Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cityscape Challenge - Another Couple More~

Here's the next few~ 

Someone asked me, "where the hell is yours?" I'm working on it! Actually, it's nearly done and I just need to adjust a few edges. I had to put it aside to work on other projects, but I'll post it by our March 11th deadline. 

 It's 12x9 soft pastel.  I've never done a cityscape before so this was a good exercise, thanks for hosting this.  I made some compositional changes from the photo. Besides cropping it I moved some of the cars around as well as eliminating many of them. I also decided to see what it would look like with more sky and less hill.
David King

Thanks Terry Miura for coming up with this challenge. I've read every blogpost of his before I take this challenge . And my...... what a wonderful ,full of knowledge blog he has.I'm tremendously glad that I've found his blog and pick up something from there. At the moment , blog is where I learn to paint . If you have any blog you would like to recommend , do share it.

Dean Ng

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We Take A Little Break From Our Cityscape Challenge...

Morning Whispers, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

We take a little break from our Cityscape Challenge and bring you this! It's another one of my favs from my series of semi abstracted nudes.

As you may have noticed, I don't specializing in one genre. I find I need varied stimuli and change of gears to keep my creative juices flowing. I am also finding that jumping from genre to genre helps me to apply what I learned in one series to another in unexpected and unpredictable ways. 

I have learned much about simplification, abstraction, and paint manipulation from doing my Urban Aria series, and I'm applying all that I learned to my figure painting. Had I not done a focused study of cityscapes earlier, my figures would never have looked like this now. 

And because these figures don't have the same set of requirements as painting buildings and cars in perspective, I can push abstraction even further. And in turn, I'm able to do that back in my cityscapes beyond what I was able to do in Urban Aria. It's a constant learning process, different genres feeding each other new discoveries and applications of new ideas. 

Sometimes I just go way off the deep end and a painting on which I spent fifty hours just crashes and burns, and that hurts, but I know I learned a lot from it, even if I didn't end up with a good painting. The next one will show my progress.

I'm applying abstraction more in landscape painting too, but in a little different way. The more "traditional" alla prima way of painting the landscape is so ingrained in my brain and brush hand, that it's not easy to shake it off. I'm going back to studying some really tonalist works of Corot, Inness, and others. I'll share that stuff in a future post soon~

In the meantime, paint on!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cityscape Challenge Continues~

Here are today's submissions! 

By the way, a couple of you asked if it would be kosher to sell your work since it was done from my photo. For this particular project, I don't have a problem with that, so go for it.  Copyright is a huge issue in this industry and we all have to be diligent about ethical practices. If I use a photo reference, I usually only use my own photos. If I have to use someone else's, I make sure I get permission or otherwise make sure there are no infringement issues. 

Again, for this challenge, please consider permission granted, so do whatever you want with your paintings, including selling it for a million bucks. 

See all the paintings here!

I painted two, each in a single 3 hour session so I wouldn't feel compelled to overwork them with more detail. I learned that it is easier for me to keep it simple by using a lot of paint and limiting my colors. But I still struggled to keep my values intact once I started adding a little color. And then there's edges! I love the way you work your edges and would love to hear more from you on that topic! Anyway, it really is amazing to discover that less is more and that a piece will read more convincingly from across the room when the dark/light shapes are connected and simplified.
Susan Tortorici 

(Streetscape after Miura. Digital© Andy Dolphin)
The main thrust of the challenge is to simplify a photo Terry posted and produce a painting using any medium.
I chose Photoshop.
I had intended to save the image in stages - but forgot so this is all I have.
My process was to crop then convert the original image to greyscale and use that as my starting reference. I wanted to warm the scene up a little so, using a Wacom pen and tablet, I "underpainted" in a warm sepia tone. I then switched the reference photo back to colour and finished my painting from background to foreground.
I painted in the large shapes first with little concern for absolute accuracy. The rough shapes were initially tightened by working back into the negative shapes, painting the road around the cars for example, then strengthened by the addition of mid-tones and highlights. I finished with the brightest highlights, including the "pure" colours of the traffic lights and vehicle tail lights.
No tracing is involved in the process. The two images sit side-by-side with the photo kept small to avoid getting bogged down with detail. As you can see below, I took liberties with several aspects of the scene. I was more interested in capturing the feeling than producing a replica.

