Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rolling Dreams

Rolling Dreams, 24 x 24 inches, oil on linen

I'm not sure if I posted this one earlier. May be I did. May be it was just Facebook. Oh, speaking of Facebook, if you're not already my friend on Facebook, please send me a friend request. I'd love to be connected to you readers who actually take the time to read my ramblings - and I do post more on FB than I do here, if only to be timely with what's going on in my art world. I'm also extending this invitation now, because I'm going to max out on friends (FB only allows a limited number) soon, and I'd rather be friends with you guys than random people who may or may not actually be interested in my artwork. 

Here are the links to my two Facebook pages:


This painting was done almost a year ago, I think. It's a larger version of a motif I previously painted. I've done many roller coaster paintings in the last several years, and most of them share the same moody evening light as this one.

I love the pattern of light and shadow that the complex mesh of supports make on itself. I took cues from a photo reference but it was way too complex and detailed for me to be literal. So the shadows are more or less made up. I didn't need it to be accurate, just convincing enough to suggest sunlight. 

The trickiest part of it was the gentle transition of light to dark as we travel downwards. It needed a gradation, and at the same time suggest cast shadows. Not easy to do if you're painting post by post, stick by stick. I ended up relying heavily on glazing; I would paint the light and shadow pattern more or less without much subtlety, let dry, and come back with transparent glazes over a large area to make the  gradation happen.

Then I would go back in and try to refine it, painting both positive and negative shapes. Then I would repeat the glazing. After a few times, it got too dark overall, so I'd have to come back with lighter opaque colors to redefine those areas which needed redefining.

It was a process of repeating going too far and pulling back. losing shapes and finding them. It seems like a very inefficient way to paint, but the truth is all this process stuff contributes to a very rich, mysterious and textural surface that you can't get any other way. You're leaving the footsteps of a journey for the viewer to experience, for the them to be aware that this is not about the end product, but of how I got there. 

And I also like to see signs of struggle in a painting. It tells a story independent of the narrative of the motif, and to an artist, that is sometimes far more interesting to see than the finished product. I want my painting to give up its secrets for those who're willing to investigate.

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.

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.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Figure Painting WIP

So I have not been very productive these past few weeks. It's mostly because I had a very busy September - October - November, and I'm kinda burnt out. I don't feel my creative juices flowing at all, and I don't even want to do anything. Which is a bad attitude, and it feeds itself. 

If you're an artist, I'm sure you've experienced walls and slumps. It's not that I feel like I can't paint (not uncommon).  It's more like I don't even want to. 

That we are in the thick of the Holiday season doesn't help, either. I have no shortage of excuses not to face the canvas. But I'm a professional, and that means I have to work, whether I want to or not. A lot of non-artists falsely assume that being an artist means we can choose to work whenever we want to, or not work if the muse doesn't inspire us. Try paying the bills by not working! Yep, it's a job like any other, in that respect.

Anyway, enough whining. These phases happen sometimes, and we just deal with them as they come. Long story short, I don't have any new cool pieces to post, so I thought I'd show something I'm doing to get my gears moving again.

It's a small 12 x 9 figure painting. The image above is work in progress, thus far. It's not for a show, nor for a particular gallery. I don't know if it'll even be any good. But that's OK, what I need right now is a kick start and some momentum.

This is just one of the many quick gesture drawings that I have. This one was done this week in my class–I just picked it out because I liked the shapes and angles in it. It is a 5-minute pose, drawn with a sanguine pencil on toned paper. When I use sanguine on toned paper, I typically use a white conté to indicate some highlights, but I ran out of time on this one. 

Using the 5-minute sketch, I did a charcoal drawing. Charcoal is a wonderfully forgiving medium, so it's great for trying out ideas. The basic value structure is what I was looking for here, and I changed my mind a few times during the process. 

As I draw, I think about how the light is falling on the figure, and how I might create mood. I used both vine and compressed charcoal, and the paper is Strathmore smooth surface drawing paper. 

Using the charcoal drawing as my reference, I started painting. I decided to work on a toned canvas because I knew it was going to be a low-key, tonal painting. When I paint in a higher key, I don't tone the canvas usually.

The canvas is my usual; Claessen's No.66. That's my favorite, though often use other surfaces.

The toning of the canvas is done with Ultramarine+Transparent Oxide Red+Gamsol, as is the initial drawing. I pulled off some of the tone from the figure, using a rag.

I began applying opaque colors, starting with the figure. I like to establish the basic relationship of light and shadow colors early. The leg and the left arm are darker because they'll be falling away from the spot light, as indicated in the charcoal drawing.

Then I blocked in the dark background. The sofa is going to be dark blue, and the rest of it is sort of nondescript dark tone. I kept it warmer to differentiate from the sofa.

