New Laurens Painting: Koko Crater

Posted: April 5, 2003 in 2003, All Posts 2002-2006, Step-by-Step in the Studio
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This is the Laurens acrylic sketch that I wanted to turn into a large painting.

This is the Laurens acrylic sketch that I wanted to turn into a large painting.

After the Palm Grove painting, I’d been thinking I wanted to tackle doing a large painting from the acrylic sketch of Laurens out by Koko Head, the one that was such a breakthrough for me. But I was nervous about it, because it’s such a great sketch, filled with life and energy, and that’s difficult to translate into a larger work. Often the larger work will turn out okay, but lack the energy of the smaller, less finished work. Still, in a case like this I feel like the painting is there already, just waiting for me to paint it. Like it already exists, just not in the physical world yet. So I don’t have much choice but to paint it, and hope for the best. At times like these I really feel like I’m a tool or a channel. I’m not the creator. The painting wants to come out through me, and my job is to keep out of the way as much as possible while it’s happening.

First 3 stages of the painting.

First 3 stages of the painting.

I spent a couple of hours in the morning drawing the image onto the canvas. It went pretty quickly. I only had to erase the entire figure and re-draw it in a different place once (sometimes I have to do that 3 or 4 times). Then I painted over the outlines in black, then covered the whole thing with a wash of dioxazine purple. Then I left it to dry and did other things.

Right from the first strokes of paint I put on the clouds and sky, everything just went right.

Right from the first strokes of paint I put on the clouds and sky, everything just went right.

I didn’t get back to the painting until the evening—a Friday evening, which usually is time for me to go out and be social. But since I was going to be surfing with the Gay Surf Club the next morning, and going to a pool party in Hawaii Kai in the afternoon and early evening, and to a Big Tom event (a dance party with a mainland DJ) at Mist in the late evening, I decided it would be good to stay in and paint the night before, so I wouldn’t feel guilty about partying and playing all day and night on Saturday. So that’s what I did. And I’m SO glad I did…because everything just fell into place, right from the start. When I started painting the upper left, with the blue sky and the white clouds, right from the beginning everything just went onto the canvas like magic. Every stroke looked good, felt good. That’s a rare and wonderful thing, believe me.

Stage 5 of the painting.

Stage 5 of the painting.

The rest is kind of a blur for me, because I didn’t have to stop and re-do any section of the painting, nothing went wrong, nothing had to be rethought or reworked—everything went down right the first time. It was one of those magical nights, one of those magical painting sessions. I worked with the photograph of Laurens on the left and the acrylic sketch on the right, and used both of them as visual sources. The degree to which the painting was already worked out in the acrylic sketch was remarkable.

I also worked on the face in this stage of the painting. As you can imagine, the face can easily make or break a painting like this, so I was kind of nervous about it. Plus the face was one part of the acrylic sketch that was not worked out at all. But again, everything just fell into place pretty effortlessly, and the face just sort of came into being under my brush. I love when that happens!

Everything's working. The colors are right, the shapes are right—I love when this happens!

Everything's working. The colors are right, the shapes are right—I love when this happens!

Another magical thing was that the colors I mixed were right the first time. That’s another thing that rarely happens. When it does, though, it’s practically a guarantee that the painting’s going to work. When the first batch of colors is not quite right, though, it can sometimes kill a painting. So this was another very lucky thing.

As I was painting the background, I did make some minor changes. The biggest one was the addition of some earth red in the middle left. It just seemed to need a strong red there, so I added it, and I was right—it was just what it needed. (Then I used the same earth red for the genitalia.)

The painting is almost done.

The painting is almost done.

At this point I had the figure pretty much in place, so I could relax a bit and play as I painted in the rest of the background. And I did play: I had a lot of fun doing the background, because I already knew the colors were working, and the shapes were pretty well worked out already in the sketch. So I had fun with this part. When I finished laying in the background, the painting was basically done—all that was left to do was those little finishing touches that take a good painting and raise it another notch so that it doesn’t just sit there being beautiful—it sings!

Little things I did to finish the painting: I added a little bit of white in among the leaves in the upper left (it might be a piece of cloud, or not); I lightened Laurens’ hair on top; I added a little glow on the left side of the figure, along the back, so that the figure stood out more against the background; I added a band of light blue in the dark-blue field just to the left of Laurens’ butt; I did similar things to a couple of areas of the background on the right side; I gave another coat of white to some areas of the clouds to make them more white and opaque; and I added some white highlights to the body. And then, I signed it!

The finished painting: Koko Crater.
The finished painting: Koko Crater.

I have to say, I’m in love with this painting. I’m thrilled at the way things are going lately, because Palm Grove is also a painting I’m proud of and excited about. To do two paintings back to back like this is amazing. They’re both strong, major, breakthrough pieces and they both happened in the space of a week. As any painter knows, there are some real ups and downs you have to go through, and this is definitely an up period. And I’m loving it!

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