Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Color of Reflected Light

I just had this conversation with a student in my class, so I thought I'd do a little post. It's a simple, basic lesson on the color of the reflected light. 

The question was, "what color is the shadow?"  The answer: "Depends."  On what? A few things. The color of the thing itself, and the reflected light.  

The reflected light is the primary light source bouncing off of some surface and illuminating the shadow side of the object. If there were no bounced light, you can't see anything in the shadow.

So if you can see anything - color, detail, value changes.... then something is illuminating it. It's either the reflected light, or the ambient light.

The ambient light is the secondary light that's not obviously a reflected light - say, the blue sky on a sunny day, or the diffused florescent light that's illuminating the studio in addition to the strong direct light on the model. 

One can argue that cool ambient light provided by the sky is in fact reflected light, since it's sun light bouncing off of condensed water vapor and other particulate matter in the atmosphere, but for the sake of simplifying the point, we'll just limit the definition of reflected light to something that's caused by a surface near the object and facing the planes in the shadow side. 

It's not complicated. In the painting above, the direct light hits the red couch, which bounces off and illuminates the back of the model, causing it to appear red. Her leg isn't affected by the red bounced light, because it's not facing the lit up red couch.

Her arm too, is not as red - it was receiving a lot of cool florescent light, which made it appear more violet. Note her breast is getting a lot more red bounced light than the arm.

In the painting above, the couch is blue. You can see I snuck some blue reflected light into her arm and the leg that's in front. Her left leg doesn't get the blue reflected light, because it's not facing a blue lit surface.

I'm not a strictly realist painter so I do use subjective colors a lot, but when I want the shadow colors to make sense, and am looking for luminosity, I pay more attention to the color of reflected lights.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that sometimes the reflected light appears really light and bright, and you may get excited about the intense color in the area, but the value of that reflected light must be darker than anything in the lit side (of the same surface). The rule is, the darkest light is lighter than the lightest shadow.  Or, the lightest shadow is darker than the darkest light. You can also say it this way; Everything in light is lighter than everything in shadow. 

Why is that? Because the light bouncing off of something can't be as strong as the original light source.

It's a simple rule but one that is often forgotten by beginning painters. The next time you're wondering about the shadow color, you might just ask yourself, what is illuminating that plane?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Current Palette

I've been using a variation of this palette for many years. From time to time, I switch out a color or two, just to shake things up, but it's always been a primaries palette, basically.

I have three variations of each of the primaries, plus white. I don't have any secondaries - I just mix them with this set of colors.

White - Titanium White. I like the opacity and the coolness of Titanium White. Nothing against other whites, but I got to know Titanium pretty well, and I don't have a problem with it so I haven't really had an incentive to get to know the others.

Blues - In the picture they all look pretty dark, but they are Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, and Payne's Gray. Ultramarine represents the violet-leaning blue, Prussian the green-leaning blue, and Payne's Gray the low chroma blue.

Yellows - Cadmium Lemon for my cool yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep for my warm, and Yellow Ochre is my low chroma yellow.

Reds - Permanent Red is my warm red. It's a Cad Red Light alternative. It's much cheaper and does what I need it to do. Less toxic, too, which may be a plus, except I use other Cads so I don't have a leg to stand on.  Alizarin Permanent is my cool red. I've been trying other cool reds like Venetian, Terra Rosa, Pompeii, etc. But haven't found one that works for what I'm looking for. So until I do, I'll keep using Alizarin.  My low chroma Red is Transparent Oxide Red. every brand has a different name for this color and I most often use Transparent Earth Red from Gamblin. It's like Burnt Sienna, but transparent, more intense, and goes down cleaner when doing washes.

The palette itself is a shot of my 10 x 12 (?) Open Box M, which I love. I use a 16 x 20 surface in the studio, but in the field, I like my Open Box M if I'm traveling or if I have to hike to get to a spot. If I'm painting near my car, I use my Soltek or a half-box French easel so I can have a larger palette to work with (12 x 16).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Language of the Land: Landscape Paintings by Paul Kratter and Terry Miura

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

I have a very special exhibition coming up! My good friend and fabulous painter Paul Kratter and I will be showing our landscape paintings (many, if not most, are done en plein air) at the Holton Studio Gallery in Berkeley, CA.

As you can see in these pictures, all of the paintings will be presented in these very special frames, all hand-crafted by master frame-maker Tim Holton and his team. 

Each frame is a response to a specific painting. Tim studies the painting, picks out the grain of the wood to reflect something - a textural quality, directional cue, etc - in the painting, and continues on to create a masterful frame for each. Every decision along the way, whether it be the style of the frame or what type of carving to apply, or what color stain to finish the pieces with, is in response to the painting. "Custom framing" doesn't get more custom than this!

 A Path Through the Woods, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

I'm really excited to have my own paintings presented in Tim's frames,  because they really elevate the pieces to a higher level.  

Standing Alone, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

As I mentioned, I will be showing with my friend Paul Kratter. If you're interested in landscape painting, you probably know his work. He paints beautiful Northern California (and beyond) views in a very distinct style, superbly designed and with really tasty harmonies. This will be the first time the two of us are showing together (that is, not as a part of a larger group show) and I think our styles look great sharing walls, especially all framed by Tim Holton.

The Packer's Trail, 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

But don't take my word for it. Come see for yourself!  The show opens Saturday, May 6th. The opening reception is from 4 - 6 pm. Come on by and check out this very special show, and say hi! 

Alpine Meadow (Ediza) , 12 x 9 inches, oil on linen

And if that isn't enough, Paul and I are doing a "Dual Demo" on Saturday, June 3rd, at 2pm at the gallery. We will each set up an easel, and take a painting from start to (may be) finish. You can watch us live as we each develop a painting, and talk about our approaches. Ask us questions, and we'll answer them. You want tips? We'll tell you how to mix that special shade of green and how to flick that brush to get that flippity edge on that pine tree.  

And did I mention the admission is free? Can't beat that!

Golden Hillside, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen

So if you are in the Bay Area, I hope you can make it to the opening. And the demo. If not, the show runs till June 10th. If you're a landscape painter, this show is a must see!

A Language of the Land: Landscape Paintings by Paul Kratter and Terry Miura

Holton Studio Gallery, 2100 Fifth St. Berkeley, CA

May 6th - June 10th, 2017

Opening Reception: Saturday, May 6th, 4 - 6pm

Dual Demo: Saturday, June 3rd, 2pm

'Hope to see you at the opening!!


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
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
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


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.