Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, September 28, 2015

Exhibition of New Works in Healdsburg, CA!

Sam's, 36 x 36 inches, oil on linen

Not that I need to explain myself for posting again so soon after the last one (I do feel a little guilty when I neglect this blog), but I want to let you know that I will be in an upcoming three-man exhibition at the Christopher Hill Gallery in Healdsburg, CA.

I am going to be showing with two very talented painters, James Kroner, and Nobuhito Tanaka - both of whom paint some great cityscapes. I think our styles will look awesome together. 

I have been working on pieces for this show for the past several months. I had some doubts along the way whether I'd be able to come up with enough worthy pieces by the deadline, but it looks like I'm going to make it (whew~). 

Pale Blue San Francisco, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

The show opens on Saturday, October 10th, and there will be a second-day reception on the 11th as well. If you're in Northern California, please come to the opening! I think this is going to be a really, really cool show!

Three for Lunch, 12 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I have both cityscapes and figurative works for this show.  With this group of paintings, I pushed further into abstraction and self expression, and I feel very good about the result. In fact I wouldn't mind keeping some of these for myself, but alas, I promised 15 pieces, so I'm going to deliver all of them.

Memories Return, 20 x 16 inches, oil on linen

Like this one, Memories Return. I freaking love this painting. I hope it goes to someone who loves it as much as I do and not buy it just because it matches their couch or something.  The title, Memories Return, is a reference to Thelonious Monk's timeless ballad, Round Midnight.  I was listening to it while painting this and I believe it really influenced the outcome of the painting. Listen to Miles' version and you tell me.

Blues for Cello, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

Healdsburg is a really quaint little town in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, and the gallery is a beautiful space right in the middle of town. 

If you're in Northern California, and are looking for something to do on the weekend of October 10th, why not come out to Healdsburg and enjoy some art and wine? Make a weekend out of it!

Christopher Hill Gallery
326 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, CA


'Hope to see you there!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

100 Figure Studies Project - No. 14

A Familiar Uncertainty, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

If you have been following Studio Notes for a while, you may remember that last year (or was it the year before?) I started this project where I set out to do 100 figure studies in black and white. This was actually an assignment that I gave to my students as a challenge of sorts, and in an effort to walk the walk as well as to encourage, I decided to do the challenge myself. 

For the most part, these studies were to be done using short-pose (2 to 20 minutes) drawings as references. (I gave the students the option to use Old Master drawings as references if their own didn't have enough information)

It took a while but I did my 100, and along the way, I had this idea to use these studies, once I reached my goal,  for experimentation and to take them further. This summer has been quite busy with other projects and commitments so I haven't been able to do much on this personal project, but I've been able to do a few. 

For this one, I remembered to take some process shots early on, so I thought it would be interesting to share. This one is no.14.  The number is chronological at the time of the b/w study - I'm not necessarily finishing them up in that order. 

This is my original drawing, pencil on paper. It's probably a 10 or 15 minute pose- the drawing is small. I'm working on an ordinary copy paper. 

Using the drawing as a reference, I did this black and white study. It's a little sloppy but I liked it. I could have just kept it as is, but that wasn't my plan so I had to get over feeling too precious about it and just dive in.

The first thing I did was to draw back into it and make some corrections. Mainly, I wanted the figure to be sitting slightly more upright (a la the original drawing) I used a thinned out brown color (Asphaltum) and redrew with a small brush.

This may seem like a scary thing to do, but it isn't at all, because if I really messed it up, I can just wash it off with medium or solvent and wipe it clean, and start again (because the underlying painting is totally dry). No risk here. I didn't have to do that, but it's nice to know that I can always restart.

I then mixed my flesh tones–one for the light side, and one for the shadow side–and blocked in the figure. The light / shadow pattern is already there in black and white, and I also have the original drawing to refer to, so this was a straightforward task. 

The initial block-in was very simple. Now I it was time to add some variations - I began by adding violets to the shadow side. At this point, I have no idea whether I'll keep that color or not. Unlike my plein air studies which are more or less representational without too much mucking about, my studio paintings –especially figures and cityscapes–are processes of abstraction without a specific end-image in mind. I allow myself to take risks, experiment, push and pull, re-do passages, and change my mind as many times as necessary. 

I also knocked in the bedsheet in light and shadow. I  imagined a simple white bed sheet, so I warmed up the light side by adding yellow, and cooled down the shadow side by adding blue-violet and dropping the value. The light-shadow temperature shift is more or less consistent with that on the figure. 

The figure now has another, lighter value added. Not strictly highlights, but moving in that direction - we now start to see some volume.

