Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sonoma Plein Air - Day 6

I got no pics from this day, so here are a few more sketches I did during the week~

Saturday. This is the big show and sale day at the Town Plaza. The weather looked perfectly sunny, calm, and pleasant. I headed down to the plaza, had my cup of coffee and of course my custard danish, then proceeded to set up. The other artists were all arriving and the place was abuzz with activity. I could see some great paintings hanging up around me.

When we officially "opened" at 10am, some of the serious collectors were already picking out their favorites. Early bird gets the best painting, as they say.

The show looked great, and I sold three paintings, (including the one that didn't go last night) which is better than I did last year. My paintings are priced a bit higher than the average and they tend to be more muted and quiet, which are some of the reasons why I don't sell as many as some of the others. I also don't paint too many "identifiably Sonoma" views either, which turns away collectors who want quintessential Sonoma views. But that's just the way it is. I'm not going to change the way I paint, and I can't lower my prices. But I know there are collectors who love and appreciate what I do, so it's just a matter of connecting with them. I feel pretty good about my four (three today + the Quickdraw) connections.

The weather turned wet in the afternoon so we had to cut out early, which was a bummer but there's nothing we could do about that. I heard they may move the event back to fall next year to take advantage of the more predictable weather. That'd be a good idea.

A bunch of us ended up at the bar on the plaza, and had one last drink and a little post-event pow-wow. All in all I had a great week of painting and hanging out with my tribe. Happy to have made new friends, too.

I'm sorry I don't have any photos from this day, but if anyone reading this have any shots (don't have to be of me or my work - just snaps of the event would be good) please send me some so I can put them up on this post.

Sonoma Plein Air - Day 5

The Back Way, 11 x 14

Friday. This is the last day of painting, and also the day of the gala event. Typically I would do one or two small no-pressure paintings in the morning, and spend the afternoon touching up, signing, photographing, and framing the week's effort.

However when I peeked out the window this morning I saw that it was drizzling. Not that I can't paint in the rain, but I kinda had my mind set on doing no-pressure paintings. Taking it easy, that is. So I just decided to brew myself a cup of strong coffee and started on the afternoon's work of busystuffs first. May be by afternoon it'll clear up and I can squeeze in a painting before the big gala.

I had ten paintings to photograph and frame, which takes a while. A few of them needed some last minute fixes (usually there's a few that need help) so I spent the entire morning on doing that. From experience, I knew all this took about three hours. Even at a very leisurely pace, I was done by noon, and I saw that by then the rain had let up and the sun was shining.

I didn't need to be at the gala till 4:30, so plenty of time to go out and paint. As is my habit, I had already staked out spots for my Friday no-pressure paintings, so I didn't have to waste my time looking for a spot. I went there directly, set up, and painted this one with a cup of coffee in my left hand.

I was very happy with it, and decided this one will be my gift to my wonderful hosts.

The big gala event is held again this year at the Cline Cellars barrel room, transformed into a fancy white-tablecloth venue. Everyone arrived dressed up and with their best piece of the week. What a great show! There were some really nice pieces that I would love to have taken home with me.

Keith Wicks won best of show with his stunning painting of the facade of the old hotel on the town square. I thought that was the right piece to win. Bryan Taylor and Michelle Usibelli got Honorable Mentions. Congrats you guys!!

After a great dinner, (lots of wine, good conversation, and tons of money raised for the art programs of Sonoma County schools) we said good night, and went home to rest up for the Saturday's big show and sale. My gala piece didn't sell at the silent auction, but I was pretty sure it'll go the next day so I wasn't particularly worried. I found out the next day, though, that some of the patrons wanted to buy it but thought it was already taken, apparently, because I had put down the price in the wrong spot of the bid sheet?   Huh. I wonder how many times that's happened without my realizing. Or to other artists? Something to bring to the organizers' attention, may be.

One more day to go!

Sonoma Plein Air - Day 4

Sonoma Morning,  9 x 12

Thursday. I didn't sleep in this morning! Up at six, out the door by six thirty. It took a few days to get into fifth gear, I guess.

