Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, January 17, 2014

Seated Nude, Continued

OK, so this is where we left off last time. What I wanted to do was basically add a lot more surface activity and keep pushing abstraction. I kept painting on top of it with some glazing, direct opaque painting, some scraping, etc. When I start getting into playing with the paint surfaces, I start using more medium (Liquin). If I'm doing a straightforward more-or-less conservative representational painting, I don't use any mediums. Just a little bit of Gamsol to thin the paint if necessary. My washes are done with Gamsol as well.

One thing I wanted to explore was the blue shape of the sofa vs. the black shape of the shadowy parts of the sofa. I was trying to find shapes that worked for me purely as abstract elements, and not really confining myself to where the darker areas would be in reality. The shapes changed many times as I tried this and that.

I ended up creating a separation between the sofa and the floor, mainly to define the environment a little bit, and introduce another color. Now that I look at it on my computer screen, I rather like not having the floor defined. I may go back to that after all. I don't know yet.

In looking for ways to lose edges without losing the integrity of the visual information, I decided to darken the left side of the figure, and make that edge disappear into the shadows. As I said in the last post, it's the most obvious way to lose an edge. 

While I liked the expressive marks on the painting overall, and the colors seemed to be working together well, I noticed that all that painting and repainting resulted in the loss of the all-important gesture. The fluidity of the original drawing somehow got lost. 

Five years ago, I probably would have talked myself out of fixing it. After all it wasn't a bad painting. But I can't deny the fact that the figure became too stiff, and I know that it really isn't a big deal to redraw the figure and repaint it. This painting was supposed to be a vehicle for exploration anyway. I need to remember not to feel too precious about anything in this painting.

The gesture, after all, was the original concept when I did the five-minute sketch. If the primary concept isn't communicated, it's a failure no matter how I slice it.  So I went back to my drawing color (Ultramarine+Trans. Oxide Red+Gamsol) and redrew it, using the original drawing as reference.

I also decided that the easy, fluid rhythm of the gesture was dependent on showing the left edge of the figure, where its graceful curve defines the gesture. That meant I couldn't lose that edge in the dark shadows.  So I lightened the shadow areas on the left side of the torso, and made the most of the gentle curve there.

The redefined gesture works much better. I think we are getting close.

So I'm going to let this dry for another few days and come back to it. Right now, the figure is painted traditionally. (Again) And I want to bring back some of the abstract quality of the second image on this post, without losing the redefined gesture.

This painting sure is taking a long time. It's a small painting (12 x 9 inches) which means considering the number of hours that went into it, I'll probably make minimum wage if I ever sell this thing. I wish I were more efficient, but then again, exploration without expectation is a lot more fun than churning out merchandise. I just have to strike a balance so that I can also pay my bills.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lost Edges

Girl in Braids, 16 x 12 inches, oil on panel

"How do you know where to lose edges?", a student asked me the other day. Like everything else in painting, there are no formulas. You have to make your decisions based on what you're trying to do in a particular painting.

Losing an edge connects two adjacent shapes which may or may not help the overall design. Often connecting shapes simplifies the design and strengthens its impact. But if by connecting shapes, critical information is lost, you may want to rethink your decision.

So it comes down to "what is critical information"?  It's stuff that's necessary for the painting to make sense. When you're painting realistically, it's fairly simple to define whether a piece of visual information makes sense or not. Take out that edge and if it looks weird, you need to put it back in.

Often when two dark shapes meet, like in shadow areas, the edge between them can be lost without compromising the integrity of the visual reality. It simplifies the shadow shapes and clarifies the design. Especially if the areas of interest are all in the lit side, the shadow side can be simplified quite a bit. 

Squinting will compress the values so that much of the close-valued shapes become connected. Most of the time, you can use this as a guide to make lost-edge decisions. Most of the time, you can totally tell what's going on even if squinting reduces the overall image to just two values. What does that tell us? That a lot of detail does not make a more believable visual reality. Just why do you need that edge anyway, if you squint and it disappears, and the figure (or the landscape. Or the still life) still looks convincing? If you have a good reason, keep that edge. if you can't come up with a good reason, may be you should lose that edge?

Unfamiliar, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel

It's no secret... I mean it's obvious when you look at my paintings, that the colors I use are not observed, but invented. They're subjective. Made up. I do pay attention to color relationships and value relationships, but I don't really care about the actual colors that I see in front of me. If they don't work for my painting, I don't want them. 

I tweak my values as well. I can't ignore values, for they make up the structure of the painting and create believable form, but I'm free to make an area darker or lighter as long as I don't betray the structure. 

