Archive for the ‘2013’ Category

Winter2013 everythingchanges

December 11, 2013

CHANGE continues to be the main theme in my life and career. In my October 3 blog entry, I shared about my wonderful new studio. Now, a couple of months later, everything has changed—again!

Just when I had gotten everything set up the way I liked it in the new studio, I got a call from the landlord. He had some bad news, he said. Plans had changed. No more artist’s studios—now they were going to rent out the entire space to a church. (A church??)

So I had 30 days to move out.

This was quite a surprise. But I was renting month-to-month, so I knew this kind of thing might happen. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

I was really unhappy—for about an hour. That’s how long it took me to find a positive approach and adapt to the situation. My original goal had been to get a studio in Parrish Studios, an old building in downtown Lincoln that is filled with artists and craftspeople and their studios and shops. I’d given up on that because they had no space. But just 2 days before my landlord called with the bad news, I’d gotten a voicemail from the guy at Parrish Studios telling me a space was opening up, and was I interested?

Well, I was now! I called him, it was still available, I went and saw the space the next day, and decided it would be just fine. Within one week of the call from my landlord, I had moved my studio into the new space.

It’s a bit smaller, but it’s still a very workable space. And the rent is less than half what I was paying in the previous place. And now I really am in the midst of a community of artists, which was what I wanted in the first place.

Parrish interior 3up C

Views of my new space at Parrish Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska. My rolling-workstation-with-homasote-panels system transferred nicely!

It was nice to discover that the setup I’d worked so hard to create in the first studio (with the homasote panels and the rolling workstation) was totally portable. Things were so well organized that by the second day in the new space, I was already painting and producing.

Which was a good thing, because I was now down to less than 3 weeks of painting time before leaving for Brazil!

First friday parrish DS

An added benefit to the new studio is the fact that the studio gets a lot of traffic each month on the First Friday Art Walk. Here I'm prepping for my first First Friday in Lincoln.

As the Nebraska air got colder, my eagerness for my approaching trip to South America grew. But I also found I was loving my new studio so much, I was hating the idea of leaving it. Not enough to change my plans, of course. But that’s the balance I’m trying to work out these days. I like having my studio in a place like Nebraska where it’s easy to focus on my work. But I need to have the stimulation of the tropics regularly as well.

I accomplished a lot in the days before leaving. Then, on November 12, I hopped on a plane and flew to Rio de Janeiro. As soon as I arrived I slipped into a different pace, a different way of life.

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Myself with some of the local talent at Ipanema Beach.

I’m writing this just a few days before my 5-week stay in Brazil ends. It’s been just what I needed. I do miss being able to paint, but it’s been good to focus on other things for awhile, like e-books, digital art, and writing.

It’s also good to be a social animal again. Nebraska is good for focusing on my art, but when I’m there I’m pretty solitary. In Brazil I stay in a hostel and I’m meeting tons of new people every day. I’m going to the beach, going out at night, hanging out with new friends, etc. The difference between my Nebraska life and this life is total. And I find I thrive on the difference.

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At Ipanema, learning a new sport from new Swedish friend Oliver: Slacklining.

I’ve now been in Rio for a month and it’s been wonderful—but I find I’m starting to wear out a bit from all the social stuff. I’m ready to head back to my studio for a few weeks of painting (and solitude) to recharge my batteries.

I’ll stay in Nebraska for Christmas, then just before New Year’s I head for Honolulu. It will be my first visit in over a year and a half—the longest I’ve been away from Hawaii since the early 1970s. I’ll stay there for a month, catching up with friends and seeing what it’s like to be back home after so long away. February and March remain unplanned.

So the process of reinventing my life continues. The hardest part is finding a way to travel as much as I want to, and still produce art consistently. I like being in the tropics a lot of the time, but I don’t like being away from my studio. Yet recreating a painting studio wherever I am is a logistical challenge that still seems too daunting. At the moment I’m just allowing things to unfold, and I know sooner or later the next phase will reveal itself. I don’t know what it will look like. I only know it’ll be perfect.

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October 14, 2013

New Painting: Khanh at the Kitchen Table


Several things came together for me in my newest painting, Khanh at the Kitchen Table. All the work I’ve been doing with the Faces series over the last several weeks has given me more confidence in my use of line and color. I also pushed myself, in this painting, to pay less attention to chiaroscuro (use of light and dark to define form) and more to flat areas and patterns of color. That wasn’t easy, but I did it, and I’m happy with the results.

Khanh source 2up

Top, the source photo for the painting. Below it, the posterized version to give me ideas for color and pattern.

Above is a photograph of Khanh sitting at my kitchen table with a towel over his shoulders. This is the photograph I chose as the source image for this painting, and below it is the posterized version which helped me get color and color-pattern ideas.

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Here's the final rough sketch I did to prepare for the painting.

I worked out the lines in a series of rough sketches; the one above is the final one. I liked the lines and patterns enough in this drawing to go ahead and transfer it to canvas. Below is the pencil drawing on canvas.

Khanh kitchen inprog1

At this point, my usual procedure has been to dilute some black acrylic paint enough so that I can use a fairly fine brush to go over the pencil lines with black. But a few weeks ago, I ordered a black Montana acrylic marker to experiment with. I’m so glad I did. I love this marker, and in fact I’ve ordered other colors to experiment with as well. But for this stage of the painting, the acrylic marker is wonderful. Instead of having to laboriously paint all the lines, I can DRAW them with the marker! This is faster and a lot more fun, and makes it easier for me to keep the flow of the line I had in the pencil version. (I’m using the thick 16mm tip because I paint large, but you can get these acrylic markers in varying thicknesses. Here’s a link in case you’re interested: Montana Acrylic Markers on DickBlick.com.)

