October 1, 2012
I can never predict what people’s reaction will be to my artworks.
Sometimes a work that I absolutely love doesn’t get much reaction and takes a long time to find a buyer (although I have noticed that there’s always SOMEONE out there who winds up loving the piece as much as I did!). Other times a work that I was lukewarm about turns out to be wildly popular. What do I know? I’m just the guy who paints them, and though it may sound disingenuous, I’m being totally honest when I say, sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I just let the painting flow through me. I’m often surprised at what the painting looks like when I’m done.
That was the case with a painting I did in the summer of 2009 called Forest Spirit. I kind of made it up as I went along, and I felt some magic happening as I did. I thought, will people like this? And they did! Whatever the painting’s magic is, I’m not the only one that feels it. Just a few weeks after I completed it, the painting sold to a longtime collector of mine, a doctor in California, who fell in love with it.
Three years later, and just a few weeks ago, I got a call from that same doctor telling me he was opening a new private clinic and wondered if I would consider creating several paintings for the lobby/waiting area. He wanted something with the same vibe as Forest Spirit.
Well, this was pretty exciting for me, because I liked Forest Spirit so much myself. So of course I said yes, that sounds like fun! He wanted four faces, two men and two women, representing a fairly wide ethnic diversity.
I got right to work, and this is when the trouble began.
I had conveniently forgotten that I had created Forest Spirit pretty much by accident. It kind of just happened. And here I had committed myself to creating four new paintings with a similar look and feel.
If you’re not a painter or an artist of some kind, maybe you think that once you’ve created something, you can do it again whenever you want to.
Uh…no. It ain’t like that. At least it isn’t with me!
So recreating the energy I was feeling when I painted Forest Spirit was not something I quite knew how to do when I started. But I figured, what the hell, I’ll just start trying stuff and we’ll see what happens! So I started sketching. I used my Wacom tablet and did the sketches in Photoshop because that way I could make lots of changes easily, and try out different color schemes easily and quickly. Below is a sampling of some of the first sketches I did over a period of several weeks.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting. I knew these were kind of fun and interesting, but I also knew they weren’t yet what I was aiming for. The client was happy with the direction I was going, though, so I kept on sketching.
(One of the things that really helped me, because I liked it so well in Forest Spirit, was making the eyes asymmetrical—or to say it another way, not level. One eye way the hell up there and the other one down here. Calling on the spirit of Picasso, I guess. Anyway, I really liked that, and I decided to stick with it as the one really consistent feature of these images.)
By about the third week I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get something I really liked, and was also right for the commission. And that’s when some of the magic started to happen. This is how it works when you’re being an artist for a living. You don’t wait for inspiration and magic to strike. You work and work and keep producing so that when the magic and inspiration strike, you’ve already got a pencil (or a digital pen) in your hand. You’ve got the bottle in which you can catch the lightning when it strikes, so to speak.
Below are the first sketches I did that really felt exciting, one of a black man with a shaved head, the other of a blonde woman.
With the black man, I just loved the lines and the way they came together. But it wouldn’t have mattered how beautifully they came together if there hadn’t also been a real personality there, and there was.
With the woman, I wasn’t sure exactly what I had, because I’m so not used to drawing female faces! But I felt her personality, and I knew that was the key.
I started on the painting of the black man first, and it went fairly well, until it was almost done, and then I realized I didn’t like what was happening. I was using a naturalistic light-and-shadow approach that made the head look rather 3-dimensional. But what I loved about the image was the way the face came together because of the lines themselves, not an illusion of light and shadow. So I repainted the whole thing and this time made the face flatter. No more light and shadow, just areas of color that allowed the lines to shine forth. And this time I got what I wanted. I call this one “Noble Black Man.” My first painting for the commission was done, and when I sent the image to my client, he liked it. That was great, and gave me energy to tackle number two, the blonde woman.
Painting the woman was really interesting! As you know, I paint male faces and figures almost exclusively, so this was a different experience. One significant change I had to make from the sketch to the painting was the line of the jaw. In the sketch I was doing what I’m used to, giving the face a strong jawline because I’m used to painting men. It took awhile, but I did finally realize that this is a woman, and that jawline and the angularity of the face needed to be softened a bit. She can still be a strong woman and a strong personality, but let’s make her look like a female instead of a male! So I softened the jaw and made the whole shape of her face more feminine. That worked.
I wanted something kind of romantic and soft to go with this beautiful but very strong female face, so I found some pictures of Tuscany and made that the backdrop. I decided to call this one “Tuscan Woman” and when I sent the image to my collector friend, once again he was pleased. Two done and two to go!
There were two left and we decided one would be an Asian woman, and one would be a Caucasian man. I decided to tackle the Asian woman first.
Since I’ve painted so many beautiful Asian men in my career, I thought it shouldn’t be that difficult to paint a beautiful Asian woman. Wrong! This turned out to be a real challenge. I had a kind of feeling for what I wanted, but I just couldn’t picture it. I went online and searched and searched for images that would give me ideas, and I wasn’t able to find what I wanted. I sketched and sketched and sketched, and it just wouldn’t come. Finally, after several days of frustration, I basically just gave up, said fuck it, and started playing, using my imagination rather than trying so hard, and guess what…there she was.
My client liked the results of this one as much as I did. I was thrilled. I’d found the magic.
But now I had to do #4. The white guy. The white guy we had decided was going to be a surfer dude. Or maybe I decided that, I don’t remember. Anyway, that was the image I was going for. I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted, a Caucasian guy, probably Australian, with the kind of sun-bleached crazy hair that hot surfer boys have.
I put this one off for several days. I didn’t even start sketching. I was too nervous. I decided to just let myself be and it would happen when it was time.
And sure enough, one morning without even thinking too much about it, I found myself sitting down and sketching the Surfer Dude from some photos I’d found online, and like magic, there he was.
And he was gorgeous! I don’t even know how I created this boy but just looking at that face made me melt. That’s pretty amazing.
I so fell in love with the sketch I came up with, I was afraid to paint it for fear I wouldn’t be able to keep the magic of the sketch. But I didn’t let that stop me; I just plunged right in, and started the painting the very next morning after the day I did the rough sketch.
I painted all day, and it was one of those rare experiences where the image seemed to paint itself. I just held onto the brush and let it flow! When I finished I stood back and said, “Wow! Did I paint HIM?”
I wasn’t surprised, but I WAS relieved and happy when I shared this final image with my client and he loved it as much as I did. Which meant I had successfully completed the commission.
Here are all 4 of the paintings together. As I write this, my Noble Black Man, Tuscan Woman, Exotic Jungle Girl and Surfer Dude have all been rolled up and put in a tube (a big tube—each of these works is 2 feet by 3 feet) and sent off to their new home. I haven’t seen the room where they’ll be hanging but I know one thing for sure—they’ll add a whole lot of energy and personality and beauty! I’m grateful I got to explore this side of myself—and proud that I was able to rise to the occasion and create 4 works that I like and were also just what the collector was hoping for.