Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Going Home, 24 x 48 inches, oil on panel  sold

I did several smaller paintings similar to this, exploring abstraction and compositional ideas, and this is the culmination of the series. At 24 x 48, it's a pretty good size, and it gave me a lot of trouble from start to finish. 

I don't know what possessed me to paint on a gessoed panel, but that's what I did. I struggled with the brushwork, but I think in the end I learned a lot about working on a hard surface. Mainly, that I don't like it. But I have to admit, it gave me a lot of abstract marks that I would never have gotten (on purpose, anyway) on linen, which is the surface that I use most often.

The process I use for large cityscapes with a lot of abstraction might be described as tight control -> chaos -> tight control. I started out by drawing all the elements (a lot more than you actually see in the final painting. All the cars in the distance were delineated, for example) in pencil using a grid, a pencil, and three reference photos. I don't have a wide angle lens on my DSLR, so I usually just stitch a few together for a wide angle composition like this.

Then as I usually do with any painting, I went in with dark transparent mix of ultramarine, transparent oxide red, and Gamsol and blocked in the big value patterns in two or three values, thinking at this stage about where I can lose edges and simplify.

I then proceeded to do a more complete grisaille by breaking up the big value patterns into smaller shapes and in-between values. Doing it this way (as opposed to going in with many values from the get-go) ensures that the big design is always maintained. It prevents fragmenting the design. (But only if you're doing it conscientiously).

So far, I'm still in control. Then I started going over the entire painting with opaque colors, making sure that every color is a variation of the main theme color, which in this case is an earthy yellow/orange. In a tonal painting like this, the actual local color is much less relevant than harmony.

Now comes the chaos part. I used all kinds of tools, from palette knives, to plastic scrapers, sandpaper, paper towel, brushes, and materials like Liquin and Gamsol, to slowly integrate the shapes. Pushing one shape into another, reestablishing the edge, and losing it again, sometimes working the same edge over and over.

I also did several layers of wet over dry, in the form of scumbling, glazing, staining, etc. The more I worked the surface, the more comfortable I felt about losing a critical edge, and I took more risks. At one point, the entire painting was covered in black glaze, which I then wiped/washed off.

I built up the surface this way, and when I felt I couldn't go any further, I started to tighten up again, in strategic areas, trying not to lose all the beautiful abstract marks.

When I thought I was finished, I just set it aside. After a few days it would dry, and I would see something I wanted to change. I'd work on it for a few minutes or hours, and set it aside. Then after a few more days, I'd see something else, and I repeat. This last part went on for a couple of months. Each time, I would make a small change, and let dry a few days.

Finally, I no longer saw anything and I was very happy with the painting. It was gritty, moody, simple and complex at the same time, and I was able to further my limits of abstraction from where I had been before I did this painting. That was the best part for me.

The painting left the studio soon after, and it wasn't surprising that it sold before long. To be honest, this was one I would like to have kept for myself. I kind of miss it!


  1. I really like the mood in this Terry. Funny how we are all so different. I don't like painting on a flexible surface, I prefer gessoed panels! lol

  2. I like how you describe mixing paint, and appreciate your musings, hits home. Great painting, reminds me of the old street cars in Boston.

  3. Thanks for your comments David and Matthew~!

  4. Spectacular. I love the grittiness and can only imagine how much better it must look in real life.

  5. I love this image. I'm from Chicago and remember buses and want to paint some old photos I have in a modern way. Since I did your city "challenge" over a year ago I've painted quite a few urban panels. I don't like canvas bounciness and like strength of a panel. Only thing is I don't like the beginning slipperiness, oil sliding on gesso. Do you know of a cure for that? Does priming with oil help?