On my way into town, I stopped on the side of the road to do this painting. I wasn't planning to do this - the view just caught my eye and I said, why not?  Trees are much easier than buildings and cars, that's for sure. I was done in about an hour, and I went on to get my coffee.

Juiced up with caffeine, I was ready to tackle something more challenging. I saw an old VW Bug parked on one of the side streets the other day and I noticed that it stayed there the whole day. Which means if I saw it at the same spot today, it probably will stay there. I went looking for it, and there it was, waiting to be painted.

Idlebug, 11 x 14

I walked around, viewed it from all possible angles (where I'd be able to set up my easel) and decided on - surprise! - backlit. However, the surroundings weren't all that interesting, so I decided to move the vehicle in my composition. So I first worked out the drawing of the car (without nailing the car, nothing I do around it will make the painting) and then moved the easel a few yards to paint the environment so that the car looked like it was stopped at an intersection, with a pedestrian crossing the street right in front of it.

Pleased with the result,  I packed up and went to another one of those fabulous lunch events, where caught up with everyone and heard about their painting adventures.

Crossing Over, 12 x 16

In the afternoon, I did another, more ambitious version of my Quickdraw. This time, I included more of the background buildings, and gave it a little more color. Also, I did it larger (12 x 16). It turned out to be quite a challenge not only because buildings in perspective are a pain in the ass, but the wind was howling in my face the entire time, and on top of that, I had an audience of a handful of spectators behind me the entire two and a half hours! To be sure, they weren't heckling me or anything, (that is to say, they weren't my friends) but I was aware of being watched the whole time and felt I couldn't do a crappy job. May be that helped? I thought the painting was pretty good. A little different color scheme than my normal comfort zone, but I think it's OK.

Later in the evening, my hosts threw a very fab dinner party. Great food, great wine, (my hosts are winery owners) and great people. This is the life, man~

I'm in bed typing this at 10pm. I do plan on getting up early and painting tomorrow morning. In the afternoon I'll be busy touching up, photographing, and framing, so I just have time for one - may be two paintings before the big gala event.  Better get some sleep now. I'm exhausted!

Sonoma Plein Air - Day 3

Gray Day On The Marshes, 11 x 14

When I awoke, it was alreay 8 O'clock. WTF!? I must have been really tired. I showered and got dressed quickly, and ran out the door, only to find out it was raining! Damnit.

I can paint in rain, but I'd rather not. I wanted to do more back-lit town things, so this changes my plans. First thing's first. I got my custard danish and coffee.

It was windy, too. And chilly. I headed out toward the marshes to maybe do a gray marshy painting. I've actually done many marsh paintings on gray moody days, so it wasn't a matter of whether I could do it or not.

But it wasn't what I planned for so my enthusiasm was less than optimal, and consequently, I struggled. I used the hatchback of my SUV as rain shelter, and bundled up to keep out the cold (still, my fingers were frozen!) and managed to finish a painting. I'm not sure if I like it. I think I'll have to do more work on it before I can show it.

The pic I'm posting is the "before" version. I added more subtle lights in the clouds, and worked on the foreground color a bit. I forgot to take the "after" picture, though. And the painting is sold so now it's too late. Sorry.

An American Eatery, 12 x 16

In the afternoon, the rain let up and the sun came back. I thought now would be the time to go back to the Fremont Diner to paint the old truck there. I did this location last year, and I've subsequently painted it a few more times from photos. This year, I wanted to try it back lit. The sun was still very high up, but it looked back lit enough, so I set up and got to work. I also wanted to be less literal with the colors, but that proved to be very difficult with this particular truck, whose colors (rusty red and peeling off pale green paint) are one of the its defining characteristics. I did what I could, and I'm pretty happy with it. I allowed myself to edit a lot more in the background this time, too. This is when I realized that I am making progress with my craft, though most of the time I feel like I'm stuck and not getting better. It's good to return to same motifs from time to time so you can plainly see your progress. I highly recommend it.