There's about half an hour to 45 minutes work in this. I used a standard Photoshop stipple brush (and forgot to change the angle jitter setting) for this one. I usually use a custom brush from Chris Wahl but was almost finished before  realised what I'd done (I work zoomed out, so the stippling doesn't show). 
My digital process almost exactly matches the way I work with oils - but I don't have to wash brushes when I'm finished - and I don't ruin another shirt or get paint on the carpet!
Andy Dolphin 

Here's Another~

I've indexed all the submissions thus far (if I'm missing yours for some reason, please let me know) in a separate page. Check 'em out!

This one is by Anne Marie in North Carolina~

Cityscapes are such a myriad of shapes and colors.  You manage to make them so interesting, and I have admired your cityscapes for years.  I also want to thank you for your blog.  Those of us who are self-taught devour the knowledge of successful artists, their palettes, their brushes, their methods.  Your blog has been an inspiration and a source of great information.  For this challenge, I cropped the heck out of it, put in the basic shapes and put the photo away and used my imagination.  

Anne Marie Propst

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Cityscapes!

Nice work everyone! Very fascinating to glimpse into your thinking processes, too. I'm learning stuff!

Thank you for the challenge, Terry. Great idea, great guide lines. I really learned a lot from it...if I could only follow the directions.  

Violetta Smith

This is 8,5'' x3'' small format for me.
I ve tried to paint in an impressiomist style the flux of the cars through the town ruled by the traffic lights I gave to the building a ghostly appearence to concentrate the eyes on the lights and cars

Robert R

Here, I painted this cityscape for Studio notes , where Terry Miura asked us to use only 2 values at least at the beginning, ignore the details, choose one dominante color, avoid too numerous sharp edges.(This point was a little obscure for me).I tried to follow this advice, chose french ultramarine as basic color. I had a black underpainting, as there was something else before.

Sylviane Le Cann

The main thing that drew me to this challenge was the sherr IMpossibility of getting my knife around the cars/buildingscape. I think my work originally became knife-driven with heavy paint a while back out of a need to eliminate the detail. I didn't realise at the time I was setting myself a rule that was inherently simplifying. Alongside this, I also had a sort of limiting belief that photo-references gave me and my knife even more information and detail to sort through in order to find my subject and process. So until this challenge, I tended to work almost exclusively from life.  I think following this exercise (and your abstract studies from life drawings) these limiting ideas might at last have been well and truly shattered. In working through this dastardly photo you kindly provided (which I'm nearly certain is no straightforward snap-shot down that street!) I've realised just how much editorial simplification and invention has actually been going on all along. Thanks a bunch!

Also wanted to say how much I've enjoyed seeing the fantastic stuff from everyone else!

Mike Lang


So glad Deborah Secor gave me the heads up on this challenge.
I'm trying to loosen up on my landscape painting and a challenge like this is a great exercise. I have done buildings but never a cityscape and never cars.
I actually had little problem keeping this loose and not getting too detailed. The reason being I knew it wouldn't be any good so the pressure was off. Actually, I feel it's turned out not bad at all.
This is in soft pastels about 11x9"

Ruth M

The following four images are process shots accompanied by comments, from Randy Blasquez~

Here is my attempt at painting from Terry Miura's photo. The challenge is to simplify, and because I am on this path lately to simplify and paint with the concept in mind (rather than to copy), I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I haven't had a lot of studio time lately, but I started with the under painting a few days back. I don't always start a painting the same way, and to me this one called for breaking down the value shapes into no more than "two" values  - why not? I've been using a varnish medium to wash in my under paintings and decided to try it for the block in. The result is nice and transparent. My goal here, other than to simplify and stay out of the details, is to paint the "idea". I love street scenes, and have been admiring Terry's new Street Series.
In fact, I just finished a new street piece, but it had people and not cars. So I decided that I could do this in the same manner, kind of. Or I was hoping for the same type of result, where I would paint "shapes" not people, and "shapes", not cars.

Okay, for the concept. I was in Carmel last weekend where I got to get up close to some large paintings by Ken Auster. I just love the way he can take a city scene in San Francisco and guess what-- SIMPLIFY.
I bought his book and in it he talks about the way he will use warm and cool to bring life into a gray painting. So, I wanted to paint this piece with that in mind. Cool shadows, warm light. I want to do it without going crazy with color, which I have a tendency to do.

