Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Coupla Heads

I hope you're having a good Holiday season! I haven't been in the studio in several days what with all the festivities and my kids being home and all. When I can't get to the studio, it usually fills me with guilt and I get cranky. But since not much is coming out of my brush anyway lately, I'm not sweating it. 

Still, I like to don't want to be doing nothing, so the last few days I've been doing little head studies at home, in my garage. Nothing serious or ambitious, just little sketchy studies- more like exercises. Like daily workouts. Not that I work out daily, but you know what I mean.

I'm using drawings I've done in the past in my sketchbook for these studies. I just plop up my sketchbook on a music stand next to my pochade box, and start painting. I believe the drawings are originally studies I did from Sorolla. 

Since the drawings are done in pencil, I'm making up color as I go. Not very carefully though. I'm more interested in value and brushwork than subtle colors in these studies. 

My pochade box is an Open Box M (10 x 12) and I open it up all the way so that both the panel and the palette are near vertical. Working this way allows light shining on both surfaces to be consistent.

Also, as I like to paint with my panels at eye level, the palette has to be necessarily very high. If I painted with my palette more or less horizontal at that height, it's very awkward and not very ergonomic. Opening up all the way makes it a lot easier on my shoulder as I wield my brush.

The colors I use are the same as in the studio. From bottom left,
  • Ultramarine Blue - my reddish blue.
  • Cerulean Blue - my greenish blue. I sometimes use Prussian, or Phthalo here.
  • Ivory Black - my low-chroma blue. I sometimes use Paynes Grey here.
  • Titanium White.
  • Cad Lemon - my cool yellow.
  • Cad Yellow Deep - my warm yellow. I sometimes mix Cad Lem and Transparent Oxide Red instead of Cad Yellow Deep out of the tube.
  • Yellow Ochre - my low chroma yellow.
  • Cad Red - My warm red. I often use Permanent Red (Rembrandt) instead. Cheaper and less toxic.
  • Alizarin Crimson - my cool red. Lately I've been experimenting with other cool reds like Venetian and Terra Rosa. I like Schminke's Pompeii Red too.
  • Transparent Oxide Red - my low chroma red. 
  • Cadmium Green. I don't usually have a green out of tube. I prefer to mix my secondaries. Sometimes I'll have a bonus color squeezed out on the right side, just for a change of pace. I usually have my "experimental" color here. 
For me, a green out of tube is more useful in figure painting than in landscape painting. I like mixing all the greens in a landscape painting, and with this palette, you can pretty much mix any green. I don't like to use tube greens because typically they need to be adjusted anyway. It certainly doesn't speed things up, so there's no merit to having them. 

When painting the figure, I find tube greens handy for mixing cooler skin tones. Mixing greens into warm skin tones creates a rich complementary grey without killing the color. Often much better than reaching for black or earth tones to grey down a color. If you're doing a "brown" painting, like I am here, it's less of an issue but it's still nice to see some complementary colors in the skin. It keeps the painting from becoming too monotonous.

The top painting was done on Arches Oil paper, and I spent about 45 minutes on each head. The bottom one is done on mylar. Both are excellent surfaces to paint on, though they behave differently from one another, and differently from canvas.

I don't like the beginning stages of either of these surfaces, as the paper is too absorbent (just like watercolor paper) and mylar is too slick. But once you get past the initial stage and you're well into the opaque application stage, both are really easy to work with. Which is better? I can't say. I think that's up to the individual artist's preference. They do feel and look differently - you'll just have to try them both out for yourself. But if you do, don't make snap judgements. Do many sketches - at least use up the whole pad before deciding whether you like it or not. 

After all when materials change, you have to change the way you approach it, or you'll be fighting it the whole way. Don't expect one surface to behave just the same as another. Give it a chance. By forcing yourself to adapt, you may very well discover something useful whether you end up sticking with the material or not.


  1. On the Arches Oil paper for alla prima, Ive found it helps to coat paper with linseed oil first... brush glides smoother. These are terrific heads! Great exercise. Happy New Year and Painting!

  2. Thanks for the oiling Arches Huile paper comment, this is why I love blogs. One thing I like about Arches is the beautiful watercolour like granulation or running effects you can get as a bonus when you start with turpsy paint. Maybe the oling would prevent that? ... I'll give it a go.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Diane~ I hadn't tried that but sounds like a logical solution!