I added color to the background and on the floor. Again, I don't know whether I'm keeping these colors. Chances are, I'll paint over them more than once or twice. 

This is after several hours. I forgot all about taking photos - sorry. But you can see I pushed the color of light a little bit, so all the lit areas have more yellow in them. I'm experimenting with textures and edges with each layer. Lost edges can be seen at her calf and shin, among other places. 

One big change here is that I decided to light the front plane of the bed. Before, it was in shadow but there was also shadow within this shadow (the lower leg casting it). This was a little confusing so I made the decision to light it more clearly. The other option was to get rid of the sharp edge of that cast shadow from the lower leg, but I recognized that I would be throwing away an excellent opportunity to play with the abstract shape in that area. If I got rid of it, or had softened the edge (as I would have had to, if the whole front plane were in shadow) the sharp-edged shape couldn't exist. I'd also end up with a sliver of light going down the far side of her shin. While it's not impossible to work with, something so linear and contrasty (it would be a sliver of light surrounded by shadow) would have too much unwanted impact. 

When I lit the entire front plane, one problem it presented was that the light shape(s) of the bed extended all the way to both edges of the canvas and felt like it was leading the eye off the page. It  also seemed too simplistic. By adding a cast shadow to the left (shadow cast from an unseen bedside table?) and darkening the right hand side slightly, the problem was alleviated. 

When I pushed the yellow in the lights, the blues in the shadows became too much, so I grayed them down. By now most of the surface have had to be painted and repainted a couple of times. I spend a lot of time losing edges in unexpected places, and re-establishing them once I confirmed that it didn't work.

I thought I was done here, but when I looked at it after letting it sit around for a few days, I decided it was too...safe. I've been trying to push abstraction more with other paintings, and this one didn't look abstract enough, so I went back into it.

And this is my result. It has a lot more texture, and obscured edges. I kept asking myself, just how much information do I need  in order for the figure to be a figure? I kept taking things out, putting things back in. I like that the anatomy is almost lost in many of the areas. 

I toned down the yellow as well. I liked the combination of yellow and blue that I had, but perhaps not in this picture. I made a note to try using that in another painting. 

The right edge of the bed now shows a corner - you actually see a piece of the foot of the bed, which allowed me to darken that area into shadow more reasonably. I lost the swoosh of the folds, but having that curve there didn't make good design sense (it was counter to other movements in the composition) so good riddance. 

I kept flip flopping, too, whether to make the face darker than the background. In the previous stage, the face area was light on dark. In the final it's dark on light. I think it could work either way, just a different mood. 

The photo made it look darker than it actually is - I'm reminded just how difficult it is to photograph dark, gray paintings accurately.  

I think that I could have stopped at an earlier stage and I would have had an OK painting. Five years ago, I would have. but with these 100 studies, I promised myself that I will use them for experimentation - taking risks, and finding out what happens if I did something I wouldn't normally do to a straightforward representational painting.  If by taking myself out of my comfort zone I ruin one of these paintings - or all 100, I'm OK with that because I will have learned a lot of things that I otherwise would never have.  

Luckily, I like what I ended up with No. 14. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Plein Air Sketch - Bainbridge Island Demo

Well it's been forever since my last post! Sorry about that, it's been a super busy summer and I have been occupied elsewhere. Right now I'm working on putting together a group of paintings for an upcoming show - more on that later - but I couldn't neglect Studio Notes any longer! 

As usual I struggled to come up with an idea for a post - then I remembered that during my workshop on Bainbridge Island a few months ago, I did a demo and my friend Carolyn who was attending the workshop, kindly took some shots of the process. 

So this post is that demo-I will try and talk about each step. 

The picture above shows our location on the Puget Sound. It was a beautiful day-a little chilly, but perfect for painting. I chose this view because I wanted to include a building or some other man made structure in my demo, mainly so that I can talk about drawing and perspective, and it's much easier to show the light and shadow separation on a solid geometric structure than on a organic, textured surface like foliage.

After figuring out my composition in a thumbnail (of which I don't have a photo- sorry) I proceeded to tone the canvas panel lightly with Transparent Oxide Red + Ultramarine + Gambol. I brushed this thin mixture on the canvas and wiped most of it off. The main purpose of toning the canvas is to kill the white of the canvas so that I am not judging subtle colors or values in an extreme context. 

Sometimes an artist will tone the canvas as a strategy to create harmony, or if done in a complementary color (red tone to go under green grass, for example) to create a visual "vibration", but in my case, it's just to kill the white.

On this surface I started to draw my design with the same mixture, using a small (no.1 or no.2) brush.   My underdrawing is not super tight, but I do try to get it reasonably accurate. 