If I don't do anything better this week, this one will be the one to go to the gala auction to be judged by my peers. Having the auction piece done, I felt I could relax and go do something easier, or experimental, or whatever.

45, 9 x 12

I still had hours of daylight left so I went to a side road and did one of my road themed paintings. Again, back lit. I'm in this back lit kick, can you tell? I don't have a whole lot of cast shadows in this one so it's not a whole lot different from my usual front or side lit landscapes, but that's fine. I tried not to overdo the atmosphere, and it came out just as I imagined.

Beer after the workin' day's done with buddies. And then off to bed early so I won't be getting up at 8 O'clock in the morning. Except I might, because I'm typing this before going to bed and it looks like I'm not really going to be going to bed early. Haha~

Sonoma Plein Air - Day 2

Early Delivery, 11 x 14

During the event, I stayed with a host family arranged by Sonoma Plein Air. The generosity and hospitality of the patrons who open up their homes for us artists is incredible. It reminds me that, despite all the crap going on in the world these days, there are lots and lots very nice people!

The house I'm staying at is located at the top of a mountain, and is nothing short of spectacular. The kind of house you'd expect to see on the cover of a magazine - complete with a view of the entire valley and beyond, a pool, and a bocce ball court. I am staying in the pool house, which is a fully furnished apartment unto itself. It's so comfortable that I don't feel like leaving it to go to work.

But go to work I must, so I got up around 6am and headed toward town. Before I get painting, I must stop at the Basque Cafe and have one of their custard danishes. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but they have the best custard in the world!  It's one of the reasons why I look forward to this event every year :-)

My friend Darrell Hill was having his breakfast at the Basque, so I joined him and took my time savoring my danish and coffee. I was procrastinating, to be honest, because I didn't have a plan of attack for the day.

When I find myself in that situation, I generally set up my easel where my car's parked, and just paint what's in front of me - I give myself the challenge of making something interesting out of an ordinary, sometimes dreadfully boring, scene.

My view.


Well this wasn't all that boring, but still a challenge. I was looking right into the sun so after a while my eyes hurt, and I had a hard time judging values - not to mention color. And as expected at this hour, the light changed very quickly. Still, I was able to finish the painting in a few hours and it didn't look too bad.

There was a lunch gathering planned for the artists but I still had over an hour till then. Not enough time to do another painting, so I sat around and drew in my sketchbook, thinking about what I might do that afternoon. Drawing always helps me focus, and in by lunch time, I had some ideas I wanted to try.

Lunch was awesome - Chef Terri Wicks never disappoints, and hanging out with friends over a good meal is always fun. We caught up on what everyone was doing – some had a sluggish time getting into the groove, while others were crankin' 'em out. I wasn't in the crankin' camp, but hey, it's still Day 2.

Andante, 9 x 12

After lunch, I went back to the town square and parked right on the busy street, and set up my easel in the street, protected by my parked vehicle. I set up my easel facing the sun, and proceeded to paint cars and people - all moving targets. This was the idea I wanted to try. Since endless supply of cars come and go, all stopping at the same spot, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to just make a composite of sorts. And pedestrians were plentiful, too.  Walking people are sort of my schtick, you know. So this was well within my comfort zone. But composite cars + walking people + backlighting... now this was something I haven't tried en plein air, so I was excited to give it a go, and was very pleased that it came out really nicely.

So pleased was I, that I decided to try it again for the Quickdraw event which was to take place later that afternoon. Knowing ahead of the time that I could pull this off in the limited time allotted gave me a peace of mind. I did anticipate that the sun was going to be much lower, so it would pretty much be in my eyes. But see, I did that this morning, so I was ready for the glare and all.

My view.

This is my quickdraw. To Get To The Other Side, 9 x 12.

