Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

City Dwellers, 24 x 36 inches, oil on linen

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season and managing to hang on to your sanity. I think I'm doing better than usual this year, but it ain't over yet.

Artistically, 2011 was a great year for me. In the course of developing the Urban Aria series, I made some big breakthroughs in the way I see, and think about, painting. Consequently my work became more abstract and expressive, and I'm very very happy about that. I'm finally finding my voice! So it's taken me 20+ years and literally thousands of paintings and tens of thousands of drawings to get here, and it just feels like a tip of the proverbial iceberg, but at least I've found the iceberg.

Now that I've found it though, it's time to push myself out there. Therefore, 2012 will be the year for exposure. I dare say you'll start seeing me in more publications and juried shows. It's not 2012 yet, but I'm off to a pretty good start. the Painting above, City Dwellers, is already committed to California Art Club's 101st annual Gold Medal show. Though I've been a member off and on for years, I haven't really participated in many of their shows till now because, as I've said above, I didn't have a voice to push.

Also in the current issue of Plein Air Magazine, I have small mentions in pgs. 83, 94, 95, and 96.

Keep an eye on the February issue of American Art Collector, too. It'll be a cityscape issue, a good place for my work to be seen.

We're visiting family for the holidays so there won't be much painting - if at all - for the next few weeks, but if I get a chance, I'll try and post. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable Holidays too~

Friday, December 16, 2011


Stripped...of color, that is.

I'm a great believer in simple value structures. The fewer values you use to make your statement, the more impact you'll have. 

These paintings are, obviously, done in black and white. Without color you're left with only values. I find it much easier because quite simply, there's less information to deal with. It also means that you can't rely on color changes to distinguish one area from another, so you really have to be sensitive to value modulations. Beginning painters sometimes find this very challenging, but it's as basic as understanding sentence structures. A noun and a verb will make a sentence. Addition of adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, conjugations, etc. will make a more complex sentence, but it can get very confusing, right?

Anyway, just a couple of values and no color to worry about. You can really (and you have to) pay attention to edges, brushwork, drawing and design. It might open your eyes to where you are weak. (And you thought color was the problem!)

Color is difficult to master, to be sure, but without solid understanding of the bones underneath it all, you're only faking it.  So get your value groove on, Do some black and white studies (of any subject - doesn't have to be figures) and see how comfortable you are with the limited parameters.

You know what else is so great about just painting with black and white? It's cheap!

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~

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Go Figure

Breanna in Red, 16 x 12, inches, oil on linen

So may be you noticed my preoccupation with abstraction of late? Well, I've been doing some figure work, hoping to apply what I learned about abstraction in the Urban Aria series to a different kind of subject matter. 

Figure painting like this is a very different experience from painting cityscapes, and in some ways, easier to push abstraction because I'm not dealing with certain rules of representational painting like extensive perspective drawing and atmosphere. 

What difference do those things make in terms of abstraction? I've found that they matter a lot, abstraction requires abstract thinking, and not just distorting shapes / colors/ brushstrokes here and there. In a cityscape (or landscape) painting, if I were to create a convincing sense of space, things like perspective and atmosphere must follow a set of rules which basically, go against this abstract thinking. It's really difficult to reconcile the instinct to follow the rules and that to break the rules. You can't do both. A perspective line is either correct, or incorrect. It can't be both.

How one artist works around that paradox differs from the next artist, which makes each artist's style unique. In effect, we're talking about how an artist analyzes and interprets the visual world; his identity. 

But I digress - let's not get into the heavy stuff today! - As I was saying, with the figure isolated from the environment–that is to say, I'm not painting the surrounding environment – I'm not worried about things like perspective and atmosphere (OK, there's a little bit of that, but not much) and I can just focus on the drawing of the gesture, brushwork, surface work, color, and two dimensional design. And my colors aren't tricky. I just use few colors and paint them tonally. I've pretty much taken out the complex temperature shifts out of the equation, too. 

The bottom line is, fewer rules of representational painting, more freedom to abstract. Drawing the figure is a rigorous discipline, to be sure, and has its own stringent limitations but figure drawing is something I enjoy immensely and besides, even in cityscapes and landscapes, drawing is one rule that I consciously try to adhere to. I don't break that rule.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And in Atlanta...

I'm in another small works show – this one is at Anne Irwin Gallery in Atlanta. I have three pieces in this one, all 9 x 12 inches.

The paintings are a continuation of the direction that I started with Urban Aria. I'm pushing abstraction still further, by consciously using brushstrokes which do not necessarily conform to the form that it's describing. My brain is so conditioned to painting representationally that I automatically use strokes to help describe form. I'm trying to break that habit, and that means thinking about what I'm doing every time my brush touches the canvas and asking myself, now is this predictable?

That's not to say describing form is bad. Rather, I'm exploring what contributes to something looking like what it is. There's the local color, shape, form, value modulation, drawing, context... It's not necessary to use all these tools all the time, but if some are ignored, the thing suddenly doesn't look like what it should. What are the rules that govern which tools need to be used in what situation? What logic dictates which tools can be ignored, and when?

Is there really logic to this?  Sometimes I think there is (not that I know what it is). Other times, I'm totally lost.  So I continue to investigate.

You've seen this painting in an earlier post. All these are float mounted in 1/4 inch blond hardwood box, and are available from Anne Irwin Fine Art. If you're interested in adding any of these to your collection, please contact the gallery.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Small Works Shows

Well I'm behind in blog posts! I should have posted these sooner, but Holiday craziness gets in the way of things, yaknowwhatimean?

These are 6 x 6 paintings float mounted in a wide 5 inch frame, and both of these are in the 6x6 show down at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa, Ca. As the title indicates, all the paintings in the show are 6 x 6 inches, and there are some sweet pieces in this show - if you're looking to collect but your favorite artists' prices are a little out of reach, these small works are sometimes the best way to get your hands on them. Smaller paintings, smaller price tags (generally).

The opening for this show is actually tonight (Saturday, 12 / 3... I told you I shoulda posted them earlier...) but there are many paintings in this show and the they'll be hanging for the holiday season, so you might want to check 'em out. Who knows? you just might find a small gem with a big name on it.

6x6 Show
Randy Higbee Gallery
102 Kalmus, Costa Mesa, CA
(714) 546-2156

Friday, December 2, 2011

Before & After

For my in-studio landscape painting class, I usually spend about 45 minutes to an hour doing a demo on a different subject each week. Obviously, that's not a lot of time and I don't expect to do fully resolved paintings on the spot. I'm usually talking about some specific aspect or another, and I'll paint and talk until I make my point. 

If I think my unresolved painting has potential, I'll work on it later in my studio and bring to to a satisfactory finish. This may take an additional hour or five, for a 9 x 12 painting (my usual demo size). 

When I did this particular demo (above), my topic was simplifying complex things like cars, using atmosphere. I didn't spend too much time on composition or drawing, as you can plainly see. But I thought there was potential and I didn't want to let it go so I started reworking it later, when I was alone in my studio and away from any pressure to perform. 

This is what I ended up with. It's changed quite a bit. I love the medium's capacity and tolerance for making big changes!

The placement of the figure is unconventional, and I kept moving it around but couldn't resist playing with fire. In the original demo, it's placed more predictably, and while it's sloppily safe, it was boring to me. I kept edging it to the left a little at a time (as if she was walking) and in the end, I decided to stick it right near the edge, but by manipulating the edges and directions of the strokes, I hoped it would work; or at least look intentional.

Anyway, a fun demo and a rewarding reworking experience.