Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another Head Study

This is today's head study. Still haven't gone to the studio. Still painting in my garage.  I'm still in vacation mode, I guess. Aside from this painting which took about 45 minutes, I haven't done anything productive. Being lazy is kind of a scary thing.

Anyway, I worked on Arches oil paper again. I used a portrait by Nicolai Fechin as a reference. My aim is not to copy, but use it as a jumping off point. I'm not interested in studying Fechin's colors–especially not those in reproductions in books since they tend to be off anyway – but I am interested in studying structure and his values which describe the structure.  Brush strokes are not his either. I have some ideas about how I want my brush strokes to look, and while Fechin's is masterful and beautiful, I'm not Fechin. Brushstrokes are like one's handwriting and I want to develop my own, you see.

I painted the hair as a dark wash. I was going to come back into it with thick paint, but it didn't need more so I left it.

When painting heads like this, I prefer to keep my shadows fairly dark. This allows me to have a very big value range in the light side and I can take full advantage of that to model big forms. The head is more or less an egg shaped mass, so if it's lit by a single directional light source, you'd expect to see a value change not only from one side of the face to the other, but from top to the bottom as well. The forehead plane faces up, whereas the bottom half the face faces slightly down. There are small forms within the big form that catch more light, like the lower lip and the chin, but overall, we need to get a sense of the "big sculpt". Without the overall form defined, it'll just look like a lumpy sack of walnuts.

The value changes within the big plane changes can be very subtle, so if you don't have an big overall range of values, it's very difficult to maneuver between the subtle shifts. Having a big overall value range gives me a lot more wiggle room to define the subtle value changes.

If the light side occupy, say, value range from 1 to 7 on a scale of 10, the shadows will occupy 8 to 10. Which means fairly dark shadows. At this value range, colors aren't as intense. If you force higher chroma colors in the dark shadows, you'll see that it quickly starts move away from naturalistic depiction. Not that you can't do it, but you're implying a very specific light condition where there is a secondary colored light source.

…which is not the case with my sketch. My point is that by giving the light side a big value range, most of the higher chroma colors will be seen in the light, not in the shadows. After all, the colors are at their highest chroma in the mid range, and I've assigned the mid-range values as part of the lit side of the head.

Very basic and logical, but you'd be surprised how often students forget to mind the value ranges of light and shadow, and to restrain color where necessary.

If you're interested in learning more about drawing and painting the human head, I'll be teaching a three-day workshop in February.  The workshop is almost filled up but I have a few spots open still.

Please check out my workshop page to find out more.


  1. Working dark enough in the shadows allows for less use of white in the lit areas.

    I found this out the hard way, having struggled to get enough chroma in the lit skintone areas after using too much white. It's a really bad habbit that is hard to get rid of.

    Great to see you posting even in your socalled unproductive moments, Terry.
    That spell will break sooner or later and inspiration will hit you again. Something to look forward to, I say!

    In the mean time, my best wishes to you and yours for the next year.

  2. Thanks for your comment, and a Happy New Year to you Johan!