Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Color Games

I host figure painting sessions at my studio once a week, where artists can come and paint from the model. The model is sometimes nude and sometimes clothed - I try to mix it up. Usually we have one long pose (with breaks) so there's plenty of time to study the figure.

In these sessions, my aim is just to practice. I'm not trying to do a gallery-bound painting because the poses have to be based on what works for a roomful of people viewing the model from different angles. That has to be the priority. I can't just have the model pose based on a concept that I may have for my own paintings, because that usually only gives us a limited range as far as good angles go. 

For example, I may want a reclining figure, but then some artists will end up with extremely foreshortened views. That may be exactly what they want, but usually, nobody wants that. 

So as I said, these are practice sessions for me. I may do a portrait study, or a value thing, or I may focus on a particular approach, or may be I'll do an anatomical study of feet, say. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for and what I feel like I need to work on more.

Sometimes, I like to set up challenges for myself, and this color game that I do is a great example. Basically, I take myself out of my comfort zone by using colors I don't usually use. I may ask to borrow a red, a yellow, and a blue from the others in the room - to make sure I'm getting colors I don't have. 

The painting above is done in Phthalo-zinc blue / Hansa Yellow / Brilliant Pink / Titanium White.  These are colors I don't own, and therefore very unfamiliar to me. But if you have the primary colors and white, you can pretty much pull it off. Theoretically, anyway.

All three images I'm posting here are from the same session. You can see that they're the same pose. So I spent may be 45 to 50 minutes on each one.  Fairly quick and sloppy attempts but like I said, they're studies and I was specifically interested in color games, not in finished paintings.

For No.2, I believe I had Cerulean / Indian Yellow / Alizarin / Titanium White. It's not quite a scientific comparison because I wasn't trying to match colors or anything. I was just trying to work with unfamiliar colors.

I could easily have mixed a much more intense green with Cerulean and Indian Yellow, or matched the background green in example No.1, but I didn't even think to try. 

This last one has more colors. I think I used colors from both No.1 and No.2,  and tried to push the intensity a little bit.

It's a fun exercise. When I do this as a demo, I do it to make the point that it doesn't really matter which tube colors you use. If you have a few different colors, you can do a believable figure painting. It's not about specific ingredients or brands, and it's not about recipes. 

I get questions like "which blue did you use?" and I answer "Ultramarine" (or whatever I was using at the time) but then  I follow up with "but I could've used Cobalt, or may be Prussian or Phthalo, Cerulean...Paynes Gray..."  

In the beginning, it's probably a good idea to stick to one set of colors and really learn how they behave when mixed with each other. And you do start to have favorites. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but if you really want to learn color mixing and how color works, exercises like these are really helpful because you are forced not to think in terms of recipes and formulas, but focus instead on color relationships. Get good at that, and you will have a lot more control and freedom!

If you live in the Sacramento area and would like to come to my studio to join our (uninstructed) figure painting sessions. (or short-pose figure drawing sessions on Monday afternoons) , just email me at terry@terrymiura.com.   The sessions are $12 /person

As of this posting, I also have a couple of spots open in my weekly figure drawing / painting classes. I don't often have openings, so if you've been thinking about taking my classes, this is your chance! Please email me and I'll be happy to answer any questions!


  1. Terry,
    Your use of colors unfamiliar to your pallet is a great idea. I sometimes use whatever colors are on my pallet from a landscape painting, leading me to make choices I normally wouldn't make, like using orange with yellow ochre and white for skin tones. I'm curious about your use of Indian yellow, though. Does that mean you normally don't use it? I have struggled with it when trying to mix it with other colors, but it is fantastic for glazing to create a warm glow. Do you use it for mixing greens in your landscape work?
    The open spot in your painting class has really made me regret I don't live near Sacramento!
    Thanks for sharing,

    1. That's right, I don't normally use Indian Yellow. Usually the yellows I have on my palette are Cad Lemon, Cad Deep, and Yellow Ochre. Once in a while I'll pull out Indian Yellow when I really need intensity and warmth at a very light value (near white), but other than that, I don't touch it much. That could change on a whim, though, if I feel like I need a shake up. As for glazing, I don't do that much these days either. Thanks for reading and commenting!