Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shape Driven

Take A Seat, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

In designing a painting, I often look for and rely on strong shapes to carry the composition. Aside from the fact that the shapes are interesting to look at –that's a given. I mean who wants to look at something boring?– strong shapes are extremely helpful in simplifying a picture.

Consider this; In order for the viewer to understand what it is he is looking at, the thing must have visual information which communicate its identity. One can do this without color obviously, which is simpler than rendering something in full color. (You can look at a black and white photo of an orange and know that it's an orange) You can show the form of something by using a few values and manipulating light and shadow patterns.  Using two or three values to do this would be simpler than say, using ten.

But if you have a strong recognizable shape, then it doesn't need anything else for the thing to be recognizable. A silhouette will do the job without the help of color or even value modulations.

I'm not saying that one should paint everything in cut-out shapes and ignore values and colors. I'm saying that if you have a strong shape, you don't have to be dependent on rendering color or value to make something recognizable. Light and shadow patterns and color are important in conveying your concept, but since you're not depending on them to play the role of defining your subject, they become tools for expression. In other words, rather than using color and value modulation to merely construct a sentence, use them to say something meaningful (because the silhouette already has done the job of constructing the sentence).

You might say, but one can do that and have them define the subject. Yes, absolutely that is true, and I'm not going to argue with that. I only make my point in the context of my pursuit for simplicity. If I can say what I need to say with less, why should I complicate the matter?

Anyway, that's my thinking for always looking for strong silhouettes. Failing that, my second choice would be to look for a strong light/shadow  or light/dark pattern to define the subject. If I can't do that, I might just as well start looking for entirely new compositions because it ain't gonna work for me.


  1. Terry, Great post. You say it like it is. I like that. Yes, I am a fan of simple shapes. This piece is my new favorite.
    I spent some time these past few weeks considering where I want to go from here with my study of painting. I think that it would be foolish to continue traveling to all these workshops and not take the time to learn from you. After all you are in my own backyard!
    We can talk later, but thanks again for this lesson.

  2. Thanks for that comment Randy! Very flattering :-D I'm no Ovanes, but I got him beat on proximity! (by miles!)

    Happy New Year, and talk to you soon~

  3. Happy New Years Terry!

    Always an interesting post! I just posted some 'shape driven' stuff.

  4. Hey "City Boy" -- I guess with all those urbanscapes you have to look for the simple shapes, or get pummeled by too much information! I like the lost edge on her stomach -- right a woman (or us guys for that matter) would want it...seriously tho, you've got her hip line carrying the weight of her torso along with the S-curve -- enough said right there.
    Well done, Terry!

  5. thanks bill! the hot rod is pretty sweet~

  6. thanks eric! LOL @ City Boy. reminded me of a time when I used to describe myself as a "city mouse". Now I'm a suburban rat.