As you can see, small changes, but very similar, overall. I felt I had a better understanding of the structure of this type of setup so I finished it in about an hour, satisfied. I think I will try this again, a little bigger next time. There are a couple of hue variations and local-color manipulations that I'd like to try, so I hope I get the chance to do it in the next coupla days.

My Quickdraw painting sold right away, for which I was very happy. That means I won't be skunked out. It's kind of a relief.

Later a bunch of us went to dinner and had a few beers, comparing notes and talking shop. I went back to the house exhausted and went right to sleep.

Sonoma Plein Air Day 1

Almost Summer, 12 x 9

It has been a very busy few days!  I am here in Sonoma, participating in Sonoma Plein Air Festival. As usual for these kinds of events, I will try and give you the blow by blow when possible.

This is my third or fourth time doing this event, and I always enjoy it. It's always fun painting in a beautiful place like Sonoma, and I really like hanging out with these artist friends whom I only see once or twice a year (usually at these events)

I don't live too far from Sonoma, actually– only an hour and a half or two hours drive from where I live. Today was the first day and we needed to check-in first, getting all our blank panels stamped on the back before doing any painting. (This is to prove that the paintings are done here this week, and not brought from home because that would be cheating. It's hard to believe that that would even be an issue. I mean, if you're not going to be painting en plein air during the festival, why would you even want to participate in this kind of event? )

I was in Madison, WI all weekend for National Science Olympiad (my son's team was representing Northern California - they did awesome!!) and I'd just got back on Sunday. I was so wiped out that I didn't get started on packing for the week-long festival till I got up this morning. Consequently, I was one of the last ones to arrive for the check-in.

Bryan Mark Taylor was just outside the building already nearly done with his first painting - I said hello and told him his colors were all wrong. No not really. His painting was looking pretty nice as usual, which made me a little anxious to get working myself.

Inside, Tim Horn was just checking in, and it looked like I was the very last one - I wasn't late, (check-in was 9am - noon and I got there with three minutes to spare) but I was told most everyone came early. Makes me look like a slug!

No matter. I like to pace myself anyway. No point in going full speed from the get go and burning myself out.

So I took my time and got myself a cup of joe, walked around the plaza and decided I would stay in town and do a town painting rather than go out in the field to paint eucalyptus trees or somethin'. I'm sort of in a town mode right now, what with getting ready for my fall show and all.

Here's the view...

...and my thumbs.

I parked my car, set up my easel under my hatchback, and proceeded to do a 9 x 12 of the little church just off the town square. I told myself it's just a warm up. Don't get uptight. Get the bad one out of my system. (This usually works for me) I was surprised to come away with a pretty decent piece.

Satisfied, I took a short break and planned my next painting. I moved my car half a block, and painted a facade of a building. I wasn't really interested in painting facades per se. I wanted to paint a pedestrian, fully lit, with a dark background. So I thought the deep shadow of this building would work pretty well. The geometric shapes was interesting, but may have been too strong- I did a some liberal editing and moving things around, and it started to not resemble the actual building. I don't particularly care about likenesses, but I kind of wanted to maintain the character of the place so I did end up reversing my edits a bit.

Beauty and the Beast, 12 x 9

Later we all gathered at the reception and said hello to old friends and met some new ones, had some wine and had a good time.

Now I must get some sleep! Tomorrow I should be painting in high gear!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Off With Her Head!

Red Sofa No.2, 10 x 24 (?), oil on linen

Here's an example of what not to do. See the top of the sofa intersecting the figure right at the neck, separating the head from the body? (And the sofa is blood red! Yikes!)  When you encounter an awkward alignment like this, just move the line up or down a little. 

Theoretically, one could pull off a composition with odd tangents by manipulating edges and contrasts and what not, but sometimes it's just easier and more effective to simply move the offending element. 

Otherwise I like this little sketch. I was especially happy with the brushwork. Too bad suggestion of decapitations don't quite fit into my repertoire.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

All My Trade Secrets! And Some Nice Wines, Too.

A few spots just opened up in my plein air painting workshop next month!  We are going back to the beautiful Amador Wine Country in the gold country in the foothills (east of Sacramento).

