This is the rough sketch of Nohea that I liked enough to develop further.

This is the rough sketch of Nohea that I liked enough to develop further.

My latest painting began as a sketch that I particularly liked. This is often how it happens. I was sketching from some shots from my photo session with Nohea and one of the sketches turned out so well I thought, maybe this could be a painting.

Actually I made some changes to the photo before I even began drawing from it. In the photograph Nohea is just letting his hands hang at his sides. It wasn’t very interesting, so I had the idea of having him hold a bottle of water. I went looking for a shot I could borrow from, and I finally found what I was looking for in my photos from the Salvador, Bahia, Brazil trip, April 2007. Among those images I found some shots of Wellington at the beach holding a bottle of water, and I was able to grab that from the original photo and drop it into the photo of Nohea. With a little scaling and tilting, I was able to get it looking fairly natural – certainly workable for my purposes. I also wanted him to be holding his towel in his

This is the source photo of Nohea. You can see where I've added the new arm and the reference photo of the hand holding the towel.

This is the source photo of Nohea. You can see where I've added the new arm and the photo of the hand holding the towel.

left hand, not his right, so I had to borrow a hand and towel from another shot of Nohea, and I just dropped that into the upper left-hand corner of the photo so I’d have a reference when I started painting. This is the kind of flexibility you have with digital photos, and it makes my job much easier.

As you can see from looking at the source photo, the original background was not too exciting. I wanted something that would lend itself to a tropical fantasy – the ocean, some tropical greenery, that sort of thing. So I went looking through my scenic shots for some tropical plants I could use. I have a fairly large library of digital photos I’ve shot over the years in and around Honolulu, shots of palm trees, tropical plants, anything I happen to spot that looks like it might come in handy for a future painting. I found what I was looking for from a series of shots I took one day while walking around Kahala, a neighborhood just over the hill from where I live. These leaves had just the shape and feeling I wanted for the painting.

    I found source material for the tropical greenery among my files of reference photos I've shot over the years in and around Honolulu. This is on a side street in Kahala.

I found source material for the tropical greenery among my files of reference photos I've shot over the years in and around Honolulu. This is on a side street in Kahala.

The color acrylic sketch I used as a reference for the final painting.

The color acrylic sketch I used as a reference for the final painting.

My next step was to draw another sketch and add the sea and the foliage from the reference photo. As you can see, I didn’t copy the foliage exactly. Rather, I tailored it to the composition. It’s a matter of taking different leaves that have the angle and feeling you want, and mixing them with other leaves until you get what you want. The trick is making it look natural. That took awhile, but I finally got the plants to look more or less like I wanted them to; I will most likely totally rework them when I do the final painting, but I have a good beginning. Then I took the whole thing a step further by mixing up some colors and using acrylics to paint the sketch I’d done. This gave me a good solid color study I could use as a reference for the larger painting on canvas.

But there was another element I needed, something in the upper part of the image. I wanted some palm-tree fronds, but I didn’t know exactly what angle they should be, or how many, or what size…I could have done another sketch, or painted on top of the acrylic sketch I’d just done, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted and I wanted to be able to try different things, so I decided to do it on the computer, using Photoshop. I scanned the sketch and opened it in Photoshop, and using my digital tablet, started drawing palm fronds on the image. As I’d expected, it took several tries before I got close to what I wanted. In a case like this, it’s wonderful being able to hit undo on the computer and

I was able to try out different palm fronds digitally before deciding this was about what I wanted.

I was able to try out different palm fronds digitally before deciding this was about what I wanted.

try something else. In this way I was able to approximate the look I wanted for the palm fronds.They weren’t exactly what I wanted, but they were close enough I was pretty sure I’d be able to make them work in the final painting.

The finished acrylic painting: "Tropical Adventure"

The finished acrylic painting: "Tropical Adventure"

Finally I was able to begin the final stage of this adventure. I used my digital projector to transfer my final color study to canvas, then began painting. I won’t say it proceeded without a hitch, but all the preparation I’d done paid off, and it was mostly just a matter of doing the actual painting. This took about 3 days and many, many hours, but it would have taken much longer if I hadn’t done all the preparation I did! I won’t go into all the details of this final stage, but if you look carefully you’ll see lots of little touches have been added to bring the painting to life – things like highlights in the hair, a subtle lightening along the top edges of the palm fronds as if the sun is striking them from above, reflected bluish light along some edges of the body, the gradation of the sea from dark blue at the horizon to turquoise in the lower areas – and many more details you can spot if you look closely. Of course, for me the thing that makes this painting work more than any other single element is the face. There’s a presence there. When I look into his eyes, he looks back at me. Without that, the painting wouldn’t work. With it, there’s a bit of magic there. I worked hard on this painting, but I also got lucky that the total is more than the sum of the parts, and there is a person there. I got what I was aiming for – a gorgeous tropical fantasy!

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