Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Making Stuff Up

Many of my paintings are done from memory. Or more precisely, invented. Making stuff up, is what it is. I like to work this way because it frees me up from being tied down to what I'm seeing before me. It's much easier to edit, and move elements around to suit my composition. If I went looking for (and ended up using) a photo that looked like it could make a good painting, what really is the point there? Am I expressing something of ME? or is it just a painted version of a nice photo? And if the composition is already there in the photo. I wouldn't really be composing, either. I'd be just copying. I really have to think hard about what's the point of painting the picture in the first place. What is the concept?

Making stuff up is simply a fun and challenging thing to do. I enjoy it. It's my favorite pastime.(HAha~) The memory part of the equation has two parts. One is the overall sense of the place or scene, including and especially, the mood of the time and place. Being conscious about what sort of emotional response I had, drives my intent. I want to re-feel that same emotion by looking at the finished painting.

The second aspect of memory painting has to do with remembering just what something looks like. How wide should a sidewalk be, in relation to a pedestrian? How high is the walk/don't walk signal off the ground? Should the post supporting it be hexagonal, or octagonal, or square? cylindrical?  If you painted these elements over and over and you make a note of typical proportions and shapes, pretty soon you'll remember them. It's called building your visual vocabulary, and it doesn't take any skill or much effort. You just have to make a mental note of things you paint, when you do have something to look at, whether from photos or on location. Obviously, if you're just copying what you see, you're not likely to build this visual vocabulary very much, and consequently you can't edit and make stuff up very effectively.

Carlson talks about the importance of painting from memory in his book - it's worth a read.  In fact, if you're a representational landscape painter, this book should be on your nightstand or in your bathroom!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Urban Aria - Opening Date Change!

There has been a change in plans - My solo exhibition, Urban Aria will open a couple of weeks later than previously planned.  It will now open on Saturday, November 5th, 5 to 7 pm. Please make a note of it. If you are in the area (San Francisco) I hope to see you at the opening!!!

Urban Aria
New Paintings by Terry Miura

November 5th  through December, 2011
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 5th, 5 to 7 pm

Thomas Reynolds Gallery
2291 Pine Street @ Fillmore, San Francisco

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cityscape Tips

Coastin', 18 x 36 inches, oil on linen

This is one of the larger pieces for my upcoming show, Urban Aria

If you've tried painting cityscapes, you know it's not an easy thing. (As if landscapes and figures were, right?) Obviously, there are many ways to approach it and no one way is the correct way. Sometimes I do a fairly tight drawing and use a grid system to blow it up onto a larger format. Other times, I just go in with a brush without a carefully laid out drawing on a blank canvas. 

I prefer the free-hand way, because it just meshes with my personality better. The tight initial drawing is just so tedious!  But sometimes I want a level of accuracy that I can only get from a carefully measured under drawing, like when I'm doing a recognizable landmark architecture. 

This isn't one of those paintings, so I started it free-hand. Even so, I do end up using the straight edge to get long straight lines correct, like the perspective lines on the buildings on the right. There's no way I can eye ball those at this scale. (The painting is 36 inches wide) My hand is not that steady, see.

After the loose block-in of the main elements, I just lay my straight edge right on top of the wet paint and draw lines by scratching into it with a sharp tool (a pencil, or the back end of a brush). Does that mess up the layers underneath? Yes, but mine is a push-and-pull-back-and-forth type process painting, so it doesn't really matter. I rather like the mess the straight edge makes. It helps to integrate shapes and add visual activity.

Here are some of the points that I consider helpful in painting the kind of cityscapes that I've been doing;

  • Know which lines are critical. I don't have to draw every line. Perspective lines are obviously more important than those that describe little things like window trim and street signs.
  • Simplify the color scheme. Overall color theme (harmony) is more important than local color. Consequently, many of my cityscapes have a tonal structure that's almost monochromatic. Local colors are expressed as slight variations of this tonal color theme.
  • Most of the local color happens in the foreground. 
  • In the distance, the color of the atmosphere (the color theme for the painting) dominates, and the local colors of things (trees, cars, buildings) become irrelevant.
  • When the painting is structured tonally like this, the jump between warm and cool temperatures need to be very subtle. If you want a big temperature shift, be subtle with value shifts between light and shadow lest you end up with completely unconvincing visual "reality". (If you're going for expressionist color, this stuff doesn't apply, of course)
  • Simplify by asking what is the minimum amount of detail I need for this object (car, tree, building) to be recognizable as such? 
  • Integrate every shape into the painting. No shape or object should look like they're pasted on.
  • Lose an edge on every shape, if you can.
  • Have a strong focal point.
  • Never be afraid to scrape a perfectly good passage. If you can do it once, you can do it again.
  • Take out that detail on that building you just painted!
  • Take out that other detail too.
  • Take out a little more detail while you're at it.
  • Now put it back in to see if it's better with it or without it. Ask if the detail makes for a stronger statement, or distract from the overall impact.
  • Cars - pretend it's all the same surface - no glass in the windows, but it's solid painted metal surface. If the car doesn't read correctly by differentiating values of the planes, making glass look like glass will only look stupid. 
  • Cars - pay close attention to ratios and draw them carefully;  height:width, length:height, etc. Just how high is the trunk compared to the top of the car? You might be surprised to find out just how small a space the rear window occupies in the silhouette.