I wanted to establish the values again buy comparing the foreground to the middle ground to the background. To create distance you want to be careful to use the tools of a painter - cooler, softer, grayer, smaller, etc., as to painting recedes.

Painting is 18x18x1.5" - Linen

I had fun with this. Each car has it's own personality and shape. As much as I wanted to leave more abstract shapes, I feel that I went a little too far on the cars. This was a great learning experience for me, and I enjoyed keeping it SIMPLE. I try to do this with all my paintings by starting each shape with only two values, and going from there. It is like a building block. Or as I say to my students, start with the silver dollar, on top of that put the fifty cent piece, then the quarter, and only if it is necessary, add more detail. Detail should be only the last 5% of a painting at most.....

Randy Blasquez

Friday, February 24, 2012

Simplify! - Some More!

OK Gang, here are the next ones that came in. Thanks so much for participating! This is a lot of fun to see what you've all come up with. 

I'm starting to think that the blog isn't the best format for doing something like this, as it is becoming a little bit challenging to keep things organized across many applications, and I keep thinking I'm going to miss something or someone's submission. 

I think a Facebook group page might have been a smarter solution, but too late now. We'll stick with this format until the end, or I get so overwhelmed that I start dropping balls. LOL~ 

In the meantime, let me just say that you guys are doing great! Just look at the variety of solutions!!

Thanks for posting such a great photo reference to get the juices flowing.  I struggle to simplify, and tried my darnedest to paint this as requested, but knew I was in trouble upon noticing a quarter inch brush in my hand...ha!  

The idea was to take a densely packed and busy photo and find ways to simplify it, perhaps by cropping, but also by resisting the temptation to paint every detail there. I love a challenge, so I was up to give it a try. 

Here's my first one, my usual size, 2.5" x 3.5".
I was intrigued by the density of the small shapes and colors, but attempted to keep it unified by values. Close one eye and squint and you'll see the big dark shape on the far left, the medium-dark shape in the middle, and the medium and medium-light shapes of the hills. Successful, but not quite what I was after.

Here's my second one, a HUGE departure for me and far more what I wanted to accomplish. It's literally huge, for me anyway: 8"x5" on a piece of black Pastelmat paper!

I chose to crop and distort the image, pulling it into a much elongated and stylized version that appealed to me. I loved the sense of a street going uphill in stages, and enhanced that with the light coming between the buildings. I probably 'should' have added more shadow shapes of the buildings, but I chose to limit that response in order to keep it simple. I limited my palette, and heightened the contrasting values. Cars? No chance! I just haven't the inclination for those shapes, so I suggested a couple and let it go at that. Do you think it works?

Deborah Secor

Couldn't resist your challenge image - love that sort of thing and drooled over the street scenes in Urban Aria. In small town Iowa the building height / street width ratio doesn't allow for type of composition. I was trying to get a detailed look without really doing any...just dots and dashes.

John Preston

Ah, those pesky details. It is fascinating how few are really needed, but also how fun it is to paint too many of them... My tendency is to include too much in a painting, and although I cropped the reference hard, I could have cropped more and singled out one point of interest instead of using 3 of them. While I used my way of handling colour, I tried to think of Terry’s advice as I painted. I chose a small format, 12x9” (A4), so it wouldn’t be possible to do much detail with the pastel sticks. My aim was to take the viewer far into the painting, and to give a sense of sitting behind the wheel waiting at that traffic light. So I called it “Traffic”. Thank you Terry for an interesting project, and the visual dialogue with fine artists!

Charlotte Herczfeld

Thanks Terry for this fun, if terrifying challenge!! I live in an urban/rural area so not something I see every day and something I would usually avoid. Anyway I had a go and this is the result. 9 x 12 on Wallis with soft pastel. It took about an hour and a half and was really a lot of fun in the end. I think the guy on the right is on a suicide run and it looks more like a snow scene rather than a sunlit day. I may make it more snowy despite the green trees. Fortunately I ran out of time or I would have noodled it to death so working fast forced me to not detail. Keeping a simple pallet was hard too as I like a lot of colour. I may make a more colourful version now I have braved it. On the drive home I found myself looking at buildings, cars, roads and rhythms in a whole new way so it definitely woke up my artist eyes.Thanks for a great challenge.

