Terry Miura • Studio Notes


Friday, March 24, 2017

Same Pose, Different Angle







I host a weekly figure painting session at my studio. It's three hours of the same pose (with breaks of course) so that we can really slow down and take our time painting the figure. 

I do like taking it slow and spending the time necessary to develop a painting, but most of the time, I really enjoy quicker sketches in these sessions. I used to have the model do two or three different poses in the three hour period, which I thought was just great for doing exercises in being decisive about colors and strokes, not to mention there isn't time to overwork the painting.




But it turns out, most of the artists who come to the sessions wanted more time on a pose, not less. So now we just have one pose. To satisfy my needs, I just move to a different spot each time, and voila! I have a new pose.






Sometimes I stay at the same spot, but shift my focus so that I'm doing a different study. In this case, I did a full figure sketch, and then a head sketch. 

I may try a different color scheme, or different materials, or a different process. I really think you get a lot of bang for your buck when you do quick studies. 






The above black/white painting and the two following are from the same session. I decided to work only in black and white. The first one is a 9x 12 sketch, using Ivory Black and Titanium White on oil-primed linen. I was basically interested in organizing the values into simple categories. No time was spent on modeling, really. 





And then for the second study, I switched to a 20 x 16 sheet of cheap cotton canvas. This is more of a drawing than a painting. I started out drawing the figure with the brush, liked what I saw, so I stopped there. 






And then I wondered how it would look if I kept going, so I did another sketch, from a different angle. It's still a quickie, may be 40 minutes on this one. Again, the value structure is kept very simple - no time to do anything more than simple.







Another day, another session. A simple color scheme, simple shapes. It's easy to fall into the trap of overdoing the details, especially of facial features. We feel like we have to make our painting look like the model. How many times have you said, or have you heard others say apologetically, "it doesn't look like him/her, but..." without being asked?  Sure, likenessess are important, if you say so. 

But since I'm not all that interested in painting likenesses, it doesn't bother me too much if my sketch doesn't resemble the model.  I'm more interested in simplifying the shapes and forms. I'm more interested in not putting in details. I'm more interested in trying to get away with as little as possible. (I often paint only one eye, or omit painting the mouth all together)  

If I end up with a nice painting that doesn't look like the model, that's far better than a poorly executed painting that nevertheless looks like the model. 





Needless to say, a great sketch that also captures the likeness of the model would be ideal, but that doesn't happen to me very often.

Doing these quickies gives me a lot of opportunities to explore many aspects of painting, and I learn a lot from doing them. Pursuing detail or the likeness for three hours is not for me, unless I have a specific time-consuming problem to solve.




Sunday, March 12, 2017

More Maui


Across the Water, 16 x 12 inches, oil

OK so I had more sketches from Maui. After having them spread out in my studio for a week or so, I decided to work back into them. This is what happens to most of my plein air paintings if I hang on to them a while. I start playing the "what if?" game. What if the sky was lighter? darker? smaller? larger? What if the green was yellower? Bluer? Grayer? What if there were more detail? less?

In this way, I think about other ways I might have approached the painting in the first place, and once I have a new idea, I have to try it out. What if it didn't work? Well, that happens a lot and I end up throwing away the painting, but that's not a bad thing because I will have taken risks and tried something. I may have learned something I otherwise never would have. 

If I'm willing to kill it, I can take greater risks, and sometimes I get the best accidents this way. And yes, sometimes, it devolves into a mess. 

I didn't change too much on Across the Water, but I did add more paint on top and grayed down the water. Sorry I don't have the "before" picture to compare against - didn't think to take pictures. 







Honokeana, 9 x 12, oil

I painted this one from my friend Jean's balcony overlooking the Honokeana Cove in Napili. A beautiful little cove with turtles gliding around in the water.

This was a quickie - I spent may be 45 minutes or an hour? The green stuff originally was really bright (as in high chroma) which I didn't like much, so back in the studio, I knocked down the chroma quite a bit. At the same time, I simplified the rocks. 

What I like about this little study is the colors in the sky. It's not literal, but a green-bias imposed upon it. The idea being achieving a tighter harmony with the ocean and the bushy stuff. 

