Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Jazz in Oil

In case you missed it, there was a nice article on my work in the December issue of Southwest Art Magazine. The writer, Norman Kolpas, did a fantastic job making me sound a lot more interesting than I actually am. ( Haha~) Thank you Norman, and Southwest Art for the great exposure!

You can read the article online here; http://www.southwestart.com/featured/miura-t-dec2016

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 9, 2016


Alfredo's Too, 24 x 30 inches, oil on linen 

A reader asked me about painting signage; "How do you do your lettering on store signs and awnings? Mine never looks right. If I try to do it free-hand, it's wonky, and if I try to get it perfectly with a thin sable brush, it just looks pasted on. Do you have any advice?"

Lettering is tricky and has to be done carefully, to say the least. I typically paint the scene without any lettering first, working out all the color and value issues.  Except for the lettering, the painting would be 90% resolved. 

Pizza Pasta Pesce, 12 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

And then I lay a straight edge on the surface, and draw two thin guidelines with a sharp pencil. One line across the bottom, one across the top. You can actually see the lines in the painting above.

The spacing between the letters is eyeballed. I use a small round brush (a synthetic) to carefully draw
each letter. If I have the time I let the background dry at least a little bit, but if I'm working on a wet surface, it doesn't come out too precisely. So I clean and reload my brush often, and after I have all the letters in place, I go back with the background color and refine the shapes a bit. Sometimes it takes going back and forth a few times.

In order to place the words so that they fit in the space I intended, first I draw them on paper at the size I want - the width between the two guidelines on paper must match that on the canvas exactly - so that I have a very good idea where the first letter starts and the last letter ends.

Using this "rough", I can place the letters reasonably. Often, I like to start at the center and work outwards. In the case of  Pizza Pasta Pesce, I started with the letter S in PASTA and worked outwards. This way, even if my spacing is a little off from the sketch on paper, the margin of error is halved.

Del Rio, 36 x 18 inches, oil on linen 

When the letters go vertically, the guidelines obviously go vertically, too. With this painting, the letters T, E, and L are the same height, so I just divided the space equally (eyeballed), blocking out a rectangle for each letter, and using a small brush, draw each letter on the red surface. I went back with the red to refine each letter afterwards.

I let the lettering dry at least partially before going back and integrating it some more by adding more surface texture. Using a brush or another tool (knife, scraper, paper towel, etc) I bring in the surrounding colors into the letters, sometimes completely obscuring them.  I can then wipe or scrape away some of the new paint and reveal the letters once again. (if the letters are dry, the new paint won't mess them up)  I repeat this a couple of times until the letters no longer look "pasted on". 

One of the first classes I had to take in art school was Lettering, in which we had to learn to hand letter Caslon, Bodoni, and Helvetica fonts. I was never very good at it, but it did make me appreciate the subtle, teeny differences in the shapes of the letters. The letters in my paintings are way too generalized and heavy handed to be considered "lettering" by the old-school designers, but I do try to apply what little I remember from school. And in this context, they work OK I think.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Red Carpet

Red Carpet, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold

I started this painting in a model session at my studio. As is typical of my process, it began as a fairly straightforward oil sketch, and at the end of the three hour session, I put it aside and let dry for a few weeks. I have a bunch of these figure studies from life sitting around the studio, and when I have some time, I pick one up and start playing with abstraction. Sometimes the focus is on paint handling, other times I'm more interested in investigating color and edges. 

I consider these explorations, so they're not meant for specific exhibitions and they don't have deadlines. I'm free to take risks without any pressure to end up with a show-worthy painting, and often I do end up with big mess of nothing. Sometimes the risk-taking pays off and I come away with something I really like. 

This one had a couple of exploratory sessions after the initial "live" session, one or two hours each. So all in all, I spent about six or seven hours on it, I'd guess. 

Someone commented that the red looked really luminous and asked what colors I used to mix that red? It's a mixture of alizarin, permanent red, a bit of cad yellow and yellow ochre, plus a bit of white. It probably has a tiny bit of blue mixed in there too, to knock down the chroma here and there. 

The ingredients aren't all that important, though. You can mix this pinkish red with other pigments. What makes it luminous isn't because this red is of specific shade. It has a lot more to do with the fact that it is used in the flesh as well as the floor. 

Essentially, the light reflects off the floor and bounces into the shadows of the figure itself, making some areas much redder than they would be if the floor were another color or not so high in chroma. 

What I did was to amplify the effect of this red bounced light by pushing it into the figure more aggressively than if I were to render it literally. The red permeates the shadows on the figure, more so where the planes face the floor, and where the shadowed areas are very close to the lit floor. (Her leg is affected much more than her torso and arm. 

In fact, her right lower leg is affected by the red even where the planes are not facing the floor. What that suggests is that the red reflected light is influencing the atmosphere around that area (more specifically, the particulate matter in the atmosphere). Which normally wouldn't happen unless you had dust floating around or if you had a fog machine or something, but borrowing that atmospheric affect and imposing it here makes for an interesting luminous result. 

If you were painting an atmospheric night cityscape, you'd paint not only the tail lights of a car red, but the air surrounding the tail lights as well - it's the same idea. It's just that in an atmospheric night cityscape, it's expected and in an ordinary interior scene it's a little less so.

I pushed it even more by losing some edges between the figure and the floor entirely. It's like the red color is jumping off the floor and invading the skin. 

This lost edge thing is made more effective by introducing the super sharp edges in other places. The juxtaposition is jarring, but it works, I think, because the comparison amplifies the sharpness of the sharp edges and the softness of the soft / lost edges. 

I didn't have a plan worked out for this painting - as I said earlier, it's an exploratory kind of thing. I actually had a very light background at one point, and experimented with having lost edges on her back and sharp edges on her legs against a much darker floor.  Didn't quite work because the focus became ambiguous, and so the statement was kind of wishy washy.

I'm really happy with the end result. As they say, no risk, no glory!