Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Figure Sketches

A couple of sketches from a figure session a few weeks ago. Our sessions are three hours long, and we have a single pose for the duration (with breaks, of course) .  Sometimes I'll do one painting, other times, I do two or three quicker ones. Three hours don't seem like enough time to do a fully resolved painting on a good sized canvas, but most of the time, these sessions are meant for studies and practice. 

While we try to set up the model and the lighting with some care, we have to consider the fact that the set up needs to work for multiple artists, from multiple angles. This really limits the kind of set ups we can do. If I were to do a set up that I wanted, with intention of doing a gallery-bound painting, nobody else in the room will be happy.  So I just take these sessions as opportunities to improve my craft, and not to make paintings that I'm willing to exhibit at a gallery show. Those will have to come from private sessions.

I'm not complaining. I'm differentiating studies from concept-driven, fully resolved work. To that end, I tend to think doing these quicker sketches has a lot of merit. Probably more than spending three hours on a larger canvas trying to do a more finished painting that's never going to leave the studio. When I ask myself, what am I learning from these studies? What do I want to learn from these studies? I always come to the conclusion that spending more time on a sketch than absolutely necessary confuses my intent.

There are times when my intent is to explore different value structures - light on dark, dark on light, etc. and I keep repainting on top of what I've done, and that can take more than three hours. But I'm not spending the time tediously and mindlessly rendering the forms – I'm still on track as far as my intent goes.  The same is true when I'm exploring processes of layering. I call that "overworking on purpose". But see, I have a purpose. It's when I deviate from my original intent (what am I studying with this sketch?) and start overworking without purpose...that's when three hours become way too much time.

The set up doesn't have to be perfect or even all that interesting for practice and studies. In fact, I think it's extremely good exercise to try and make something interesting from an uninspiring set up. I can always learn something from such an exercise. I can always work to improve my drawing, try different color strategies and brushwork. I'd rather work with an uninspiring set up, than not at all.

But I digress. These sketches aren't from an uninspiring set up. On the contrary, I thought it had great potential for a fully resolved painting later on. My intent was to explore value structures first of all –not to neglect other important things, of course. If I decide to do a "finish" later, I'll hire the model for a private session and take as many hours as necessary to do it right.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

San Francisco

Up To The Blue, 14 x 21 inches, oil on canvas

San Francisco is really difficult to paint. Technically, it's not any more difficult than any other city, or any other subject, for that matter. (OK, it's a little easier to fake a tree than to fake a building)  What makes SF so difficult, at least for me, is that it's been done so many times by so many great painters, and these iconic views of steep hills, while irresistible, have become predictable. 

How do you differentiate your view from the rest, especially when they're all painting the same thing?  This is a question I've struggled with for years. I've tried to look for unusual angles and croppings, but while those did result in unexpected views, I felt they weren't really me. They looked contrived because they were. They can each be good paintings, but because I was forcing myself to be different for the sake of being different, it meant that they really weren't grounded in my identity. And inevitably, I would burn out after two or three paintings.

Eventually I've come to accept the notion that what differentiates my SF cityscapes aren't found in unusual views or clever cropping. My identity is found in my choice of colors, how I put them down, what I chose to edit out, how I structure values in designing a picture. The fundamental things that, when combined, result in a moodiness that feels like something from my own past. And the ordinariness of view is an essential ingredient precisely because I feel compelled to express the subtler aspects of my visual experience, which would be overwhelmed and overshadowed by the unusual, the contrived, the spectacular, the awesome. 

Don't get me wrong–I'm not saying I strive to be predictable. I'm saying we see the subtle things more readily when our senses are not dazzled by the unusual. And I have this suspicion that somewhere in those subtle aspects of the ordinary is where I'll find my identity.

Took me 20 years to realize that, and I'm still looking for it.