Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"A California Spring" Opens This Saturday, May 3rd

Almost Forgotten, 9 x 13, oil on linen

If you are a fan of landscape paintings and you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you are in for a real treat. This weekend a group show titled A California Spring opens at Holton Studio Gallery in Emeryville, and it promises to be an exceptionally wonderful collection of landscape works by some very talented artists.

Just look at this line-up;

If you're familiar with the works of these artists and noticed a bias towards tonalist painters, you'd be right. Not that this is a tonalist show per se, but all of the paintings are framed by master frame maker Tim Holton's beautiful hand crafted frames, which go so well with tonalist landscapes. It's as if the paintings and the frames were made for each other.

Actually, they were. Tim studies each painting, and makes each frame from scratch, from selecting the wood to the finish detail to give the pieces the best possible presentation. That the frames themselves are works of art, goes without saying.  It's custom framing in the purest sense of the word. 

I, and I'm sure many of the other artists in this show, selected pieces with Tim's framing in mind, too. It's a true collaboration, and if you came to see the show, I think you'll agree in recognizing just how much framing matters. 

The opening reception is this Saturday, May 3rd, from 5 - 7 pm. If you're in the area, please come join us for a great art evening. See some great paintings, meet the artists, talk art, sip some wine.

'Hope you can make it!

5510 Doyle Avenue
Emeryville, CA 94608

Monday, April 28, 2014

So How Do You Know When To Stop?

Morning on Balboa Island, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

So...how do you know when to stop?, asked Kevin in the comments of my last post. The short answer is, When nothing in the painting bothers you. 

Obviously, if you see an error, you have to fix it. It's like creating an important document–a resumé, say–and you spot a typo. You wouldn't leave that alone, would you?  

One common tendency for intermediate painters is to put too much in the painting, thinking more detail somehow makes the painting better, more convincing, more realistic.  But just as you wouldn't put everything you have ever accomplished in your resumé (including that time you won the beer bonging competition at the fraternity), trying to put everything into a painting is a ridiculous idea. You have to stop somewhere. But where?

In a resumé, you include only relevant information, as clearly and concisely as possible, and edit out everything that doesn't pertain to the job you're trying to get. If a piece of information isn't going to help you get that job, you don't put it in. 

How do you know if a piece of information is relevant? You think about that job you're trying to get, and determine in that context, whether the information is relevant. You have to be clear about the purpose of this resume. You have to be clear about what you want to say, and say only the things that matter in this specific situation.

Painting is much the same. It's a form of communication, so you have to be clear about what it is you're trying to communicate. What do you want to say about this particular scene? That is your concept.  Your job is to communicate that concept, and nothing more. 

In my painting above, my concept was the mood created by the backlighting in the morning. I chose a boat to use as a focal point (one part of it, really) to achieve this. All the other boats were necessary to create the environment, but none of the details on these boats had anything to do with my concept. So I didn't paint any details.  The reflection of the main boat on the water was, in actuality, very clear and visually seductive. I could have painted that, but again, that wasn't my concept, so I played it down as much as possible. 

If you're clear about your concept, it will guide you in making decisions about what to include and what to edit out. You may have to put things in and take them out just to see whether they support your concept, and that may take a long time. In fact, I spent as much or more time doing that, as I do getting the painting to look like the scene in front of me. 

When at last you're satisfied that nothing more can be added and nothing more can be taken out, and you can't spot any errors (you may be able to the next day, or three years from now, but for now, to the best of your ability, you can't spot any errors), and you've scrutinized every shape, every color, every value, and every edge to make sure they can't be improved by your current abilities, you're done.

Know what you want to say, say it, and nothing else.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Start And A Finish

Arcadia, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

Two frequently asked questions are "do you tone your canvas?",  and "do you do a grisaille?" My answer is "yes, sometimes."

So when do I do these things and when do I not?  I don't have a rule set in stone and I tend to follow my whim about these matters, but I have found in general that toning the canvas and doing the grisaille is very helpful when I'm painting more tonally, or in a lower key.

The main reason for toning the canvas or doing the grisaille is to kill the extreme value (white) of the canvas so that when darker values are laid on top, we don't have distracting contrasts happening due to the bright white peeking through, in between brushstrokes.  This is especially annoying when I'm painting dark trees, and seems like more work than necessary to have to knock them back afterwards.

Obviously, the darker the value of a given area, the greater the contrast between it and the white of the canvas. And if the focal area happens to be very dark, the distraction is amplified.

You can use this to your advantage, if your painting subject or style requires a lot of contrasty texture in that area. My paintings tend to be more quiet so I don't want a whole lot of that kind of activity which takes away from my statement.

Having a tone underneath your colors also helps to unify and harmonize various areas of the painting by creating a common denominator of color or tone that is sprinkled throughout the surface. Of course this would be moot if you don't let the tone show through.

But even if you cover up every square millimeter of the canvas with thick paint, the tone underneath can help to keep your harmony in check as you develop the surface.

I keep my grisaille very simple and loose. It's basically a map of value organization. I try to express the design in three values, maybe four. It's very important to keep your value structure simple if you want the design to "read".  Too many values at this stage does nothing to organize the design - don't fool yourself (as I did in my early years) into thinking more information is better. The point is organization, not copying every value that you see.  Even if you're painting very realistically, the subtle values must happen within the simple value structure. Keep squinting to make sure your initial design doesn't become fragmented as you develop your picture. It should still be there in the finished painting.

Sometimes I use a neutral monochromatic tone for the underpainting, sometimes a color is used to help create color harmony, and sometimes complementary colors are used to create a color contrast in an area - sort of a vibrating effect. 

I don't usually do the complementary thing, as (again,) I'm looking for more of a quiet-ness in my painting and color vibrations create too much activity, but sometimes I use it in the foreground to bring that area come forward and accentuate the color saturation in that area. ...which is precisely what I did in the painting I'm showing above. The reddish brown tone under the green grass creates a rich color contrast in the foreground whereas in the background, I don't want that kind of activity because the atmospheric effect is more unifying.

So when do I not tone my canvas or do an underpainting? If I know I'm going to be painting in a more of a high-keyed, sunlight filled, impressionist approach,  I'll just go right in with colors on a white surface. The white peeking through my colors brightens the entire painting. Sometimes the contrast and texture is part of the subject matter, like the shimmering sunlight reflecting off of water's surface. I usually don't like to use gimmicky effects, but if it's effective and doesn't look gimmicky, I think it's OK.  If someone looks at my painting and says, "I love how you got that effect!", then it's too gimmicky. I want the viewer to say "what a beautiful painting", and not immediately focus on some technique.