Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Red Carpet

Red Carpet, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

I started this painting in a model session at my studio. As is typical of my process, it began as a fairly straightforward oil sketch, and at the end of the three hour session, I put it aside and let dry for a few weeks. I have a bunch of these figure studies from life sitting around the studio, and when I have some time, I pick one up and start playing with abstraction. Sometimes the focus is on paint handling, other times I'm more interested in investigating color and edges. 

I consider these explorations, so they're not meant for specific exhibitions and they don't have deadlines. I'm free to take risks without any pressure to end up with a show-worthy painting, and often I do end up with big mess of nothing. Sometimes the risk-taking pays off and I come away with something I really like. 

This one had a couple of exploratory sessions after the initial "live" session, one or two hours each. So all in all, I spent about six or seven hours on it, I'd guess. 

Someone commented that the red looked really luminous and asked what colors I used to mix that red? It's a mixture of alizarin, permanent red, a bit of cad yellow and yellow ochre, plus a bit of white. It probably has a tiny bit of blue mixed in there too, to knock down the chroma here and there. 

The ingredients aren't all that important, though. You can mix this pinkish red with other pigments. What makes it luminous isn't because this red is of specific shade. It has a lot more to do with the fact that it is used in the flesh as well as the floor. 

Essentially, the light reflects off the floor and bounces into the shadows of the figure itself, making some areas much redder than they would be if the floor were another color or not so high in chroma. 

What I did was to amplify the effect of this red bounced light by pushing it into the figure more aggressively than if I were to render it literally. The red permeates the shadows on the figure, more so where the planes face the floor, and where the shadowed areas are very close to the lit floor. (Her leg is affected much more than her torso and arm. 

In fact, her right lower leg is affected by the red even where the planes are not facing the floor. What that suggests is that the red reflected light is influencing the atmosphere around that area (more specifically, the particulate matter in the atmosphere). Which normally wouldn't happen unless you had dust floating around or if you had a fog machine or something, but borrowing that atmospheric affect and imposing it here makes for an interesting luminous result. 

If you were painting an atmospheric night cityscape, you'd paint not only the tail lights of a car red, but the air surrounding the tail lights as well - it's the same idea. It's just that in an atmospheric night cityscape, it's expected and in an ordinary interior scene it's a little less so.

I pushed it even more by losing some edges between the figure and the floor entirely. It's like the red color is jumping off the floor and invading the skin. 

This lost edge thing is made more effective by introducing the super sharp edges in other places. The juxtaposition is jarring, but it works, I think, because the comparison amplifies the sharpness of the sharp edges and the softness of the soft / lost edges. 

I didn't have a plan worked out for this painting - as I said earlier, it's an exploratory kind of thing. I actually had a very light background at one point, and experimented with having lost edges on her back and sharp edges on her legs against a much darker floor.  Didn't quite work because the focus became ambiguous, and so the statement was kind of wishy washy.

I'm really happy with the end result. As they say, no risk, no glory!


  1. Boy you are super with edges! Your explanation of luminosity is really interesting. I was thinking that luminosity was gained by relying on transparent colors, and the losing and gaining of edges. But you are saying that luminosity is captured by the sharing of a color- having bits of it repeating in key places?I even see that pinky red a little down the light side of her back- that certainly lends to color harmony, but that adds to luminosity as well? Cool post, thanks!

    1. Thanks Judy~ I don't think that luminosity in representational description has to do with transparency of paint, necessarily. If that were the case, all watercolor paintings would look luminous. May be there's more than one kind of luminosity, but what I'm referring to is the effect of direct and indirect light affecting / influencing the shadows. I think of "luminous" shadows as light and color filled, as opposed to dark and deep. And interestingly, I use transparent colors to make these deep, dark, 'non-luminous' shadows, but normally paint "luminous" shadows completely opaquely. So if in my paintings, shadows look luminous, you can be almost certain that it's not transparent paint. :-D

    2. Your response is so helpful, the use of transparent vs. opaque flustered me a bit. In the beginning you hear 'keep shadows transparent', so I was always worried when I had to add white or a color into a shadow area to achieve the bounced light I saw. Plus the second you add a little white you lose transparency, and can't get it back! Now I feel better.

    3. To be sure, if you were painting a tonal, lower-keyed painting with deep, dark shadows a la Caravaggio, you would indeed keep your shadows transparent. This helps to keep those shadows from coming forward and demanding the attention of the viewer's eye. In a higher keyed painting, the shadows are painted opaquely. Shadows may 'look' transparent but the pigments are not. A good rule of thumb is, if you can see anything - detail or color information - in that particular shadow, paint it opaque. (this rule ensures that you only allow yourself to paint shadows transparently if it's so dark you can't see anything in there)