Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Town and Country

Hotel Sequoia, Redwood City, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen panel

I always do a demo in my landscape concepts class, and this one is from last week. I used a reference photo which was a snapshot I took last summer when I was down in Redwood City to do a workshop. I love to paint old buildings like this –just so much character!

Anyhow, I spent some time explaining linear perspective. Finding the eye-level, the vanishing points, and stressing the importance of accuracy in these lines to depict believable space. When a student ends up with wonky drawing in their cityscapes, it's usually because he didn't pay enough attention to the vanishing points. Sloppy perspective will do you in every time.

The figures are placed after the environment is more or less established. I may indicate them at the very initial stage just so I can see the composition, but when I'm painting the building that's behind the figures or the ground plane under them, I go right over the initial drawing as if they weren't there. 

Otherwise, I'd be painting around the small, shapes and that's a sure way to lose sponteneaty and continuity. 

Once the environment is established, I draw the silhouettes of the figures with my dark, transparent mix of ultramarine and transparent oxide red. (this is the mix I use for the initial drawing, the transparent value block in, and the darkest dark accents) Gesture is the most important thing here, and proportions second only to gesture.

If the ground plane is more or less level, and the viewer (the artist) is standing on the same level ground plane, placing these figures is a simple matter of sticking their heads on the eye-level, which happens to be the horizon line. If the artists's eye level is, say, 5'4" off the ground, everything on the horizon line is 5'4" tall. 

So assuming the figure on the right is about my height, I just stick his head on the horizon line, and draw downwards from the head.  The figure on the left is shorter, so I put her head slightly lower. I have the first figure to refer to, so I just need to put her feet at about the same invisible line as the first, and I have two figures of different heights standing next to each other, correctly placed in the environment. 

If I wanted to place additional figures farther down the sidewalk, they'd be smaller, of course, but their heads would still be on or very close to the horizon line.

If you're having trouble with perspective, I recommend Ernest Norling's Perspective Made Easy from Dover Publishing. It's an old book but it does an excellent job of explaining perspective drawing in layman's terms. 

Coastal Farm, 7 x 18 inches, oil on linen panel

Coastal Farm is from the previous week. These farm buildings actually had hills stretching behind them, but I took them out because I wanted a simpler background to juxtapose against the busy middle ground.

I also wanted to see if I could make it look like it was near the coast by giving it a wispy, cool atmosphere. It's easy enough to make something coastal if you include obvious visual cues like... the ocean. But what if I didn't have any such visual element?  Would the atmosphere be enough to suggest it? 

I think so. Upon seeing this painting, two people have told me it looked like it was near the coast, without being told anything about it. (including the title, of course)  I don't know about the rest of the world, but I think, at least, it captures our California coastal atmosphere.

Both of these paintings are available (as of this post). If you are interested in adding one or both to your collection, please email me. I'll be happy to give you more information~

Spring is here! Get out and paint!!


  1. Wonderful work as usual, Terry. When I took your workshop last fall in Winters, you stressed the perspective issue and I've never forgotten it. It's funny that although I have years of experience in architecture and I love to paint buildings, I would often start too fast and 'guesstimate' the perspective, with all the expected bad results. Your advice in Winters about careful perspective layout at the BEGINNING of the painting has been invaluable. Thanks for your help...and for constantly sharing your knowledge and experience so freely.

  2. Thanks Bruce! do you ever go out painting with the sac meetup group? or may be yolo arts? the nice weather we've been having is giving me guilt trips!

  3. I'm printing out the perspective advice about putting people in, I could never quite figure it out myself, and I've placed people floating around, or because of the figures my background would look like it receded WAY back suddenly. Beautiful paintings, and this was a major help- thanks!

  4. thanks Judy~! Remember, lining up heads on horizon line only works on level ground AND if the artist/viewer is also standing on the same level ground. It doesn't work the same way on an inclined surface, or if the artist/viewer's eye level is higher or lower. (If he's sitting down, for example.)

  5. Terry, I've been reading your entire blog archive and have learned so much! And I thought I knew everything. Telling all my students about your fabulous work and teaching. You will be even more famous here in SW Florida! Diane

  6. As usual a great work. Please keep it up.....

  7. Hi Terry...I didn't see your reply to my post until now. Yes, I do participate in the Sacramento Plein Air Painters outings through Meetup.com. In fact I've just become an event organizer, although I've yet to set up an event! I hope everyone will sign up and come join in. Spring is here! Let's Paint!