some quickies~

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting Back Into Shape

Looking For Memory Lane, 18 x 24 inches, oil on linen

This painting is available from Anne Irwin Fine Art

So after three weeks of not painting, I am struggling to get into the groove. My studio needs a lot of work still but I can't put off painting any longer, so I've set up my paints and did a few small (6 x 8) studies out of my head to grease the wheel and give myself a shove.  

As expected, it was a struggle not only to get past the white canvas but all the way through I had to think and try to remember how to paint! And even then my efforts were grossly unsatisfactory. The colors were too simplistic, my brush strokes clumsy, and drawing seemed utterly foreign to me. I wiped and restarted a few times, each time remembering a little more how to paint, but still not up to speed. 

Years ago I would go through periods of not painting (because I had to do illustration jobs on the computer, or whatever) immediately followed by periods of frustration and despair at the easel. 

Nowadays, I find it just as frustrating, but I don't despair. It's a normal part of re-starting the flow of my creative juices, and I've come to expect it. I just need to do a bunch of small, predictable studies until I remember how to paint. And I do eventually get there, sometimes it takes one or two studies, other times, a month or two. But even if it takes that long, I can feel it coming back as I work at it. The key is to do little paintings so that I don't mind it so much if I fail, because I do fail. By not expecting to do well, it frees me up. It's just a study, I tell myself. Just another warm up. Don't get uptight. Don't feel this is some precious thing that I need to do a perfect job on. The purpose of these little paintings is to get me back up to speed, not to make paintings I can send to galleries. Let's not lose sight of that purpose.

I'm itching to start big paintings and substantial projects, but I know that if I'm not up to speed I'll just fail at it, and that would be crushing. If I'm going to fail I want little failures. Not big ones. 

All this talk about expecting to fail. Pop psychologists would have a field day with this post, eh? Let me just say that I don't actually focus on the failure part. I'm a pragmatist, see. It's like sports. If you take a three week break from your regimen, can you really compete on your first day back at a professional level? It takes a while to get back into shape. It's unrealistic to expect otherwise, and painting is exactly the same way.

Anyway, so I'm doing some little paintings and failing at them. No problem. I'll soon be slinging paint at larger canvases with confidence.

By the way, the painting I'm posting today isn't one of those little failures. I did this one before the break, and I like it very much. Particularly the soft, subtle sky that feels like a California winter day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hurricane, 36 x 24 inches, oil on linen
This painting is available from Anne Irwin Fine Art

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great holiday. Mine was nice and low key, just the way I like it. I was able to go through it without much stress this time around.

However, I also didn't paint much. Actually, I didn't paint at all in the last few weeks. The guilt is increasing each hour and if I don't get back to painting soon, I'll surely die. 

I haven't been slacking off completely though. I've been doing other chores that come with this job, like upgrading technology (got a new computer!) and learning new software to hopefully be more efficient in keeping track of my inventory and archives. I've been doing this in iPhoto all this time, but I finally decided I needed something more professional so I've upgraded to Aperture, which works similarly but a lot more robust in terms of organizing metadata. Good stuff, but learning new software is rough on my feeble brain at this age. LOL

In other news, I now have a new studio! Attached to the School of Light and Color (where I teach) there used to be a co-op gallery which closed its doors as of last month. So I took it. It is a fabulous space–high ceilings, big north light, a hanging system and track lighting (it was a gallery) and it's really convenient since I live two minutes from it, and I teach at the school. 

Very exciting, but it's a lot of work, too. I have to build work tables, partitions, a vertical rack, model stands, shelving... There'll be a lot of sawing and hammering in the next month or so. I'll take some pics later on and keep you posted on my progress.

When it is finally presentable, I'll do an open studio. Stay tuned!!