Painting Commission: “Kalihi Valley” — A Portrait of Sorts

Posted: June 8, 2011 in 2011, Step-by-Step in the Studio
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I’ve just completed a really interesting project, a painting commissioned by a couple I know.

This is a portrait commission of sorts, but not the usual kind of portrait. This is a portrait of a place and time.

My friends Siew and Jeff have lived in Hawaii for several years and now they’re moving to the East Coast. They wanted a painting that would remind them of their time here, to hang in the living room of their home and take them back to Hawaii every time they looked at it. Siew was the initiator of the project, and he told me he really liked one of my paintings, “Summer Salad,” and thought that something in that direction would be cool.

I really liked the idea. This sounded like it would be fun, and something different for me to stretch out with.


This is a distorted-on-purpose composite of several photos I took of Siew and Jeff's house in Kalihi Valley.

I went to the house they still own in Honolulu’s Kalihi Valley to see the place and take some pictures. I also talked to Siew about some of the most notable things about their time in Hawaii. The list included cats (they have 3), fruit trees (they have a big tangerine tree right in front of their house), a rooster which used to wake them every morning way before they were ready, and various other things like rainstorms, rainbows and Geo Metros (don’t ask).

So I went back to my studio and started collecting image references from online, and started doing sketches.


Some of my reference images from the Internet, and some ideas for the painting. The large sketch at bottom is the final sketch I did before beginning the painting itself.

I worked on ideas for a couple of weeks, letting Siew in on some of the progress by sending him scans of some of the sketches via e-mail. After I sent him the final sketch before beginning the painting (he liked it) we both decided that I wouldn’t show him any more of the progress until it was done. He wanted to be surprised, and I knew that getting input from outside once I’d begun the painting could really interfere with the creative process.


Beginning of the painting process...

Then it was just a matter of doing the painting. I had worked out most of it in the sketches, so the painting was more about choosing and mixing the right colors. There were also some things that didn’t quite work which I had to shift around and alter a bit, but not many. The preparatory sketching process had worked out a lot of the issues already, so it was just a matter of bringing it to life on the canvas. It did take quite a while because there is a lot more going on in this painting than is usual with my work.


The above image shows the painting about 3 days before I finished it. By this point the painting has taken on a life of its own. My favorite things are the rooster and the fish. I don’t even know where those fish came from; they just popped into my head while I was doing one of the sketches so I put them in. And I liked them, so I kept them. The rooster I was always planning to include, but I didn’t expect him to have so much personality! I love the way he’s just standing down there in the corner of the painting, surveying everything, seeming to be saying to himself, “WTF??”

But I like the whole painting. I think it turned out really well and I was happy with it. That didn’t mean it was any less nerve-wracking to have Siew and Jeff come to my studio one morning to see it for the first time. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see their reaction. They loved it! And the more they looked at it, the more they saw there, and the more they liked it. What a relief!


The finished painting: 'Kalihi Valley'

This painting was a challenge and a lot of fun too. I liked having a specific “story” to tell with the painting. It’ll be interesting to see what new directions happen in my painting as a result of this one.

  1. victor says:

    you are agreat artist.Apart from your supwerb nudes your imagination delights us

  2. James Pearson says:

    Doug………Please, PUHLEEEEEEEASE!! (LoL) Please Doug…more Hawaiian guys, more beautiful, dark, hunky Hawaiian guys like you used to do on many calendars and such…(please baby?)

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