Khanh kitchen inprog2

Here's the painting after going over the pencil drawing with black acrylic marker.

So now the painting was ready for the actual painting to begin. I thought I was ready to take the plunge, but something made me hesitate. I realized that if I didn’t think this out first, I would go ahead and automatically use my usual approach, which would not result in the flat color thing I was going for. So I got out my Wacom tablet and pen and did several digital versions on the computer. This gave me lots of chances to try out different color schemes and patterns.

Digitalkhanh 4up

Above you can see some of the color ideas I tried. Below is the version I liked the best.

Khanh kitchentable digital

Once I had the color scheme figured out, it was just a matter of mixing the colors and laying them in. Some paintings are all about the adventure, and you go in knowing you don’t know the path, there will be obstructions and washed-out bridges and the possibility of disaster, but that’s necessary to get where you want to go. This one wasn’t like that. I knew what I wanted and I followed the program. So it was several hours of just filling in the colors, kind of like a very big coloring-book page. Sometimes this is a nice way to paint. It’s relaxing. I can’t do this too often because it gets boring, but sometimes when you’re in between big adventures and big breakthroughs, you do a painting like this to consolidate some of what you’ve been learning during the more difficult phases of discovery.

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Here's the finished painting: Khanh at the Kitchen Table.

Not that there weren’t some challenging parts of this coloring-book page, but nothing that fazed me too much. In the end, painting it was satisfying and enjoyable. What’s even better is that, despite the calm and straightforward nature of the process, the finished painting has life and vitality and a real presence.

Newstudio header

October 3, 2013

CONTENTS


• Changes, Surprises and Going with the Flow
• The New Studio: Physical Dynamics
• The New Studio: Space for Enlightenment



CHANGES, SURPRISES AND GOING WITH THE FLOW


Okay, I’m still in Nebraska. I keep thinking I’m doing something wrong because I said I was going to be living on the road, and except for 5 weeks in the Dominican Republic last winter, I’ve been stuck in Nebraska for a year and a half.

But then I think about it and realize nothing’s wrong. I am following my plan; it’s just unfolding in unexpected ways. Wow, what a surprise!

My plan was to have a homebase in Nebraska which would make it easier for me to travel and live most of my life on the road. And it’s getting there.

When I moved to Lincoln from Hawaii in April 2012, I rented a duplex on Dakota Street, a few blocks from my sister Kelly’s house. It was great because I had a full basement and I was able to turn that into my studio and office. Living in Lincoln was not exactly my dream but it turned out to be exactly the right thing for my painting. As in, no social life and no beach = lots of focus on painting and lots of art produced.

Dakota studio 1

Here's what my Dakota street studio looked like.

The Dakota Street duplex worked fine for awhile, but for some reason I knew I wouldn’t be there that long. I had a strong feeling that things would be changing drastically sometime in the fall of 2013. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. When you live your life like I do, watching the currents and adjusting to them and following them rather than trying to force things or plan too much, you start getting a sense for these things.

Another strong sense I had was that I wanted to be around other artists more. I had this vision, in fact, of a group of studios where I could go in and paint and be around other artists, also creating, every day. There’s a place in Lincoln called Parrish Studios which is kind of like that, and I started making regular inquiries there, hoping a studio space would open up.

Then in July, my sister Kelly decided that her live-in boyfriend had to go. Without going into details, let me just say that this was widely seen as a positive move. With Kelly’s extra bedroom becoming vacant, I began to think about moving my office there. Since she helps me with my business when I’m away traveling, it seemed like a good idea to both of us.

I knew that moving in with Kelly would mean I had to find studio space elsewhere. Nothing was happening with Parrish Studios, so one Saturday morning in early August I decided to look on Craigslist for artist’s studio spaces in Lincoln, Nebraska. Almost immediately—and against all odds—something very interesting popped up. It sounded so perfect that I called the number and within 45 minutes I was meeting with the owner to look at the space.

That’s how I found my ideal new studio.

The owner of a building in Lincoln’s Haymarket area (trendy, popular part of downtown Lincoln with lots of clubs, restaurants and galleries) had an unfinished basement space which he wanted to turn into artist’s studios. I was the first artist to look at the space and it was still mostly unfinished. The price was right, the feeling was right, the location was right, and because I was the first and the studios were still being constructed, I even got to help design my own studio space!

815 O emptybasement

This is the empty space before construction of individual studios. All the way down at the end are the kitchen and bathrooms. I got to choose which part of the area would become my 250-sq-ft studio. I chose the spot at the far end, of course.

That construction was completed pretty quickly, and by early September, I had moved my office (and home) into Kelly’s extra bedroom, and everything else into my new downtown studio.

Newstudio earlystages

Here's a look into my newly constructed studio space. This was early on, when I was still moving stuff in. You can see my trusty easel and corkboard already set up, and my new steel rolling cart painting workstation next to it. Leaning on the wall in the corner is a 4x8 sheet of Homasote.

Lots of big changes had happened in a very short time, but nothing was forced and everything just fell into place with perfect timing. Again I saw how well it works to just pay attention to the currents and follow your instincts on when to jump in and when to just chill.

The only thing I really didn’t like about the new setup was the fact that I had no parking space downtown, and that meant every time I went in to paint I had to feed a parking meter. But I decided I could live with that until I was able to find reasonable long-term parking.


