Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Monday, October 2, 2017

More Color Games

Here's one with Cad Green, Cad Lemon, Cad Orange, and White. That green isn't as tricky as it may seem. Even with a full palette, one often reaches for greens to mix a cooler part of the skin tone, so there's nothing too surprising there.

The challenge, again, is the fact that with this set of colors, I can't get a really dark value. So again, I have to work within the compressed value range.

The Impressionists often worked in a limited range in the higher key, so it's perfectly do-able. Mine isn't really Impressionist in approach, but still, limiting the value range has that atmospheric feel, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Color Games Part III

Just because you use a specific limited palette, it doesn't mean your paintings will have similar looks. Especially if you have all three primaries represented, we can mix all kinds of in-between colors and values and as a result, two studies painted in the same three colors +white, can look very different from one another.

Both studies I'm posting today were done with a limited primaries palette of Transparent Earth Red / Yellow Ochre / Payne's Gray / Titanium White.

In the example above, the colors are very pale and except for the leotard, the values are pretty light.

Easy to make a good starting point for a skin tone (the lit side) with TOR and Yellow Ochre and White.

For the shadow side of the flesh, It's the same mix, with less white, and teeny bit of the blue. (Payne's Gray) to cool it down and desaturate. There isn't anything else on the palette, so it is what it is.

Payne's Gray and White make a nice blue-gray, which is my starter puddle for the shadow colors in this painting. Here and there, I tried to vary it by adding a little Yellow Ochre, or the TOR, or white, in varying amounts. 

Losing edges entirely in the shadows made an interesting–and still identifiable–shape. I even lost edges in some light areas. You can see that it doesn't affect the recognizability of the visual elements. 

If two shapes can be combined by losing the edge in between, they become one shape. One shape is simpler than two shapes. If the recognizability is maintained, simpler is better. It's like using one well chosen word to describe something, rather than two. 

The second example uses the same exact set of colors, but it looks very different from the first.

Over-all it's much lower keyed - the lights and shadows are both darker in value.

The greenish tone is achieved by mixing blue and yellow (of course!), that is to say, Payne's Gray and Yellow Ochre. There's probably a little white in there too, to lighten the value a bit.

Unlike in the first painting, where I pushed the flesh-tone-in-the-shadow toward violet by adding enough Payne's gray and white into the mix, in this painting, the shadow side of the flesh is still very much in the Orange hue range. That is to say, it's just a darker brown. I used the same Payne's Gray to neutralize the same mix of TOR / Yellow Ochre / White, but not enough to alter the hue of the mix.

You can see a lot of variations in the shadow side, and again, they're just varying amounts of the same limited set of colors.

It's amazing how much range you can get out of just four tubes of paint, and none of them very intense, either.

Do you have a favorite limited palette? Do you find it limiting or liberating? Do your paintings start looking similar? or can you get a good range out of it?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Color Games, Part II

So in the previous post I showed a few examples of painting the figure using different sets of primary colors out of the tube. If that's too easy or too conventional for you, here's another tweak on the color game; use only two colors plus white.

In these examples, I tried complimentary colors; Red / Green / White for the first one, and Blue Violet / Yellow Orange / White for the second example. You can see they're of the same pose.

The Red / Green was a little easier because it allowed me to mix a pinkish color for the skin tone, as well as a very dark color / value for the clothes by mixing red and green together. I had a full range of values to work with, and easily shift from warm to cool within a mixture by adding more red or more green. The red is Cad Red Medium, and the green is Viridian.

The drawing is not as good on the second one, and the colors were more difficult, too. Mainly because with this set of colors, I couldn't get a very dark value. It meant that I had to compress the value range quite a bit and put everything in med to light range.

It does make it feel more atmospheric - one of the effects of dense atmosphere is that the values become lighter and the range more compressed.

I can't remember what the blue-violet color was, exactly. I think the yellow-orange might be Indian Yellow, but again, I'm not sure. It didn't matter enough for me to remember, I guess. After all these are just games we sometimes play in the studio.

When you go to a figure session and you're just not inspired by the pose (or whatever), this might be a good challenge to try, to get your enthusiasm going again. Try it with friends and see how similar or different your results are. I think you'll find it eye-opening!

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!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Value Studies

I like doing value studies.  When I'm out in the field, I always do at least one thumbnail sketch in my sketchbook using a ball point pen. It's a great way to visually organize the value structure and think about what's important, and what should be edited out.

If I'm in the studio, I still do these pen-and-sketchbook thumbnails, but sometimes I like to do them with paint. I have a lot of scrap pieces of canvas which are perfect for these little studies.

