Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Little Bit About Abstraction

I think I've mentioned before that my abstracted figures usually begin as fairly straightforward renderings. I pay attention to design, drawing, color relationships and value structure... all the basic things, but I'm not thinking too much about how it'll look abstracted.

Then slowly I start to look for ways to take out information, usually by finding opportunities to lose edges between adjacent shapes.

The two images are two stages of a same painting. On the first one, I've just started to lose edges after being satisfied with a straightforward description. You can see where I lost the edge between the sheet and her thigh, and again at her calf. Also the shadow areas on her lower leg is beginning to get a little nebulous.

Her left upper arm appears to have a section missing, where I just extended the dark background into the flesh.

The second image is the finished picture, much further into the abstraction process. There's almost no separation between the sheet and the leg. You can clearly see that my intend was not to separate flesh from fabric, but light from shadow. Since the flesh and the fabric were both in light, I grouped them together as one.

I went further and blurred the whole lower leg area, dragging the light value over the shadow. I just needed to indicated that the legs were there. I didn't need any other detail to tell my story.

Melting light into light and shadow into shadow happens elsewhere, too. In fact I try to do it where ever I can. But if I did it too much, all of a sudden I don't have anything recognizable. I don't want to end up with a completely non-representational abstract painting–nothing wrong with that, if that's your aim, but it's not mine–so when I start to lose too much, I redefine what I lost.

It's a lot of back and forth, really. And as I'm losing losing edges here and there, I'm also trying to decide where to have my sharp edges.

I try to use them very sparingly. Like exclamation points in a paragraph. If you use too many of them, nothing stands out as important. 

So the process is a pursuit of balance... or a purposeful imbalance between sharp edges and lost ones. Like tension and release. 

It's like jazz, man...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Seated Nude

Untitled, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It's not too late, is it? I'm just coming out of the Holiday stupor and trying to get my gears going. My gears are still very sluggish, but I'm resolved to keep doing something with brush and paint, until I know better which direction I need go.

I've been working on my series of small black and white figure studies. Almost all of the studies in this series were done using short (5 - 10 min) gesture drawings as reference, but with this particular one, the original was a longer pose drawing.

I say longer pose, but it's still no more than 25 minutes. I rarely do drawings from life which are longer than that. Still, as you can see, this one is more a rendering than a linear study, with some attention paid to value structure and all.

Charcoal is a very forgiving and immediate medium, ideal for exploring ideas like this. I can change my mind about which areas to go dark or light, which edges to lose or to define. Obliterate and redraw almost endlessly. At some point erasing becomes a struggle but good paper can take a lot of abuse. 

In the drawing, as is my habit, I made the bottom half of the figure too big. I always do this if I'm not mindful, and sometimes even if I am mindful. It's a good thing I'm not getting graded on this stuff.

 The monochromatic oil study. This was done at a later point without the model, using the drawing above as my only reference. Needless to say, the amount of information I included in the drawing makes a big difference in what I can do here.

I would rather not have to make up important gestural information, so I only tackle the oil study if I thought there was enough information in the reference drawing. This is true whether the drawing is rendered, like the one I'm showing here, or if the drawing is just a short pose linear drawing.

But I do end up making small stuff up all the time. I usually don't deviate from the overall gesture too much, but I might bend a limb a little more gracefully, or nudge a contour one way or another to get a nicer flow.

The figure in oil study ended up looking a little chunky, like those in some of the early Modernists' works. I like that kind of stylized expression, but I don't feel that's me. I'm looking for something more fluid, I think.

The chunky solidity is the result of 1) not paying attention to how the gesture flows throughout the composition, and 2) overemphasizing the form description.

I made a note of these things before I went in with more paint.

Painting right on top of the earlier b/w study. I decided to use warm colors. May be the drafty garage in which I'm working had me wishing for warmth? I dunno.

As I worked on the figure, I tried to give the gesture a more natural, graceful flow. 

The edge of the seat conforms and emphasizes this "flow" idea as they plunge into the lines of the lower legs. If you look at the original drawing, you'll notice the edge of the sofa (?) doesn't do this, so this is a design decision on my part. Good design trumps literal depiction, every time. Unless of course everything is painted realistically, in which case bending the edge of a piece of furniture makes it look like a mistake. 

I tried to keep the lit parts of the flesh very light. By using a full range of values, I can get more contrast where I need it, and the greater value range also means more wiggle room when I'm trying to modulate subtle value transitions. It's much easier to hit the middle point between values A and B, if they're farther apart.

When I'm working tonally with a limited palette, I find that pushing the value range really helps to compensate for the lack of color impact.

The dark areas are fairly thin. It's layered ( I painted on top of the b/w study) but each layer is thin and more or less transparent, as opposed to the lighter areas which are opaque and applied a little thicker. The thin, transparent treatment recede, further emphasizing the lit focal areas.

I'm starting to feel more confident about losing edges without a logical reason (like the edge between  two shapes with similar values) It's just a matter of trying it out everywhere, over and over, until something sticks. It's not a repeatable technique and certainly risky, but the rewards are worth it.

I'm starting to feel OK not being in control.