Archive for the ‘2014’ Category

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BREAKING IN MY MEXICO STUDIO

December 15, 2014

I was still in the process of setting up my Mexico studio in December 2014. I hadn’t yet completed a painting there—at least not one I was happy enough with to keep.

Part of that was because I didn’t yet have some of what I needed, most of all a decent disposable palette, which is my longtime preference (I was making do with a wall mirror). But it was also because I was in a new place, a new situation, and my confidence wasn’t what it needed to be. Painting, in case you didn’t know, requires a lot of confidence! Painting doesn’t just snap into shape with a lackadaisical approach. You have to be bold and assertive with the paint. I wasn’t quite there yet.

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This is one of my favorite landscape photographs from my Dominican Republic trip a couple of years ago, and I chose this as the source image for my next painting.

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Here's the photograph above after some Photoshop tweaking to make it easier for me to paint from.

That was demonstrated with my first try at a Dominican Republic landscape in early December. I did everything I usually do to get a painting off and running. I chose a landscape photo I liked a lot (one of the images I shot on the beach at Las Terrenas), tweaked it in Photoshop to get the look I like and to help me with the colors, then I drew it onto the canvas with pencil. I kept the pencil underdrawing fairly faithful to the photograph but didn’t bother with much detail, just general placement of the large masses. Then I added a wash and started mixing colors.

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In-progress shots of my first try at the painting. I could have finished it and it would've been passable, but I was not feeling it. If I'm not feeling it, painting becomes a tedious, unhappy experience. And who wants to look at the product of that kind of process?

Then I dove in and started adding color. This is always a crucial phase, where the magic is either there or it isn’t. This time, as I saw fairly early, it wasn’t.

I won’t lie, I was discouraged. This was the 5th or 6th painting I’d done in my Mexico studio and I still hadn’t found my feet. I sat down and looked at the lacklustre landscape I’d just put several hours into, and asked myself what was missing. Almost as soon as I bothered to formulate the question, I knew the answer.

BALLS.

Or, to use a more delicate word, courage. Or yet another word I like: BOLDNESS.

I had been playing it safe. Why, I asked myself yet again, is it so difficult to remember that playing it safe NEVER WORKS?? Ah, the perversity of the human mind. It keeps convincing us that we should do what’s easy and comfortable and not dangerous. Then we find our lives have grown boring and we wonder why.

This also goes back to my comment in the first paragraph above. Painting (at least what I consider GOOD painting) requires boldness and assertiveness. It’s like a rebellious wild beast that requires you to prove over and over again that you’ve got what it takes to master it.

I really liked this image and I wasn’t ready to give up. I decided to get out my big whip and try again to tame this lion.

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First in-progress shot of my second try. This one has more energy right from the beginning.

I began again, and this time I spent a bit more time working on the underdrawing. Rather than just trying for accuracy I paid attention to the vectors. By that I mean the lines of movement, or force, that draw the eye across and through the image. This additional attention to the actual structure made a big difference. This time the underdrawing had some life and energy of its own, and while not enough to guarantee success, at least it was a better stage setting for its possibility. I drew over it with a black acrylic pen and liked the base drawing even more.

Then it was time to start painting. I knew I had to jump off the cliff this time; no playing it safe. I prepared for the big jump as I often do, by looking at the paintings of other artists who inspire me, paintings with bold, exciting brushwork and the willingness to give up humdrum accuracy and clearcut edges for energy, life, excitement. These are paintings where I can clearly feel the courageous jump that has been taken by the painter.

Looking at these paintings and letting them soak into me for a few minutes gave me the courage I needed. I loaded up the paintbrush with some blue for the sky, aimed at the canvas, then closed my eyes!—and let ‘er rip! That first stroke obscured part of my careful underdrawing, which would seem disastrous at first, but no, it was exactly what was needed. The underdrawing was a mere suggestion, and not meant to be followed too closely. What was more important was the energy of the stroke. I repeated the same sequence, and then did it again, sometimes leaving my eyes open, but more often closing them so that I was less in control and the paint was having its way with the canvas. (See my blog entry from June 10, 2014, Painting Blind.)

