Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, March 16, 2012

Moving Right Along...

When I do a really tonal landscape like this, the process is fairly similar to that of my cityscapes you just saw in the last few posts; I start with a transparent underpainting and start putting on opaque colors on top.

Well, sorta. with an organic subject matter, I don't actually see the transparent stage as an underpainting. I don't separate the two stages in my mind because I'm much less reliant on precise drawing in this case. The brush work is freer from the get-go, and I'm not worried about perspective or whether the scaling is accurate. So I start transparently, go as far as I need to establish the design and the "feel" of the mood, and start adding opaque colors relatively quickly.

The color strategy, as it were, is also similar to the tonal cityscapes. I ignore local colors for the most part, and go with an overall color "theme", trying to keep it more or less monochromatic or analogous. At least in the beginning. I only start sneaking in local colors like the slight greens in the foliage, the reddish earth on the shoreline, and the yellow in the sun, in the last 10 or 20 % of the process.  Even then I try to keep it subtle.  If my colors start deviating from the close color and tonal harmonies, I lose the mood very quickly. I can make a painting work with more bright colors in it, but since this mood is the primary concept, it would be a bad thing to lose it.

I try very hard to maintain freshness in the brushstrokes, so I have to always be alert so as to not overwork it. However, sometimes it takes hours of going back and forth between the tree and the background sky in order to arrive at a satisfactory shape, and for that (hours of back and forth) to not look overworked is a tall order. So what do I do about it? Once I get the tree shaped, (might take 20 minutes or 20 hours) I may go back and scrape everything off with a knife, and reapply the paint over the ghosted shape,  being very careful to do it in as few, expressive strokes as possible.

Rendering the light and shadow isn't an issue here, because I'm just working with silhouettes, so I try to impose interest in the form of expressive strokes.

I don't glaze very often, but sometimes I'll use that technique if an area looks too flat and opaque, or too light, or lacks harmony. I'm not a big fan of the "glazed look" in my painting, however, so I always try to disguise it by more opaque brushwork on top.

This painting, along with a bunch of other tonalist landscapes (and a few, more colorful ones) are headed to Anne Irwin Gallery in Atlanta. If you're in that area, please check 'em out in person. It's an entirely different visual experience from seeing them on your screen~


  1. Terry, interesting about scraping it off to ghost, then re-shaping the tree shapes/sky holes. Much luck with your show.

  2. Thank you for the insight into your working method (or should I say thinking method, which again must be a great part of the working method). This is certainly very helpful.
    Best wishes for your show,

  3. Thanks Maggie! Thanks Vinayak!

  4. your comments are so helpful, I so appreciate your insight.