Next, I used the same mixture but varying the amount of Gambol to do a sort of a three-value grisaille. The goal here is to represent the view in just a few (usually three or four) values so as reduce the complex visual reality down to a simple, organized image. 

You can see that the entire background group of trees is reduced to one dark mass. Compare against the top photo to see what I mean. See how I ignored the individual trees and color / value variations? If you consider that the purpose of these trees is  to serve as a simple backdrop for the buildings, it begins to make sense that they don't need to be defined so much. When a simple mass will do the job, why complicate the matter? True, some variations and activity back there would help to create a more believable environment, but I can do that later. At this point my aim is simple organization.

Next I switched to opaque colors and started in on the building, simply blocking in the light and shadow sides. Here I want to define the relationship between light and shadow in terms of value, color and temperature. As this is a direct sun situation, I wanted to make sure the light side is a little bit warmer than the shadow side. 

This is not a high-key impressionist painting, so I'm not emphasizing the color of the light. That is to say, the light side and the shadow side of the building don't show a big jump in color. Both are just slight variations of the local color.  This is important because I've just made a conscious choice to paint this more tonally than Impressionist-color approach, and I must maintain this way of relating light and shadow throughout the painting. If I do a tonal approach in one area of the painting but change my mind and "push color" a la Impressionists in another, the painting will not work. 

 I blocked in the roof. After the initial grisaille, 97% of the painting is done opaquely. The only areas where I would use transparent application are the really dark areas where I can't see any detail or color. Now, before you start arguing that you can see color in the very dark areas, please remember that I've already established the tonalist language here, and I am speaking only in that context.

I blocked in the foreground and the trees in the back. As you can see the trees now have some variations, but the values are close enough so that if you squint the entire tree mass still groups together to form a simple backdrop. Note, too, that the variations that I put in my painting - nor the shapes of the trees for that matter - do not conform to the actual view. I'm not interested in copying what I see because that's not important. What's important is that they serve to support my "star".  I do want them to look like trees, but beyond that, the details are not relevant to my main statement.

So the point here is that as long as they look convincing they don't need to be copied. Therefore, I am free to manipulate this element to maximize my statement. For example, see in the top photo, how close the value of the trees are to that of the roof? In my painting, I made the separation greater to give more impact to my statement. If you didn't know what it actually looked like, you wouldn't know or care, would you. So tweak away to make a more effective statement!

I added the sky, some details on the buildings and the blue crane thing, worked on the water, and tied up most of the loose ends.

Oh, I forgot to mention that a little earlier the tide had started to rise. It didn't get nearly as high as how I painted it, but I took cues from the rising tide and made up the foreground.

I used a knife's edge to knock in some of the really sharp notes like the railing.

The pilings are my attempt at suggesting what they looked like, not actually measured and placed carefully. Again, I wanted them to be recognizable, but tediously copying them in their exact places were not necessary for my purposes. Nor relevant.

I lightened the water and added some saturation. Also the reflection of the boathouse was knocked in. Here I tried to keep it somewhat subdued. It's always tempting to emphasize reflections in the water because it makes the water look more like water. It's also easy to overdo it, too. It's important to remember what your main statement is, and if the reflection supports that statement or if the reflection is the statement, by all means emphasize it. But if it's just a bit player in your picture, you don't want it to be so loud that it takes away from the star. I need to think like a conductor or a director and orchestrate the various players in my painting so that I may make the best music possible. 

Just as I made the reflection a little quieter, I lessened the impact that the tree line makes against the sky, by darkening the sky a bit. I didn't want a big value contrast there because that would definitely take away from the focal area. Having a softer, non-geometric edge helps, too. 

This demo took a little over an hour. Sometimes a sketch this size takes two or three hours. Other times, half an hour. For a workshop demo, I try to control the amount of time I take, and I force myself to stop at a certain time lest the students don't have enough time to paint. But I'm not always successful and sometimes in my haste I crash and burn. Which is humiliating so I try to avoid that situation(Haha~). This time it went well and I was able to cover a lot of ground in a short time.

The panel I used is Classen's No.66 oil primed linen mounted onto a piece of MDF board. This is my favorite surface.

The colors are as follows:

Blues: Ultramarine, Cerulean, and Ivory Black
Yellows: Cad Lemon, Cad Deep, and Yellow Ochre
Reds: Cad Red Light (or Permanent Red), Alizarin, and Transparent Oxide Red
White: Titanium white.
I usually don't have tube greens, oranges or violets.

If you have any questions, please use the comment box - I will try to answer them if I can!