Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, May 25, 2012


A Long Afternoon, 36 x 36, oil on linen

Slowly but surely, my journey into abstraction is becoming familiar. I'm starting to feel at home slinging paint around in unpredictable ways. Getting to know my inner abstract painter better.

This is another painting which, like Going Home and Time and Again, was originally created for my solo show a couple of years ago. Below is what it looked like then;

As you can see, it's a lot more descriptive, and even has a hint of narrative. Many people have used the adjective Hopperesque when they saw this painting. It certainly has that mood, which I still like. 

However, as my focus has shifted to less literal interpretation of a "scene", I could no longer leave the painting alone. It was just begging me to take it to new and unchartered (by me, anyway) realms of abstraction. 

I started out by putting more paint on top of it, essentially repainting the same thing as what was there, just so I can work wet on wet rather than wet on dry. The reason is that my main concern was to integrate shapes and play with edges of adjacent shapes. Can't do that very well on a dry surface, so it had to have fresh paint all over the place. 

As I progressed, a nagging thought came to me; it's the same problem I had on Going Home and Time and Again; too many statements. The top half with the compelling cast shadow patterns, and the bottom half with the Hopperesque narrative. I was trying tell two stories in one poem, and it wasn't working. Having two stories just meant that the impact of the painting was lessened by half.  So after much bellyaching, I chose the top half as my story, and obscured the bottom part in the shadow.

In doing all this, I continuously tried to loosen things up and tried to put down notes that had nothing to do with the description of the "thing" I was painting. It's a fairly large canvas so when it's shrunk down to the size that I now see it on my monitor, it still looks too tight. But I'm done with this one. I did what I set out to do, and I'm happy with it. The physical quality of the paint surfaces doesn't translate in a photo, which is too bad because that's where a lot of the magic happens.

I have a few new pieces (that is to say, not reincarnations of previous pieces) which are almost done and I'll share them soon - I'm struggling though. Abstraction may be becoming more familiar territory, but flying without a net is still freakin' hard!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fiery, 12 x 16 inches, oil on panel
This painting is available. Email me if you're interested.

You may have noticed that my blogging has become less frequent as of late. I haven't been idle but honestly, I really don't have much to share. I've been working on some larger canvases, and they're coming along slowly. So slowly that a WIP wouldn't show any progress to eyes other than my own. And I really don't like showing unfinished work, unless I can show you the finish also in the same post.

I have done some smaller paintings too, but they're demos or studies and again, I hesitate to show them if I think they have no merit. I don't mind showing failed paintings if I thought they helped me make my point, but lately, I'm not sure what points I want to make.

But anyway, here's one I did today. As usual, I spent about half an hour just sketching with a ball point pen, trying to get a feel for the direction I wanted to take this thing.  As my work becomes more abstract, I find myself asking not how to define anatomical parts, but how to obscure them. Just how much definition is enough? And if I don't define something, what do I do with that area? Random notes seem like a cop out. Randomness, as a concept, is valid, of course. But since that's not my concept, I have to have more of a reason for my notes that don't particularly define some thing. I look for answers in concepts like rhythm, movement, visual noise, balance. 

Sketching is enormously helpful . It helps me pre-solve a lot of the problems before I even put brush to canvas, and that in turn, gives me confidence to do what I need to do. Strokes show a lot more about ourselves than we realize. Confident strokes don't come from a timid brush. But if I don't know what I'm trying to say with my brush, what comes out is indecision and hesitation. Sometimes I can bluff my way through, but it usually catches up to me and I'll have to go back and redo whole passages or even the whole painting. That's not unusual at all.

The drawing is done from a slightly different angle than the painting. That's because I like to sit when I'm drawing, but I like to stand when I'm painting. 

Tomorrow I have to get up early and drive down to the South Bay to do a demo for the Society of Western Artists. This is sort of a preview of my September workshop I'm doing for this organization.  If you're interested, please check out their website for more information.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Workshop in LA

I was down in LA this past weekend teaching another workshop~ It was a lot of fun painting with a wonderful group of students. That we had perfect weather didn't hurt, either.

Above is my first demo. We met at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. Besides Will Rogers' house, there were some beautiful eucalyptus trees all around, a polo field (?) and all the structures that goes with it. No shortage of motifs. I decided on this view of the trees; I thought it had everything I needed to illustrate the points that I wanted to emphasize in a plein air demo.  

I set up in the shade, but after I had everything blocked in we moved into the sun because it got a little chilly. 

As it often happens when your canvas is in the sun, the values that I was applying looked lighter and brighter. When I looked at it later indoors, it looked much darker. I thought I had compensated for the bright light hitting my canvas but apparently, not enough. It'll be easy to fix, though.

On day 2, everyone painted at the Will Rogers Park, and there were more people about, enjoying the Cinco de Mayo weekend. A big, beautiful Airstream trailer was parked near us, providing yet another fabulous motif for us. 

In the afternoon, there were some polo matches in the field, too. I'd never seen an actual polo game, so it was quite a treat to see. The announcer was getting on everyone's nerves though. 

I went around from easel to easel, offering help and instruction all day. I did get to paint the Airstream a little bit, albeit not on my canvas. Fun stuff.

On day 3, my students decided that they want to see a demo on painting a cityscape from a photo reference. No problem~ we dug some random SF scene from the internet and I proceeded to paint it.

Along the way, the subject of different approaches to structuring color came up, so I interrupted the cityscape and did the above demo to illustrate a couple of important points. Mainly it's about painting tonally vs. high key color. It was a quick and dirty demo but I think it was helpful.

So I continued on with the little cityscape demo; what to look for when drawing perspective-heavy scenes, how to simplify an overwhelming amount of information so you're not painting every little thing, how to keep color in check, and how temperature shifts work in various situations.

This painting could use another couple of hours to bring it to finish, but I was pretty pleased with the way it came out. I hope it made sense to everyone!

 Flying to a distant location to do workshops is sometimes difficult because of all the unknowns associated with such an operation, and the experience can be exhausting and not so ideal. But I have no complaints about this one!  Thank you Susan for organizing everything and making it all go smoothly, and thank you for making my stay extra comfortable. What wonderful hosts you and Peter were – I'm still talking about the food and the wine!

I'm now back in my studio, and mulling over some new paintings. It's time to switch gears and get messy!