Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Some (Fairly) Recent Black and White Figures

Hidden Expression, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

I thought I'd posted these on Studio Notes but looking through my previous posts, I didn't see them - I must be confusing this with Facebook or Instagram or something. Anyway, I thought I'd share some of these black and white figures I'd been doing. It's a kind of a series that started a few years ago when I gave a class assignment to come up with a b/w study using a short pose gesture drawing as a reference. And that's how I've been working for all of these.

Unspoken, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

They are getting more abstract. I've been pushing in this direction in cityscapes and landscapes as well (which I'll share on another post) but with figures, I seem to get more unpredictable results. 

That's a good thing. I'm enjoying the surprises. With these, the process starts out with a fairly straightforward depiction of a figure based on a quick drawing. And then I start losing edges.

At first, I'm a little tentative. I start with the easiest place to lose an edge, which is where two dark shapes come together, like a shadow area on the figure and the dark background.

...and most of these have dark backgrounds. Nothing wrong with light background or a med value background; you can lose edges with these backgrounds as well, like this;

Light Becomes Her, 16 x 12 inches, oil on canvas

In fact, I often make decisions on whether to use a light background or a dark one, or some kind of combination of both, based on which edge on the figure I want to lose. Or perhaps more accurately, which edge on the figure I can lose and get away with.  

I always have the model lit directly with a single light source, so there's always a light side and a shadow side. And when I translate the quick drawing to a painting, I take some time to contemplate which side has a more interesting, more compelling, or more descriptive shape. 

Late Night Session, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

With Late Night Session, I decided that the lit side had a more interesting and descriptive edge than the shadow side, so I chose to obscure the shadow side. That meant a dark back ground was necessary. The same dark background emphasizes the light side of the figure, which works just fine.

With the painting Light Becomes Her, I lost the light side into the light background, which played up the shadow side edge. It's arguable here which side was more interesting, but I made the decision after trying both ways. In fact I almost always try both ways with each painting. Sometimes the answer seems obvious, but I try different solutions anyway. In doing so, I often come across pleasant surprises, and a richer, not-quite-controlled surface quality that I like. I also come across unpleasant surprises and a blow-up-in-your-face mess. But that's the risk you take.

Still of the Night, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I call it a "risk" but it really is not a big deal because most of the time, the figures I'm painting are fairly simple, and I have a road-map in the form of the original gesture drawing, which include light / shadow pattern information. These drawings don't have any value modulation other than the fact that the shadow side is quickly filled in. 

Still of the Night has the light side of the torso as the defined edge, and the shadow side obsured - but not completely lost in most parts. The arm gets lost, and that took a little courage to lose the arm entirely but we have many a precedent since antiquity, don't we. Take Venus de Milo for example. No arms, still complete, and still beautiful. 

The head and the shoulders are less defined and has more texture. I thought that was interesting - I didn't plan it that way. I was working on the lightest highlights on her breasts and stomach, and working my way toward lesser lights, and just stopped before I rendered the whole thing, and noticed it was working without being completely modeled. 

My favorite part of this painting is that one sharp edge at her crotch, which, if painted more conventionally, would have led to the two legs being separated by a line and value shifts. Instead the legs are fused together, as if in an early stages of a marble sculpture. That's an example of a less expected lost edge. 

Figment, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

In Figment, I'm starting to explore distorting the drawing a little bit. I don't usually like to do this because I feel that I need some kind of structure which grounds me to a realm where something can be objectively judged. Once you allow the drawing or the anatomy to be distorted, all bets are off. You can't really say if a painting is good or not using the same yardstick. Now, one may argue, so what. Art has no rules, it's about expression, you're making a statement by deviating from the traditional, blah blah blah. Yes, I've heard all the arguments. I'm simply saying that I need that structure, and I find it in good (in a traditional sense) figure draftsmanship. I'm not talking about anyone else.

Introspect, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

That reflection in Introspect happened when I dragged a rubber scraper vertically over the entire figure. See, it's one of those happy accidents. I did manipulate and refine the shape of the reflection quite a bit, but the idea presented itself when I took the risk and pushed the paint around in an unconventional way. 

All the textural stuff, and the incidental artifacts are a result of similar process. I just make the "surface abuse" a part of the process. 

Midnight Repose, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

This series is on-going. Sometimes I take months-long breaks, but I always come back to it. As I have gesture-drawing sessions weekly, I have no shortage of reference drawings for these paintings. I think I'll be doing these a long, long, time.


  1. Very interesting post Terry! Would you be willing to share what your initial gesture sketch might look like as a Starr, and then how you proceed to this beartiful result?

    1. Thanks Sharon, some of my older posts show the initial sketches, and also some of the process shots. I haven't done a proper documentation only because once I get going, it's hard to stop every few minutes to take photos. Interrupting the flow really affects the outcome. I'll do a full sequence when I get an assistant~!

  2. Beautiful work, as always. I'm always looking to see when you're coming back to Michigan for a workshop!

    1. Hi Laurie, thanks! I'll be doing a workshop in October 2017 in Lowell~

  3. Beautiful images. This might be a strange question, but is there any relationship between how abstract a painting is and how long it takes to paint (assuming two paintings are somewhat similar).

    1. In my case, I think there is some correlation, since I generally do a more straightforward, representational painting first, before starting to take it apart. So yes, the more abstract, the longer it takes - generally. An exception may be when I'm in the zone and I can get to the abstraction at a much earlier stage. But that doesn't happen very often.

  4. Are you using Black and White paint for these or mixing you black from other colors?
    Beautiful and simple!


    1. Titanium White, and Ivory Black for the most part. Sometimes I use other blacks out of the tube, but I'm not mixing them.