Jen Humphreys 

I was challenged this week by a blog that encouraged you to "Simplify"... that is, don't sweat the small stuff! As someone who thrives on details, I found that I needed to take that step. I worked quick and small, knowing that if I went bigger, it would give me room to put more details; If I kept at it, I would somehow find a way to finagle lots of details in where I thought they should be!

Working in a fairly new medium to me,  I decided to let the implied colors thrive. It was fun. I am only somewhat satisfied as I cannot feel it as complete, as simplified as it is from the original. I must learn restraint! I do enjoy the learning experience that comes from this. I will work more on being "loose" and a bit more abstract. 

Jessica Shippee

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cityscape Challenge - The Next Batch!

Here's the next batch of cityscapes from our brave participants! Very cool to see how each artist approached it differently~ Nice work everyone! 

By the way, I'll if you've posted on your blog and gave me the link, I'm assuming it's OK for me to link to it and credit your work with the full name. Otherwise, I'm just using first plus last initial. If you'd like to see your name differently, please just let me know~

If you've sent me an image or a link before now (5pm PST, on Wednesday, 2/22) but I haven't posted it on this blog, I somehow didn't get it. Please try again. 

Thanks! Keep 'em comin'!!

I had such fun with it and learned so much.  I did two, the first being the 8x10 cityscape and the second is 7x5.  I tried to be very conscious of values and as you said to simplify.  I squinted as I worked which was a big help.  Both paintings have a similar palette, but with second one I used a different blue, cobalt blue.  The first I used cerelean because of the green it has.  I also added more violet to the second painting.  The second one is, of course, cropped differently using a smaller size and instead of a landscape format I used a portrait format.  It does simplify the subject and I like it.  Keeping your tip in mind about using one main color was also in my head as I worked.  Another simplification and adds harmony to the painting.

Linda Popple

I enjoyed this challenge, because the genre is not my usual, so it moved me out of my comfort zone. 
Using the palette knife more than the brush was good for this as well…keeping it simple was the biggest challenge with a limited palette, complements of pthalo green and rose plus white, small, very small amounts of lemon yellow and small dollops of cad red for the lights on the cars and street. I premixed all the values needed ahead of time, laying out a value strand of three main hues. I loved every moment of creating. I look forward to more challenges in the future.

Cathyann Burgess

I learned so much from doing this since the subject matter was something I had not attempted before and it was so much fun to do. I was rushing a little so I could photograph it for my daily painting blog before it got too dark. 

Fay Terry

With some basic guidelines, the one that made me laugh was your instruction "to simplify. Not to try and render every damn detail."
In order to do that, I put my computer across the room so I couldn't see every damn detail. I still feel like I got a lot of information in here, maybe too much per the instructions, but I really enjoyed the challenge.
It will be fun to see all the different takes. Thanks!

Dana Cooper

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Contributions Are In!

Almost as soon as I posted the reference photo, I received the first contributions. I haven't quite figured out what the best way to share these is yet.  I will make a page with all the images indexed, but in the meantime I wanted to share them here on the blog too - I plan on posting them as I get them, with the artist's comments if I have them, but as I don't know how many I'll get, I don't want to commit to a format.  We'll just play it by ear.

You are invited to leave comments on your fellow artists' work, but if you do, please remember to be nice. This isn't a competition and we're not here to discourage anyone from trying to improve their craft. If you're  not feeling confident and are a little shy to share your efforts, remember NONE of the great masters knew how to paint in the beginning!  

So here we go; the first three~

I've enclosed my try at your Simplify challenge. 
I started oils last September. Your challenge is a great idea!! Thanks a bunch!

Jeff, NH

 Hello, Terry:
 Done! Oil on a small ragged piece of canvas I had around the studio, about 20 minutes. Here the simplification came mostly from the urge to paint -it is some sort of addiction. Maybe in the future I´ll add some detail, maybe not.
 Good idea, waiting forward to see yours and the paintings of the rest of the artists. Best from the country of Velasquez and Picasso
                                                                                                                                                                                                       Luis, Spain 

My contribution to your great challenge. I loved it.
I don't know if to laugh or cry...The  instructions are "to simplify. NOT to try and render every damn detail."
I do try.....
 Thanks again, Irit, Santa Monica

By the way, when you email me your images, it would be great if you can also share some thoughts about your painting. It can be technical, anecdotal, or just how you felt trying this little exercise. I think other artists will enjoy hearing about it - I'll edit your commentary before posting so no personal information will be made public.

