Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

She Disintegrates

Upon reading the last post, a reader asked me whether it would make sense to first paint the figure with a lot of information and then proceed to break it up, or would it be better to start with lots of abstraction and tighten up only where necessary.

Good question. if you ever find out, let me know!

Seriously, I don't know which works better. I do both ways, depending on whim, mostly. I do like my images to be driven by good drawing, so at some point –either at the very beginning or much farther into the process– I like to have the entire figure drawn convincingly. 

Most of the time I don't really get excited about rendering realistically, nor do I think it's relevant in what I do, but once in a while a certain level of realism creeps in. I suspect it's when I'm feeling a bit insecure that I start noodling, not knowing where to take it or how to express myself. 

I don't fight the impulse, for I know that if I keep going, sooner or later I'll have satisfied my doubts about painting "realistically" and then I'll get bored with it. Consequently abstraction and expression are inevitable. 

The painting I'm posting today is one such example. The very first stage, at the top of the page, was painted with a live model in a couple of hours. I don't remember why exactly I decided to paint her this way, but I had a rather rendered painting at the end of the session.

I have to stress that I don't normally paint this tightly. Only once in a while, just for kicks.

The seated pose didn't work too well, because I didn't do a good job placing the figure on the 12 x 9 panel, and her knees and her finger tips came too close to the edge, which bugged the hell out of me. 

My solution was to change her pose. As the seated figure was just one session with a model, this posed a bit of a challenge. The model's gone, and I have no reference photos or drawings. Can I change the pose without any refs? I didn't know, but I decided to try it. I mean what have I got to lose? It was already a loser, so no risk there. 

The new pose turned out ok. I only changed the lower part, and her arm, so it wasn't too drastic. The lighting was simple, so there was no need to make up a complex shadow pattern either.

At this point, I simplified the background and rendered the figure in a pre-impressionist glazey style. Still in the realist mindset, but not concerned about subtle skin tones. This is a more or less a monochromatic tonal rendition.

It's a simpler representation than rendering subtle warms and cools of the flesh, because all I'm doing is modulating value without dealing with temperature shifts. 

After letting the painting sit around for several weeks, I came back to it and started to introduce some abstraction. I was playing around with background patterns, (changed many times) and repainted the figure using opaque, patchy strokes.  The patchy shapes don't necessarily have anything to do with the form it sits on. I'm still controlling the values carefully, but I'm also intentionally not responding to the form with my strokes. It's harder to do than it sounds, especially if you've been trained to mind the form with stroke directions all these years.

But disconnecting my strokes from following the form, I found, is a significant way to move away from realism, while maintaining realism with values. Does that make sense?

This is where I am right now. I'm still fiddling with background, trying different colors. The figure is breaking up more and more, and the rate of change, if you will, is becoming faster as I become more and more comfortable with the idea of abstracting this particular figure.

It's a funny notion, that I have to become comfortable with abstraction each and every time I start a new painting. It's like going through the same journey of insecurity, tentative attempts, loss of control, and embracing risk over and over again.

I suppose I'm attracted to this maddening roller-coaster ride, and that's why I keep coming back to it.

This painting is not finished. I'm still fiddling with it. The next step is to try some bigger strokes in the background. As it is, the notes in the background seems too fussy.

After that, I'll reassess and see what else jumps out at me.


  1. Doesn't look like my comment posted to am re-posting. Pardon if it shows up twice.
    I love your blog. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your process along with successes and challenges. For what it is worth, you so inspired me with your decontruction of the figure that I experimented myself and wrote about it here http://www.deborahwage.com/blog-75/post_id-4
    You ask if this makes sense: "But disconnecting my strokes from following the form, I found, is a significant way to move away from realism, while maintaining realism with values.". Yes, it does. And it is something that I did not think about or understand when I experimented with the deconstruction process. Thank you this additional insight. I am excited to try this again!

  2. Thanks Deborah~ and I like your painting of the abstracted figure. I'd love to see more!

  3. I think you're brilliant. Each image looks like it could stand on its own, yet with each step towards abstraction the work has more emotion and impact. I am inspired to sacrifice a couple of my boring pieces to see what can become of them. It's only paint and canvas.....