Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Alluring Balance

Purple Haze, 40 x 30 inches, oil on linen

Got a nice mention in FASO's Informed Collector. Whoever wrote it - thank you very much!!

Smoldering atmospheric conditions, a myriad of shapes, and a cool color palate with just the right touch of warmth, combine to form an alluring balance amidst the busyness of the urban landscape. 

"Smoldering". I love that adjective.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Archangel Michael

Arcangelo, 24 x 20, oil on linen

This is a painting that I did recently of Archangel Michael. The original sculpture was created by Flemish sculptor and architect Peter von Verschaffelt in the 18th century, and it stands outside Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. 

Peter did the hard part. I just painted it. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sierra Rocks, 9 x 12 oil on linen

This is my first demo of the year, which I did for my landscape concepts class last week. I used a photo that I took last summer during my trip to the Eastern Sierras with a bunch of unruly hooligans artists.

Among other things, I wanted to emphasize using edges effectively. The basic idea is this; we have at our disposal a couple of options when it comes to edges –sharp,  soft, and lost – and we need to use them deliberately, intentionally, and strategically. There are reasons why we use one type of edge over another, and it should never be done arbitrarily or thoughtlessly.

So when do we use sharp edges? In general;
  • The thing you're painting has a hard surface - rocks, glass, metal are much harder than grass, foliage and fabric.
  • Focal point. Sharp edges draw the eye.
  • Cast shadow edges are generally sharper than form shadow edges. (There are a lot of exceptions to this)

And soft edges;

  • The thing you're painting is soft. 
  • Away from the center of interest, so you want to play down its presence.
  • Form shadow edges are generally softer than cast shadow edges.

Lost edges;

  • Simplifying a cluttered area by connecting shapes
  • You want to deemphasize an area even more than the soft edged areas. 
  • Separation of adjacent "things" isn't part of the story so it's unnecessary. (If you lose an edge and it still makes visual sense, you probably didn't need that edge to begin with)
I'm sure there are other reasons to use hard/soft/lost edges, but these are the biggies.

and of course, there are exceptions to all rules and it boils down to whether a particular decision makes good compositional and conceptual sense, in the context of your picture. 

In the context of my picture above, I might point out a few things to illustrate what I mean;

  • The rocks in the front and the rocks in the back are both hard surfaces, but the front rocks have a much sharper edge because they're the focal areas. The rocks in the back are "supporting cast".
  • Trees near the middle have sharper edges (though not enough take away from the rocks) than the trees away from the center of interest. Trees in the back have hardly any defined shapes or edges.
  • The edge between water and the rocks are lost. The separation of the two were unnecessary because the picture makes sense without that separation. It also simplifies that area into one shape, not two.
  • The reflection of the rock is softer than the rock itself.
  • Edges of the rocks where the form is turning away from us, is softer than the edges in the front. The sharp edge helps to bring it forward. 
  • Trees all connect at some point or another - lost edges to combine multiple shapes into one. Simplify.
  • The water's edge against the lit part of the land mass is pretty sharp because there's quite a bit of value contrast there. As opposed to the shadowy areas.  If I made all the edges along the water soft, it would look fuzzy and lose that glassy quality (even with the reflections present). 
  • The front edge on the rocks where it turns from light to shadow is actually a form shadow edge, but it's supa sharp because the turning radius is so sharp. That's one of the exceptions to the rule.
  • Sharp edges contribute to the general crispness of the picture, which, in turn gives it a more colorful feel than it actually is. Subtle color differences lose their identities when the strokes are mushy.
  • The contrast between sharp and soft edges enhance each other's characteristic. Sharp edges are more meaningfully sharp when surrounded by (or played next to) soft edges, and vice versa. Arbitrary placements of sharp edges don't have the same sense of purpose and intent. (Well, duh!) 

It may be helpful to think of sharp edges as exclamation points. When you're verbally expressing yourself, if you were to shout every word,  no word is more important than the rest. Similarly, if you speak softly from start to finish, nothing in particular is emphasized. In order to communicate effectively, you'll want to know when to speak softly and when to punctuate with a !

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


No, not Kafka. I'm talking about making big changes to a painting and giving it a new lease on life. 

This painting is not finished but I've spent quite a lot of time on it. I've been thinking about my decision making processes on this particular painting. There's so much going on (which was, now that I look at it, the main problem with the picture) that many conflicting ideas had be resolved.  I got confused at every turn, but in rare moments of clarity I told myself "this is important. I need to write this down before I forget and become confused again". 

And so here are some of my thoughts as the painting went through drastic changes.

This is where the change started. It was finished, hung in a show two or three years ago, and came back to me. It wasn't a bad painting, but my painting style has changed and it no longer looked like it should have my name on it. Too tight, too literal, too Hopper, too narrative, too cute.

At first I thought the tightness was what was bothering me the most, so I went over every surface, doing a looser version of it on top. If you've ever tried to loosen up an already finished tight painting, you know it's not easy to do. Much, much easier to tighten a loose painting than to go the other way.  (there's a lesson in there somewhere) 

But I knew it had to be done, and it could be done - I just had to keep going till the entire painting was loosened up because only then will I have a "loose context". A little bit of looseness in an otherwise tight context only looks like a mistake.