THE NEW STUDIO: PHYSICAL DYNAMICS


Let me tell you about the physical aspects of my new studio. It’s in a space adjacent to a full kitchen with plenty of sinks, which is great for someone who paints in acrylics. It’s 250 square feet, which is just right. Best of all, it has 5 easels instead of just one! I’ll explain:

I’d seen a photo of an artist’s studio some time ago where there were paintings-in-progress tacked up on every wall. That struck me. What a great idea! Walls made of some kind of bulletin-board-like material where you could just tack up your piece of canvas and start a painting. You could have 4 or 5 paintings in progress in different areas of your studio! I’ve never painted this way—but without my realizing it, a year of focused painting in my one-easel studio had gotten me ready for this next step.

But where to find those bulletin-board walls? Corkboard was pretty expensive–there must be something else. Some time and online research eventually led me to a material called Homasote. It’s used mostly for soundproofing, but it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I bought 4 panels (4 feet by 8 feet, 1/2-inch thick, about $25 each) and nailed them up on the walls of my studio. Now I had easels everywhere!

Newstudio toward door

Here's an interior shot of my studio showing two Homasote panels on the walls at right, and another on the far left. Each of these panels constitutes an easel and painting work area.

The other big innovation was a rolling workstation.

Rolling workstation

ROLLING PAINTING WORKSTATION: This stainless-steel rolling cart is 49 inches high, tall enough that I can easily stand and mix my paints. And with enough surface area to easily hold all my painting equipment.

Online, I found and purchased exactly what I was looking for: a stainless-steel rolling cart which was tall enough that I could mix my paints standing up. Plus, it had enough surface area for all my painting equipment—paints, palettes, palette knives, rags, brushes, everything. So now I could roll my painting workstation from easel to easel anytime I wanted to switch from one painting to another, with almost zero set-up required.


THE NEW STUDIO: SPACE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT


I was excited about this new studio set-up but didn’t really know how it would work in practice.

However, after a few days of painting in the new space and with some minor adjustments, I have to say, it’s brilliant! The new set-up works like a dream. What a joy it is to come to a stopping place on one painting and be able to simply roll your cart to the next one and continue painting with no setup required!

Newstudio cart between2spaces

Here you see the rolling painting workstation between two homasote-panel painting areas. Moving physically to a new painting area becomes quick and easy. However, the mental/emotional trip from one area to another can be more of a challenge…

I make it sound easy and smooth, and physical-equipment-wise, it was. But there is also a whole other dynamic going on, and that’s what I’m talking about when I call this section “Space for Enlightenment.”

I’ve often referred to my love-hate relationship with painting. That’s just a dramatic way of saying that it’s really easy to talk yourself out of actually doing some painting, because painting is HARD. Well, actually it’s not the painting that’s hard: it’s what your mind does with the painting that makes it hard! The mind tends to think that every painting will probably fail and then you’ll feel awful, so let’s go catch up on e-mail instead, okay? It’s easy to talk yourself out of dealing with all the stuff that goes with painting.

When your studio is in your home it’s REALLY easy to distract yourself this way.

But having a studio I have to drive to changes everything. Even the fact that I have to feed a parking meter constantly to use my studio turns out to be a helpful aid in focusing. Now, when I’m in my studio, it’s very clear I’m there to paint, and if I don’t paint, I’m wasting the quarters I just fed into the meter.

So now when I have a thought like, That painting is too hard, let’s update the website instead, I am much better at just saying, Thank you for sharing, Mind. Then I get up, move away from the computer, roll my workstation over to the painting that’s calling me at the moment, and start painting.

I make it sound easy. It’s not. It can be incredibly hard to just move over to the painting and pick up a brush and start applying paint. Once you’re doing it, you get into the flow and it’s fine. But wow, getting started can be a bitch.

I define enlightenment as finding that space within yourself where you feel completely at peace, and realizing (and FEELING) that you are much bigger than this body and mind. Believing your own thoughts is NOT the way to enlightenment. Allowing your thoughts to flow but not attaching to them is.

So my new studio really is helping me move toward enlightenment. Because it’s so obvious I’m there to paint, it becomes much easier to see those distracting, negative thoughts for what they are, and to just let them go. It’s time to paint NOW, not later. Not just because that parking meter is ticking, but because I need to produce a lot of paintings before I leave for the winter!

That’s the other part of all this. As soon as all the changes began to reveal themselves and fall into place, it became time to make my travel reservations. I’m off to spend a month in Brazil in November-December.

The rest of the winter remains to be seen. I’ll be back in Nebraska for short spurts of painting, then back to the tropics.

Newstudio newart 6up

Here are the first few paintings produced in my new studio. It's been a busy couple of weeks.

So I’ve got a lot of painting to do between now and early November when I leave. And I am in just the enlightened and enlightening space to do it.

Facescollage header

September 24, 2013

PAINTING FACES


I’ve always loved drawing and painting faces, and I seem to have a facility for it. It’s always been the easiest thing for me to draw. Maybe that’s why I resisted it for so long.

I’ve always pushed myself to be more balanced than that. I mean I didn’t want to just be able to draw faces, so I stretch myself by drawing all kinds of things. Buildings are the hardest! But I’ve gotten better, over the years, at landscapes, still lifes, etc. And of course my ability to draw the male figure has really flourished. But I always keep coming back to faces.

(Read a related blog entry from 2012: Four Faces.)

And I’m finally at a point in my career where I feel I can focus on just one thing, at least for a bit. So I’ve decided to focus on FACES. And guess what. I’m having a terrific time and I love the art that’s happening!