I'd better stop before this turns into a book!  Anyway, these are some of the things I think about.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Music While You Paint

Some artists, when painting on location,  listen to music through their earbuds or headphones using an iPod or similar devices. Me, I usually bring my ten-piece harp ensemble with me when I paint en plein air. Something about the angelic  background music triggers Divine inspiration.

....which doesn't necessarily translate to a better painting unfortunately, but I find it soothing nonetheless. Except when you're painting here in the Fair Oaks Village, periodic interruption by roosters crowing at the top of their lungs sort of ruins the effect.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back in the Studio

Summer Passing, 15 x 30 inches, oil on linen

Well! I guess my summer is over. The kids are in school, and I have no more expeditions on the calendar. It's back to the grind, folks. Back to work.  (I consider my trip to the mountains work, but some may disagree.)

For the next month or so, I will be focusing (hopefully) on finishing up the suite of cityscape paintings for my solo show coming up. I will post more on that very soon, but first, I had to finish a few larger landscape paintings for Anne Irwin Gallery's group show that's opening next weekend.

The image above is that of a painting I just finished and sent out yesterday.  I also have sent them a few city themed paintings, one of which is a variation of my earlier motif;

I was going to include this in my cityscape show, but as the series evolved and became more abstract and urban-themed, I began to think may be this didn't fit in so well. I still love this painting, but I have in mind to create a show that's more cohesive than my previous efforts, I decided to send this one off to Atlanta, where it'll be with my other paintings with which this guys feels more comfortable.

"Best in Show" Anne Irwin Fine Art Anniversary Show
Opening Reception September 16, 6:30pm -8:30pm

If you're in the Atlanta area, be sure to check it out!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sierra Pack Trip - Day 6

After breakfast, we struck camp and got ready to hike down. Mules came up, lead by a couple of wranglers on horses. You can see in this photo, our junk being assembled in the back while the beasts wait patiently. There were a dozen or so mules, which seems like a lot but at least a third of them were for the kitchen stuff. A week's worth of food were carried in in metal bear-proof boxes. (and we ain't talkin' 'bout no freeze-dried astronaut food, either)  And though we ate all that, the boxes still needed to be packed out. 

One last view at our meadow. Look at those beautiful clouds. Thundershowers were predicted later in the day, so we hurried out.

Paul stopped on the way to do a last bit of painting. That's one advantage of an Open Box M set up. It's very compact so you can carry all of it with you, allowing you to stop and set up along the trail. My set up was much bulkier and heavier, (Soltek + French Companion fitted w/ glass) so I let the mules bring it back. All I had in my back pack were ten paintings on 1/8 panels, stashed in two Raymar plastic panel carriers. And lunch, and a bottle of water. We had plenty of time to do a painting on the way down, but I wasn't going to lug all that gear (35 lbs) for three and a half miles.

Not stopping on the way down means extra time at the bottom of the hill for.... pie and beer!  I had a slice of cheddar pear and it was amazing! Perhaps it was the altitude, or maybe after a week of camping and miles of hiking, any pie tastes good, but seriously, the pies they make here are some of the best I've ever tasted. It might just be the best kept not-so-secret secret this side of the Sierra. If you're ever travelling on Hwy 395, take a short little detour to enjoy a slice of pie here. You won't regret it. But get there early! They often sell out before noon.

And the ice cold beer after a hike? Better than a hot shower.

And thus concludes my painting adventure in the Sierras this year. Breathtaking views, (there's a pun in there somewhere) great food, and wine, and lots and lots of painting with people who speak my language. What could be better!?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sierra Pack Trip - Day 5

By Friday, the general fatigue was catching up to me.  I just couldn't get up early enough to do a pre-breakfast painting. Though I did get up in time for breakfast.

The pic above is Paul and Timon, eating their breakfast. It got pretty chilly in the night time, and before the sun reached our little camp area, we had to be dressed pretty warmly. As soon as the sun hit, though, it got very warm.

Here's Daniel painting in the camp area. I think he was painting the "kitchen".

My crib.

Daniel, Jim, and Bob, relaxing after a hard days work.

Well I did four paintings on Tuesday, three on Wendsday, two on Thursday. I am trending down, I realized, and I resolved to do three on this day. Here's my first. I realized that I didn't have any paintings of "big views" yet, even though we were surrounded by them. I guess my interests were elsewhere. But since we are here, I just had to do one. 