And this is where I am now.  It's way too tight for my liking, actually. This usually happens when I'm not feeling confident, or just plain out of practice. Rendering tightly involves following rules of realism,  and having rules is safe because you don't have to think outside the box. Yes, you can take risks in many other ways, but when I paint tightly, those other ways are usually not on my mind. It's just insecurity, nothing more. 

So at this point, I'm letting it sit in my studio for several days. After it's dry, I will go back and see if I can't break some rules and infuse some energy by way of abstraction and surface work. Or not. I'm trying to keep things open ended on this one. I'm willing to ruin it, which should open up some possibilities.

Stay tuned!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Overcast Light

Norcross Station, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I originally painted the Norcross Station during a workshop I taught in Atlanta last year. It was a demo, and while it wasn't a bad sketch, something about it bothered me. After I got home I tried to figure out what was wrong with it, and tried a few different solutions; lowering the value on the roof, increasing temperature shifts, emphasizing a color theme, etc. 

Unfortunately I don't have an image of the original painting so I can't show you exactly what I mean, but suffice to say, it took a while for me to find a satisfactory solution, which was to essentially connect the roof shape to that of the sky, so that the roof didn't have a definitive edge all around. It had too much impact and definition before, so it took away from the signal / crossing thingy in the front left. 

I didn't want the roof itself to be the main star of the painting, so it had to be subordinated somehow. Besides making the sky and the roof values very very close, I also made the background trees smaller, so more of the roof edge was touching the sky. I also made the light cooler and overcast. Which brings me to what I actually was going to talk about today.

We have to make sure a few things happen, to make a painting look like it's depicting an overcast light. We don't have the direct sunlight, for one. The entire sky becomes the primary light source, and unlike the strong directional light that the sun provides, we are dealing with a very diffused light. It's not really the function of values that makes a scene look sunny or overcast. That is to say, you don't get "sunny" by painting something lighter, and conversely, you don't necessarily get a sense of overcast by painting something darker. After all, an overcast day can feel very bright. 

So how do you show diffused light? By painting your cast shadows with softer edges. This is the single biggest difference between sunny and not-sunny days. On sunny days, we have sharp(er) edges on the cast shadows, whereas on overcast days, we have soft(er) edges. This is true in any diffused light situation, whether it be overcast, hazy, foggy, dusk… The clearer the day, the sharper the cast shadow edges. In some cases the light is so diffused that we don't see any cast shadows at all. 

The other thing we have to pay attention to is the temperature shift between light and shadow. In direct sun light, we often see a warm light / cool shadow relationship. Sunlight usually (but not always) feels much warmer than the shadow areas, so we mix yellows, oranges and reds in it to achieve that.  We are essentially acknowledging that sunlight has color. The shadow side (on a sunny day, still) feels cooler, comparatively. Often the blue sky will make the shadows very cool and blueish, but even without the help of the blue sky, the shadow side tends to be cooler just because it's not getting the warm colored sunlight. The difference may be subtle, but it's there.

Now on an overcast day, the light feels much cooler compared to sunlight, thanks to all the clouds (condensed water vapor) filtering the sunlight. This doesn't mean you paint the lit areas blue. It just means it's cooler than if it were sunny. The shadow side is often painted warmer, but it's a pretty subtle shift most of the time. You may not even see it as shifting at all. It may just appear to be darker, but not particularly cooler or warmer. 

In my painting above, the shadow is a little teeny bit warmer, due to the warm underpainting peeking through. The opaque colors I mixed for the shadows aren't noticeably warmer than the light. I didn't even try to make them warmer. I just made sure they weren't cooler. 

In strong sunlight, light and shadow separate clearly, and often we amplify this separation so there's no ambiguity. This separation provides a good starting point for a solid value structure. 

In overcast light, we have no such tool, so the strong value structure has to come from local values themselves. light things vs. dark things, as opposed to light and shadow providing the value structure. It makes sense, then, to look for interesting shapes in silhouettes, rather than in light / shadow patterns. 

My point here is that given different light situations, you have to have an appropriate strategy to tackle the problem. If you mindlessly approach sunny days and overcast days (and foggy days and rainy days and dusk and twilight and back lit and face lit and…) the same way, your chances of pulling off a successful painting is not so great. 

On the other hand, if you understand the basic characteristics of what makes a particular light situation look that way, you have an enormous head start!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Little Red

Little Red, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

It seems like every year, the interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas becomes shorter and shorter. Or time just passes by faster. What is up with that?  I have barely started thinking about all that I need to  do for Christmas, and it's already around the corner. Sheesh.