The sky right above the horizon is basically just a lighter version of the color of the water. The lit parts of the cloud mass is still lighter, with a little yellow thrown in to warm it up a bit. Essentially a monochromatic structure with a slight bend so that it doesn't look too monochromatic.





On Island Time, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

On Island Time changed a lot. It had a road going up the middle of it, with road signs and fence posts and such. Fewer palms, and the mountain mass filled the background, no sky. It's an entirely different painting now. 

The original was just too disorganized. A little too snap-shotty and not designed thoughtfully. Sometimes it's OK to faithfully present the scene exactly, but in this case, I didn't think it worked. I liked the mood though, so I tried to hang on to that aspect. 





Passing Rain, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen


I was interested in showing the palm trees lit up agains the dark sky. The painting originally showed a more active, dramatic sky with lighter parts as well as darker areas. I thought it was too busy and took away from the palm tree, so I subdued the activity in the sky. I also moved a few of the secondary palms around, tried changing sizes and how they were lit, etc. before arriving at this composition.





Hotel Street, Lahaina, 12 x 12 inches, oil on linen

This one doesn't look much like the original, either. This was actually a 12 x 16 panel - four more inches to the left side, on which a brightly lit side of the Pioneer Inn was painted. 

This (the original) was the very first painting I did in Maui, during the kick-off paint out in Lahaina. I stayed fairly true to the actual scene, which, unfortunately was why the composition was problematic. Too many statements competing for attention.

Back at home, I tried subduing all the other attention seeking elements - the brightly lit Inn, big contrast between sky and the green mountainside (the sky was a lot bigger), light and shadow patterns creating busy notes at the far end of the street, and the parked car with a lot more detail and hard edges.

Just lessening the impact on some of these elements didn't do the trick, so I decided to crop out the left side.

I added the figure crossing the street later, because the street was a big passive area after I took away the sunlight hitting its surface (again, too much impact) and I needed something there to break up the space. 

I think I can keep working on this one further. At this point, it's a playground for experimentation, so I'm not overly protective of what I've already done to it. I do like the abstract quality of it. If this painting allows me do this sort of abstraction more readily on my next paintings, that's a valuable "catch", even if the painting itself ultimately bites the dust!



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Two Upcoming Workshops!!





If you're reading this blog, you are probably an artist. May be you're a landscape painter, or you work with the figure, or may be your love is for cityscapes? Whatever it is, you know it's all  interrelated, and you know painting from observation is an important part of the discipline.

It's not easy, no. If it were, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog. You probably wouldn't be addicted to painting. But you are. I know I am.

It took me many years and thousands of paintings to learn some essential principles and techniques in painting, and I have been sharing those little nuggets of wisdom (not my wisdom, to be sure. But of the accumulated, collective knowledge of thousands that came before you and me) on this here blog.

But there are limits to what I can communicate with a few images and a bunch of typed up words. If you find the information on Studio Notes useful or interesting, but are frustrated because you're having trouble applying this knowledge to your own work, I have a couple of opportunities coming up where I will be able to show you exactly what I mean, and answer any questions that you may have about this painting thing. Or at least, I will do my best to answer them. I cannot tell you what Rembrandt ate for breakfast, but I can show you how to create that subtle edge, or that evocative moody gray sky.

Here are the two workshops I'll be teaching in a coupla months. They are both three-day plein air landscape painting workshops*.


May 19 - 21 Bainbridge Island, WA
Winslow Art Center
$425
Info and registration: https://www.winslowartcenter.com/workshops.php

Bainbridge Island is a beautiful little island just a short ferry ride away from Seattle. It's very green, and there are boats and water to challenge us. I taught here a couple of years ago, and I loved painting there!




October 6 - 8 Lowell, MI
Franciscan Life Process Center
$395
Info and registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/terry-miura-plein-air-strategies-tickets-24439507224

Lowell is a picturesque farm country just outside of Grand Rapids. And I mean picturesque! Beautiful barns and silos, gardens and riverscape, old structures with lots of character... And the Franciscan Life Process Center has very comfortable accommodations for very reasonable prices. Gotta love that!

Both of these workshops are open to all levels, but I highly recommend at least some outdoor painting experience before coming to the workshop. Never painted outside? Hey, you still got time to get out there and see what makes it so hard but addicting! If you're still unsure, sign up with a friend!

