Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, February 13, 2012

Channelling Inness

Winter Evening, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I did this demo for my in-studio landscape class a few weeks ago. I call it the "George Inness-inspired moody tonalist landscape thing".  The image above is the result of the one hour demo plus two more hours of struggling with the feathery bare winter tree.

The view is entirely made up, but it looks very much like what you'd find walking along the American River trail just a few minutes from my home.

I don't usually paint bare winter trees not because they're hard (and they are!) but because the mood they create in one of my paintings usually is bleak and lonely, and I don't want to be made to feel that way.  It must trigger some childhood emotional memory or something, I dunno.

I've seen many bare tree paintings by other artists which don't have that effect on me, so it must be just me. Funny how closely art and emotion are connected.

However! when asked by a student to do a demo on this motif, I couldn't resist the technical challenge. I'm willing to crash and burn for this class who always asks me to do something outside of my comfort zone, so I thought it'd be fun to try. I was looking at some Inness paintings recently, and I was inspired to do something similar.

I don't know how Inness painted. When I look at his paintings in person, it looks like there's a lot process going on; a lot of scraping, wiping and painting over. I can't paint like that, so the demo wasn't "how to paint like Inness", but a more general "Inness-like" moody landscape.

Structurally, it's the same as the nocturn I did the week before. The sky is lighter and it's yellow of course, but the organization is the same. Silhouette driven, mostly monochromatic, a little bit of local colors in the foreground, soft edges, etc.

The tricky part is, obviously, the bare tree. I treated it like painting gauze, a translucent fabric tattered in the shape of a tree. The paint application isn't transparent, I just mixed a color that's in-between dark warm gray of the solid trunk, and that of the sky.  The trunks and bigger branches hold the fuzzy stuff together.

The way I did it isn't a linear process. That is to say, I didn't *just* paint the background first, paint the tree in the in-between color I just described, and added the solid parts. As with my fully foliaged trees, it takes a good deal of going back and forth between foreground and background, and with plenty of scraping unsatisfactory attempts.  Whether the sky gets painted first or the tree is kind of irrelevant because I go over every part of it so many times in order to get the shapes I want.

I do try to finish off with more conspicuously calligraphic strokes so that it doesn't look so belabored even if it is.


  1. I certainly think you succeeded with your "Inness-esque" approach to the scene. Very tonalistic and moody. It's fun to venture into another approach occasionally. I think I, too, would need much Prozac if I were to do this style as my only methodology.

  2. It was worth it. The tree especially, but the whole piece.Wonderful mood.