Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Barn Demo

As many of you know, I teach an in-studio landscape painting class (as opposed to plein air) once a week at The School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks, CA. Students either bring their own projects (work from their own photo refs, studies, etc.) or they can use a photo from my stack.

I usually do a demo at the beginning of each class, and the rest of the time, they work at their easels and I go around giving advice and instruction. I have a pretty great bunch of students who keep the energy level up and keep me on my toes.

Many of the small paintings I post on Studio Notes are demos from this class, as with today's post. Often I assign homework and then I do my version of the homework as a demo, so that the students can see what I'm talking about, and what I wanted them to get out of the assignment. I never expect anyone to do it my way per se, but I try to explain why I make the decisions that I do. In that way, I hope to communicate to them the more foundational principles on which to build their own decision making processes, rather than just "this is how you paint a barn" type of lessons.

One of the recurring themes in my class is "Don't be a slave to photo references". For beginning painters, it's often very difficult to go beyond merely copying the photograph. With experience and improved craft, the student becomes more comfortable editing the photo to improve the design, color, etc. We've touched on this topic many times in this blog, too.

Going one step further, I asked my students to use this photo as a structural reference ONLY for the barn, and invent the environment that surrounds it. I mean... look at this picture! Who would want to paint this boring scene as is!? They were free to paint from imagination, or use other sources for additional reference.

This isn't easy to do if you've never worked this way before. It does take a lot of practice to feel comfortable enough to ignore what you see in the photo. Nonetheless, my students were troopers and came back with some creative solutions.

In my demo, I didn't do anything unusually tricky; making a conventional painting was tricky enough, given the nature of the assignment. I talked about ways to emphasize the "star"element (strong contrasts, edges, etc), making the lighting consistent (direction and temperature), keeping things simple (don't render everything!) among other things.

I used transparent white instead of titanium (just to shake things up) which behaves very differently and I had trouble making some areas lighter. I often paint dark to light in a given area but without a strong opaque white, this proved to be a losing battle. So I had to stop after about an hour.

Still, it's not too bad.


  1. bonito paisaje campesino. Me recuerda mucho a los impresionistas.

  2. I like transparent white, but I do have both opaque and transparent white on the palette when I use it.

  3. I like the closer value range that the transparent white produced. Hate that your classes are all the way on the other side of the country. Would love to see some of the student work!

  4. I can see that transparent white is an entirely different beast with a lot of potential. It's going to take a while to figure this out. If you have a favorite way of using it, I'm all ears!

  5. Hey John, you can see some of the student's efforts here; https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-School-of-Light-Color/392196914306

    If you're anywhere near Atlanta, I will be doing a workshop there 9/14 - 9/16, at http://www.theartschoolinsandysprings.com/

  6. Love reading these past posts, especially the most recent one about cows! I have enjoyed your works and various posts for quite some time and have now signed up to make sure I don't miss any. Saw you will be in Atlanta area... but darn it is the same weekend as the World Wide Paint Out I will participate with at Blue Ridge, GA.