Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

American River Sketches - Evening Hour

Evening Hour, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel

This sketch doesn't have the river in it, but I'm including it in the American River Sketches series because I was standing with my back to the river. Close enough. It's part of the environment and experience, right?

I started this in the morning, painting with my students one day, but I didn't get very far then, since I had a job to do (going around helping everyone else's efforts). It had blue skies and a much cooler light. I didn't particularly like it–it was just a depiction of a scene, without any emotion or an idea behind it. 

Does that matter? I say yes, absolutely. You have to be clear about what you want to say about a scene whether it's an emotional response, or a more analytical approach to design, color, etc. Or it might even be a purely technical investigation. You have to know what you're trying to accomplish with a painting. Otherwise, you're just going through motions and really, that doesn't count toward your canvas mileage.

Sure, if it's just a study, you don't necessarily have to think about every little thing and carefully design a painting accordingly. But then you can't expect it to be more than a study, either. And you still have to be clear about just what it is you're studying. Color? Value structure? A particular way of applying paint? Character of a particular tree? The concept can be very simple, but there needs to be one. A mindless study isn't a study at all.

Anyway, the painting I started in the morning was a demo about the general process, and I remember talking about the relationship between shadow colors and that of the sky, paying attention to characteristics of the eucalyptus, (what makes a eucalyptus look like a eucalyptus?), a little bit about aerial perspective, and varying brushstroke sizes, among other things.

The painting was essentially a vehicle to illustrate what I was talking about, and I never meant to finish it because it was never really designed.

Still, I saw some potential in the shapes and decided to play with it some more. I went back to the location a few days later, in the late afternoon to see how differently it looked under the late afternoon sun. 

I started painting right on top of the unfinished morning sketch, and this is what I ended up with. Gone are the blue skies and cooler greens. The late afternoon sun has a lot more color in its light, as it has to travel through a lot of particulate matter in the atmosphere (dirt and smog kicked up into the air during the course of the day by wind and human activity) and influences everything. In fact, the orange light is so strong that it trumps the local colors (greens of the foliage and the grass). Only in the foreground do we see some indication of the local colors. Why in the foreground and not in the background? Because in the background you have to see through a lot more of the colored atmosphere. In the foreground, not so much. This in a nutshell, is how atmospheric perspective works.  

How faithfully you depict the colors you see, is up to you. But without good understanding of how atmospheric perspective works, you can't manipulate it to help tell your story more effectively. And communicating your story- your concept- is, ultimately, what it's all about.

You don't have to agree with me, but if you're not trying to communicate your intent, you can't really complain when nobody gets it, now can you?


  1. I visit your blog often and enjoy looking at your paintings as much as reading your commentary. Really appreciate that you revisit old work and attack it with a fresh point of view. Bummer you lost your previous images—I admire your c'est la vie attitude and could benefit from adopting it myself. I will miss seeing your past paintings, though. I always learn something. Love your work!
    Can you recommend a plein air panel holder/pochade that attaches to a tripod for field work?

  2. Thanks Lorraine~!

    I think it was time for a renewal anyway, so I'm not bummed about losing the images. This way, I won't worry about repeating myself :-D

    As for a plein air set up that attaches to a tripod, I can only tell you about those I've actually tried, and I haven't tried many. The Open Box M, or the Coulter easel would be good choices. Although there are many others that look great. I like ones that don't have a deep lip on the front edge, as it gets in the way when I'm using the palette knife.

    But if that doesn't bother you, it's a moot point. Brian Mark Taylor makes a nearly indestructible Strada box, which looks pretty cool. I haven't tried any of the Guerrilla Painter systems or the Craftech systems. I'm sure there are pros and cons for any of them, and it boils down to whether you like a particular feature or not.

    Good luck~!

  3. Coulter easel can be purchased here: http://artboxandpanel.com

  4. Terry, this post came to my e-mail at just the right time. I started a creek scene yesterday while teaching a student, and today I will be back in front of it trying to figure out what it needs. Your sentence with the words "trying to communicate your intent" was perfect. That is what I need to be thinking about as I start to work on it again... a pastel 36"x24" which really needs to have a reason to be other than a solo show coming up next spring that will be about "Rivers, Lakes & Streams!" Thank you.. I learn a lot by reading your posts and looking at your work. You are a gift!