This painting also features a bit of blue. It is a running joke among my friends that I never use any blue, so here ya go, Paul. Granted it's only a tiny bit of the canvas but it's still blue, eh?  

This is the little thumb. Nothing fancy.

Well the perfect Edgar Payne clouds started to get bigger and darker, and I smelled rain. I packed my things and hiked down to base camp, and shortly thereafter, we were hit with a downpour. So much for my goal of doing three paintings! 

Rain came in fits so every time it let up, we became hopeful and set up. but then it would start dumping water on us so I quit. A few of us braved it, using umbrellas and what not to keep their work dry. I can't be bothered with such apparatus so I just sat under the tarp and drew Jim painting.

If it's not a thumbnail for a painting, my drawings in the sketchbook does get a little more involved. 

Bill and Timon spent the rainy afternoon under the tarp playing chess.  Is it happy hour yet?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sierra Pack Trip - Day 4

Day 4. Thursday.   Another glorious morning to get us started.  Actually, I slept in and missed the pre-breakfast painting session. Shame on me. In fact, I almost missed breakfast! I blame it on not being able to sleep well at night due to bear activity.

But that's a lie. We had no bears. Only chipmunks and ground squirrels, but they don't make good camp stories, do they? It was probably just the wind that kept me up.

Anyway when I got up most everyone was already done with breakfast and was assembling their lunches.  That was the m.o. - Gene lays out all the lunch meats and snacks, and we build our sandwiches and stuff 'em into brown bags to take with us on our daily painting excursions so that we don't have to hike up and down just to eat.

Bill is still eating his breakfast, and everyone else is making their lunch. I've yet to eat my eggs and sausages.

A late start but thanks to the vertical-ness of my subject matter, the shadow patterns remained interesting for a long while. This is up at Gem lakes. I did a painting from the same spot last year, but I can't seem to find a shot of it right now. I'll post if I find it. I did put more color in it this time. (which in my case, doesn't mean a whole lot. LOL)

Here's the thumb for my painting. I've been doing these quick two to three value organizations lately. Very helpful in simplifying the structure.

 Here's Bill Cone, with his pastel set up. Notice the stance mimics the tripod.

For my second painting, I decided to do a value study. I was tired after the first one, and thought it would be easier to limit my colors. Turns out, it was harder, not easier!  I used Ultramarine, Transparent Oxide Red, and White. No yellows.   It really took a lot of effort to wrap my mind around the fact that I have no green to paint those trees. It was a challenging and rewarding exercise. I think I'll do more of these in the future.


Daniel squinting to see the values.

Here's Jim. Doesn't he look like an ad for plein air painting gear?

We ended the day with nice juicy steaks with red wine - mushroom sauce. Doesn't get much better than this!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We Interrupt This Program To Bring You...

We interrupt this program to bring you news of a plein air painting workshop happening next weekend! (Friday, September 9 - 11) 

I still have spots open for this workshop, which will take place locally here in Fair Oaks. We'll be painting in and around the quaint Fair Oaks Village, plus an additional location for a more landscape-y subject matter.  There'll be demos and plenty of one-on-one at the easels.

Many students have expressed interest in painting city scenes - Fair Oaks Village is not exactly urban, but it has some neat old storefronts and street charm, as well as a nice park with big trees so there is good variety to paint, both man-made structures and more organic, natural motifs.

One nice thing about doing a workshop locally is that should the weather get too hot (a distinct possibility in this part of the world) we just go indoors into the SLC's classroom and work from studies and photos. And my studio is right there next door too, you can check out in person all that you've seen on this blog recently and I'll be glad to talk about studio processes (working from photos, the role of the computer, scaling up a study, making panels and stretching canvases, etc. etc.) should any student be interested.

And yes, the elusive book En Plein Air, 80 pp of full color, fully illutrated painting secrets (OK, there are no secrets. Just stuff I learned from experience) is included in the workshop!

This book is only available as a part of my workshop. To many of you who has written me inquiring about purchasing the book, I'm sorry - I only print enough for each workshop so there are no extras and I don't have plans to make it available for purchase at this point. May be at some point in the future, but no immediate plans.

The workshop will start on Friday afternoon, to give students time to get here. We'll do a 3 hr demo first thing, and should you want to stick around and paint, there's plenty of light left yet. Alternatively, we can go back to my studio (just a block away) and examine some wine paintings. Either way, we'll have a good time.

On Saturday, we'll paint all day outside, unless it gets too hot in the afternoon - then we can work indoors. At the end of the day we'll do a crit, and have some more wine art discussions.

On Sunday, we'll drive out to a different location - 10 minutes away - for a change of scenery. I'm thinking...water and reflections...  

Anyway, that's the plan. If you want to join me for this workshop, please contact the School of Light and Color.

Plein Air Painting Workshop with Terry Miura
September 9, 10, 11  (Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday)

The School of Light and Color 
10030 Fair Oaks Blvd Fair Oaks, Ca 95628  

(916) 966-7517