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Click here to access all entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series

June 12, 2012

I’ve been in Lincoln, Nebraska since April 4. In that time I’ve managed to set up a new home and studio in a brick duplex on a shady street in a quiet neighborhood. The place is awesome. It has a big backyard where I see rabbits and squirrels and lots of birds every day. It’s inexpensive and comfortable and has an entire basement where I’ve set up my office and studio and there’s still plenty of room for storage.

What’s really great is that here in Lincoln, I don’t have a life! I know that doesn’t sound so great, but it’s perfect for me right now because for the first time in like, oh, 20 years!, I’m in a situation where I can really commit to and focus on my painting. I didn’t realize until I got here and got set up that one of the reasons I’ve made this move is exactly this: the opportunity to dive into painting in a way I really couldn’t in Hawaii. 

So I’ve got lots of painting activity to tell you about—and show you—in this blog entry.


Vinni img9560

This is a shot I took of Vinni on the lanai of my Waikiki apartment last year.

The first major painting I undertook in my newly set-up Nebraska studio was from a photograph of Vinni (Vinicius), the Brazilian guy I photographed almost exactly a year ago in Hawaii. I found a photograph I really liked and decided to do it with a semi-stylized approach. 

I did a LOT of sketching (over 20 drawings) before I began painting, to get this the way I wanted it, with the movement and energy I wanted. As you may be able to see from these images, the position of the figure in the painting is quite different from the photograph. In the photograph, Vinni is in a rather static position. In the painting, he’s leaning forward almost as if he’s about to fly off the chair. There’s more life and movement in his pose. I’ve not only exaggerated the angles in his body, I’ve also exaggerated the angles of everything in the painting: the windows, the louvers in the windows, the shelves with the plants on them, etc. The result is a feeling of life and motion and energy. At least that’s what I was going for, and when I look at the finished painting, I do feel that. Obviously I’ve also exaggerated the colors, and invented a few (like the yellows around Vinni’s arm).

“Vinni’s Hair” took me 4 or 5 days to complete. I immediately jumped right into the next painting…


The second painting was an abstract. Some time ago, inspired by the paintings of Wosene Worke Kostrof (google him to check out his amazing Ethiopian abstracts), I’d done some studies on the computer, using my Wacom tablet. I decided it was time to try to translate them into a real-world painting. This was pretty straightforward since I had already worked out most of the shapes and the colors, so it was a lot of fun.

Wosene experimenting3

Wosene experimenting4

The digital paintings are above. Below is the acrylic painting I did using elements from them.


My next painting was a portrait of Jason, the Irish redhead who modeled for me a couple of years ago. I wanted to do a painting using flat color. My source was a photograph I’d tinkered with in Photoshop using the Posterize filter. That filter takes the nearly infinite graduations of color and tone in the original photograph and reduces them to a relatively few areas of flat color. It’s a beautiful effect and I like translating it into painting.

Redhead source2up

Above you see the source photograph and the results of tweaking the color a bit.

Redhead inprog2up

The photo at left above shows the result of using some Photoshop filters (Posterize and Median) to make the image easier to work from. Above on the right, the painting is well underway. Below, the finished painting. As you can see, I had a lot of fun with color, especially the oranges and greens.


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My next painting was inspired by a photograph of Sam and Kawai. In this image Sam was drying Kawai’s back, and I really liked the contrast between the poses of the two: Kawai kind of leaning forward, totally surrendering to having his back toweled off, and Sam very active and aggressive in a loving way, with his back arched and his legs kind of spread. I did several drawings to exaggerate the poses even more before putting it on canvas and starting to paint it. I was intending to keep this loose and spontaneous, but it didn’t really happen that way…

Longleanboyfrd inprog3up

Above are some in-progress shots of the painting. As you can see, rather than something loose and spontaneous, it ended up being rather tight and meticulous. Oh well. As Picasso said, “Painting is my master. It makes me do what it wants.” Below, the finished painting. Click on the image to see it on my website.


Although I didn’t succeed in doing a loose, spontaneous painting with “My Long Lean Boyfriend,” I got a lot closer to my aim in the next painting. For this one I wanted to just do a simple portrait…not challenge myself too much in terms of the image, so I could focus on just staying loose with the painting. I found what I needed image-wise in a photograph of Rod I took a few years ago at Diamond Head Beach.

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As you can see, I did my usual tweaking in Photoshop so I could use both a continuous-tone photograph and a posterized version as references. I plunged right in with this painting. After drawing the head and shoulders roughly onto the canvas, I began splashing the paint on, not even pre-mixing my colors (which usually takes me about a half hour!). I just squeezed out some cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt sienna, yellow oxide, dioxazine purple and some white onto my palette and started painting with big, broad strokes.

Definitely NOT my usual approach, and I was really enjoying just throwing the paint onto the canvas, but my mind was going, This will never work out. But as I continued, to my complete surprise, everything fell into place and I ended up with a nice, loosely painted portrait of a beautiful young man. Doesn’t look anything like Rod, but that wasn’t necessarily my purpose anyway. 

I have to tell you, this was a pretty exciting painting for me. Whenever I can break through my need for control and do something this spontaneous and energetic and SURPRISING, it’s a big day for me.


For my next painting I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak (while my courage and excitement were still high off the success of “More Than You Know”), so I dived into a new painting the very next day. This time I wanted to try a landscape. I found a photograph I shot at Tiririca, the beach in Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil where I stayed with my friend Steph back in 2008.

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Here you see my requisite two versions (although sometimes I do 4 or 5 versions with different degrees of tweaking to give me different ways of looking at light-and-shadow patterns).

Bahianbeachscene inprog 2up

Here’s the work in progress. I did pretty well at staying loose for the first part of the painting, but got a little too careful in the latter stages.

I’m pretty happy with it but feel like I got a little too careful. I got a little too caught up in painting the individual fronds of the palm trees, rather than paying attention to the big shapes. So they wound up being less strong than they could have been. But overall I think it works.

Then I moved on to my next attempt at looseness and spontaneity…


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For my next attempt at letting go of control I chose one of the most out-of-control models I’ve worked with, Israel. The group of images below is the composite I printed out as a reference for the painting. As usual I used Photoshop to make the light-and-shadow patterns more obvious.

Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time mixing the colors…just squeezed out the basics and started painting. This was easier than the previous paintings because I’m starting to get into the flow of this thing. And my confidence is high. This is all part of what happens when you paint regularly, which I’m now doing. Been a long time since I’ve painted this consistently, day in and day out, week after week, and the benefits are already starting to show. This painting flowed nicely and came together quickly with few missteps. That’s what happens when you’re truly warmed up and in the flow!

Click here to access all entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series

  1. Johnathan says:

    Great post! As always, am very appreciative of your taking the time and being so generous In sharing insights into your methods. And as always, am again slack-jawed in amazement at how you are able to transform a pleasant photo into a sumptuous feast for the eyes through your visual artistry. Glad that the having-no-life-in-Nebraska thing is working for you 🙂

  2. Lee Witten says:

    Hey Douglas, this is an OLD friend from Honolulu days, Cyril! I have checked out your On Location website and love it. Amazing models and great shoots. You remember Homer? He’s still kicking in San Antonio. Send me an email if you have time. I prefer that method of communication. Would love to hear from you and hope this move to Nebraska will work out well for you.

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