It’s now late September 2013, and I started this new focus in late July. So I’ve been doing this painting-faces-the-way-I-want-to thing for 2 months now (with some time off for moving—more on that later). It started with July 26, the day I did an amazing FOUR PAINTINGS IN ONE DAY!

That day unfolded like a fever dream. I barely even remember doing those paintings, which isn’t surprising. When a painting really takes off I lose myself in it so totally that when it’s done, I stand back in a kind of daze, saying “What happened?” That happened over and over again that day. It was like a dam breaking.

The 4 paintings I did that day are: Straight Shooter, Jonny’s Dilemma, Deep Down, and Still Waters.

Firstfour 4up

I painted all 4 of these faces in one day.

When I came out of my trance at the end of the day and looked at what I had done, I knew this was the start of something exciting.

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This one is entitled Likes to Party.

The next day I kind of rested from that incredible outpouring. Which is to say, I only did one painting, Likes to Party, an Asian-looking kid with kind of a punk haircut.

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This is Killer Joe.

The following day, I did another face painting, Killer Joe.

With Killer Joe things started to get clearer to me. That was the first painting where I was kind of able to stay conscious while I was doing it, and get a sense of what was happening here. This is a tricky balance: you want to shape the painting somewhat consciously, but you don’t want to stop the flow that’s coming from a wordless, semi-conscious part of yourself with which you really have no direct contact except painting.

I began posting the art on my website and on many of the other sites where I exhibit my work: Fine Art America, Society6, SaatchiOnline, Artfinder, Etsy, etc. The response was immediate: People loved the faces and were really responding to them.

I don’t paint just to please others, but it’s nice when it happens! And for me it’s really unpredictable. Some of my favorites never seem to click with most people, while works I think are just okay sometimes turn out to be wildly popular. With Killer Joe, I kind of understood it, because he has a real presence and the colors are great…but that doesn’t totally explain it.

Nor does it need to be explained. The point is, I was making paintings I really enjoyed and seemed to come from somewhere deep and real (without being heavy or dark), and people were feeling something from them, and responding. So my excitement about this new direction, or maybe I should say new focus, kept growing.

(Side note here: In the last year-plus I’ve made it a practice to exhibit my work much more widely online in order to maximize exposure. An unexpected fringe benefit has been the immediate feedback I’m now getting. I didn’t have this when I just showed my work on my own website. As I said, I don’t paint just to please others, but when I’m getting this kind of feedback an energy happens, it feeds on itself, it grows, and my painting energy expands like crazy.)

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I did 2 paintings over the next 2 days: Marco with Gold Chain, and Just Turned 19.

On July 29 I did Marco with Gold Chain. The next day, July 30, I did Just Turned 19.

Louie 2up

I call this one Louie After His Shower (pencil study on left came first).

Next I did Louie After His Shower, and this one was the most finished one yet. I spent two days on it. Like Killer Joe, this one seemed to resonate with people. I tend to think that’s because the colors are great and the lighting is dramatic and interesting—but really, I don’t know. People just like Louie. The important thing for me was that with every painting I did I was having more fun and getting more confident. And I was surprising myself, which is vital to my process!

Some of my faces paintings were done from pencil sketches and some weren’t. As you can see above, Louie did, and the next painting, Channing, also came from a sketch.

Channing 2up

The Picassoesque Channing also started as a pencil sketch.

Channing was a bit more Picassoesque and fractured than some of the others so far. More discovery, more surprises. By now it was August 2 and I was one week into this process. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Rocco 2up

Rocco went from rough to kind of smooth in the transition from sketch to finished painting.

After more pencil sketches, trying out more faces ideas, Rocco happened on August 6. In this one the roughness of the sketch (which I kinda liked) got a bit smoothed-out in the final painting. Which is all right, but generally these days I like to keep the brushwork looser and more interesting than this.

Backtobrasil 2up

Back to Brasil happened on August 7. This is my favorite of the faces paintings so far.

Then on August 7, I did Back to Brasil. This one was (and is) my favorite faces painting so far. I love everything about it: the lines, the forms, especially the colors. And I like the personality of the guy. He’s handsome and strong and interesting. One of the things I enjoy most about the process of painting faces is the often-unexpected personalities that come into being on the canvas in front of me. Anyway, I LOVE everything about this painting!

And guess what: response has been ho-hum. (But this is the way it works. I get to have my favorites, but once I’m done with the painting and out of the ‘trance’, my judgment of the work is totally subjective and I become just another viewer of the work and not an authority on what’s great and what’s not. Which begs the question, who or what is the final arbiter here? How do we know what’s great and what’s not? I guess time, or history, is about as close as we can get to answering that question. But watch how different artists go in and out of favor over the centuries and you’ll see that even that is changeable and subjective. The moral here: enjoy what you enjoy and don’t fool yourself into thinking you have the authoritative opinion.)

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This is called Comes From a Small Town.

On August 10, I did Comes from a Small Town, another experiment with lines and colors, and some interesting dynamics. Haven’t decided yet what I think of this one. There are things about it I like, and things I don’t like. But it’s finished, for better or worse. (I’m pretty good at resisting the urge to go back in and screw around with a painting I’ve already called finished.)

At this point my momentum slowed a bit. Other matters became pressing. I began making preparations for a big move. I was moving out of the duplex I had been renting for a little over a year, and dividing my stuff between two locations: a single room in my sister’s house, and a painting studio I was renting in the Haymarket Square section of downtown Lincoln. This was a good move and an exciting one, but would definitely disrupt my workflow for a few weeks.

