Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

As per tradition, we carved pumpkins last night.  I wanted to do some sort of a relief carving, as I've always been interested in the art form but never really understood how to do it. I'm thinking of the Lorenzo Ghiberti's door carvings on the Florence Cathedral.

It's easy enough to conceptualize the logic of compressing depth into just a few inches, quite another matter to actually do it. The thinking process is very different from sculpting "just" dimensionally.

Anyway, so I set out to carve a relief of a panda, but somehow, I got sidetracked and it ended up being a skull. It's not really a relief sculpture in the sense that the depth is not compressed - it's merely the front part of the full volumed form.

I used a pairing knife to do the whole thing. After last year's experiment, I did some research on professional pumpkin carving tools and I fully intended to get my hands on some, but I completely forgot, so I just made do.

Carving Pumpkins is a great tradition and we have a good time doing it as a family every year.

Have a safe and spooky Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sloane Merrill Gallery

I'm happy to announce the debut of my figures and nudes at Sloane Merrill Gallery, the hottest new gallery which just opened its doors in Boston!

Although I have far more mileage behind my figure drawings and paintings than my landscapes and cityscapes, I've never really shown them before now because 1) I couldn't find the right venue, and 2) until recently, I didn't feel they had enough of personal expression in them. 

Morning Whispers, 16 x 12 inches, oil  on linen sold

Galleries have their own preferences and missions, and established clientele. They may or may not want to show certain genres, regardless whether the work has merit or marketability. Some of my galleries didn't want to show nudes and told me as much, and others not in so many words but I inferred through conversations.

I really don't want to try to persuade or convert a gallery if they don't think these nudes are a good fit to begin with. The fact is, except for artists whose brand equity is already well established, paintings don't sell themselves. If they're in the back room of a gallery or even if they are hanging on walls, they are not going to sell without the enthusiasm of the gallery personnel behind it. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but exceptions don't pay the bills. You know what I mean.

Turning Away, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

I wanted to show my new figurative works with someone who wanted specifically to feature them - and not as we-also-have's.

So when Ali Ringenburg contacted me a few months ago and told me she was opening a brand new gallery in Boston and would love to show my NUDES, I didn't hesitate.

Normally, I'm rather cautious about working with new organizations and galleries and I decline vast majority of offers simply because I can readily see that they're only asking me because I'm a working artist. Sometimes they don't even know or care the kind of work I do. To them, it's a numbers game. To me, that's offensive.

Although I've never met Ali, I knew her as the gallery director at the Principle Gallery, who represent many top notch artists whose work I've long admired. I knew some of these artists personally and trusted their judgement, so I felt pretty comfortable with the idea of showing with the new gallery in Boston. When I subsequently had a nice chat with Ali over the phone, I couldn't wait to send her the paintings and have her introduce them to the world!

Speak Softly, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen, sold

The gallery opened its doors earlier this month, and we are off to a good start. Speak Softly sold right away, which gives me great confidence about the marketability of these nudes, and the gallery's ability to reach the right audience.

Thanks Ali and Meghan, and a big congratulations on the successful launch of the gallery! Here's to continued success!

Check out the gallery's website; and their Facebook page.

And if you're in the Boston area, please go visit!

Sloane Merrill Gallery, 75 Charles Street, Boston MA. (617) 227-1775

Friday, October 19, 2012

Winters Demo: A Sequence

I did another workshop in Winters –Paint the (small) Town– last weekend, and was wondering what to write about it. I only had a photo of the finished demo, and really, was there anything new and interesting to talk about? Hmmm.

That's when my friend Tony, who was in the workshop, let me know that he had these sequence shots of the demo. Aha! I've got my blog post!

OK, so we were situated in the park at the center of the town, and across the street was the famous Buckhorn restaurant, which was the subject of my demo. I had planned on doing a demo on structuring the painting with light and shadow patterns, but as luck would have it, the day was overcast. I had to switch gears quick and started to talk about working with local values; a little more difficult (I think) but hey, contending with the weather and the light conditions is the name of the game in plein air painting.

I started, as is typical, by doing a thumbnail sketch to nail down my composition. Experience tells me that by far, the biggest problem most students have is with their drawing. Sure, color, value, edges, design are all very important, but without good drawing, none of it matters. And yet, how many people actually practice drawing on a regular basis? I have a sketchbook in my car, so whenever I have a few minutes (waiting for my kids at the end of the school day, for example), I sketch whatever I can see.

But I digress. Here I'm showing a few basic things to help students get a more accurate drawing. How to find the eye level / horizon and the vanishing point, starting with a simple visual element and using that as a unit of measurement, and just plain slowing down and being careful about angles and alignments.  Angles and alignments are SO EASY to get right, (just hold your brush at an arm's length and line it up with whatever angle or alignment you're trying to draw) there really isn't any excuse for not doing a fair job at it. You just have to slow down and take some care doing it. Just because it's a plein air painting and the light is fleeting, one may be tempted to rush through this thumbnail process. But the truth is, ten minutes spent on thumbnails will save you a lot of time and unnecessary grief on the canvas and very possibly the painting.