In all three of these paintings, the background and shadow values were actually different. Sometimes subtly different, and sometimes drastically different. And in all three of these paintings, I brought the values of the shadows (on the figure) and the backgrounds closer, so that I can connect them and lose edges.  I didn't do them everywhere, but I went a lot further than I would have if I were taking a more conservative representational approach.

Fleeting Thoughts, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel

In some areas you can see that I connected the lit side of the figure with the background, losing edges in the lighter end of the value spectrum. So losing edges isn't limited to shadow side, obviously. But connecting dark shapes is the easiest way to lose edges without losing key information. Start there, see where it takes you. Then you can tweak shadow values a little bit so that you can lose edges between two shapes that in actuality have different values. Once you get the hang of it, try it in the lighter values.

The more you lose edges, the more you will become aware of how powerful this tool is in designing a picture. If practicing losing edges starts to make you think about what's actually important in your painting and what are the things you only thought were important, you are well on your way to becoming a better compositionist. (I know there's no such word. I still like it better than composer).

If you try some of these suggestions on your next paintings, let me know how they went! You can share your experience with other readers in the comment box. I'd love to hear from you~

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Upcoming Workshops!

I have some exciting workshops coming up! The first one is just around the corner, and it's all about the atmospheric perspective. Ever wondered how some landscapes seem to be filled with evocative atmosphere? Master atmospheric perspective and introduce more mood and a sense of distance into your landscape paintings!

The Atmospheric Landscape
A Two-Day Workshop with Terry Miura

January 25 - 26, 2014
Tuition: $295

The School of Light and Color
Fair Oaks, CA

This two day workshop takes a closer look at one of landscape painter's greatest tools: the atmospheric perspective.

Depiction of atmosphere in a painting is crucial to building a believable environment. It creates a sense of vast depth, helps to simplify distant backgrounds, harmonizes color, and can create compelling and evocative moods.

Understanding the mechanics of atmospheric perspective will give the artist a powerful tool to better design a painting to communicate what the artist feels about a scene, and not merely copying it.

Take your art to the next level by mastering atmospheric perspective! After all, as Rembrandt so eloquently said, "Without atmosphere, a painting is nothing!"

The workshop will include in-studio demos and exercises, and plein air studies if the weather is favorable.

Some painting experiences is highly recommended.

To sign up for this workshop, please contact Debbie at The School of Light and Color.

Phone: (916) 977-7517
email: sarback@lightandcolor.com

And then in February, I am going to do the repeat of the Structure of the Human Head workshop. This is not a "portrait" workshop. Rather, we look at something more fundamental - a way to see, analyze, understand, and draw and paint the structure underneath the surface.

An experienced portrait artist will tell you that capturing a likeness of a person is more about depicting the character of the structure correctly, than about copying features. If you want to paint portraiture, you'd better know how the human head is put together!

I'll show you my method of drawing and painting a human head, which is loosely based on Frank Reilly's and Andrew Loomis' methods, plus some other tidbits I picked up over the years.

The Structure of the Human Head
A Three-Day Workshop with Terry Miura

February 7 - 9, 2014
Tuition: $395

The School of Light and Color
Fair Oaks, CA

In this three-day drawing and painting workshop, we will study the basic and not-so-basic construct of the human head.

From proportions to planes, the focus is on gaining a practical understanding of how the head is put together, so that we may apply this knowledge to draw and paint the head logically and with greater confidence.

It's not about tediously copying features, but analyzing and visualizing the fundamental structure underneath. We'll show you how!

Some drawing and painting experience is highly recommended.

To sign up for this workshop, please contact Debbie at The School of Light and Color.

Phone: (916) 977-7517
email: sarback@lightandcolor.com

Both workshops are filling up, and there are only a few spots left - if you would like to join us, don't wait! Call now!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Seated Nude - Next Sesseion

This is where we left off last time. I came in to the studio today after several days of being sick. Starting the New Year on the wrong foot, so to speak.

But I feel fine today - at least in terms of physical health. My painting abilities… well, I will have to work a little harder to get the ball rolling.

OK, so again, the first thing I did was give it a fresh tape around the canvas, and oiling in to bring back lustre and the dark values.

Then I went back in with a fresh, lighter blue, and some more paint on the flesh. I started working on her lower leg first. I wasn't sure what I wanted exactly, except that it was getting a little skinny and the color too cool.  So I repainted it several times, each time wiping away and integrating with the background.

I didn't want it to lose it entirely because I wanted the rhythmic movement to continue from top to bottom. So I just kind of painted the leg with a few strokes, wiped it, painted it, wiped it, hoping for an accidental mark that looked like a leg but not painted by a brush.