The idea is not to copy the photograph, but to figure out how to simplify the value structure and tweak if necessary to come up with a design which, with very small amount of information, communicates the sense of time and place in the original photo. 

The main challenge in doing these is to reduce the number of values to three or four. Dark, medium dark, medium light, and light. Sometimes a simple composition only needs three values, sometimes as many as five. But no more than five. If I need more than five, I probably won't develop it into a full color painting because it would be too fussy and will lack a clear statement or impact.

You may see more than four or five values in my value studies, but when I start out, I only have three values. I may end up with a few more due to softening of edges or transitioning one shape into the next, and these "in-between" values are ...not exactly incidental... but just minor enhancements to make a design make visual sense. If you were to squint down, they simplify back (or they should, anyway) to four values. 

In the above example, you can see that the shadows on the ground are much lighter in my sketch than in the photo. This is a decision I made consciously, to make good use of the four values I had at my disposal; since I had to use my darkest value for the tree silhouettes and the windows in the doorways, I wanted to distinguish the ground shadows (and the same shadows creeping up the side of the building) by using a lighter value.  A couple of benefits in making this decision - the shadow areas are much more luminous, which is fitting because we are outside where a lot of ambient and bounced light make everything lighter. (the contrast in the photo was looking too much) Secondly, it allowed me to separate the paved walkway from the grass (?) area flanking it.

So the point, again, is not to copy the photo, but simplifying and organizing the value structure - how best to convey a given light/shadow situation with just four values?

While doing these studies, I often have ideas about editing that I hadn't considered before starting the study. And this is an excellent place to try these ideas out, because well, these are just quick small studies–most are 5 x 7 or 6 x 8 ish and only take 10 to 20 minutes.  If I try out an edit and it doesn't work out? Big deal. I'll do another study or keep working on it. I don't feel like I've wasted hours or days of my life trying things out (which may be the case if I were to be making these decisions on a big, full color painting).

There's no need for detail, or subtle modeling. It's really easy to see what's going on in the study, even though it's very simple and crude. What does that tell us? We really don't need much to make a scene "believable". So why do we feel the need to put more stuff in a painting? Hmmm. something to think about, eh?

Painting, especially painting en plein air, is sometimes intimidating and frustrating. Often we may talk ourselves out of trying to paint a certain scene because we feel like it's too difficult. Or we have a hard time seeing anything worth painting, even though we are surrounded by a ton of potential paintings.  

I find that these quick value studies are incredibly helpful in getting over that fear and tackle a task that seemed at first to be too difficult. The reason is that these are first and foremost, exercises in simplifying the problem. If we can simplify the problem, we can simplify the answer, no?

If you can get into a habit of doing these quick value studies in limited values, you have a great advantage over someone who's trying to paint every little thing in view. Simplifying forces you to consider what's important and what can be ignored. It forces you to make a clear statement, and it forces you to think about hierarchy of impact in your composition. Without the awareness of which, you really don't have a statement. And without a statement, what is the point of painting this scene?

This last pair shows a value study, and a color one, both done from observation. Thanks to the simplified value study, I was able to maintain a simple structure in the color one, and not get caught up in the little details in the background - and there were a lot of visual activity there which I didn't bother to include. The value study told me it was OK not to paint them.

I encourage you to do these kinds of studies when you don't have a whole lot of time to devote to bigger painting projects. They only take 10 to 20 minutes, and you only need black and white paints, and scraps of canvas or some other surface. Don't think of them as little masterpieces. Don't even think of them as something to keep. Crappy composition? So what. Do another one and make improvements. A lot can be learned by doing these studies using snapshots as references - photos that were never particularly well composed and were never meant to be made into frame-worthy paintings. They're just studies and practices, much like a musician practices his scales.

My musician friends tell me it's boring but necessary. Here we artists are better off; these are not boring to do! Far from it. I really enjoy doing these, and you will too. Don't believe me? Just try it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Free Demo this Saturday, June 3!

This Saturday, June 3rd,  my friend Paul Kratter and I will be doing a dual (duel?) demo at the Holton Studio Gallery in Berkeley! It starts at 2 pm, and the admission is free, so come see us sling paint and divert all our trade secrets! 

Paul is a great painter and we've been friends a long time. We are currently showing our works together at the Holton Studio, and the demo is part of the exhibition. We don't paint the same way, but we often paint similar subject matters, so it's fun to see them side by side.

If I weren't actually doing the demo at the same time, I'd love to just sit and watch paul do his demo!

Knowing Paul, I think the demo will be quite entertaining and will be full of good information on techniques, methods, and just how one may think about various aspects of solving visual problems.

The event is free, so come early and get a good seat. We'll start at 2 pm and take a painting from start to... I don't know, may be we'll even finish. 