If you missed out on a previous workshop, don't miss out this time around - workshops do fill up, so if you're at all interested, don't wait!

Hope to see you in Washington in May, or in Michigan in October!







*In adverse weather, we will be working indoors using photos and sketches for references.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sketches from Maui





Tradewinds, 12 x 16 inches, oil on linen  sold


Last week I had the good fortune to participate in the Maui Plein Air Invitational event, where 26 artists from all over the place painted the beautiful island for several days and had a big exhibition at the end of the week. What a blast! As if it weren't awesome enough just to go paint on Maui, but to paint and hang out with good friends –my tribe!– day and night, immersed in artistic energy!  Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

I wanted to share some of the paintings that I did during the week. The ones I'm showing here are the ones I exhibited; that is to say, my better efforts. I had some stinkers too, which I've already scraped or thrown away. A few are still in my suitcase but I haven't bothered to photograph them.

Anyway, as usual, I'll just share a few thoughts about each painting. The painting at the top is my favorite. I did it standing on the rocks at Lahaina Harbor, at the end of a frustrating day– I think I scraped three that day– The dusk light changes rapidly, so I had about 45 minutes on this one. By the time the light was gone, I had a less-than-satisfactory painting. In my pursuit of rich gray sky, I had made it dirty.

But I didn't scrape it because I knew at that point exactly what I needed to do to make it work, so I went back the next day, pre-mixed some grays using what I did the day before, but making sure the colors didn't get muddy this time, and waited for the dusk light. As I already had the basic structure down, it didn't take long to finish it off. Another 45 minutes and I had what I wanted.

The limited time-frame actually helped because I didn't get a chance to noodle out the details.




Giants, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen, sold

The West Maui Mountains shoot up right behind the town of Lahaina. I was actually set up at the tennis courts next to the parking lot, in the dugout (I don't know what you call it in tennis. In baseball it would be a dugout) 

This was also a second attempt. My first one the day before sucked so I scraped it. I think I was trying to say too much with my painting, which never works for me. Simple statements. Don't try to say everything. That's my advice to myself.

The clouds covering the tops of the mountains is very dramatic. I'd love to do a bigger studio piece one of these days.




Chillin' in da Shade, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I think it was something of a reaction to the big scale of the mountains. I felt compelled to do something more intimate. I found the truck and the boat by the beach, and they were perfect. I didn't have to alter anything, which is rare for me. I usually move things around a lot to make my compositions work.

As I was painting, a big, imposing figure of a man approached me and grumbled, "that's my truck." Sometimes we plein air painters have unpleasant encounters, so I braced myself for a "get the fuck outta here," and responded with what I hoped would convey my sincere appreciation, "...and what a beautiful truck it is!"

The dude just said, "'66 Chevy." and walked off. Whew~





Done for da Day, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

Did I mention that I move stuff around to make my compositions? Well, the surfboard wasn't there. I originally painted this without the surfboard. The surfboard was actually blue and white, and it was next door, along with many other surfboards (it was a surf school and board rental shop). 

While I was painting (without the board), the owner came out and momentarily placed a fishing pole against the back of the car. I considered painting that, but then I thought, "you know what would be better? A surfboard! A yellow one!" So that's what I did. 

I was an illustrator for 17 years. Playing with the visuals to manipulate the narrative is something I did to make a living at. I guess I'm still doing it. 






The Artist and the Model, 12 x 16 inches, oil

The Artist and the Model, was painted during a scheduled, timed paint-out at the Montage Kapalua Bay. I wouldn't call it a QuickDraw because we had something like three hours, but same kinda deal. You paint it, frame it, put it up for sale right then and there. 

Some artists painted the beautiful scenery, and some painted the model in traditional island outfit. I decided it was more interesting to paint one of the artists painting the model, so that's what I did. The artist is John P. Lasater - a really good painter, too. 

There was a bunch of other artists painting the model, and many spectators, coming and going, checking out our progress. More often than not I had someone watching John, blocking my view. But I managed. I wanted to include some of these spectators, but they never stood still. At least not in convenient locations. I finally grabbed my sketchbook and went looking for some people I could add. I wanted either swimsuits, or sundresses, or kids. You know, something beachy, rather than golf-attire.  I found a couple of kids off to the side and quickly sketched their gesture, came back to my easel and dropped them in.