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Halfway through...things are happening fast this time.

I was keeping the paint very wet, too, so that it would drip and run. This is an important component for me these days; it’s a visual reminder that the painting is about the paint itself more than the image. It’s also another way to ‘break up’ the image, which I find much more visually exciting than mere accuracy.

By this time I was sailing! I had had the balls to dominate the painting right from the first stroke, and it was paying off. For the rest of the painting it was just a matter of staying in that space….which is not an easy thing either. As the painting gets more and more exciting, there’s a very strong tendency to want to keep from screwing it up. That’s when you have to renew your determination to dominate the painting, even if it means destroying it over and over again.

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A closeup of what magic can be produced when you close your eyes and throw caution to the winds.

I managed to do that: mess the painting up over and over again until it was perfect. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, (and nothing is ever perfect except maybe a painting that doesn’t want anything more done to it) but that’s exactly what happened, and what always happens with my best paintings.

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Another closeup of the kind of brushwork I can only get to by closing my eyes and giving up all hope that the painting will be any good.

I called the finished work “Republica Dominicana” and besides being a terrific piece of work I’m very happy with, it also served as the true christening of my Mexican studio. Turns out I couldn’t properly break in my new studio until I broke through my own walls.

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The finished painting: Republica Dominicana.

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December 9, 2014

CONTENTS


• THE DECISION
• MELTDOWN
• ARRIVAL and FINDING AN APARTMENT
• SETTING UP MY STUDIO
• ART SUPPLIES
• I’M PAINTING AGAIN

(Note: Titles are clickable)


THE DECISION


When I got back to Nebraska in late March after a 1-month stay in Puerto Vallarta, I was looking forward to getting back into my studio and painting. I was not looking forward to the weather, which remained winterlike for another six weeks after my return. Ugh. I was not a happy camper.

But summer did eventually arrive, and with it my growing realization that I now knew where I was going to go next. I had been in Lincoln for over 2 years, through my mother’s passing, boyfriend dramas with my sister, and getting closer to my father than we had ever been before—not to mention huge growth as a painter—and I felt like I’d done what I had come to do. It was time to move on, and I got clearer and clearer that where I wanted to go was back to Puerto Vallarta.

I’ve always dreamed of living full-time in Brazil. Unfortunately, as a U.S. citizen, short of marrying a Brazilian, I didn’t have a legal way that I could stay there for more than 3 months out of any given year. But Mexico was doable. Plus it’s a few thousand miles closer to Lincoln (where I will keep my studio and my inventory) and these days, it’s a much more affordable place to live than Brazil.

It was late May or early June when it finally crystallized for me and I made the decision on Mexico, and from then on it was all about getting everything set for that to happen. I renewed my passport (many months early, but just being safe) and I began working on my Spanish language skills. I also began training my assistant to do additional tasks I would need someone to handle while I was out of the country. Everything was coming together nicely.

I had a big Moving to Mexico sale a few weeks before my departure and my collectors really went for it and bought a lot of my art. That made the whole moving process MUCH easier.

Then, just when I was starting to relax—


MELTDOWN


On a Sunday evening, with just a little over a week left before my departure for Mexico, my assistant had an emotional meltdown and decided she could no longer work with me. This was after over a year of what I had thought was a great relationship, and I liked her a lot. But she was keeping a lot of stuff hidden from me—and from herself, I think—and she finally imploded. Her communication issues even extended to the way she quit, which was to stop answering my emails and phone calls.

After trying my best to get into communication with her all evening on Sunday, and then again the next morning, I realized this was obviously unworkable, and it was time to move on. I had exactly one week left before my move to Mexico. That morning I started looking for a new assistant, someone bright, capable and competent enough that I could train them for a week and leave feeling that things were in good hands.

Believe it or not—and this is so often the way my life goes in these past few years—I found her in a matter of hours. I had met Nicole through friends the previous weekend and it turned out she was looking for something part-time. Previous entrepreneurial experience, a pleasant and unflappable demeanor, and the fact that we got along well, made her an appealing choice. So approximately 18 hours elapsed between the beginning of my previous assistant’s meltdown and the hiring of my new assistant.