Babypizza 2up

Something different in the Faces series: a portrait of my 2-year-old niece Elisabeth called Baby with Pizza.

Still, I was able to keep painting, and my next work was a bit of a departure. On August 16 I completed Baby with Pizza. I consider it one of the faces paintings, but there’s more going on in this one, and the subject is not a handsome young male but a little two-year-old girl, my niece Elisabeth—eating a slice of pizza in her highchair. I used the same basic technical and stylistic approach I used with the other faces paintings, but this one has more context, more background. It’s not just a head and shoulders on a colored background; there’s more going on. I was really pleased that this painting, although not really intended as a portrait, captured Elisabeth’s very interesting personality and way of being in the world.

Dj baller 2up

On the left, DJ. On the right, Baller.

During the period of August 21-25, and in the midst of moving preparations, I was able to complete two more face paintings: DJ and Baller. Both have a lot of oomph and presence, and I’m very happy with both. As the series continues I notice they’re getting a more polished, finished look. I Iike this, but I miss the roughness of some of the early ones. This is something I’ll be addressing as the faces series continues.

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Two of the first paintings I did in my new studio space: Colorful Face, and Jerome Has a Good Thought.

At this point my art production slowed and halted while I dealt with the realities of moving my entire home and studio to two new locations. I’m writing this in late September, and I have just finished setting up my new studio and have produced my first works there, two paintings called Colorful Face and Jerome Has a Good Thought. They’re both interesting in different ways Jerome, especially, surprised me with its unusual color palette and unexpected emotional notes. I’ll follow up in the next few days with an entry on the move, the new studio, and what’s happening as I start producing more paintings in my new situation!

Lanscapes bigshapes header

June 29, 2013

CONTENTS


• PLAYA BONITA 2
• TIRIRICA BEACH SHACKS



PLAYA BONITA 2



I find I’m getting better at painting landscapes these days,
and mostly I think that’s due to the fact that I’m getting better at seeing the big shapes. Or maybe I should say I’m being more disciplined about ONLY looking at the big shapes. Because you can see the big shapes and still get seduced into overworking and over-detail-ing the painting.

Playabonita1

Here's the first painting I did of Playa Bonita in the Dominican Republic. It was a positive experience for me in learning to see the big shapes.

I really liked what happened with the painting “Playa Bonita,” so I chose another photograph I took the same day, but looking another direction. Like the image I used for the first painting, this one also had some nice shapes, particularly the shadows.

Playabonita2 source

Source image for my second Playa Bonita painting.

Playabonita2 twk

Here's the same image tweaked in Photoshop to give me a better idea of values and big shapes.

I did my usual tweaking with Photoshop, but this time I did something else digital as well: I did a digital painting of the image, not as a finished artwork, but as a way of exploring the image. I wanted to make sure I was only working with the big shapes, and I thought it would be interesting to try doing it digitally. One of the great advantages of doing it that way is that by using Photoshop’s sampling and fill tools, I can lay out the big shapes and quickly color them using exactly the right hues and values. It’s a quick way to see if what I have in mind will work, without all the time and trouble of mixing up a bunch of paint.

Playabonita2 digitalptg

Above is the digital painting I did based on the source photo. I used the Lasso tool which, if you hold down the option key while applying it, allows you to draw straight-sided shapes as simply or with as much complexity as you want. Then I sampled the color I wanted right from the source photo, and used the Fill tool to fill the shape I’d just drawn with that color.

As you can see, reducing the image to its basic shapes in this way gives you a powerfully different way to look at it, and in this case it sets me up perfectly for the approach I want to take with the actual painting.

Here’s a great thing about working with big shapes: painting goes a lot faster. I’m a big fan of paintings that happen quickly. I am not a work-on-it-for-weeks-and-weeks kind of painter. Not at all! If it isn’t happening in the first hour, I usually abandon it and move on to something else. I have nothing against people who like to spend months on a single painting, it’s just not me. Maybe it’s just a short attention span. But I’ve learned I do better work when I don’t torture myself. And I’m a lot happier!

Another thing about working fast is that I have a better chance of keeping the energy level high. And lately I’ve gotten clearer about the fact that I want my paintings to be explosions of energy. Not for me the quiet, considered painting. I want action, vitality, life! I want bold brushstrokes and excitement. It’s what I want in life, and it’s what I want in my paintings.

Playabonita2 inprog

Here's the painting about 75% completed.

In this case, there were very few hiccups and the painting came together nicely—and I kept the energy high! I especially like what happened when I laid in those cool bluish shadow shapes at middle right. They turned out to be just the cool contrast all those warms in the foreground needed. That’s the warm vs. cool magic that can happen when it’s done right, and if you’ve been reading this blog you know I’ve gotten a lot better at managing warms and cools in the past year. Here’s the completed painting:

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It’s entitled “Playa Bonita 2.”


TIRIRICA BEACH SHACKS


A few days later I decided to try another landscape painting with a similar approach, but a different type of subject matter: buildings.

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Here's the photo of beach shacks in Tiririca I chose to work from.

I chose a photo of some beach shacks I snapped while walking along the road between the guesthouse where Steph and I were staying in Tiririca, and the town of Itacaré (for more on that trip, go to Brazil Trip with an Unexpected Male Nude Photo Shoot.) It looked like it would be a good opportunity to just see the big shapes.

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Same photo tweaked in Photoshop.

I did my usual Photoshop tweaking to remove detail and enhance color, then I posterized the image to make the values clearer. And again, as I did with Playa Bonita 2, I sat down at the computer with my Wacom tablet and did a digital study to reduce the image to its main shapes.