By then I was looking directly into the sun, so I couldn't really see anything even if they did actually stood there for me.  I love painting backlit subjects. May be I'll do a post on that at some point.




Heating Up, 16 x 12 inches, oil on linen  sold

I painted Heating Up from the public parking lot in Lahaina. Seriously, Maui is such a beautiful place that you don't really need to go looking for subject matter. Just park your car anywhere and look up!

Where I deviated from the actual view on this, is 1) the palm trees behind the red roof were much closer and bigger in actuality, and 2) the ground was asphalt. 

I changed the palm trees because the masses were too similar to the other big palm tree masses, and therefore repetitive and boring. By making them small, I was able to add variety to the sizes of the shapes, but I also discovered that I had more of a sense of depth, and opening up the sky shape made it a lot more airy. 

This airiness and the harsh sun light, along with my color choices contributed to the feeling of something of the old Hawai'i, so I just went with it and took out the asphalt, repainting it with dirt on the ground. 




Cool Blue Maui, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen sold


Every day, I set out while it was still dark and set up at a location where I thought I could catch a nice morning light.  I tried painting at this spot a couple of times and this is the one that came out. 

A few things in this painting where I deviated from the literal. First, the lower palm tree mass was actually more or less right beneath the main one. They were stacked vertically, which I first painted as they were, and later realized that I could create a much more interesting shape if I moved one to the side so that I didn't have one on top of the other.

Secondly, the lower palm (the one I moved) is pretty much painted in blue. (mixture of paynes gray, prussian blue, white, and a little bit of red to knock down the chroma) This is not because the tree looked blue (I could actually see the local colors pretty clearly) , but because the sky and the water were mostly blue, so in the interest of a tighter color harmony, I painted it blue.  Which leaves only the sunlit parts to have obvious higher-chroma, non-blue colors.  The blues in the background and the moved tree set up the "star" of this show, you see. 

Third, the lower part of the picture is kept dark. In reality, the ground and the car, and the rocks were much lighter in value. I could see them clearly. But again, I wanted to make a simple statement about the sunlight on the "star", so I kept everything else quiet.






Quiet Morning, Canoe Beach, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen sold


This was my QuickDraw on the final day of painting. We had two hours, which was plenty of time for a small, simply designed painting. Not a lot of complicated perspective drawing here. Except for the Canoes (which are pretty much just stripes) everything is organic so very forgiving in terms of drawing. 

It was a gray morning and I wanted to keep it that way even after the sun came out.  I didn't know whether the sun would come out during the two hours, so I just placed my bets against it and committed to painting the gray day. The sun did come out, but I resisted chasing the light. 

I also decided early on that I needed to lower the key of the sky a little bit, in order to show off the white canoe. It would still have worked if my sky was lighter, but it would definitely have a different mood.  I still had the lowered-key sky of the painting I did earlier in the week (Tradewinds) on my mind, so it was an easy decision. 

That's all I have for now. It was a wonderful week of painting the beautiful island and connecting with old friends and making new ones. I hope I get to go back to do it again!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Chapter Four: The Paint Thickens



Continuing with the series of figures with books, this one evolved from a study done fairly quickly at a life painting session. I liked the natural- looking pose, but the painting wasn't very interesting- it just had the figure on the chair, very thinly painted. And no background props.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided to use it to experiment with some thicker paint applications. Pushing gooey paint around is a lot of fun, and a great exercise in resisting the urge to overmodel and oversmooth the surface.

I have been trying to think more abstractly, which is really difficult to do. If I think too much about the anatomy or the accuracy of drawing, it becomes more representational. If I don't think about those things, yes it becomes more abstract, but more often than not, it just looks sloppy and unskilled.

I'm not sure if I'm looking for a duality, or a balance, but as I struggle with this some thoughts keep coming back;


  • Drawing is paramount. Without solid drawing, A painting just doesn't hold up.
  • But I can't overthink the drawing.
  • I have to be practicing drawing all the time, so that I can trust my hand to deliver solid drawing-based strokes without having to focus my mind on it.
  • By not focusing on it, I can think more abstractly.
  • Still, if my hand fails and the drawing is bad, I got nuffin'
  • In which case try, and try again. Each time, trusting my hand and not focusing.
  • I don't want a passage to be an accumulation of small drawing fixes. That only moves the area towards the literal and the predictable.
  • Think and make decisions about color and value of a given stroke before I put the stroke down. If it's decided on the palette, I don't have to think about it when I actually apply the stroke on the canvas.



