Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nocturne in Blue, Nocturne in Red

Chicago Blues, 16 x 20 inches, oil on linen

After I said in the last post that I'd post a blue cityscape, I realized I had already shipped this one off and the only photo I had of it was a crappy cell phone snapshot that doesn't show much of the subtler color shifts. Damn. 

It's no secret that being a professional painter doesn't mean you get to paint all day. You have to take care of the business end of things as well - marketing, promotion, maintaining relationships with galleries, event organizers, and collectors. Packing, crating and shipping, accounting and bookkeeping, doing photo shoots, inventory, website and social media management, teaching classes and workshops, doing prep work for teaching and workshops... it goes on and on. The actual painting time, sad to say, is less than 50% of my working time. I need an assistant! But of course I can't afford one, so I have to do it all. Sound familiar? Nobody said it was going to be easy, I know, I know... 

One of the tedious and time consuming tasks is doing photo-shoots and inventory. My studio is not huge, so I don't have a permanent set up for photo shoots. Each time I do a shoot - and I try to do multiple paintings at the same session- I have to move stuff around and set up the lights and the camera. As I'm not a photographer, it takes me a while to get a satisfactory shot. And then I have to work on the file to get the colors as close as I can to the original. Then I have to enter all the pertinent information into a database, so I can keep track of where it's shipped off to. 

What makes it so inefficient for me, is that often I can't resist making changes to a painting after all the shooting and inventory-ing is done. And so I have to repeat the process, sometimes many times. I think a painting is finished, so I spend time doing all that administrative stuff, and then as soon as it's all done, I see something that needs changing. I can't leave it alone. It's like seeing a typo on your resume.  You can't possibly send it out without correcting it!

...And then there are times I have to send out paintings in a hurry and I either forget or don't have the time to take all the necessary pre-shipping steps, especially if multiple projects happening at once. 

I don't know how other artists deal with all these non-painting tasks. How do you do it? 

Midnight Crossing, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen

OK that's enough ranting. I do have a decent photo of a recent RED cityscape nocturne, so we'll talk about this on instead. This is another Chicago painting. The color system I used is obviously the single color-theme system. Nocturnes tend to very tonal so this approach works pretty well. 

There are no color variations caused by local color shifts, so I included light sources that were different colors just to break up the monotony. 

I also organized the overall color/ value range so that the darker areas are predominantly red, then as it gets lighter, it leans to orange. and there are some yellows in and around the very light valued areas. 

In setting up the color / value structure this way, I had to be very careful not to let the more visible mid range values get too high in chroma. The orange range kept sticking out, so I had to repaint it several times to gray it down to where it wasn't an issue.

The darkest areas aren't pure black. It has a lot of red in it - I used Transparent Oxide Red, Alizarin, and Permanent Red mixed with black - to 1) harmonize with the rest of the painting, and 2) bring up the value a little bit for an atmospheric effect. All the city lights would be illuminating and bouncing around in the moisture in the air, so the dark areas needed to have a colored "veil" of sorts, in front of them.

Not so much in the foreground, but I still didn't go all the way black because I wanted to make sure the area harmonized.

The figure in the middle has no detail. I relied on gesture and a few select rim lights to pull it off. Having a few soft edges, especially in the backside of the figure, helped to give it a sense of motion, especially as it juxtaposes against the sharper edged elements in the stopped car.

Early on I had more detail in the periphery but I took them out and darkened the outer parts of the composition, so as to have more of a focus on the figure, and to make it more moody - later in the night when there are fewer pedestrians and shop lights. The decision was inspired by the title, actually. After I called it Midnight Crossing, I realized my painting looked more like prime time, what with other pedestrians and illuminated windows, so I took them all out to conform to the title.

Sometimes having a title beforehand helps a great deal in composing a painting because you're making design decision based on a solid concept. You're forced to communicate an idea, rather than impose a rationalization onto an otherwise "just a pretty picture".

I'm doing taxes this week. Ugh. I'll be back with something new after I've recovered!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Feeling Blue

Feeling Blue, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

When I get a lot of positive feedback for my "instructional" blog posts, I get into a mindset that all my posts should be instructional. And then I get stuck because I can't think of a lesson that might be interesting to a lot of people. And besides, I've been blogging a long time and it feels like I've pretty much said everything I needed to say. It has become increasingly difficult to come up with anything new to say, especially if it also has to be instructional.

If I waited until I had a great idea to write about, it might be months in-between posts! Forget that, I'll just post a new painting and talk about it. Maybe a few of you might find it interesting.

So this painting is something I started in a figure session. It was initially a B/W study, but I had other colors on my palette, and I accidentally dipped my brush into a pile of Prussian Blue, which looks pretty black out of the tube. I liked the color, so I just went with it.

I used Prussian Blue, White, and Black. the black was used to tame the intensity of the blue, especially in the lighter values. Prussian with just White is just too happy looking, you see.

I painted this in two sessions. I let the first part dry before going back into it, so that I can do some glazing.

If you haven't noticed already, I have a preoccupation with lost edges. Where dark shape meets another dark shape is an obvious place to lose the edge in between, but we can do the same where a light shape meets another light shape, like the white fabric meets her butt, foot, and her knee.

Usually losing edges means simpler design and more impact. Sometimes it results in loss of information, and each time, I need to think about whether that lost information was critical. If so, I have to either put it back in, or find a way to suggest it without being literal. If I decide that the information wasn't necessary, obscuring it or losing it was the right decision.

All around the figure, I try to use a variety of edges combined with value contrasts (or lack there of). Super sharp edges coupled with high value contrast draws the eye the most, but sharp edged can also be combined with closer values to describe a well-defined but less obvious area. A soft edge combined with a variety of value contrasts are also used to manipulate the viewer's eye and to add interest.

Soft edges aren't all the same, either. Some are smooth transitions from light to dark shapes, while others might be a broken edge. Different brushes and tools produce different kind of edges, too.

My point is that there are many ways two shapes can meet, and I like to explore this variety in every painting. I often try different types of edges on one area before deciding what works best.

I usually make decisions on what areas should have the most impact - usually the focal area or some outside contour area that has a beautiful gesture – and make sure that gets a punchy edge; sharp edge combined with big value contrast.  Then the rest of the edges must be subordinate to that, so I just start playing with softness and value contrasts to make sure they're less impactful than the focal area.

I'd do the same with color saturation (in terms of manipulating impact) but this painting is monochromatic, so I didn't have to worry about that.

Another "tool" that I consciously employed in this painting (and all my other paintings) is the juxtaposition of relatively noisy and active brushstrokes in the background, against the quieter, smoother application of paint on the figure itself. I'm not using soft brushes so even my tighter areas aren't all that slick, but surrounded by expressive strokes, the figure looks smoother and more "realistic". If you enlarge the image and take a closer look, you can see that my rendering isn't tight at all.

Anyway, I like how it turned out, so I'm doing more with Prussian blue. I'll post a blue cityscape next.