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And again, preparing in this way made a world of difference. I think it’s not only that one gets to know the subject matter better, it also builds confidence. Seeing that the image works well with just the big shapes and no detail at all, I feel a lot more confident when I step up to the easel and start slinging paint around.

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The painting went so quickly and so smoothly I only remembered to stop and snap an in-progress photo (above) once, when the painting was almost done. Below is the finished work followed by some details (close-ups) which give you a chance to see the brushwork and appreciate the fact that there really is almost no detail.

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The finished painting: Tiririca Beach Shacks.


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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 1


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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 2



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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 3

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June 14, 2013

FRESH & NEW: I find a new muse in Khanh

I didn’t expect to find models in Lincoln, Nebraska. I especially didn’t expect to find a beautiful Asian muscle boy here. But sometimes when you’re not looking…

I’ve been working out at the Cooper YMCA in Lincoln since I got here about a year ago. I’ve seen some stunning boys in the gym. And Lincoln is way more ethnically mixed now than when I went to college here 40-plus years ago, so there’s a wide range of types.

I didn’t pursue it, though. It’s kind of a self-image thing: I just have never seen myself in model-search mode while I’m in Nebraska. This place has always been associated with family for me, and when visiting, I would revert to a more conservative, repressed me without even realizing it. Now that I’ve been here for a while, though, that’s been going away. (Perhaps this is just one more reason I’ve felt compelled to spend some time here at this point in my life–letting go of some more baggage I didn’t even know I was still carrying around.)

So gradually I’ve felt more open to finding models here, and there was one guy at the Y I kept noticing. He was young, Asian and had a really beautiful, muscular body…not too muscular, just right. Plus he had an open, fresh look, and a lot of energy. This kid doesn’t walk from place to place, he BOUNCES.

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Khanh

We had a gym relationship–you say hi because you work out at the same time and see each other several times a week. Then one day in the locker room, we had lockers next to each other and it was a natural thing to start a conversation. His name is Khanh, he’s Vietnamese, and he just turned 20. When he found out I was an artist, he wanted to know more, so I gave him my card and told him I thought he would be a good model, and to let me know if he was interested.

I wondered if he’d still be interested when he went to my website and saw that I specialize in male nudes. A few days later when I was working out, he came up to me and said he had seen my website and what did he have to do to be a model for me?

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Test shot of Khanh in my studio.

So we set up an interview. He came to my house (he showed up early, which is a good sign) and we talked and I took some test shots. He photographed well, which didn’t surprise me. And he had absolutely no problem with modeling nude. In fact, he was enthusiastic and excited about it.

I was enthusiastic and excited, too!

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Shirtless test shot of Khanh in my studio.

So with Khanh ready to model whenever I was ready for him, I turned my attention to the matter of a location. No beach, no jungle, no mountains…what was I going to do? I’ve always preferred tropical settings and that was obviously not an option. Plus, it was April and it was still cold and the trees were still mostly bare. On top of that, we kept having thunderstorms and rainy days, for weeks and weeks. It was a cold, wet spring, and every time we had a sunny day and I thought the weather would break, it would go right back to rain and cold.

A month passed, and I was getting impatient. Finally I decided I would shoot him right here, inside my house.

That wouldn’t really have been a very good option in the past, since I only use natural light, and most interiors are just too dark. In a situation like that you have to use a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to get sharp images, and that’s just not how I like to work.

But! A few months ago, in preparation for my trip to the Dominican Republic, I bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot G15. While I was traveling I discovered how amazing this camera is in low-light situations. There were times when the sun had gone down and it was almost completely dark outside, and I was still getting decent shots, with no flash.

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I love this camera! It's the Canon Powershot G15. Runs about $500 in the U.S.

I realized that with this new camera, I could actually do an interior shoot at my house with just ambient light.

Unfortunately the weather was still cloudy, rainy and dark. Even with my amazing new camera, I still needed it to be a sunny day outside to get the warm interior light I wanted.

But finally, after over a month of waiting, the weather broke. We had sun! I called Khanh and he was more than ready–he’d been impatient, too.

I wanted that magical late-afternoon light, and to get that in Hawaii I’d have to shoot from about 5pm to 6pm, any time of year. But here in North America, in late May/early June, we were getting that magical light for 2 whole hours, from about 6pm until 8pm or even later! So I had Khanh show up at my house at 530 and we started shooting.

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I did some outside shots before we started the interior portion of the shoot. I couldn't do nudes because my backyard is too open to prying eyes, but it was a good warmup for Khanh, and I got some nice shots.

Working with Khanh was a pleasure because he was so accommodating and enthusiastic–and so great-looking! Plus he has a bouncy, upbeat energy that makes any model even more appealing. All that, and magical light for a couple of hours! Need I say I got several hundred amazing shots?

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One thing that surprised me was how well my house worked as a location. It’s a 1950s house with the moldings and fittings and the look that go with that era, and it has a really nice flavor I didn’t appreciate until this photo shoot. It’s a quiet setting, not obtrusive, but a nice ambience.

All things considered, it was probably one of the best interior shoots I’ve ever done. I would never have expected that.

Summer is arriving in full bloom as I write this, and sometime in the next few weeks I’ll do a second photo shoot with Khanh, probably outside, and when that happens I’ll be blogging about it. In the meantime, my creative juices always get bubbling on high when I have a new model to work with, so I’ve already begun producing drawings and prints of Khanh. See some of them here!