This is one of the few paintings of trucks that I did this year. I like painting old cars and trucks - they have so much character. I especially like them with all the wear and tear of the years, dents, rust and all.  Somehow old cars that are kept in mint condition for car shows and such, don't make it onto my canvas. No, that's not true exactly. It's not the fact that they're in mint condition, it's the context in which  the cars are seen. Showrooms and car shows don't interest me. I like seeing them in real life context, is all.

This little red truck is still working. I don't even know how old it is or whether it's a Ford or a Chevy (or something else?) but I've seen it jetting around town, carrying bales of hay or junk. Every time I see it, I think of the Energizer Bunny.

Here's a painting tip. When you are painting something that is essentially gray, say, like concrete, or telephone poles or a gray building. Sidewalk, asphalt, gray cars. Anything that a non-artist would identify simply as gray… you have a lot of room to maneuver as to what kind of gray it's going to be. You don't need to match the exact shade of gray that you see on that sidewalk. You can make the decision based on the other colors that you have going in the picture. 

The ground plane in my painting was a sort of nondescript cool gray, but I chose to make it pinkish to support the red truck. I was looking for unity through color harmony, rather than a precise depiction of visual reality. 

I think you can see that the color works well. Next time you have something gray in your painting, try it. Don't copy the gray, but think of it as an opportunity to introduce a nice muted color that enhances the color scheme  in your painting. 

But remember, "you don't have to copy the gray that you see" does not mean you give your self permission to be sloppy. The decision should be made thoughtfully. And also, altering the hue and saturation of a particular gray doesn't mean you can ignore its value.  You've got to keep that under control, always.

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?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

American River Sketches - Summer Blue

Summer Blue, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

We are having an unusually cold weather here in Northern California. It kind of marks the end of the season for plain air painting for a while. I'm not one of those intrepid plain air painters who go out in frigid weather to bang out snow paintings, you see. Although I have done a few in the past, you'll usually find me inside with a warm drink.

I was looking at a bunch of sketches I have done since spring, and found this one. I don't think I posted it here before. Have I? I don't know. Anyway, it's from this summer, at one of our class's outings to the American River.

On this particular day, I was struck by the blue color of the water. I wanted emphasize that, but water itself being somewhat lacking in physical structure I needed something else recognizable to put it in context. These twin birch(?) trunks caught my eye. The lightness of the bark was a nice contrast against the darker, higher chroma blue of the water. And the light green leaves catching sunlight was fresh, too.

Usually I try to limit the number of elements with brighter colors, and if I have more than one saturated color, I try to make sure the visual impact of each is varied. Big blue area, small green area, etc. 

In the painting above, the two high chroma colors, the blue of the water and the green of the sunlit leaves, are somewhat analogous, (A little farther apart than right next to each other, since the blue leans toward blue violet and the green toward yellow green)  which makes them work together easily. I can afford to push the chroma of these colors without getting out of control because the hues are already harmonious. 

Often harmony and unity is lost in a "colorful" painting if the artist mixes his colors carelessly. I'm not a  painter of colorful images, but I do use higher chroma colors if I thought I needed them to communicate my intent. I just try to limit them to one or two, so that I can keep them under control. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

6 Inch Squared Show at Randy Higbee Gallery

Brunch, 6 x 6 inches, oil on panel
This painting is available (as of this posting) through the exhibition's website.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!  I ate way too much, as usual, but had a great time. 

Speaking of food, I have three small paintings that depict sidewalk cafes, all of which are in the 6 Inch Squared show at Randy Higbee Gallery.

Randy has been doing this show annually for a few years now, and I've been a part of it for all of them. It's a really great and fun "small works" show, where every single one of hundreds of paintings are 6 x 6 inches, framed beautifully by Randy and team.

Sidewalk Cafe, 6 x 6 inches, oil on panel
This painting is available (as of this posting) through the exhibition's website.

This year, I decided to do a set of sidewalk cafe paintings. I was playing with this theme for another project (which may see the light of day later in the year) and this small format was a perfect way to explore ideas. 

With these, I was able to keep things loose, with just enough information to convey what I needed to convey, and nothing more. Strategic placements of accent colors, sharp edges and high contrast make the compositions work, while light and atmosphere allow me to keep the colors very harmonious.

Yellow Umbrellas, 6 x 6 inches, oil on panel
This painting is available (as of this posting) through the exhibition's website.

The show opens this Saturday, December 7th at Randy Higbee Gallery. The reception is going to be a hopping event, so if you are in the Orange County / Los Angeles area, be sure to check it out!

If you are interested in adding any of these paintings to your collection, (and they are a steal at $500, framed)  you can purchase them before the show opens through the exhibition's website.

Check out all the other pieces in the show, too. You may find a treasure among the hundreds of pieces listed here. And some well known artists are in this show, also. You can definitely score some great deals. If you're thinking about starting a collection of original art, this is a great place to start!