Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Rambling About A Moody Landscape

Arcadia, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

Here's a moody landscape painting. There are a lot of ways a landscape painting can be moody, but the defining characteristic for this particular painting, I think, is the sky. The colors of the sky is greyed down, yes, but perhaps more importantly, the overall value of the sky is keyed down quite a bit. 

If you compare the value of the sky to the white of webpage that surrounds it, you can see how dark it is. Just because Carlson said the sky is the lightest plane in a landscape, that doesn't mean it's necessarily very light in value. It's all relative. In fact there are many paintings out there where the sky is intentionally keyed down so the harshness of the sunlit surfaces become amplified. (Look at Sorolla!) 

Mine is not one of those harsh sunlit paintings, of course. It's just a low-key painting. 

The sky and the lit part of the foreground are about the same value in my painting, but the grass is much more saturated in color, and the area is much more visually active (brush strokes, texture, small contrasty notes) so that it comes foreword without confusing the structure. 

The interesting thing about the sky, for me, is that the pinkish hue of the clouds and the blue-grey of the background is very close in value and although they are near-complements, they're really tightly harmonized. How is this done?

It's basically the center of the pie. Both colors are so close to the center that even though they're pulling towards opposite sides of the color wheel, they remain closely related. 

I made both colors from the same pile of grey- I don't remember if I made the pinkish grey first and bent it to make the blueish grey or vice versa. It doesn't really matter which came first, actually. You can do it either way, one's not more difficult than the other. 

If on the other hand, you were trying to get a closely related complements by starting with pure hues on the opposite sides of the color wheel and mixed with each other to bring them closer, you'd probably end up with a more colorful result, unless you were pushing specifically for something this muted.

Keeping all the elements in the sky close in color and value allows the whole sky to be viewed as a unit, so as to not distract from the trees and the ground. I also made sure the brushstrokes in the sky were much quieter than the rest of the painting.

The trees are keyed way down, too. So much so that the shadow parts of the trees are almost black. Making sure these dark areas are painted thinly (compared to the lit areas) and somewhat transparently allows them to be quietly subordinate. In a low key tonal painting the shadows can be very dark and transparent, which isn't usually the case for a color-filled high key shadows of an impressionist painting. 

Here's a good tip; don't mix the tonalist language (dark transparent shadows) and the impressionist language (high key color filled shadows) in one painting, unless there's a really compelling reason to do so. Most of the time, it's best to decide on one language and stick to it. In other words, don't try to mix the dramatic values of Velazquez and the bright colored light effects of Monet in one painting. 

It looks like I've totally gone off on a tangent - haha~ Oh well, I'm just rambling. If you want to learn more about this stuff, and would like me to show you how all this applies to your painting, I invite you to come to my next plein air landscape painting workshop that I will be conducting May 1 - 3, at Winslow Art Center on Bainbridge Island, WA. Please go to their website for more info and to sign up! It's a plein air workshop, so we'll be working outside, unless the weather is uncooperative, in which case we will work indoors using photos. Either way you'll get a ton of information and individual instruction. All my trade secrets are yours for the asking :-D


  1. Another lovely painting and helpful explanation of your process. I'm a little reluctant to emphasize how useful it is to hear your process, if that makes you more hesitant to post on your blog, (in reference to your recent comments about staying away because you had raised the bar on yourself). Anything you share is interesting and a pleasure to see.

    Your workshop sounds terrific. I hope you have clear weather. So far, the northwest has had more than a normal amount of sunshine for this time of year.

  2. Hi Mitch, and thanks~ And please don't hesitate to comment. I didn't mean to discourage anyone from commenting. It's just my nature to overthink everything I do!

  3. A wonderful trick, using the same pile of gray to make complimentary but harmonious colors. I do this a lot, and ask my students to start with a pile of gray. I appreciate you sharing the way you were able to paint the sky in such a low key. Very nice!
    I also like the word you use to describe different styles, language. Clever and I'll keep it in mind.Thank you again for sharing your trade secrets!

    1. You're welcome, and thanks! 'Hope all's well up in the mountain :-D

  4. Thank you very much Terry. I always enjoy reading your thoughts on painting. This was especially helpful to me.

    1. Thanks for reading Kelli~! Love your work :-D