I also wanted flat brushstrokes on the sofa. More an abstract treatment than rendering a sofa. I was thinking of marks made by plopping down a loaded watercolor mop, except opaque. I didn't want the bristle strokes. Rather, I wanted to emphasize flatness. A purely abstract esthetic. (that is to say, not bound by rules of representational realism)

I kept playing with the distribution of the blue shapes vs. the black, looking for interesting shape break up. The abstract shapes somehow needed to support the very light shapes of the figure and its rhythm, so I tried over and over, moving blue and black shapes around on the sofa. 

I was still having difficulty seeing the figure as just an abstract shape (couldn't get past the literal), so for a while, I turned the canvas upside down and painted with my left hand. I got some interesting shapes this way in the hair.

I decided to see what would happen if I separated the sofa from the floor. Shed some light on the floor so that the leg wasn't disappearing into blackness.

At the risk of being more representational, I put down a dark mauvey color. My idea was to connect the foot to the floor and lose edges entirely around the foot. I kept fighting between doing that, and putting a cast shadow under the foot so that it looks like only the toes are touching the floor. I haven't worked it out to my satisfaction so that'll be something to address during the next session.

I tried to play around with the flat, soft mop brush strokes I mentioned earlier (I don't know what else to call it?) on the figure, too. Some random, accidental looking notes to break up the more traditional modeling strokes. 

Toward the end of the day, I started messing around with the edge of the top of the leg. I wasn't happy with the countour, so I tried changing it. A little concave here… no, that doesn't work, more convex. No that doesn't work either. more hip, less thigh. No, now she's too fat. Take off a little. No, now it's too straight…   <-- This is the sort of internal dialogue that goes on. I haven't resolved this part yet either.

But all in all, I think she's starting to take on a life of her own. It'll be interesting to see what'll happen next time.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Seated Nude Con'd

Happy New Year Everyone! 

I went into the studio today and putzed around. Hey at least I'm off my butt! I thought I'd just continue painting on the seated nude painting that I had started. I didn't want to start any new projects until I got my gears going a little more smoothly.

Above shot is where we left off. That was shot with my phone so it's not the best quality and it's darker than it actually is. Anyway, I think I mentioned that it was way too tight for my liking, which is a reflection of my lack of confidence due to lack of practice.  

So, the first thing I did was to put fresh tape around the canvas. Clean edges gives me a clearer context in which to make decisions about my brushstrokes. Then I oiled in, meaning I brushed on a coat of medium (Liquin) over the whole thing and gently wiped it off with a rag. This brings back the values and lustre of the painting at its wet state. Thin, dark areas are especially affected by drying (dries much lighter and duller), so it's necessary to bring it back to the intended value by oiling in. 

I also did a quick glaze with Liquin + Transparent Oxide Red + Ivory Black to get the process going. The glaze darkens and adds color (dark brown) to the applied area. I only used a tiny bit of pigment, so the difference is subtle. But it visually activates dead rendered areas (her skin, basically) by introducing new variations in value, color, and brush marks.

And then I started to apply lighter, more intense blue to the sofa. Not that I wanted a really blue sofa, but I did want it lighter since it was just getting lost into the background. The high chroma doesn't matter too much since I knew I was going to put a lot more paint into that area. If a little bit of high chroma blue peeks through in the end, that'd be a bonus, but I'm not painting with a sequential strategy here. I'm just playing around, really.

I also pretty much repainted the entire figure. I like to get a variety of edges by working wet into wet, and in order to that, I needed the figure to be wet. You can't fake a true wet into wet edge, nor would I want to. 

Then I started to break up the shapes and started integrating figure and ground. Tentatively at first, then bolder as I got into it. I'm not worried about losing the drawing, because if I really got into trouble, I could always scrape / wipe off the paint and reveal the earlier, dry stage. I didn't need to do that here, but knowing that I could have allowed me to take chances with my strokes.

…and now I continue to play with edges and mark making. Lost and found edges are fun to do - What I'm really trying to do find a balance between predictable lost edges, and unexpected ones. As long as I only lose edges at predictable places, it won't ever be abstract enough. On the other hand, if I lost edges randomly, I'll lose too much of the representational structure and it'll look… well, random. That is to say, no skill was involved. And I don't want that. I don't want it to look like a monkey could have done it with bowls of paint and his fingers. Drawing is still important to me.

That's as far as I got today. I'm neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. I haven't reached the point where I know how I want it to look in the end. It's still very much exploratory. I'll come back to it in a few days and show you what happens next. I'm as much a spectator as you are in this one!

Here's wishing you an artful 2014!!