If you'd rather not see your commentary posted (or certain parts of it), just let me know and I'll fix it right away.

Thanks again for contributing to our little challenge, and I hope you find seeing others' efforts inspiring, educational, and fun!

Love your enthusiasm! and keep 'em coming~

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Simplify! - A Cityscape Challenge

OK! Looks like we have a bunch of takers! WooHOO~!

I'm glad so many of you want to try this. I think it'll be very interesting and instructive not only to do an exercise like this, but to see how others solve the same problems. How exciting~

OK, so the photo above is the reference we will all use to do a painting. Everyone is welcome to try - this is just for fun, remember, so don't even worry if you feel like you're too much of a beginner. Just give it a try. I guarantee you'll learn something!

I think we ought to have some basic guidelines.

  • Use the reference photo above. If you click on it, you'll get a larger version on your screen. Feel free to download it to your desktop to print it out or whatever you need to do to make it easier for you to paint from.
  • Deadline. Let's say three weeks. You have to have it done and posted by March 11th.
  • By "posted" I mean you can send me a jpeg via email, or if you're a blogger and you'd like to post your efforts on your own blog, just email me the link.
  • Any medium.
  • Any size.
  • Remember the point is to simplify. NOT to try and render every damn detail.
  • You may use some or all of the "rules" that I talked about in my last post. You don't have to use any of them. You can come up with your own set of rules. You don't have to have any rules at all.
Again, this is just for fun so do it in the way you feel comfortable. There are no rules as to technique or methods or sequences. I just want to see how different (or similar) our solutions are.

If you're a blogger, you might post the work-in-progress on your blogs. Might be fun, and your readers may want to try, too. If you do post your progress, please send me the link.

I think that's it for now.  Good luck and have fun~

Oh. One tip; CROP!  Cropping is one of the main tools of editing and simplification. Use it!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Study for "Bay Blue", 12 x 16 inches, oil on linen

Cityscapes are hard to paint not only because everything has to be drawn well, but also because there's just an overwhelming amount of information that needs to be processed. Simplification is key, but arbitrary editing of detail can easily end up with a weak painting that lack a sense of intent.   With so much "stuff", it's not easy to know what to include and what to edit out, especially because you know all that detail contributes to the texture of the city clutter.

One way to approach it is to have rules for editing –and you know by now I like rules. This way, you can do it systematically (more or less) and it helps me to get the painting going in the right direction. Here are some that I use often;

  • Decide on a dominant color theme (in this case, blue green) and mix every color as a variation of it. (you want violet? start with blue green and bend it towards violet. Think of it as a violet-er version of the original blue green)
  • Paint every element (car, tree, asphalt, etc.) in just two values.  Later on you can add a third value to the more important elements.
  • Link all similar valued adjacent shapes.
  • Have a large passive area. (Forces me to have an area with NO detail, juxtaposed against which the more active areas need less "stuff" in order to look detailed)
  • Treat super sharp edges as exclamation points. Don't shout everywhere.
These are not rules for all painting nor are they for every painter. They're just rules that guide me to do what I do, and they work well for me. With another painting, I may have a completely different set of rules. The point is, having this type of structure is helpful in keeping my mind organized and focused. It helps me avoid making arbitrary and thoughtless decisions. 

I had this idea of inviting anyone who wants try this way of approaching the cityscape to give it a go, and sharing your results and thoughts on the experience.  I would post a reference photo for us to use - we'd all use the same photo so that we can compare and contrast how we each respond to the same problems. Wouldn't that be interesting?  Challenging, to be sure, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I will of course post my own efforts as well. What do you think? Anyone up for it? Shall I put a deadline so we don't drag on and on? Is two weeks enough? A month?

Let me know via comment box if anyone is interested. I'll go ahead and post a ref. photo if there's enough interest.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone~

This is a picture of little painted hearts made by my daughter Skye (4) for her kindergarten classmates. She got some help cutting the hearts, but the painting is all her work. Very adept with watercolors and gouache, and as you can see, she is in her Jim Dine phase.  Good job Skye!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Channelling Inness

Winter Evening, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I did this demo for my in-studio landscape class a few weeks ago. I call it the "George Inness-inspired moody tonalist landscape thing".  The image above is the result of the one hour demo plus two more hours of struggling with the feathery bare winter tree.