Above is a sketch I did very quickly on gessoed cotton canvas. I don't like this surface very much, but sometimes I use it just to experiment and play around - if I'm lucky I might make some small discovery, which is always exciting. 

This time around, I limited the time I had to 25 minutes - essentially not allowing me enough time to dwell on details or modeling. I focused on the gesture, and simple color/value relationships. The little desk she's leaning on, and the chair she's sitting on actually were fairly ornate antique pieces, but I chose to not describe any of it - no time!  I really had to be clear about what simple statements I could make, and how simply I could make it. 

You may find it surprising (or not) but the strokes in this painting are actually very slowly and deliberately applied. There are some quick strokes, but those are very few, and they too are deliberately executed. 

If you want to paint faster, use fewer strokes, not faster ones. And if you have to do it in fewer strokes, those strokes had better be of correct intended color and value, and they need to be put down exactly where you want them. And that requires drawing skills. So yeah, it all goes back to practicing drawing all the time. 

There's no way around it. 






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

Lettering





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


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


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!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sketches from Havana






Last month, I had the good fortune to spend a week in Cuba with some artist friends. Wow, what an incredible experience! Havana is a vibrant city rich with history and culture, from old American cars zipping around, to people dancing in the rain, to magnificent crumbling architecture... a paradise for painters. 

I can't possibly describe all that I saw and experienced and felt in a blog post,  I'll just share with you the plein air sketches that I did during the week. 

We were on an organized tour, but each afternoon, we had two to three hours blocked out so that we could paint. There was just so much visual interest everywhere we looked, it was a challenge to just to decide on something.

The first one I did - the painting of the blue corner above - I was set up on a sidewalk, and there was constant flow of traffic and pedestrians. The Cuban people are very friendly, and curious of what we were doing in their neighborhood.  I had a small crowd behind me almost the entire time, talking to me and with each other in fast Spanish....most of which I didn't understand, but it was still fun to show them what I was doing. 

The light and shadow pattern changed very quickly as the foreground shadow grew, and crawled up the building. The light on the building and the ground was gone in about 30 minutes. This was anticipated, so I basically established the light / shadow pattern very early, and continued to work on the drawing / value / color refinements long after the light was gone. 

When painting en plein air, you can't chase the light, or you'll never finish a painting. So deciding on the pattern from the get-go and committing to it, is an important strategy. I typically work this out in thumbnail sketches before I put brush to canvas, so I had a very good sense of how the finished painting would look. Knowing where you want to end up makes the journey much more efficient than just following paths without any idea where it leads, right?

The one thing I didn't work out in the beginning, in terms of design, is where to put the little figures. I knew these would be there, and that they provide crucial accents in the composition, but didn't decide exactly where I'd put them until I had the environment worked out. I placed the brightly lit figure in white as the primary focus, and the others around it to create a "tempo" of sorts, making sure that they varied in shapes and colors, but none overpowering the first figure. 






Another afternoon, another painting. I started out painting a parked car, but it drove away before I got very far so I started over with another parked car. That drove away, too. After that, I just resigned myself to painting a moving target. I would wait for a car to drive into the shaft of light, (there were many old American cars) tried to memorize some aspect of it (shape, placement, angle, etc) and put it down on my canvas, then repeat. Many times. Consequently, my yellow car is a composite of many Chevys, Fords, and Plymouths, and not a specific model. Still, I hope I managed to capture something of a character of the old American automobile. 

Everything else is just loosely suggested. The car isn't all that tightly rendered either, for that matter. 







This car, on the other hand, stayed put, so I was able to get more of the details accurately. I'm not a car guy so I have no idea what year / model this one is, but hopefully I didn't butcher it too badly. 

This was painted in the "poorest neighborhood in Havana" -according to our guide. Indeed, the poverty here seemed even more dire than some of the other neighborhoods we visited. Still the people came over and talked to me with big smiles, very interested in seeing this car materialize on my canvas. 

