Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sketches from Maui

Tradewinds, 12 x 16 inches, oil on linen  sold

Last week I had the good fortune to participate in the Maui Plein Air Invitational event, where 26 artists from all over the place painted the beautiful island for several days and had a big exhibition at the end of the week. What a blast! As if it weren't awesome enough just to go paint on Maui, but to paint and hang out with good friends –my tribe!– day and night, immersed in artistic energy!  Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

I wanted to share some of the paintings that I did during the week. The ones I'm showing here are the ones I exhibited; that is to say, my better efforts. I had some stinkers too, which I've already scraped or thrown away. A few are still in my suitcase but I haven't bothered to photograph them.

Anyway, as usual, I'll just share a few thoughts about each painting. The painting at the top is my favorite. I did it standing on the rocks at Lahaina Harbor, at the end of a frustrating day– I think I scraped three that day– The dusk light changes rapidly, so I had about 45 minutes on this one. By the time the light was gone, I had a less-than-satisfactory painting. In my pursuit of rich gray sky, I had made it dirty.

But I didn't scrape it because I knew at that point exactly what I needed to do to make it work, so I went back the next day, pre-mixed some grays using what I did the day before, but making sure the colors didn't get muddy this time, and waited for the dusk light. As I already had the basic structure down, it didn't take long to finish it off. Another 45 minutes and I had what I wanted.

The limited time-frame actually helped because I didn't get a chance to noodle out the details.

Giants, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen, sold

The West Maui Mountains shoot up right behind the town of Lahaina. I was actually set up at the tennis courts next to the parking lot, in the dugout (I don't know what you call it in tennis. In baseball it would be a dugout) 

This was also a second attempt. My first one the day before sucked so I scraped it. I think I was trying to say too much with my painting, which never works for me. Simple statements. Don't try to say everything. That's my advice to myself.

The clouds covering the tops of the mountains is very dramatic. I'd love to do a bigger studio piece one of these days.

Chillin' in da Shade, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I think it was something of a reaction to the big scale of the mountains. I felt compelled to do something more intimate. I found the truck and the boat by the beach, and they were perfect. I didn't have to alter anything, which is rare for me. I usually move things around a lot to make my compositions work.

As I was painting, a big, imposing figure of a man approached me and grumbled, "that's my truck." Sometimes we plein air painters have unpleasant encounters, so I braced myself for a "get the fuck outta here," and responded with what I hoped would convey my sincere appreciation, "...and what a beautiful truck it is!"

The dude just said, "'66 Chevy." and walked off. Whew~

Done for da Day, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

Did I mention that I move stuff around to make my compositions? Well, the surfboard wasn't there. I originally painted this without the surfboard. The surfboard was actually blue and white, and it was next door, along with many other surfboards (it was a surf school and board rental shop). 

While I was painting (without the board), the owner came out and momentarily placed a fishing pole against the back of the car. I considered painting that, but then I thought, "you know what would be better? A surfboard! A yellow one!" So that's what I did. 

I was an illustrator for 17 years. Playing with the visuals to manipulate the narrative is something I did to make a living at. I guess I'm still doing it. 

The Artist and the Model, 12 x 16 inches, oil

The Artist and the Model, was painted during a scheduled, timed paint-out at the Montage Kapalua Bay. I wouldn't call it a QuickDraw because we had something like three hours, but same kinda deal. You paint it, frame it, put it up for sale right then and there. 

Some artists painted the beautiful scenery, and some painted the model in traditional island outfit. I decided it was more interesting to paint one of the artists painting the model, so that's what I did. The artist is John P. Lasater - a really good painter, too. 

There was a bunch of other artists painting the model, and many spectators, coming and going, checking out our progress. More often than not I had someone watching John, blocking my view. But I managed. I wanted to include some of these spectators, but they never stood still. At least not in convenient locations. I finally grabbed my sketchbook and went looking for some people I could add. I wanted either swimsuits, or sundresses, or kids. You know, something beachy, rather than golf-attire.  I found a couple of kids off to the side and quickly sketched their gesture, came back to my easel and dropped them in.

By then I was looking directly into the sun, so I couldn't really see anything even if they did actually stood there for me.  I love painting backlit subjects. May be I'll do a post on that at some point.

Heating Up, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen  sold

I painted Heating Up from the public parking lot in Lahaina. Seriously, Maui is such a beautiful place that you don't really need to go looking for subject matter. Just park your car anywhere and look up!

Where I deviated from the actual view on this, is 1) the palm trees behind the red roof were much closer and bigger in actuality, and 2) the ground was asphalt. 

I changed the palm trees because the masses were too similar to the other big palm tree masses, and therefore repetitive and boring. By making them small, I was able to add variety to the sizes of the shapes, but I also discovered that I had more of a sense of depth, and opening up the sky shape made it a lot more airy. 