And then I decided that this painting relied too much on the narrative. The story there, like a scene from a novel. Nothing wrong with that, except I didn't want a narrative-driven painting. So I took out the car and the figures, the main players of the story.

Now I'm left with the set, without the actors. The visual elements such as the fire escape shadows and the striped awning became more important, and I noticed that there were actually a bunch of  strong elements competing for attention. Is it about the fire escape, the cast shadows, the awning, the sign... Too many good things crammed into one picture. Too many statements.

As much as I hated to do it, I had to get rid of the awning. That was a tough decision (I really liked the awning!) but I think it was the right thing to do. It felt right immediately afterwards.

Once that was cleaned up, I noticed another BIG problem. Actually, I had noticed it long ago but was in denial, hoping that drastic editing of the elements would somehow solve my problem or may be help me fake it. No such luck.

What's the problem, you ask. It's the color vs. tone structure. Look at the cast shadows of the fire escape in the earlier versions. They have a lot of blue in them, and feel much lighter and airier. Toward the bottom of the painting, the shadowy areas are much more tonal, dark, and moody. This is a conflict of light conditions that doesn't make very good sense, even accounting for artistic license.

Do I want tonal and moody, or light and airy? Can't have it both ways. The tonal approach will give me a grittier, more somber, and perhaps a  more timeless feel. On the other hand, the lighter, bluer shadows imply that I have a blue sky above the buildings, contrasting with the orange afternoon light. It implies a particular time of day, a particular kind of light, and that my intent would have to be to suggest that that's important. Is it about the color temperature shifts, or the patterns and shapes of the shadows?

I concluded that it was the latter. With considerable doubt, I took out most of the blue in the cast shadows. And I really liked the result. It's still got that warm afternoon light, but without making a big statement about color. The painting wasn't about pretty colors, after all.

Now I could see the overall mood coming forth, that of the afternoon sun, a mundane urban street, the familiar, comfortable yet slightly anxious feeling of living in the not-so-slick part of the city.

Yes, this is what I want. But the emptiness of the street seemed to be making too much of a statement. Why is it empty? Is it a ghost town? Did the plague wipe out the population? Am I making a statement about death and abandonment?

Hardly. But you see how my mind makes one association after another. Anyway, I put a pedestrian back into the picture, taking care not to overplay his presence. No bright colors or contrast on him. Let him lose some edges and be integrated into the scene rather than be the center of another narrative. Give us a sense of life but don't let the painting be about this particular person.

So this is where I am right now. I'm still working on it, but all the main issues are resolved, so I'm just tweaking edges and refining shapes and strokes. I like it very much.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shape Driven

Take A Seat, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

In designing a painting, I often look for and rely on strong shapes to carry the composition. Aside from the fact that the shapes are interesting to look at –that's a given. I mean who wants to look at something boring?– strong shapes are extremely helpful in simplifying a picture.

Consider this; In order for the viewer to understand what it is he is looking at, the thing must have visual information which communicate its identity. One can do this without color obviously, which is simpler than rendering something in full color. (You can look at a black and white photo of an orange and know that it's an orange) You can show the form of something by using a few values and manipulating light and shadow patterns.  Using two or three values to do this would be simpler than say, using ten.

But if you have a strong recognizable shape, then it doesn't need anything else for the thing to be recognizable. A silhouette will do the job without the help of color or even value modulations.

I'm not saying that one should paint everything in cut-out shapes and ignore values and colors. I'm saying that if you have a strong shape, you don't have to be dependent on rendering color or value to make something recognizable. Light and shadow patterns and color are important in conveying your concept, but since you're not depending on them to play the role of defining your subject, they become tools for expression. In other words, rather than using color and value modulation to merely construct a sentence, use them to say something meaningful (because the silhouette already has done the job of constructing the sentence).

You might say, but one can do that and have them define the subject. Yes, absolutely that is true, and I'm not going to argue with that. I only make my point in the context of my pursuit for simplicity. If I can say what I need to say with less, why should I complicate the matter?

Anyway, that's my thinking for always looking for strong silhouettes. Failing that, my second choice would be to look for a strong light/shadow  or light/dark pattern to define the subject. If I can't do that, I might just as well start looking for entirely new compositions because it ain't gonna work for me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A 2-Day Workshop in September, South Bay

Hey art enthusiast in the Bay Area! I just scheduled a two-day workshop in September. Yes, it's almost ten months away, but I thought I'd throw it out there for those of you who wish to plan ahead. (I give you fair warning; this workshop will be filled long before September!)

This is a plein air painting workshop hosted by the good folks at the Society of Western Artists in Redwood City, California (25 min. South of San Francisco). Open to all levels but some outdoor painting experience is highly recommended. (If you have none, hey, you got ten months to get out there with your easel!)

September 29 -30, 2012 (Saturday & Sunday) 9am - 4pm
$300 SWA members, $350 non-members

For more information and to register, please go to the SWA website.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! May this one be filled with art and inspiration. And peace. and love. and some really good wine.

I'm happy to kick off the new year with momentum; Urban Aria is featured currently featured in the online magazine, A Hopeful Sign. Check it out~