Pay no attention to the thumbnail at the top. That's from another class. One method I employ a lot is to just start drawing on paper and find the cropping afterwards. At least for the first thumbnail. It's a lot easier and faster to do it this way, especially when dealing with man-made, tricky-to-draw things.

Here's my transparent block-in. This is basically a three value organization. The sky is the lightest, most of the building that is receiving a lot of ambient light is medium, and areas which get much less ambient light are indicated with a darker value. Keeping it waaay simple, is THE key. How simple can I get, and still be able to tell what it is?

I don't remember why there's an X in the sky. I might have just been saying "The sky, right here, (draw x) is going to be the light value, so I'm just going to use the white of the canvas."

Next I move on to opaque colors and block in the big shapes, right on top of the transparent block-in. I am trying to maintain the value organization, but am also aware of shifts in values that define structure, so if that seems like an important element, I go ahead and put it in at this early stage. (the awning is now blocked in with two values, whereas it was only one in the transparent stage)

Blocking in all the other big elements. Again, trying very hard to maintain the original value organization and keeping it simple.

After all the areas are blocked in, I start working with smaller shapes, subtler variations within the big shapes, manipulating edges, tweaking colors, refining harmonies, etc. etc.

If the original organization was sound, the viewer doesn't need more information to understand what it is he or she is looking at. So any additional stuff you put in – in this case the plants and the hydrant and window trim and all that detail – helps to make the painting more complete, but the painting shouldn't be dependent on these small details to define the foundation of the structure. 

Thanks for taking these photos Tony! I owe you a beer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Few From Atlanta

It has been quite a busy few months and I have fallen behind in reporting on events. It's a good thing I don't blog for a living, because if I had deadlines on this thing I would have been fired a long time ago!

Anyway, I did want to share a few images from my workshop in Atlanta. It was my first time in the South, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I met so many nice people, and the weather wasn't even all that humid (mid September). Thanks for making the arrangements with Mother Nature, Donna~

For the first two days, we went to a little town of Norcross, not far from Atlanta proper. When I do a plein air workshop, I like to be familiar with the locations because the criteria for a workshop situation is quite a bit more difficult to fulfill than say, if I were painting alone or with just a few artists.

This being my first time in Atlanta, there was obviously no way for me to have this familiarity so I was a little worried. Fortunately, I knew that my friend Tim Horn had taught there the year before, so I just asked where he went with his group. Tim and I, while very different in how we view and paint the subject matter, nonetheless like to work with similar motifs sometimes, so when he said "Norcross" without hesitation, I knew it was going to be just the right spot.

And it was. Norcross is a quaint little railroad town, and we gathered at the park in the middle of the town around which were plenty of paintable subjects. We had open shade, restrooms, plenty of places to eat lunch, architecture, trees, good lighting, safe parking...everything we needed.

This was my first demo. As it was sort of hazy / cloudy on the first day, I opted to do a facade - it's the simplest way to paint a building (no perspective) and I could rely on local value differences to compose a picture, without depending on light and shadow patterns (there weren't any because the sun wasn't out). I wanted to save the more complex perspective-heavy demo for when the sun came out.

And it did come out the next day. This is my second demo, in the afternoon day 2. The train depot right across the street had interesting angles and visual clutter, which was perfect for demonstrating how to simplify and structure such a painting.

This is the view, although in the photo the sun isn't as strong as when I painted. The biggest change I made was to make the background trees bigger, so that the railroad crossing...thing... could be made visible as light shape against dark, flipping the relationship from the dark-on-light against the roof of the depot. This inversion makes for a more visually active solution in the area of interest.

On Day 3, we went to this beautifully preserved old farm outside of town. There were really great structures on the property; an old farmhouse, barns, wells, equipment... but for the demo I did this little cabin out in the back. I wanted to do a short demo to give everyone plenty of time to paint, and the sun was coming in and out of the clouds so I didn't want to do something dependent on shadow patterns.

In a three day workshop, my demo on the third day is typically focused on one or two specific issues in painting rather than the entire process, and I usually decide on what to focus on upon seeing the location. The subject matter and the light situation has to be favorable to what I'm trying to teach, obviously, so I tend not to commit to ideas ahead of the time. It wouldn't do me much good to talk about cast shadows when there aren't any, for example.

So I saw this cabin down a gentle hill, and decided to a little demo on tweaking the perspective to emphasize a point of view. The cabin was situated just a little bit below my eye level, so we were looking down at it from a higher vantage point. I raised the eye level further and moved the vanishing points to  redraw the cabin, so that the "looking down at it"-ness was emphasized. I think I overdid it, but the point was made. 

The sun did come out later and it got warm, but my students came well prepared and worked really hard. And I saw big progress in their work from day one to three.