This airiness and the harsh sun light, along with my color choices contributed to the feeling of something of the old Hawai'i, so I just went with it and took out the asphalt, repainting it with dirt on the ground. 

Cool Blue Maui, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen sold

Every day, I set out while it was still dark and set up at a location where I thought I could catch a nice morning light.  I tried painting at this spot a couple of times and this is the one that came out. 

A few things in this painting where I deviated from the literal. First, the lower palm tree mass was actually more or less right beneath the main one. They were stacked vertically, which I first painted as they were, and later realized that I could create a much more interesting shape if I moved one to the side so that I didn't have one on top of the other.

Secondly, the lower palm (the one I moved) is pretty much painted in blue. (mixture of paynes gray, prussian blue, white, and a little bit of red to knock down the chroma) This is not because the tree looked blue (I could actually see the local colors pretty clearly) , but because the sky and the water were mostly blue, so in the interest of a tighter color harmony, I painted it blue.  Which leaves only the sunlit parts to have obvious higher-chroma, non-blue colors.  The blues in the background and the moved tree set up the "star" of this show, you see. 

Third, the lower part of the picture is kept dark. In reality, the ground and the car, and the rocks were much lighter in value. I could see them clearly. But again, I wanted to make a simple statement about the sunlight on the "star", so I kept everything else quiet.

Quiet Morning, Canoe Beach, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

This was my QuickDraw on the final day of painting. We had two hours, which was plenty of time for a small, simply designed painting. Not a lot of complicated perspective drawing here. Except for the Canoes (which are pretty much just stripes) everything is organic so very forgiving in terms of drawing. 

It was a gray morning and I wanted to keep it that way even after the sun came out.  I didn't know whether the sun would come out during the two hours, so I just placed my bets against it and committed to painting the gray day. The sun did come out, but I resisted chasing the light. 

I also decided early on that I needed to lower the key of the sky a little bit, in order to show off the white canoe. It would still have worked if my sky was lighter, but it would definitely have a different mood.  I still had the lowered-key sky of the painting I did earlier in the week (Tradewinds) on my mind, so it was an easy decision. 

That's all I have for now. It was a wonderful week of painting the beautiful island and connecting with old friends and making new ones. I hope I get to go back to do it again!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Chapter Four: The Paint Thickens

Continuing with the series of figures with books, this one evolved from a study done fairly quickly at a life painting session. I liked the natural- looking pose, but the painting wasn't very interesting- it just had the figure on the chair, very thinly painted. And no background props.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided to use it to experiment with some thicker paint applications. Pushing gooey paint around is a lot of fun, and a great exercise in resisting the urge to overmodel and oversmooth the surface.

I have been trying to think more abstractly, which is really difficult to do. If I think too much about the anatomy or the accuracy of drawing, it becomes more representational. If I don't think about those things, yes it becomes more abstract, but more often than not, it just looks sloppy and unskilled.

I'm not sure if I'm looking for a duality, or a balance, but as I struggle with this some thoughts keep coming back;

  • Drawing is paramount. Without solid drawing, A painting just doesn't hold up.
  • But I can't overthink the drawing.
  • I have to be practicing drawing all the time, so that I can trust my hand to deliver solid drawing-based strokes without having to focus my mind on it.
  • By not focusing on it, I can think more abstractly.
  • Still, if my hand fails and the drawing is bad, I got nuffin'
  • In which case try, and try again. Each time, trusting my hand and not focusing.
  • I don't want a passage to be an accumulation of small drawing fixes. That only moves the area towards the literal and the predictable.
  • Think and make decisions about color and value of a given stroke before I put the stroke down. If it's decided on the palette, I don't have to think about it when I actually apply the stroke on the canvas.

Above is a sketch I did very quickly on gessoed cotton canvas. I don't like this surface very much, but sometimes I use it just to experiment and play around - if I'm lucky I might make some small discovery, which is always exciting. 

This time around, I limited the time I had to 25 minutes - essentially not allowing me enough time to dwell on details or modeling. I focused on the gesture, and simple color/value relationships. The little desk she's leaning on, and the chair she's sitting on actually were fairly ornate antique pieces, but I chose to not describe any of it - no time!  I really had to be clear about what simple statements I could make, and how simply I could make it. 

You may find it surprising (or not) but the strokes in this painting are actually very slowly and deliberately applied. There are some quick strokes, but those are very few, and they too are deliberately executed. 

If you want to paint faster, use fewer strokes, not faster ones. And if you have to do it in fewer strokes, those strokes had better be of correct intended color and value, and they need to be put down exactly where you want them. And that requires drawing skills. So yeah, it all goes back to practicing drawing all the time. 

There's no way around it.