Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not Just Limited Palette

I'm limiting more than just my palette, which is already limited. Striving for fewer, more meaningful brushstrokes, and limiting description of superfluous detail, I continue to pursue simplicity and abstraction.

I'm particularly happy with this little sketch, which is about 8 x 16 or thereabouts. Here are some rules I gave myself in my attempt to get at the essence of what this painting is about.

- One hue per visual element.

- Two values per visual element. (light and shadow)

- Paint no wrinkles in the fabric. only big folds.

- Lose an edge on every shape.

- Identifiability dictates the number of stokes. If, after one stroke, I can tell what it is I just painted, stop. No need to put down a second stroke. Unless the first stroke is in the wrong place or wrong shape – then re-do the first stroke, rather than add to the first stroke.

- Gesture is the primary concept for this painting. Every stroke should be about gesture. Suggesting patterns on the shirt, for example, has nothing to do with the gesture, so I didn't paint it. Same for pockets and stitching on the jeans, bracelets and ear rings, even facial features did not contribute to defining the gesture, so none of those things were painted. Minimal amount of definition in the face was suggested by painting the light and shadow pattern, because it was necessary to suggest how the head/face was oriented - that's part of the gesture.

- Reassess frequently. "Does that stroke help to describe the gesture? or does it say something else, like the fabric-ness of the fabric?" Stick to the concept.

- Deviate from the above rules only as far as necessary to pull together a painting as a whole. (the near arm has more than one hue and more than two values, for example)

I stuck to my rules for the most part.  The temptation to just paint what I saw in front of me was really great and it took considerable effort and some back tracking to stay on course. But that's always the case when we are pushing ourselves do a little better.

Giving yourself simple, specific rules like these is a very effective way to practice your craft. Write them down before you start and tape that piece of paper onto your easel. At the end of the session, see if you have followed your own rules. If the painting doesn't look so great but you followed your rules, give yourselves an A. If you deviated from your rules because you forgot or was tempted by your ingrained habits, you get an F. Too harsh? Not really, it's just a question of whether you stuck to your own rules or not. If you got an F, just try again. And again, till you get an A. And then do it again.

If it makes you feel any better, I've given myself thousands of F's. :-)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crocker Museum Auction 2011

Bygone Days, 32 x 14, oil on linen sold

This painting was my entry for the annual Crocker Museum Art Auction this year. I wasn't able to attend any of the festivities because I was in Sonoma, but I'd heard that the event was a great success and my painting fetched a respectable price. Whew~ I was a little vexed after last year's auction so I didn't get my hopes up, but it all turned out well. Perhaps the economy is slowly turning around.

The painting, obviously, is very tonalist. The colors are very much influenced by the Early California tonalists, as is the subject matter (the Eucalyptus). Beyond the obvious, what I really wanted to do was to  pay close attention to the application of paint. Specifically, taking full advantage of the canvas texture to create broken, yet distinctive, edges in the focal area. Here the softness is a result of dragging the paint across the tops of the texture, much like drybrushing. Only with a loaded brush–I don't know if that's still considered drybrushing but I tend to think they're different. Shaping the foliage does take considerable back and forth between the tree and the sky, so it's not a one shot deal like (what I think of as) a drybrush stroke. The key is in starting very thin and transparent, and get thicker as I finalize the shape.  My aim was to have an overall soft feel to the contour, but each stroke's broken edges be crisp. In other words, no blending.

By having even softer, some blended edges toward the bottom–together with very close values which also contributes to a softness– the focal area becomes even more emphasized.

There are so many ways to create a soft edge. Sometimes I feel like that's where the true identity of the artist is found... more so than color choices or subject matter. Then again, I'll probably change my mind about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Changing Seasons

A high of 100F this afternoon! I guess summer is finally here?

This is a small painting that I started as a demo for my Landscape Concepts class. I later put a few more hours into it.

Here in the inland Northern California, we don't get big thunderheads during summer. But I spent my formative years in a more humid climate, so I always associate thunderheads with summertime. Seasonal "cues" are a big part of what makes landscape painting so compelling, and I find it almost an imperative to include some sort of visual element that lets the viewer know the time of the year.

