Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

While We're At It...

Slowpoke, 12 x 16, oil on panel

While we are still on the cityscape challenge buzz,  (what? you've moved on long ago? humor me.)  Here is another sequence of the process. Similar type of painting, but this time I painted it in black and white. 

Taking the color out of the equation makes it much easier - not to say that it's anywhere near "easy", but you can't deny the fact that you have less to worry about. 

On the other hand, if you're the type that relies on color to differentiate one thing from another, painting monochromatically means you've lost a major tool in your arsenal. You may find it a lot more challenging.

I for one love painting in monochrome. I think in values anyway, and I really like moods created by absence of color, much like a black and white or sepia photograph has a certain timeless mood that you don't find in full color photographs. 

Of course if the painting isn't executed well, we have more to worry about than getting all misty eyed about nostalgic moods, no?

OK, so here is the sequence; it's exactly the same as the challenge painting I did;

Gridded and drawn with a pencil. The toned surface is from wiping off a failed painting. I like to work on a toned surface if I'm doing a tonalist painting. And a monochromatic painting is basically an extreme tonal painting.

Transparent underpainting, using Ivory Black and Liquin. No white yet, because I want to keep it transparent. I am working towards simplified design, with a structure defined in just a few values.

Here I have started painting opaquely, meaning I'm using white paint in addition to black. Just mixing greys and more or less matching the values I established in the underpainting.

Refining edges, integrating shapes, adding detail, taking out unnecessary detail, checking this, pushing that, blah blah blah.  On this particular painting, I ended up using the knife to scrape a lot, to get rid of detail and create interesting edges.

And that's basically it. The most difficult part was massing the numerous cars behind the streetcar, so that they're almost a textural jumble and yet with a little bit of selective detail, they read correctly. The balance of abstraction and literal detail is tricky.

Compositionally speaking, making decisions about tweaking values of different elements in the picture was easy because it has a really obvious focal point - the streetcar.  I just made everything else support my "star" element.

I think this came out rather nice. I'm pretty happy with it. At some point I'd like to do a larger version of it. May be in color.


  1. beautiful painting and inspiring!

  2. Another brilliant demonstration. So educative. Thank you. Your posts are always so inspiring.

  3. Gorgeous. Wow. Thank you for sharing your process. It's seriously helpful, and like others have said, inspiring.

  4. Marvelous! Thank you for the step-by-step photos and description. I always learn so much from them!

  5. I'm seriously at a loss for words. This is over the top! I Love what you do with paint :)

    PS You make it look entirely too easy ;O)

  6. Great painting, and so helpful! Funny I've been looking at Daniel Key's paintings, wondering how he gets that bright but cool light effect, and I think this painting has that effect, but in black and white! You have some very dark values, but not a lot of them, and your edges work to get that brightness- very illuminating, shall we say!

  7. Cool. Just got signed up for email's from you. Really appreciate the instruction. Great painting!

  8. I love the finished piece but somehow I like the version before with the undertone showing through even more as it seems to read with all the colour you might really need. What do you think? Would a larger painting done in only three colours work?

  9. I like this ivory black thing...actually on my screen, there appear to be subtle warms and cools. Very cool subject - the trolley (bus?) image was my favorite in Urban Aria

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments!!

  11. Darrell, it would work as a painting, certainly. But it wouldn't meet *my* goal, which is to have more paint interaction and a play of abstraction against realism. How far to take it would depend on what the artist wants to communicate, so subjective decision making comes into play.

  12. John, the subtle temperature shifts comes from toned canvas peeking through (slightly warmer than the black/white combination I used to paint the picture) And also the amount of white I have in the greys I'm mixing. White is so very cool that the more I use it, the cooler it gets.

  13. One of my favorites! Hearing you talk about scraping away made a light go off in my head. That is something I need to do more of.

    Terri, have you ever added color to a monochrome under painting? That never made sense to me until I tried it. Just curious how it turned out for you.

  14. Thanks Randy~

    In a sense, that's what I do; add color to a monochromatic underpainting. Although if I think of it as "adding color", I sometimes literally end up with a look reminiscent of colorized b/w photograph. I seem to have better results if I trick myself into thinking instead, "paint using the underpainting as a drawing and value guide".

    My underpaintings are usually not very tight, (limited to two or three values and big shapes) and I only do it for cityscapes because I need the drawing nailed down before I start putting down thicker paint. (as opposed to figures or trees where I have a better result if I draw as I go)

    I'm practicing working with underpaintings more lately but still feels like searching in the dark. Not yet at the point where I have the command of the method, so I'm not efficient at it yet. Another hundred or so panels and we'll see where I'm at!