Art takes balls header

May 24, 2013

• COURAGE AND STAMINA
• LET THE PAINT RUN!
• THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO
• MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID
• NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE
• NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT



COURAGE AND STAMINA


The title isn’t meant to imply anything about the gender of an artist. (Most female artists I know have cojones at least as big as the male ones.)

I’m talking about courage and stamina.

I used to say one of my goals with painting was to get looser and freer with my use of paint. A fellow painter pointed out that ‘looseness’ is not actually an end in itself, and I realized that’s true. So I restated my goal: I aim for boldness, authenticity and courage in my work. The tendency among most of us humans is to attempt to get it right, and get approval for having done it right. Being an artist requires one to give up the need for approval (as much as that’s possible while living in relationship with other beings) and to look instead to your own heart and instincts as the arbiter of what is good and satisfying in your work.

I don’t say that’s easy or that I’m always successful at it, but I have found that I’m most excited and happy with my art when I’m painting in bold, expansive strokes, rather than using a small brush to get some tiny detail just right.

Or, to put it another way, big and bold allows me to say what I want to say with more honesty and power than little and careful.

This is not easy. It takes, like I said, courage and stamina.

To complicate things, as an artist you’re fighting on two fronts. One is the battle at the easel, where you’re always aware of the risk that your next big, audacious brushstroke could destroy hours of work (but playing it safe is even worse!). The other is the battle to stay bold and courageous and keep painting, year in and year out, even when nobody is buying your work and it appears to you that nobody even likes it.

It takes courage and stamina. Or, more succinctly, balls.

It’s true. If you’re doing it right, Art Takes Balls.

I guess I’ve just announced that I do, indeed, have a pair. So with no further ado, allow me to share with you the latest examples of my, uh, ballsiness…



LET THE PAINT RUN!

Thanks not only to my growing boldness but also the encouragement of my friend John, an artist and gallery representative (who reminded me that big paintings look much better on gallery walls!), I paint a lot bigger than I used to. When I decided to do a painting of my old friend and 1990s-era model Ramses, I cut a BIG piece of canvas and tacked it up on my easel.

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This pre-digital 1993 shot of Ramses was on a 35mm slide, so I had to scan it. Not the best image quality, but good enough for me to work from.

It takes a lot of determination for me to let go and just splash paint onto the canvas. Letting go of control has never been easy for me! So I prepare by looking at lots of artists whose work is full of expressive power. Not only does this inspire me and get me excited, it also gives me permission to let go of the need to do it right and the need to get approval. If they did it, I can do it.

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As usual, I drew the outlines of the figure onto the canvas with pencil, then painted over it with a wash. Sometimes I do a single color over the whole painting; other times, as here, I start laying in some of the actual colors I’ll use in the painting.

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Here (above) is where I diverged from my usual routine: Taking inspiration from the works of other artists I’d been looking at to prepare for this painting, I used medium to thin my acrylic paint way down, so that when I applied it to the canvas, it would drip and run. I did this with some purple mixes along the top edge, so they would drip down across the entire canvas. I’ve seen this in lots of other artists’ work and always loved the energy of it, but never before had the balls to really commit to it in my own painting. As I stood back and watched the paint run, I felt triumphant. I also felt apprehensive because I’d never done this before. Could I really pull off a painting this loose and out of control?

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It turns out, yes, I could, but only by staying really conscious of what I was doing every step of the way. I did this by constantly referring back to the works of other artists I’m looking at while doing this painting. Their works are inspiring and guiding me through this process, and providing me with constant reminders to take chances and be willing to totally mess up the painting in return for a big, bold, energetic series of brushstrokes.

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Above is the finished painting. I’m pleased with it and proud of how much energy it has. I perhaps over-finished the figure a bit, but not too much. This painting was a definite step forward for me and I notice that I don’t get tired of looking at it…definitely a good sign.



THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO

It’s not an easy thing to do, given the way the human eye and mind work, but it’s essential to creating good art. I’m talking about seeing the big shapes. We’re so used to looking at detail, focusing on the parts that interest us most, that seeing the big picture is a challenge. So I use technology to help me.

I like to tweak my source photo in Photoshop to help me see the big shapes and skip the details. I do this by using a filter called Median to blur the image in a way that I like. I can still see the big shapes but the details are mostly gone. Then I use another filter called Posterize to reduce the number of colors (or values, if you’re working in black and white) in the image. I’m left with a nice simplified bunch of basic abstract shapes.

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Left side is the untweaked photo. On the right, the Median filter then Posterize have been applied.

My source image for this painting was a photograph I shot of Eduardo lying on a blanket on the lanai of the Ipanema Towers apartment in Rio. I liked the pose, the composition, the lighting, the colors of this image, and as I tweaked it in Photoshop, I liked it even better.

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Above, you can see the pencil sketch on canvas. I’ve used the tweaked photograph to map out the basic areas of color. My goal is to keep to those simplified shapes all through the painting.

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In photos 2 and 3 above, you can see my progress. I began with a purple wash, then after that dried I began painting in flat areas of color. As always with this approach, I’m staying aware that acrylic paints are lighter when wet than when dry, so sometimes I have to repaint an area that’s turned out to be too dark, or not dark enough, once it’s dried (5 to 10 minutes later, unless it’s very thick). In this painting I had the most issues with the blanket and had to repaint some areas a couple of times. But I’ve gotten a lot better than I used to be at gauging the amount of value change that’s going to happen after the paint dries.

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In the above photo everything is in place, pretty much. What needs to be done now is balancing. Especially balancing the values (light vs. dark) and the colors (warm vs. cool). In a painting like this that’s a dance that can take a while, with lots of painting or repainting an area, then waiting for the paint to dry, then standing WAY back to see if it worked.