The view is entirely made up, but it looks very much like what you'd find walking along the American River trail just a few minutes from my home.

I don't usually paint bare winter trees not because they're hard (and they are!) but because the mood they create in one of my paintings usually is bleak and lonely, and I don't want to be made to feel that way.  It must trigger some childhood emotional memory or something, I dunno.

I've seen many bare tree paintings by other artists which don't have that effect on me, so it must be just me. Funny how closely art and emotion are connected.

However! when asked by a student to do a demo on this motif, I couldn't resist the technical challenge. I'm willing to crash and burn for this class who always asks me to do something outside of my comfort zone, so I thought it'd be fun to try. I was looking at some Inness paintings recently, and I was inspired to do something similar.

I don't know how Inness painted. When I look at his paintings in person, it looks like there's a lot process going on; a lot of scraping, wiping and painting over. I can't paint like that, so the demo wasn't "how to paint like Inness", but a more general "Inness-like" moody landscape.

Structurally, it's the same as the nocturn I did the week before. The sky is lighter and it's yellow of course, but the organization is the same. Silhouette driven, mostly monochromatic, a little bit of local colors in the foreground, soft edges, etc.

The tricky part is, obviously, the bare tree. I treated it like painting gauze, a translucent fabric tattered in the shape of a tree. The paint application isn't transparent, I just mixed a color that's in-between dark warm gray of the solid trunk, and that of the sky.  The trunks and bigger branches hold the fuzzy stuff together.

The way I did it isn't a linear process. That is to say, I didn't *just* paint the background first, paint the tree in the in-between color I just described, and added the solid parts. As with my fully foliaged trees, it takes a good deal of going back and forth between foreground and background, and with plenty of scraping unsatisfactory attempts.  Whether the sky gets painted first or the tree is kind of irrelevant because I go over every part of it so many times in order to get the shapes I want.

I do try to finish off with more conspicuously calligraphic strokes so that it doesn't look so belabored even if it is.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sketch It Out!

Chillin', 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

From last week's  figure session. If I'm painting from a model, I usually do a couple of sketches in my sketchbook first. Though I'm not picky about materials when it comes to sketchbook stuff, I find I use a regular ol' ball point pen a lot.

When I start the painting, I need to have a concept, otherwise I end up with a painting with no impact. So the pen sketch helps me to be clear about my intent, find a direction and a specific idea that I want to focus on. 

Sometimes I don't have a clear idea when I just look at the model. But when I start drawing, the ideas start forming. It has something to do with the fact that I'm doing these sketches quickly, which forces me to just visually jot down the essentials and edit away the unnecessary detail stuff.

Once I know which direction to take it, I can start the painting with a certain amount of confidence and intent. And you know, confidence, whether warranted or not, shows in the brushwork. And brushwork communicates intent. And communicating my intent, is the bottom line.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Melting Light

Opposing Instincts, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

This one was done a few months ago - I just realized I hadn't posted it here.  I really like how her legs just disappear. 

The paint handling is still a little restrained compared to the newer pieces, and my colors are more descriptive in that I'm still thinking about the color of the light source, that of skin, complementary shifts as we move into shadow, increase in saturation just before the core - all based on rules of representational painting.  I haven't given these up entirely, but I'm not as hung up about them as when I did this painting. They work pretty effectively here, I think, so I'm not going to change anything on this painting.

Most of these figure paintings are 16 x 12, but I'm about ready to try larger. I have started a 24 x 20 version of an earlier piece. That one was one of my very favorite of the series and of course that would be the one to sell first. I missed having it around but I didn't want to just do another of the same painting - where's the fun in that? So I decided this was a chance to do something larger. So far I'm just slinging paint at the canvas but boy, am I having a good time! Eventually, I'd like to get to 30 x 40 or thereabouts with these figures. I don't want to rush into it, though. I have plenty of ideas to try out before I commit to a large canvas.