The workshop takes place June 10-11-12, and we will be painting at a couple of really nice wineries. There will be demos and plenty of one-on-one instruction, and we will cover the entire process from thumbs to finish, and along the way, I'll share with you everything I know about plein air painting!

The cost is $325, and the workshop includes my newly-updated, 80 page, full color, fully illustrated, packed with information, super secret workshop book, which is only available to workshop participants.

Oh, and I'll buy the wine even~

So if you'd like to join me in painting Amador county, give the School of Light and Color a call - (916) 966-7517 and sign up! It will fill up (always does), so don't wait!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adjusting Your Key

These two heads were painted during one session. The model didn't move, I did. I just wanted to do some quick studies rather than do a single, more involved painting.

When you take a photograph with a point-and-shoot camera, typically the camera automatically adjusts the exposure based on what it's focused on. (Yes, I'm aware that you can change settings on my camera to do otherwise)  Given a view, if you focus on something in shadow, the camera will make sure that you can see detail in that area by adjusting exposure so that it's light enough. Which results in the lit areas becoming very light, often being washed out. (Because it has to be so much lighter than the shadows).

Conversely, if you focus on something brightly lit, camera adjusts the exposure in such a way that detail is clearly visible and colors very rich in the light area, but the shadows become really dark, sometimes obscuring everything.

Although our eyes are much much more sensitive than the camera and can see a lot more subtler shifts in color and value, they essentially do the same thing. If we're painting the brightly-lit model's head from the lit side, the shadows look pretty dark. On the other hand, if we move the easel so that we are looking into the shadow side, the lights look almost washed out. The lighting didn't change. Our eyes just adjusted.

It helps to be aware that our eyes do this, so that when we're painting, we can use this phenomenon to help organize our structure. In practical terms, here's what I do. If the focal point (or center of interest, if you like) is in light, or if I'm looking at the model from the lit side, I "key down" so that the general value range of the light side falls toward mid range, where colors can be more saturated and richer. Shadow side will necessarily become darker, and I try keep the shadow side very simple. Just a couple of values to define the planes.

If, on the other hand, my center of interest is in shadow, or I'm looking at the model from the shadow side, I "key up". I paint the shadow side near the middle value range, so that I can show more color and definition. If you paint the shadows really dark, you really don't see much color there because you're saying that there's not much reflected or ambient light to illuminate that area. You can't see much of anything in the dark. So if you "key up" the shadow side, what happens to the light side? it becomes lighter still, and become simplified in the higher value range. Almost washed out, depending on how strong the light is and how high you go up in key. Back lit situations are often treated this way.

So the next time you're painting a directly lit head (or figure or teapot or whatever), don't get stuck thinking there's one correct value for that shadow side. Instead, try starting the thinking process by defining in which side –light or shadow–your focal point will reside, and key up or down accordingly, simplifying the other side.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Playing With Acid

Green Scarf, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

....Acid Green, that is.

Actually, I'm not sure what acid green looks like. It's probably more yellow than this. But all the same, it's a pretty intense, artificial looking green that I'm not sure I've ever used before. It works here though.

The model was clad all in the same bright green. I chose to dull down the blouse because I thought it was way too much otherwise.

The green scarf was painted toward the very end, after I worked on the head for about two hours. The face was looking pretty pale and colorless, but I knew that the scarf would provide the exclamation point that I needed in the end, so I didn't worry. The slight pink hues in the flesh tones, I guessed, would look redder when surrounded by all that green, and I was happy to see that my aim was on target.

A couple of other color strategies to note here: The background is also green, and this is not representational of what was actually behind the model. I made it green so it would be tonal and thus harmonious with the punch greens of the fabric.  Also, the grayed down green of the fabric is a mix of the bright green of the scarf, plus the pinks and the reds I used in the flesh. By using colors that I've already established in the painting, the harmony is achieved more easily and predictably.

All in all, I like it very much.