Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Some Recent Demos, Pt II

After my last post, I thought you might find it interesting to see the photo refs which were used to do these demo paintings. So here they are. I made them small so they could be seen side by side, but if you click on an image you'll be able to see it larger.

On this first one, A few obvious alterations on the composition can be seen; I moved the boat, along with the shoreline, up a little bit so that I'd have a more uneven division of the space. I also simplified the details. The background boats, especially are no more than non-descriptive notes of color.

One of the things I like to do is to use the photo ref for only the beginning part of the painting. Once I got the important stuff, I put it away so that I'm not distracted into copying it. In this way, I can make sure the supporting cast really supports the main player, and I can't over render anything even if I wanted to. The shoreline in the distance was painted after I put away the reference, so it doesn't look like the photo but that's completely irrelevant. It just has to look like a distant shoreline, not a specific place.


As you can see, I took out the cars. Not because I don't like to paint cars - you might have guessed by now that I like painting them – I just didn't think they added anything to the painting about this building. I did place a pedestrian to give it some life so the place didn't look deserted.

You can see I left out decorative detail everywhere, and I didn't bother to match the colors in the reference. Colors in photographs are the camera's interpretation of the visual world, and if I copied the colors, my painting would look too  much like a photograph. Not what I want. I use the color cues only as a general hue direction; If I see something is red in the photo, I'll take that as a starting point. But just what kind of red, is up to me to decide based on the color context of the painting.


The painting is keyed up so that I can get more color in the shadows. What I gained in color, I lost in value contrast.  During the first stages of the demo, the shadows were much darker and more transparent, and as I started to illuminate the shadows with ambient and bounced light, it became higher in value and more opaque. Usually, but not always, I paint all light opaquely. This includes reflected light. The rule of thumb is, if you can see it, it's lit. (by primary light or ambient or reflected light) and if it's lit, it's opaque.

Just to clarify, I'm only talking about outside light and only in general terms here. The tonal, interior stuff with dark, receding transparent shadows are a different system.

Hollister Peak. I don't remember what prompted me to paint it yellow like this, but I'm guessing it was in response to a discussion in class about making subjective color decisions. I added the trees in the lower right, again demonstrating how you don't have to be a slave to the photo ref.

Cropping in to narrow the focus on this unremarkable photo reference. I remember talking about rearranging and reshaping the trees to suit your composition. Unless it's a portrait of a tree, nobody cares if your tree matches that of the photo references. A shape that works is more important than a shape that's copied.

The same goes for color, too.  As I mentioned earlier, the green of the trees in the photo is just a starting point. What type of green on my canvas, is up to me.

I used a black and white photo for this demo. This way you really can't be tempted to copy color. You have to actually think about it. How about that! Actually, all I did was to pick a color theme and made  more or less a monochromatic painting, sneaking in just a little bit of color variations here and there.

The background is very much simplified to almost nothing. When we have a photo reference in front of us, it's really hard to ignore all the details because we think putting them all in will make the painting more convincing. Experience teaches us such is not the case, but editing still takes conscious effort. It's neither intuitive nor automatic....which is probably a good thing, because if it had to be done intuitively, I wouldn't be able to do it, seeing that I have two left brains.

Another one from a black and white photo. When I'm out in the field looking for something to paint, I find that what I respond to, more often than not, are strong shapes either in the form of compelling light and shadow patterns, or readily recognizable silhouettes. Finding beautiful colors out there (flowers, fall foliage, etc) doesn't really make me want to paint them.  I don't know why this is, but that's just what I noticed about my tendencies.  Maybe this is why a lot of my reference photos are black and white. If a photo doesn't have compelling shapes in black and white, addition of colors won't make it a better candidate. On the other hand, if there are strong shapes in a black and white reference photo, I have a lot of freedom to make subjective decisions about color.

That's my inner tonalist talking.


  1. The last few, from a B&W photo ref... very nice! That's something I gotta try too!

  2. What a great mimi-workshop I just took by reading this post! Thank you! I was in SF in April visiting our daughter and wandered into the Tomas Reynolds Gallery. Your work is so great in person!!

  3. By any chance, Terry, is the top one Monterey Bay? Thank you again for an informative post! Your blog is as close to workshops as I can get.

  4. Terry your work is remarkable & I really got a lot out of this post, thank you! Some of the points you made such as, "A shape that works is more important than a shape that's copied." and "make sure the supporting cast really supports the main player" are going to be taped to my easel :O) I always look forward to your posts!

  5. A friend in MaineJune 10, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    I continue to enjoy following your rich and informative posts. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. I thought of you recently while visiting the National Gallery in DC, taking in one of my favorites, 'Breezing Up' by Homer...those lovely muted colors reminding me of your color preferences. Anyway, I am a 'beginner' at 53 enjoying my feeble attempts at creative expression and would love to start a blog. If you ever feel inclined to share helpful links to some good tutorials on setting up an art blog, including the best way to photograph and post a painting, I'd appreciate it!!

  6. This was so helpful! Thank you for sharing and posting the pictures. I am an admirer of your work!

  7. Wow! Wonderful and really helpful--thanks so much for this group--again, very helpful.

  8. Thanks for the photo refs. Opens up a whole new world of possibilities/reality. Have you considered doing another book like your 'Almost Spring' with all these great insights? Doretta

  9. Wow! Your work and lessons are so inspirational and helpful! Thank you!!!

  10. Thanks everybody! I'm glad you're enjoying these posts.
    Pam, thanks for visiting the gallery!
    Carol, the boat was in Port San Luis (Obispo), I believe.

  11. gopher, I think about it all the time. I'll get to it eventually. It's a matter of how to do it more efficiently.