Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, June 23, 2012

From My Sketchbook

Here are some typical drawings of the figure from my sketchbook. Most of these are done as studies prior to oil painting. In a three hour session, I take the first half hour just drawing with a pen. I can get a few of these done from different angles in half an hour, exploring possibilities before committing to canvas.

I don't really think of my approach as hatching or cross hatching, because for the most part I'm not using the marks to represent values. I'm merely separating light from shadow, and differentiating form shadow edges from the cast shadow edges. The difference is in the purpose of these marks. In my view cross hatching focuses on value modulation (I have to stress that that's just my definition, to keep concepts clear in my head.) Whereas my focus is pattern

I begin by using just line (no "shading") to establish the gesture. By indicating cross-contours and overlapping forms, the volume is already present by the time I get to the shadow patterns. That is to say, the drawing is not dependent on shading to show volume.

I then map out where the shadows are going to be, alternating soft edges (represented by broken lines) for form-shadow edges and sharp edges for cast-shadow edges.

Then I just fill in the shadows with flat, parallel lines. Sometimes I'll get into modeling the form a just a little bit more with cross hatching, but only after the pattern is established, and usually only if the interesting parts are in the shadow.

Because my main aim is to find the light / shadow pattern, and not subtle value changes, the marks are (usually) only used in the shadow side. The light side is left alone even though there are value changes from highlight to half tone, which are all in the light side. 

Notice, too, that in most of these drawings, there's no value distinction between hair and skin. Again, that's because I'm only looking for light / shadow pattern and I'm ignoring local values.

Gesture refers not only to the overall action, but it applies to every form, every line. I look for it, analyze what each line / form is doing, and try to communicate that rather than what it actually looks like –which is very different from academic rendering. It's important to practice both, but I must admit I prefer short, gesture drawings far more than tediously copying every subtle value change.

One  effective way to improve your drawing is to look for, and distinguish muscle mass from its tendon. I often do this by using a curved line for the muscle mass, and a straight(er) line for the tendon. A good example might be the calf and the achilles tendon. Unless you're looking at an athlete, you may not be able to see a clear distinction. But making that distinction forces you to look harder and analyze what you're seeing. Consequently, you now have  more intent in those lines. The difference between a lazily copied calf and an intently analyzed one is significant and you can bet that it shows. 

Look for that same curved line-straight line combination in places like the quadraceps, the hamstring, the triceps. Soon you'll be seeing them all over the place.

Need more examples? Look at Old Master drawings; Pontormo, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Michelangelo, Veronese, Durer... the list goes on and on. What they all have in common is that they didn't just copy what they saw. They analyzed what they saw, and communicated that analysis with intent.


  1. Great post Terry, thanks for sharing.

  2. I've bookmarked this post - such helpful advice. Thankyou. Wonderful drawings.

  3. Absolutely beautiful drawings, Terry. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  4. Thanks Scott, Bridget, and Nancy!

    Glad you liked the post. I just realized there's a lot of drawing tips I haven't talked about. (mostly because I didn't know they were tips until I've had to articulate them in class) I'll get to them. I promise :-)