Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sierra Pack Trip 2012

I'm back from the sierra pack trip!

This year we went to Garnet Lake, a most stunningly beautiful wilderness in the Eastern Sierras.

This year our group of intrepid artists consisted of Bill Cone, Paul Kratter, Ernesto Nemesio, Michele DeBragan├ža, Kim Lordier, Jim Wodark, Robert Steele, and myself.  What a great group to be hanging out with!

This was my fourth year tagging along on this annual painting adventure, and each year I come away with great memories and inspiration. And this year may have been the most memorable of all.

We had everything from thunderstorms, having to scramble up steep drainages in all fours (during thunderstorm, no less), hail, to uh... unexpected situations involving our cook which made for a very challenging experience.

But I've decided not to go into that on this blog. Suffice to say it could have been an episode from a reality show or a low budget movie.

I'd rather talk about art, so let's just do that, OK?  

The top painting is the first sketch I did, early morning the day after the hike in. Typically, the lake was mirror smooth in the mornings and there were a lot of great light/shadow patterns on the rugged boulders, which is what caught my eye. Due to the orientation of the boulders in relation to the morning sun, these rocks held their patterns longer than I expected and I was able to paint them without rushing.

For the most part, the paintings were done in the mornings because in the afternoon, we consistently had thundershowers and we had to crawl back into our tents to wait for the rains to pass. A good time for a nap.

I think we had one sunny late afternoon painting session the whole week, and my second painting (above) is from that day. The background is all in shadow, and the back lit cliff's edge made for a compelling composition. 

Technical note; I resolved the foreground first, and decided (taking cues from what I saw) to lean the shadows toward brownish violet. Some areas are cooler violet because they face the sky, and other areas are much warmer because they get reflected light from a sunlit surface, or they just don't catch the cool ambient light. 

The violet of the background is subjective. I decided to make it tonal and violet based on the foreground shadows. Unity and simplicity is the name of the game here.

Another morning light sketch. This too, is back lit, but compared to the afternoon back lighting, it's much, much cooler.  I kept the depiction of water and reflections soft and subtle so as to not take away from the back lit rocks. Now that I look at it, I could have used a few more sharper edges in there. 

The background is a snow patch on a steep mountainside. I like the abstract quality of it, although it may not make sense unless the painting is shown as a part of a series. (context by association) No matter; I like it. 

I remember hurrying to finish this one because I could see the rain clouds building right before my eyes, and I could almost time the moment it began to rain. I may hike into wilderness to paint, but I'm not hardcore enough to paint in a thunderstorm!

Late morning face-lit boulder and reflection. Since there were not many shadows, I imposed some dark areas purely for design. Being faithful to the view, isn't all that important to me. I'd rather come away with a good painting, see. I did try to capture and preserve the character of the place and time, though.

The water was surprisingly warm, especially in the shallows. A nice little swim beats hauling water up to campsite to take camp showers!

A pile of rocks. I just wanted to paint a pile of rocks with no obvious focal point. Something not so "post-cardy". As I worked on this, though, I felt more and more that the pattern itself wasn't enough. I finally blasted the area beyond the rocks with sunlight to provide my painting with a focal point. This (changing the concept midway through a painting) is something that I tell my students NOT to do. 

And here I am doing it. Well, the painting was failing. I had nothing to lose so I made this change, and now I have a painting. It's not what I envisioned to start with, but I'll take it.

The colors in this painting is perplexing. I mean, I don't normally paint like this. I don't know where they came from. My friends were even asking "are you feeling OK?" 

My main goal this trip was to paint looser and pay more attention to abstraction. In doing so, I wanted to really contrast sharpness of the edges of boulders against the surrounding softness of bushes and trees. I'm pretty happy with my efforts in that respect, but I didn't give much thought to color strategies beyond harmonies and unity, so it's surprising to end up with unusual (for me, that is) color solutions.

I think I should investigate this further.

The mountain in the back is Mount Banner (right? or is it Ritter?) At the summit it reaches almost 13,000ft. Our base camp, at Garnet Lake was around 9700ft. At this elevation, walking is a chore. Actually, walking on level ground isn't so bad. But as soon as you start going up hill, you feel it. It's a good thing there were unlimited things to paint near the base camp.

...like this tree standing near our tents, for example.  I set up my easel right next to my tent on the morning we hiked out. One last sketch before we packed up.

And so we finish our week of painting adventure in the mountains, entrust our gear to a pack of mules to bring back down to the pack station, and climbed 7 miles down. A most memorable trip, with some unexpected challenges we could have done without. Nonetheless, I came away inspired and I feel like I've improved my craft just a little bit.

I'm sure my friends will post some of their excellent paintings on their own sites soon enough, but for now, check out Bill's beautiful interpretations of the Sierra light in pastel. They're pretty sweet~


  1. Very interesting trip yielding wonderful art! Did you do these all in oil's? And how did you go about hiking with all the wet ones?

  2. Thanks Susan! Yes they are all oils. I use inexpensive wet-panel carriers from Raymar :


    Very handy.

  3. Beautiful work Terry! Sounds like an interesting trip . . (I'm intrigued by the chef!)

  4. Thanks Eden! If ever I meet you in person, remind me to tell you all about the cook :-D