Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, October 27, 2014

Process of a Painting: "Hours Slip Away"

 Hours Slip Away, 14 x 11 inches, oil on linen

So I think I mentioned that I'm doing a whole bunch of black and white studies using short-pose life drawings, right? And I think I also mentioned that I plan on using these studies to experiment, and hopefully develop some of these into something worth keeping and showing?

OK, so here is one of the first black and white studies that I took further, and as I really like how it turned out, I thought I'd share. 

This was B/W No.5. I'm not doing the take it further thing in order. I have sixty-something studies on my wall now, and I just picked this one at random.

This is the original drawing. It was probably a 10 minute drawing. Compared to the finished painting, the drawing shows a more dynamic gesture. It's easy to lose gesture when I get lost in the process. I do check it often and sometimes I fix it, as was the case with Galatea, but if I like the later gesture better, I keep going with it. 

I did like the gesture in the original, but the center of gravity was a little off and it bugged me, so I tried to fix that in the early stage.

This is the B/W study done from the drawing. Already I've taken it a bit further than just a straightforward representational study. Note the lost edges on her left shoulder, hair, left upper arm, and her thighs.

I'm always looking for opportunities to lose edges, and I try different areas throughout the process. Some areas need hard, crisp edges - I like to put those in areas where the silhouette defines the attitude of the pose, or a part of the pose.

In this case, her right arm and the torso's edge on that side (showing the bend) was a lot more informative and interesting than her left side, so I wanted to play up the edges on that side and subdue the left hand side.  I didn't obscure all of the left side, obviously, for I needed some information, but I didn't think it needed to be spelled out too clearly.

I kept working on it in black and white and various shades of gray, but at some point, I decided to go to color. I glazed a mixture of black, transparent oxide red, and Liquin on top of a dried surface. You can see that it creates a color direction instantly. It looks like a colorized photograph, which is a cool look, I guess, but I didn't want that for this painting. It's too easy. I thought I should struggle some more.

Her hair became dark instead of blonde, which gave more contrast up at the top. The dark mass at the top counterbalances the butt area, which was a bright target in the middle of the picture.

I like to juxtapose transparent areas with opaque areas, and whereas I really don't have a method or system as to where to go transparent and where to go opaque, lighter areas do tend to be painted opaque because I need to use white.

Here, I've started to work back into the figure itself, rendering some form in the lit area. Again, I don't have a specific method. I'm just mixing values and painting, trying to keep in mind the planes and the direction of the light source.

Typical for this kind of work (experimental, process, deconstructive, abstract), the background changes many times. I typically try both very light and very dark backgrounds, as well as combination of light and dark, and middle grays. I change my mind a lot, which is why these paintings take forever to do, even though they're small panels (14 x 11).

By this stage, I've painted and repainted all areas several times. I like to work a few hours at a time, letting the painting dry in between sessions. This gives me some mental distance from the painting too, so I can come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. 

I struggled a lot with the gesture of the legs. I didn't want as much gesture as the drawing, but I didn't want them to be static and symmetrical, either. I wanted them to be lost in the shadows, which meant they weren't going to have any rendered information. The silhouette had to do all the work, and they needed to look integrated into the background in a textural, expressive way, but at the same time, the silhouette had to be shaped extremely carefully.

I think this duality - precision vs. seemingly random expressive marks, is one of the main factors that attracts me to push abstraction in my paintings. 

Finally I had the shapes just how I wanted them, and I worked more on integrating the figure and the ground. I often lose too much  when I try to do this, and I have to redraw and repaint over and over. As inefficient as that seems, it's the only way I can get the surface quality and a sense of truth that I'm looking for.

I'm pretty happy with this one.


  1. Wow, I agree that you should be happy with this one. It is so helpful to witness the evolution of the painting, to watch over your shoulder, as it were, as you make decisions and deal with various aspects of the work. At some points along the way, it seemed the highlight on the butt was too much, but when you brightened the background for the final rendition, it was absolutely perfectly in balance. And your use of lost and found edges is some of the best I have seen. I really like what you did with the lower legs toward the end. What a master class in figure painting you have so generously given us.
    Many Thanks

    1. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment Mitch!

  2. Thanks for these posts Terry! They are so helpful. Maybe someday you will come to the East Coast for a workshop?

    1. I'd love to do a workshop on the East Coast. I've done Atlanta a few times, but that's it. Where abouts are you located?