Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Friday, March 4, 2016

How It Began To Tell

It Begins To Tell, 24 x 24 inches, oil on linen

OK so let's do another process thing. This painting, It Begins To Tell has had a history of sorts. Originally, it was a cityscape painting that I did for a show several years ago. After it came back from the show, it hung in my studio for a long time until I decided I didn't want to look at it anymore. So I painted over it - not that I needed to reuse the canvas, but I always find it cathartic to work on top of a painting that no longer works for me, but I still feel precious about it only because I spent so much time on it. It's kind of like terminating a relationship that's not working. It's liberating, and to give it a new life is invigorating. Here's the original painting: 

It didn't take long to cover the canvas. I was trying to do this male nude piece using a figure drawing from another session. Though I spent many hours on it, coming back to it time and again, I couldn't make it work. It just got more and more muddled and I finally decided to terminate this relationship, too.

The little black and white sketch next to the blue painting is the reference sketch for the next incarnation. The square canvas is 24 x 24.

I drew a grid on the canvas and roughly transposed the drawing, positioning it so that I'd cut off half her head - something I notice I like to do. (I did that to the blue figure too!)

I used a brush and a brown color (Asphaltum I think?) to draw the figure. Not super precise, but accurate enough to not look incorrect.

Then I used the same brown color to block in the shadow areas, so I can see the figure and the light / shadow pattern better.

I mixed two puddles on the palette, one for shadow and one for light, and blocked in the shadow side. I knew that the color would look completely different and wrong on the blue canvas, so I made sure the color relationship between the two puddles worked on a neutral surface (my palette) and trusted that it'll work out eventually, even if it looked weird in the blue context.

Then I blocked in the light side. See? It looks a little better now. The block in is very simply done. There are no subtle variations in colors, values, or edges. I like to start with simple block ins like this, and then work toward subtlety and complexity, rather than start off with all the variations and carefully building small areas. 

Here you can see I started modeling the lit side a little, by introducing a few value shifts. Forms start to turn and some anatomical information is indicated.

I started to knock in a dark background.  I haven't at this point committed to having a dark background, but seemed like a good time to try it.  The figure is modeled some more, and keyed up in value a bit. I was looking for more contrast for the sake of impact. 

I decided to go ahead and cover the background. I continued keying up the figure - I lost a lot of information in doing so, so I needed to redraw some areas. 

Hmmm. What if I had a light back ground on the light side, so that I can lose some edges?  Let's try it! I pulled some paint across using a scraper, and proceeded to push more paint around. Kind of interesting. 

I started to redefine some of the anatomical information. Some of the values are keyed back down, in the interest of creating a hierarchy of importance and impact. (Didn't want every part of the body to have the same impact)

Extended the light back ground to the shadow side, separating the figure from the background.  This looked interesting, and I thought may be I should pursue this. I went back and forth a few times. 

But in the end, the mood created by the dark background won. I reworked all areas and finally ended up with this.

I reworked all parts of the painting, and as the paint got thicker the figure became more abstract. I started to lose some of the drawing but I was OK with that. It felt to me like the distortions were necessary and "right" in this particular context. Which was puzzling to me because normally I don't like to distort the drawing. Perhaps I've opened a new door to another path to abstraction? Who knows? I really liked what I ended up with, so that's that.

By the way, the title, It Begins To Tell, is a reference to Thelonious Monk's jazz classic Round Midnight. Something I was listening to when I was painting this. I think it influenced my decision to go with the dark background.

The painting now hangs in California Museum of Fine Art in Los Angeles. I'm happy about that, too.