Sitting Pretty

Sitting Pretty, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I am slipping deeper and deeper into abstraction. I can't remember the last time my work changed this much this fast. Something is definitely changing fundamentally, and it's a wild ride. I feel like I should be worried but I'm not. At all.  I'm actively fueling the fire! 

Don't get me wrong– I'm not finding this easy. It's not getting any easier, either. But I'm getting better at breaking rules. I mean, that's what abstraction is all about, to me; breaking the rules of representational painting. 

Being an extremely analytical type, I often have to trick myself into breaking the rules in which I was trained and practiced for years and years. I do this by making new rules for myself; rules that defy, nullify, or otherwise cancel out the long established habits.

For example,  regarding small detail, I made up a new rule which says "don't paint it if I can't do it in two values and a beat up no.2 brush." This rule effectively eliminates my need to decide how much detail is too much. The rule dictates, at least at the scale of this painting I'm posting today, that I cannot paint facial features or fingers or toes because I can't paint them in just two values and with a beat up No.2 brush. 

Another rule might be, "similar values next to each other? link them. Never mind if they're different materials. And not just the darks, either."

Want another?  How about, "treat skin like marble. (or metal. or plaster. or marshmallow. or whatever)  This one frees you up from rules of painting flesh tones.  I would also put in this same category, "only paint from quick drawings done from life. Not from photos."

Here's a good one. "Title the painting before you begin, but make it a concept that you want to communicate."  For example, instead of "Female Nude", you might title it "Gravity" or "Seductive" or "Lost in Thought".  You can always change the title afterwards, but having it beforehand puts your mind in that concept state and help you not to paint "things".  When you're trying to paint an abstract, intangible concepts like "seductive" , you're more likely to treat the literal elements more abstractly.

I don't follow all these rules on every painting. Each new painting is a fresh adventure and I assign different rules to it. After a while the painting takes on a life of its own and I just do what it tells me to.

With Sitting Pretty, I had a couple of small breakthroughs and I was so happy with the result (especially because I had abandoned it once because it wasn't happening'. The whole thing took about 20 hours) that I signed my name really big on the bottom!  I've never done that before - it was a spontaneous expression of joy. Sounds cheesey, but it's true. I couldn't help it!

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Little Nocturn

California Nocturn, 20 x 10 inches, oil on linen

This is a demo I did for my class a few weeks back. I don't usually paint nocturns –in fact I've probably done may be a dozen in my whole life. And half of them were illustration assignments.

But my students asked for a nocturn demo, and as I aim only to please, I gave it a go. If you talk to any of them who were actually in the class, they'll tell you the demo degenerated into a miserable piece of kitch and we had a good laugh.

I gave it another two hours the next day without an audience and brought it back to life, because after all, it had good potential it seemed a shame to let it die.

In terms of structure, a nocturne like this isn't all that different from painting fog. It's much lower keyed, of course, but the fact that it's silhouette driven, with soft edges, and tonally organized color makes it almost like painting a heavily atmosphered daytime view, only darker.

We don't see much of anything in the shadows because there isn't much of ambient or reflected light to illuminate them. If they're not illuminated, they're very dark, right?  Exceptions might be if there are artificial light sources present, or if the moonlight is bright enough that there is sufficient bounced light, or presence of atmospheric conditions that scatter the moonlight.  But in this particular painting, it's just a basic weak moonlight with (almost) nothing visible in the shadows.

In many a nocturn painting, we see the distant objects (hills, trees, etc.) just as dark as the foreground trees, because the atmospheric "stuff" (dirt, dust, smog, fog...) isn't there or just isn't illuminated. In my painting, I did make the background trees lighter for pictorial purposes. I think, in reality, the background trees would be much darker, or the moon much brighter (to illuminate the atmosphere between the fore and backgrounds)

A couple more characteristics to note; harsh cast shadows are absent. And since it's very tonal, there's very little, if at all, temperature shifts between light and shadow. Also, almost all colors are variations of a subjectively decided "color theme" of the painting - in this case a pale muted blue - and local colors (greens of the foliage, etc.) become more or less irrelevant. Except in the extreme foreground, but in this painting my foreground is all dark so you barely see it at all.

The characteristics I've described here fall within a fairly narrow context, though. If you Google "nocturn painting", you'll instantly see that there are many, many ways of approaching the problem of depicting night scenes and everything I've just said can be easily argued against. So as usual, a grain of salt goes a long way~