Holton Studio Gallery is located at 2100 Fifth St. Berkeley, CA
Their website is http://holtonframes.com

Paul Kratter's works can be seen on his website; http://paulkratter.com

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Color of Reflected Light

I just had this conversation with a student in my class, so I thought I'd do a little post. It's a simple, basic lesson on the color of the reflected light. 

The question was, "what color is the shadow?"  The answer: "Depends."  On what? A few things. The color of the thing itself, and the reflected light.  

The reflected light is the primary light source bouncing off of some surface and illuminating the shadow side of the object. If there were no bounced light, you can't see anything in the shadow.

So if you can see anything - color, detail, value changes.... then something is illuminating it. It's either the reflected light, or the ambient light.

The ambient light is the secondary light that's not obviously a reflected light - say, the blue sky on a sunny day, or the diffused florescent light that's illuminating the studio in addition to the strong direct light on the model. 

One can argue that cool ambient light provided by the sky is in fact reflected light, since it's sun light bouncing off of condensed water vapor and other particulate matter in the atmosphere, but for the sake of simplifying the point, we'll just limit the definition of reflected light to something that's caused by a surface near the object and facing the planes in the shadow side. 

It's not complicated. In the painting above, the direct light hits the red couch, which bounces off and illuminates the back of the model, causing it to appear red. Her leg isn't affected by the red bounced light, because it's not facing the lit up red couch.

Her arm too, is not as red - it was receiving a lot of cool florescent light, which made it appear more violet. Note her breast is getting a lot more red bounced light than the arm.

In the painting above, the couch is blue. You can see I snuck some blue reflected light into her arm and the leg that's in front. Her left leg doesn't get the blue reflected light, because it's not facing a blue lit surface.

I'm not a strictly realist painter so I do use subjective colors a lot, but when I want the shadow colors to make sense, and am looking for luminosity, I pay more attention to the color of reflected lights.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that sometimes the reflected light appears really light and bright, and you may get excited about the intense color in the area, but the value of that reflected light must be darker than anything in the lit side (of the same surface). The rule is, the darkest light is lighter than the lightest shadow.  Or, the lightest shadow is darker than the darkest light. You can also say it this way; Everything in light is lighter than everything in shadow. 

Why is that? Because the light bouncing off of something can't be as strong as the original light source.

It's a simple rule but one that is often forgotten by beginning painters. The next time you're wondering about the shadow color, you might just ask yourself, what is illuminating that plane?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Current Palette

I've been using a variation of this palette for many years. From time to time, I switch out a color or two, just to shake things up, but it's always been a primaries palette, basically.

I have three variations of each of the primaries, plus white. I don't have any secondaries - I just mix them with this set of colors.

White - Titanium White. I like the opacity and the coolness of Titanium White. Nothing against other whites, but I got to know Titanium pretty well, and I don't have a problem with it so I haven't really had an incentive to get to know the others.

Blues - In the picture they all look pretty dark, but they are Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, and Payne's Gray. Ultramarine represents the violet-leaning blue, Prussian the green-leaning blue, and Payne's Gray the low chroma blue.

Yellows - Cadmium Lemon for my cool yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep for my warm, and Yellow Ochre is my low chroma yellow.

Reds - Permanent Red is my warm red. It's a Cad Red Light alternative. It's much cheaper and does what I need it to do. Less toxic, too, which may be a plus, except I use other Cads so I don't have a leg to stand on.  Alizarin Permanent is my cool red. I've been trying other cool reds like Venetian, Terra Rosa, Pompeii, etc. But haven't found one that works for what I'm looking for. So until I do, I'll keep using Alizarin.  My low chroma Red is Transparent Oxide Red. every brand has a different name for this color and I most often use Transparent Earth Red from Gamblin. It's like Burnt Sienna, but transparent, more intense, and goes down cleaner when doing washes.

The palette itself is a shot of my 10 x 12 (?) Open Box M, which I love. I use a 16 x 20 surface in the studio, but in the field, I like my Open Box M if I'm traveling or if I have to hike to get to a spot. If I'm painting near my car, I use my Soltek or a half-box French easel so I can have a larger palette to work with (12 x 16).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Language of the Land: Landscape Paintings by Paul Kratter and Terry Miura

Take the Shortcut,  12 x 21 inches, oil on linen

I have a very special exhibition coming up! My good friend and fabulous painter Paul Kratter and I will be showing our landscape paintings (many, if not most, are done en plein air) at the Holton Studio Gallery in Berkeley, CA.

As you can see in these pictures, all of the paintings will be presented in these very special frames, all hand-crafted by master frame-maker Tim Holton and his team. 