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Above, the final painting. As you can see, one of the big changes I made was to make the middle tones of the body warmer, both the reds and greens. It’s just a matter of trying stuff out, and keeping what works. I call this one “Ipanema Towers 15.”



MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID

When I was in the Dominican Republic doing the Caribbean Boys Gone Wild shoot, my favorite model of the 4 turned out to be Leandro. There was just something about him that was my type: a sweet, shy, handsome boy, with a devilish exhibitionist lurking just underneath. I shot several images of him with a towel over his shoulder, leaning against a coconut palm, and they captured him in a way that I really liked. I chose one of these shots for my next painting.

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This image is not a great photograph (it’s not even in focus!), but I like the feeling of it, the way it captures Leandro and that moment in time, and that’s what I’m going for as I turn it into a painting.

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No in-progress shots on this one, since it happened in one feverish burst of creativity. One of my new artistic tools is acrylic colors that are not in a tube but in a squeeze bottle . The dripping I accomplished in the Ramses painting above was done by adding lots of medium to tube paints. But I’ve since begun using these very liquid acrylic paints. They’re formulated to be runny and drippy and just messy as hell…which is exactly what I need. That’s the type of paint I began using in this painting, and I love what happened. In the past when I’ve painted with tube colors (which are a lot thicker and not at all runny), I like the buildup of paint, the impasto possibilities, but what I don’t like is the way the paint kind of fights you as you’re applying it. Discovering these new more-liquid paints has been wonderful! I love the ease with which I can apply a big, runny splash of paint. There’s one fewer barrier between me and just PAINTING. Which worked out very well for me in the above work, which I entitled “Dominican Boy with Towel.”



NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE

The painting that followed Leandro on a Dominican beach was a painting of a Dominican beach itself. I shot lots of pictures of beautiful young men in the D.R., but I also got a lot of wonderful photographs of the place itself. So many, in fact, that it was hard to choose one for a landscape painting. I picked one almost at random, since there were so many good ones. The one I chose is of a place called Playa Bonita, near the town of Las Terrenas. It’s late afternoon so the shadows of the coconut palms are long, and there’s a purpling of the distant sky—great ingredients for a rich, atmospheric painting.

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Here's the original photograph of Playa Bonita in the late afternoon.

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Here's the photo prepared for painting. As usual I've blurred it with median to remove detail, then posterized it to narrow down the range of colors and values.

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Here's a greyscale (de-saturated) version of the tweaked photo. This version is very useful for reference while I'm painting. Removing the color makes it that much easier to see the big shapes and nothing else.

As I’ve said many times in many blog entries, tweaking the image in the way I’ve done above makes it simpler and removes details, which makes it easier for me to see the BIG SHAPES. If you can get the big shapes right, and get the values (lights and darks) right in relationship to each other, you’ve pretty much got it made, painting-wise.

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To my surprise, after laying in the basic shapes and colors rather quickly, I stood back and everything had kind of fallen into place. This is what happens when you get the big shapes and the values right---everything falls into place.

When you’re painting big shapes and painting energetically, a painting can come together pretty quickly. Of course it can also completely collapse pretty quickly, and that happens to me too (I just don’t usually put those in a blog!). This was one of those that came together pretty quickly. A lot of that was because I was pretty disciplined about painting only the big shapes, almost no small details—maybe a palm frond sticking up here and there just to suggest what kind of trees you’re seeing, but everything else is big, broad brushstrokes. Another help is the black-and-white version of the image. Sometimes color gets in the way of seeing the big shapes, and a greyscale image can clarify things.

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Above is the final painting, “Playa Bonita.” As you can see, I didn’t have to do too much after the basic block-in. When a painting comes together this quickly and almost efforlessly, it’s like magic. It makes you forget (almost) all those times when everything just falls apart and you don’t have a clue why the painting didn’t work!



NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT

I’ve done quite a few paintings and drawings of Kaimana, but every time I go back to my photographs of him, I discover great images that I haven’t painted yet. Below is one of them.

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I approached this painting in the same way I’ve been approaching all my paintings lately: as an abstract work that just happens to have some recognizable realistic elements. Of course when I’m finished it usually looks pretty realistic, but what’s important is that while I’m painting, I’m paying more attention to how the colors and shapes and paintstrokes are feeling and interacting than how close the painting is to the source photo. This is another great advantage of paying attention only to the big shapes: there are no details to cramp your style. Or very few, anyway. As I keep saying, when you get the big shapes right, the details fall into place. Or put another way, the details end up getting filled in by the viewer.

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You can see by the above in-progress shot of the painting that I’m not focusing on any one area; I’m working all over the painting. This used to be something I had trouble remembering to do. Nowadays I do it without even thinking about it. This is great progress for me, and more evidence that I’m looking at the big shapes, the entire composition, almost constantly. Which is great because there’s much less chance it’ll get out of balance.

An interesting thing that happened in the course of this painting was what I did with the water. When I looked at the photograph, the water looked kind of uninteresting and I thought, uh-oh, what am I gonna do with that water? But as I was painting, I was thinking abstractly, and I knew the area needed some visual interest, so I found myself breaking up the water area with bold brushstrokes and strong darks and strong lights. Not accurate but turned out to be totally right for the composition.

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Above is the finished painting. (Difference in colors between in-progress shot and finished painting is due to the difference between shooting something with a camera and scanning it. The finished work, which was scanned, is much closer to the true colors.) I call this one “Hawaiian Nude with Surfboard.”