Great job everyone! 'Hope to do this again sometime!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sonoma Plein Air

This October Sky, 21 x 12 inches, oil on linen

Hey art lovers! Last week I painted my butt off at the annual Sonoma Plein Air Festival. This was my fourth time participating in this wonderful event, the proceeds from which fund art programs in the Sonoma County schools.

I love this event not only because I get to focus on painting in a beautiful part of the world for a week, but this is when I hang out with old friends and steal their ideas get inspired by the work that they do.

This year there were quite a few new artists and it was a pleasure to meet them. My tribe keeps growing!

I did a dozen or so paintings from Tuesday to Friday, (we started on Monday, but I didn't paint any that day - just worked with a sketchbook.

Not all of the paintings were satisfactory – I scraped a few – but here are the fruits of my labor;

Autumn Blue, 12 x 9 inches, oil

I can't remember exactly in what order I painted these, but I suppose that doesn't matter much. Except the first few days were super hot (104F!) and it was a real struggle. May be it was the heat, or may be it was the fact that I spent the two previous days teaching a workshop, but I had a hard time finding my groove. 

But I couldn't slack off, could I. So paint, I did. Eventually it got a little easier and I was able to enjoy the process more. 

You may have already noticed the unusual amounts of saturated blue in the first two paintings. Unusual for me, that is. I do tend to respond more directly to colors that I see when I'm working outdoors, but I have to say, this is pretty bright. I must have been feeling out of sorts.

 House that Jack Built, 9 x 12 inches, oil

This is Jack London's house. It's actually a state park here in Sonoma. Actually, I was told that it was a state park but it lost funding recently and is currently being managed by a nonprofit organization. There are many state parks closing in California due to funding cuts. It's really a shame.

The light is early afternoon, right after lunch. I wanted that hot and dusty feeling in my sketch, but using all those blues and greens. Did I get it?

Waiting to Cross, 9 x 12 inches, oil

On Tuesday afternoon, we had the Quickdraw event, where we were all to paint in and around the Sonoma Town Square at the same time, with a time limit of an hour and a half from start to finish, including framing. 

This is somewhat similar in theme to my last year's Quickdraw, but a little more complex, what with perspective and added elements (lamp post, hydrant). By simplifying the color scheme, I was able to focus more on the design and drawing without being rushed.

Indian Summer, 12 x 9 inches, oil

Street corner at town square. This church is one of the most painted motifs around here. The fact that everyone else paints it is irrelevant to me, because I'm not painting it as a portrait of the building. And besides, we all have different takes on it and mine is the only "Miura".

Little October, 12 x 9 inches, oil

A eucalyptus themed landscape reminiscent of the Early California impressionists. I like the simplicity of it. Not every painting has to be a complex challenge. Life doesn't always have to be a complex challenge. Sometimes, it's nice to just enjoy the simple things in life. Like sunshine on a pleasant autumn day.

Wanderlust, 9 x 12 inches, oil
 Toward the end of the week, the temperature dropped dramatically, and we had a very gray morning. I drove out to Ramal Road and set up my easel on the train tracks there. I was thinking, Stand By Me, see? Or those of you who are in the know, The Body.

What I didn't know was that they actually run trains on these tracks. Of course I was very surprised when I found out. First I felt the vibrations underfoot, and then the sound of the approaching train... I quickly grabbed my easel and stepped aside. It would have really ruined my morning had I got run over by a train.

Good Morning, America! 12 x 16 inches, oil

It is now a matter of tradition that I go back to the Fremont Diner on Hwy 12 to paint the old truck. Every year, I visit this great little roadside diner and paint a different variation of it. The food is excellent, too.

Election Year, 12 x 16 inches, oil

Here's the same diner, in the late afternoon light. I really dig the mood that backlighting creates. It (almost) automatically makes the painting about the mood rather than the motif. And this warm, late afternoon light is so sweet and stirring at the same time - like reliving a memory.  That, of course depends on whether the painting is executed well, but I think this one makes the grade. It may not be the most impactful of the bunch, but it's my favorite for its evocative quality.

This October Sky, 21 x 12 inches, oil

And this one, which you saw at the top of the post, is my largest piece of the week. It's also the very last piece I did on Friday morning, and brought to the big gala / silent auction later that afternoon. Having done a smaller version a few days ago, this pretty much painted itself. My favorite part is toward the bottom of the main tree, the small orange strokes on top of the background blue grey trees. The subtle shifts there (very close values) is more compelling to me than the high contrast areas elsewhere. The painting needs both, of course, but if I had to pick my favorite spot, that would be it.

The gala was a big fancy affair and I had a good time chatting with my friends about how the week went. There were some really nice paintings there too. If I weren't a starving artist, I'd have liked to bought a bunch of them.

Saturday was the big show and sale, and we had perfect weather – a welcome change from last year, when we got rained on. I think the quality of the work overall was very strong, and many artists did very well. I can't say my day was very remunerative, but I'm happy with the paintings that I did and those that I didn't sell at the show, will eventually find good homes. That, I'm certain, so all's good in the end.