A fruit vendor parked his cart next to me and he wanted to trade me a bunch of bananas for my painting. I might have made the trade but at that time I was only halfway into the painting and it looked terrible. By the time I was done, he'd moved on. 

This painting is different from all the others in that the scene is all in diffused light. There are no strong light and shadow patterns to define the structure of anything, so I really had to pay attention to the subtle value shifts to carve the form. Drawing was obviously tricky, so it took a while before the painting started to work. The surrounding environment is, again, merely suggested. However the strokes that describe the linear perspective–the curb–were laid down very carefully. 






This painting was done in Las Terrazas, a rural village outside of Havana. Nestled among the densely forested hillsides, it was a peaceful, sleepy place. I was able to find a great vantage point that had a nice view with interesting shapes, angles, and contrasts, and in nice open shade, too, with a pleasant breeze and a little village cafe nearby where I could get espresso.

I really liked the variety of greens, the perspective, and the juxtaposition of the man-made structure against the organic mess. The red roof provided a ready-made focal point in the sea of greens. 

Drawing the house in perspective wasn't as tricky as one might think - it's just a matter of making sure all the parallel lines converge to a single vanishing point. The tricky part, for me, anyway, was painting the palm (banana?) fronds. I wanted them to be gestural, but with just enough sharp edges to define what they were without getting too tedious.  Pretty happy with the result.








On the beach outside of Havana.  The water was beautiful. The view reminded me of some of Winslow Homer's paintings. I decided to make the palm trees a little bit more expressive than they actually were - a little more wind.






Here's a shot by my friend Liza, of the sketch in progress. I worked on loose pieces of linen taped to a piece of board. The wet paintings were taken off the board and taped down to pieces of foam-core, and stacked with spacers in between paintings for transport - a pretty good system when you want to reduce the weight of your suitcase.  I still had to pay extra because my suitcase ended up being over 50lbs. That bottle of rum pushed it over.





 This is the last sketch, done on another beach. I was standing next to my friend
Tim Horn, and we pretty much painted the same view. Interesting watching him work on his painting while I worked on mine. I could see that we have different approaches to solving the same problems.

the color of the sky had a slight violet tinge to it, which threw me off a little bit. I don't normally go for literal translation of the colors I see, but I was very interested in the sky color here because it was not something I was used to.

Anyway, we only had an hour and a half to paint here, so I didn't get too fussy.




When in Havana... Cigars and rum, and music at the fabulous Hotel Nacional with artist friends. From left to right; me, Amy Williams Beers, Tim Horn, and Philippe Gandiol




All in all, Cuba was amazing and I would love to go back and spend more time exploring and painting. 'Hopefully the new administration won't make it more difficult to visit!











Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mixing Greens


At the Orchard's Edge, 14 x 16 inches, oil on linen

Mixing greens is, obviously, a huge part of painting landscapes. If you don't have control over your greens, you can't get very far, can you. When I teach landscape painting workshops, this is one of the topics that gets a lot of attention. It's basic, and one of the big hurdles that a painter must overcome in order to make his painting look believable.

One of the problems that I come across often with beginning painters is the expectation that there is somehow a recipe for mixing greens. We need to get past the thinking that there are specific ways to mix greens for an oak tree, and another for grass, still another for eucalyptus trees. 

If a student has the mindset that he just needs to mix the greens that he sees regardless of what type of tree, he's better off, for he's thinking in formal, abstract terms and not recipes. And if he can learn to differentiate one green from the next, and mix any subtle variations that he sees, that's a worthy skill. 

But painting is not about copying what you see. It's about expressing what you see / think / feel about the view in front of you or in your head. On the other hand, the skills required to paint a specific shade of green  that you want to see on your canvas is absolutely essential. Does that make sense? You don't want to copy what's in front of you, but the skills necessary to do just that, is absolutely essential. It does not mean it's OK to mix thoughtlessly and rationalize it by saying that you're expressing what you feel.   Of course you really could be expressing the green you see in your mind's eye, but only you know if you're being absolutely honest with yourself, and if you're trying to paint representationally, the painting still need to be convincing.