Each frame is a response to a specific painting. Tim studies the painting, picks out the grain of the wood to reflect something - a textural quality, directional cue, etc - in the painting, and continues on to create a masterful frame for each. Every decision along the way, whether it be the style of the frame or what type of carving to apply, or what color stain to finish the pieces with, is in response to the painting. "Custom framing" doesn't get more custom than this!

 A Path Through the Woods, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I'm really excited to have my own paintings presented in Tim's frames,  because they really elevate the pieces to a higher level.  

Standing Alone, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

As I mentioned, I will be showing with my friend Paul Kratter. If you're interested in landscape painting, you probably know his work. He paints beautiful Northern California (and beyond) views in a very distinct style, superbly designed and with really tasty harmonies. This will be the first time the two of us are showing together (that is, not as a part of a larger group show) and I think our styles look great sharing walls, especially all framed by Tim Holton.

The Packer's Trail, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

But don't take my word for it. Come see for yourself!  The show opens Saturday, May 6th. The opening reception is from 4 - 6 pm. Come on by and check out this very special show, and say hi! 

Alpine Meadow (Ediza) , 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

And if that isn't enough, Paul and I are doing a "Dual Demo" on Saturday, June 3rd, at 2pm at the gallery. We will each set up an easel, and take a painting from start to (may be) finish. You can watch us live as we each develop a painting, and talk about our approaches. Ask us questions, and we'll answer them. You want tips? We'll tell you how to mix that special shade of green and how to flick that brush to get that flippity edge on that pine tree.  

And did I mention the admission is free? Can't beat that!

Golden Hillside, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

So if you are in the Bay Area, I hope you can make it to the opening. And the demo. If not, the show runs till June 10th. If you're a landscape painter, this show is a must see!

A Language of the Land: Landscape Paintings by Paul Kratter and Terry Miura

Holton Studio Gallery, 2100 Fifth St. Berkeley, CA

May 6th - June 10th, 2017

Opening Reception: Saturday, May 6th, 4 - 6pm

Dual Demo: Saturday, June 3rd, 2pm

'Hope to see you at the opening!!


Friday, March 24, 2017

Same Pose, Different Angle

I host a weekly figure painting session at my studio. It's three hours of the same pose (with breaks of course) so that we can really slow down and take our time painting the figure. 

I do like taking it slow and spending the time necessary to develop a painting, but most of the time, I really enjoy quicker sketches in these sessions. I used to have the model do two or three different poses in the three hour period, which I thought was just great for doing exercises in being decisive about colors and strokes, not to mention there isn't time to overwork the painting.

But it turns out, most of the artists who come to the sessions wanted more time on a pose, not less. So now we just have one pose. To satisfy my needs, I just move to a different spot each time, and voila! I have a new pose.

Sometimes I stay at the same spot, but shift my focus so that I'm doing a different study. In this case, I did a full figure sketch, and then a head sketch. 

I may try a different color scheme, or different materials, or a different process. I really think you get a lot of bang for your buck when you do quick studies. 

The above black/white painting and the two following are from the same session. I decided to work only in black and white. The first one is a 9x 12 sketch, using Ivory Black and Titanium White on oil-primed linen. I was basically interested in organizing the values into simple categories. No time was spent on modeling, really. 

And then for the second study, I switched to a 20 x 16 sheet of cheap cotton canvas. This is more of a drawing than a painting. I started out drawing the figure with the brush, liked what I saw, so I stopped there. 

And then I wondered how it would look if I kept going, so I did another sketch, from a different angle. It's still a quickie, may be 40 minutes on this one. Again, the value structure is kept very simple - no time to do anything more than simple.

Another day, another session. A simple color scheme, simple shapes. It's easy to fall into the trap of overdoing the details, especially of facial features. We feel like we have to make our painting look like the model. How many times have you said, or have you heard others say apologetically, "it doesn't look like him/her, but..." without being asked?  Sure, likenessess are important, if you say so. 

But since I'm not all that interested in painting likenesses, it doesn't bother me too much if my sketch doesn't resemble the model.  I'm more interested in simplifying the shapes and forms. I'm more interested in not putting in details. I'm more interested in trying to get away with as little as possible. (I often paint only one eye, or omit painting the mouth all together)  

If I end up with a nice painting that doesn't look like the model, that's far better than a poorly executed painting that nevertheless looks like the model. 

Needless to say, a great sketch that also captures the likeness of the model would be ideal, but that doesn't happen to me very often.

Doing these quickies gives me a lot of opportunities to explore many aspects of painting, and I learn a lot from doing them. Pursuing detail or the likeness for three hours is not for me, unless I have a specific time-consuming problem to solve.