Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sitting Pretty

Sitting Pretty, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I am slipping deeper and deeper into abstraction. I can't remember the last time my work changed this much this fast. Something is definitely changing fundamentally, and it's a wild ride. I feel like I should be worried but I'm not. At all.  I'm actively fueling the fire! 

Don't get me wrong– I'm not finding this easy. It's not getting any easier, either. But I'm getting better at breaking rules. I mean, that's what abstraction is all about, to me; breaking the rules of representational painting. 

Being an extremely analytical type, I often have to trick myself into breaking the rules in which I was trained and practiced for years and years. I do this by making new rules for myself; rules that defy, nullify, or otherwise cancel out the long established habits.

For example,  regarding small detail, I made up a new rule which says "don't paint it if I can't do it in two values and a beat up no.2 brush." This rule effectively eliminates my need to decide how much detail is too much. The rule dictates, at least at the scale of this painting I'm posting today, that I cannot paint facial features or fingers or toes because I can't paint them in just two values and with a beat up No.2 brush. 

Another rule might be, "similar values next to each other? link them. Never mind if they're different materials. And not just the darks, either."

Want another?  How about, "treat skin like marble. (or metal. or plaster. or marshmallow. or whatever)  This one frees you up from rules of painting flesh tones.  I would also put in this same category, "only paint from quick drawings done from life. Not from photos."

Here's a good one. "Title the painting before you begin, but make it a concept that you want to communicate."  For example, instead of "Female Nude", you might title it "Gravity" or "Seductive" or "Lost in Thought".  You can always change the title afterwards, but having it beforehand puts your mind in that concept state and help you not to paint "things".  When you're trying to paint an abstract, intangible concepts like "seductive" , you're more likely to treat the literal elements more abstractly.

I don't follow all these rules on every painting. Each new painting is a fresh adventure and I assign different rules to it. After a while the painting takes on a life of its own and I just do what it tells me to.

With Sitting Pretty, I had a couple of small breakthroughs and I was so happy with the result (especially because I had abandoned it once because it wasn't happening'. The whole thing took about 20 hours) that I signed my name really big on the bottom!  I've never done that before - it was a spontaneous expression of joy. Sounds cheesey, but it's true. I couldn't help it!


  1. I love watching this progression, Terry. Have you come across any outside resistance to this shift in your art?

  2. I like your "rules" idea. I had a professor who encouraged our class to do the same thing.

    However, he called these little guidelines "experiments" instead of "rules." I prefer his terminology because an "experiment" feels both less rigid and more playful than a "rule." And also because one experiment tends to led to another, different experiment - thereby encouraging you to subvert or break your little restrictions.

    I know this comment is a bit pedantic, but so be it :)

  3. Thanks Deb~

    I haven't really shown these in galleries yet, but I would expect resistance, yes. I had it when I shifted from cityscapes to landscapes, then back to cityscapes. It just remains to be seen where these will be accepted. Some of my galleries will not want them, and that's OK. Galleries have their own niches and if these new paintings don't fit, that's just the way it goes. I don't take that personally - I'll just find new markets. These paintings make me happy so I know I'll come out ahead in the end.

  4. Wow, those would be tough rules to feel comfortable with 'only 2 values and the beat-up #2 brush'.
    Do you feel your level of expertise makes you confident in this direction for your work?
    What I mean is, I'm still at the level where I have to prove I can create multiple transitional values, and get that little detail down. Learn the rules, then break them? I'm thinking it must be necessary to have the skill sets to render quite realistically before you can discern what to leave out.
    Your work is great, by the way, in case I sound too confused to make that clear!

  5. Thanks for that input, Matt~ the "rules" are just for myself. The rigidity of structure works for me, perhaps because I have two left brains~

  6. Judy, I think how one artist arrives at abstraction is different from the next, and I can't speak for others, but in my case yes, I think learning the skills required to do traditional representational paintings is a prerequisite. For one thing, I don't abstract the drawing aspect of my subjects.

    It's also true that the knowledge of how to paint "things" (rendering form convincingly, etc.) gets in the way of abstract thinking. That, right now, is the biggest obstacle for me.

  7. I've admired your landscapes and cityscapes for some time, but I have to say, that this painting is one of my favorites.

    Do you mind if I steal a few of your rules for my own working habits? Think I might put up a few post-its around the studio.


  8. Thanks Bill!

    Yep, take 'em. I'm sure I'm not the first one to think of them. they belong to the collective art consciousness!

  9. I love this stuff man! Just drinking it all in.

  10. thanks mike! glad you like 'em~!