Still A Few Remaining, 14 x 18 inches, oil on linen


I don't mean to go into a rant on this post, but I just wanted to make that point clear. If you have to have really, really good control over mixing colors, you have to do it carefully and thoughtfully. If you've seen your favorite painter mix his greens haphazardly, it may just be because he's done it a million times and can achieve a specific result very quickly. It doesn't mean we should match his speed! You'll get faster as you gain experience, but speed should never be the goal.

Please pardon my lecturing tone - I just had a big discussion about this with a student, and I'm still in the mode and I just wanted to get all this down before I forget.

Let's get to some practical stuff.

I have the same tube colors on my palette, whether I'm painting a sunny scene or a cloudy one. I have the same set of colors, for that matter, if I'm painting a cityscape, or a figure, even. My strategy to painting varied greens is not to have specific greens out of the tube. No Viridian on my palette, no Sap Green.  Instead, I have three blues, three yellows, and three reds, and I just mix all my secondaries from these. My palette looks like this;


  • Titanium White


Blues:

  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Prussian Blue
  • Paynes Grey
Yellows:
  • Cadmium Lemon
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Yellow Ochre
Reds:
  • Permanent Red
  • Alizarin Permanent
  • Transparent Red Oxide
If you'll notice, it's a primaries palette, with three variation of each of the primaries; warm, cool, and low chroma. Whether the Prussian is warmer or cooler than the Ultramarine is up for debate, but I just think of them as green-leaning, and violet-leaning. 

A couple of things to note; Every brand has a different name for Transparent Red Oxide. It's essentially a synthetic red oxide. Most of the time I use Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red, but other brands' versions are similar. 

I sometimes substitute Ivory Black for Paynes Grey. 

I sometimes use a mixture of Cad Lemon + Transparent Red Oxide instead of Cad Yellow Deep.





Napa Farm, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen



May be the most obvious thing I should say about mixing greens is that trees are darker than grass. Seems obvious, but may a beginning painter get this wrong. It's because they forget to compare the two. It isn't always true, to be sure, but it's true most of the time. Just observe and you see that there's a big difference. Not because Carlson said verticals are darker than the ground plane, either. (though that's true most of the time) It's simpler than that; the local values are significantly different. At least where I live, most of the trees that I see are either evergreens, Live Oaks, or Eucalyptus. Aspens and Birches can be very light in value, so it's not an automatic decision. You simply have to look and compare. 




Take the Shortcut, 12 x 21 inches, oil on linen

I tend to mix greens by identifying the hue-direction and relative value at the same time. If it's a dull, dark green, I might reach for Ultramarine + Cad Deep. Since Ultramarine is red-leaning, the resulting green is grayed down. 

If I'm looking for a lighter green that still leans toward blue, I may add white to the same mix. 

If I need it to be warmer, like in the late afternoon, I would first mix the local color green (the green of the thing itself) and start adding the color of the light - more yellows and reds. 

If I need a really intense green, I'd use a green-leaning blue (Prussian) + a green-leaning yellow (Cad Lem) and leave the reds out of it. 

I almost always mix a little bit of white in the lit areas, but not in the shadow areas. Unless I'm doing a high-key painting where there are a lot of colors  in the shadows.

You have to be careful with the white, because while it helps to lighten the value, it also cools the color. You don't want to have a cool light - warm shadow situation when the opposite is called for. 

The deepest, darkest greens are so dark that it almost doesn't matter whether it looks green or not, as long as it's harmonious and transparent. My favorite mixes here are Ultramarine + Transparent Oxide Red, or Prussian + Transparent Oxide Red. The latter actually looks green, so it's very effective.

The darkest darks are essentially where the light doesn't reach - not only the sunlight, but no ambient or reflected light reaches either. If an area is so dark that you can't make out any detail or color information, I paint it transparently. If I can still see detail or identify color, I paint it opaquely even if it's in the shadow - I don't paint details, but being able to see them is a deciding factor. 

All the greens you see in the paintings I've posted today, are mixed from the same set of tube colors that I listed. By combining different yellows and blues, and may be some reds (to warm up the color or to dull it down), you can get endless variations on the color green. 

You might jsut take an afternoon to see how many different greens you can mix with palette. You should easily be able to mix dozens of them. Just take your time, observe, and practice mixing. Once you become familiar with what kinds of greens are possible with these tube colors, the greens will become power tools for expression, rather than nasty problems to overcome each time you face the canvas!

Happy Mixing!