I know where it comes from. It comes from growing up in Japan where traditional literature always includes seasonal cues. Take haiku for example. You've got only seventeen syllables to make your statement, and it must always include a "ki-go", which literally means "seasonal word".  If it doesn't include a ki-go, it's not a haiku. It's a different format called senryu. (Still the same 5-7-5 syllables)

I see landscape painting similarly, but the problem with painting in California is that the seasonal cues which point to a specific time of the year elsewhere, don't necessarily apply here. In Japan, hydrangea means June. Morning glory is July, sunflower is August, cosmos is september. Here, all these flowers can bloom from spring to fall, so they don't really serve the purpose of ki-go with the same specificity.

Not that I'm really looking to be that specific and literal, but I do respond to moods and memories of  a specific time more than place.  So I do like the idea of weaving in seasonal cues in my paintings, if only as a peripheral player.

I'm not talking about hit-your-viewer-over-the-head type of seasonal depiction, like a snowstorm. Often the quality of light itself is enough to point to a certain season. Or the colors of the foliage (green grass in California means Winter!)  If I look at a painting and think that it could be any time of the year, it doesn't really resonate with me. It doesn't stir anything in my memory.

On the other hand, if a landscape painting does grab my attention and holds me there, it usually has a strong sense of seasonal mood to it.

If you're interested in the influence of Japanese literature, especially pertaining to sensitivity to seasons, check out My Neighbor Totoro, a masterpiece animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. And pay close attention to the background paintings. In practically every scene, there are very specific and accurate seasonal visual cues. Sometimes they're plants, other times they're certain kinds of insects. They might be obvious or subtle, but they are used extremely thoughtfully and effectively to provide a timeline for the story.

And big thunderheads? August.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Painting in Amador

Last weekend, I led fourteen students up the hill to the beautiful Amador Wine Country to do a plein air workshop. Here we are at Deaver's Winery during my demo.

We lucked out with absolutely perfect weather! Even though I was standing in the sun, it didn't bother me a bit. 

Start of my demo.


Halfway through. 

Finished demo. 

We painted all day Saturday and Sunday, and everyone made great progress, I think. Perfect weather, beautiful location, great bunch of people, some good eats and of course nice wine at the end of the day made for a very enjoyable weekend.

If you missed out on this workshop, I hope you can join us next time!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This cracks me up. My work was commercial (illustration) and I still had to wait tables! Hahaha~

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Field to Studio

Here's a shot at what's on my easel in the studio. To the left, resting against my computer monitor is one of the paintings I did during the Sonoma Plein Air event. I am using it as a starting point to work up a larger (12 x 24) piece in the studio.

The new painting is on loose canvas (Claessens No.66) taped to a board - if the painting turns out satisfactory, I will mount it on panel. If not, into the garbage bin it goes with the rest of the losers.

In doing a larger studio version, there were a few things I wanted to try. First was cropping. I eliminated the top third (?) of the painting, as my concept had nothing to do with the sky and the trees, and excluding them made for a stronger, more focused statement. Simplifying your statement is often the best thing you can do to improve a picture, and that's the case here.

Secondly, I wanted a more tonal structure. Especially because it's essentially a backlit view, the structure is revealed by the light and dark patterns, not local colors or rendered forms. We recognize most of the visual elements in this picture due to their shapes. Silhouettes are particularly good tools to exploit, because if you can recognize the "thing" by its silhouette, any more information (color, for example) isn't going to make it more recognizable. So the additional elements - color, value variations within the shape - have to contribute something other than recognizability, or their just pointless fluff. In my case, the color is used as accents to make the painting appear not too tonal. If you hide the colors in the foreground elements, you'll see that the painting is pretty much monochromatic.

Manipulating values within a recognizable shape helps to make them not look too flat and cut out, adds to a sense of atmosphere and movement, which in turn contributes to abstraction.

I think it's coming along pretty well, but now I have to let it rest for a while so I can come back to it with a fresh eye. In the meantime, I'll be working on some other paintings, exploring the same issues to see if I can't come up with more studio pieces for my solo show in the fall. (info to come)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sonoma Plein Air Saturday Pics

Here are some shots from the show and sale on Saturday. Thanks for letting me use these pics, Janice and Kim!!