Over the next week of training her, it became clear I had chosen well. At this writing Nicole is still doing a great job of being my hands and eyes in Lincoln while I’m living in Puerto Vallarta.


ARRIVAL AND APARTMENT-HUNTING


I arrived in Puerto Vallarta on October 28, 2014. My plan was to stay in the Vallarta Sun Hostel (where I spent a month this past winter) until I could find a suitable living and painting space. I knew I could stay there comfortably and cheaply until I found an apartment.

The “Zona Romantica” area of Puerto Vallarta, which is more formally known as the Colonia Emiliano Zapata, is where the hostel is located, and where I wanted to live. I like it for a lot of reasons: its proximity to the beaches, its charm and quaintness, the vitality of the street life, and the fact that it’s the center of gay nightlife in Puerto Vallarta.

I was looking for something inexpensive (I had hoped for around $500 a month), not too far from the beaches and nightife, and big enough that I would have both living space and space for painting.

I figured it would take me a couple of weeks, hopefully not more, to find an apartment.

I was wrong.

It took me less than 24 hours.

There’s a little weekly classifieds called Mano a Mano which has everything for Puerto Vallarta—jobs, places for rent or sale, cars, furniture, whatever people want to sell and other people are looking for. I bought a copy for 5 pesos and my friend Marco, who manages the hostel, helped me find some available apartments in the area. He helped me even more: since I didn’t yet have a local phone, and my Spanish is still not that great, he called some of these places for me.

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My new apartment is on the 2nd floor of this funky little building in Puerto Vallarta's Zona Romantica.

It took only 3 calls to find something promising, and that same morning, just hours after I’d arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I went to check out my first apartment. The landlord was a sixtyish man named Felipe who was very friendly and down to earth. The apartment was on the second floor of a 4-story building. It was on a side street located very close to everything without being smack in the middle of the noisy part of it. It seemed perfect for my needs.

The rent was 4500 pesos a month. At current rate of exchange, that was $375 in U.S. dollars. The price was definitely right. And I liked the apartment.

My only hesitation was: should I jump on the first place I look at? I really should see what else is out there, I thought. So I started investigating other places by phone, with Marco’s help. But Marco, who knows the pulse of the town, told me that I had arrived just in time to get a decent place before all the snowbirds arrive and places get snapped up and rental prices go up. I told him about the place and he said I should go for it. I trusted his judgment, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the place. Plus I liked Felipe, and he had told me he’d be happy to help me change anything in the place that didn’t work for me. I decided to trust my gut feeling and rent the apartment in spite of the fact that it was the only one I had actually looked at.

(See how good I’m getting at trusting myself?)

It took only another day to get everything squared away with Felipe and pay the rent and get the keys. At that point I was ready to take on the next challenge: getting the place set up so I could work and paint in it.

As I mentioned earlier, I still didn’t have a local phone. It took a few days and lots of phone calls, and some help from my nephew Jordan who works at Sprint, but I finally managed to get Sprint to turn off my service and unlock my iPhone. Once the phone was unlocked, it was just a matter of going to one of the several mobile-phone shops right near my apartment to get a Mexico SIM card. Getting the SIM card, having it installed, and getting a Mexico phone number took only a few minutes and cost me about US$25. I can buy minutes at any OXXO store (the Mexican 7-11—there’s one on every corner). Now I have a local phone and I can use the maps on my iPhone here. And my monthly phone bill is around $15, instead of $50. Fantastic!


SETTING UP MY STUDIO


In my previous studio I had found a great easel setup. Since I paint on unstretched canvas, I use sheets of Homasote (a soundproofing material that has some of the qualities of “bulletin-board” materials) attached flush to the wall. Then I just stretch the square of canvas on the Homasote with pushpins.

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Here's my new studio (the back half of my bedroom) just after the sheets of drywall were delivered.

Unfortunately they don’t seem to have heard of Homasote in Puerto Vallarta. But I spent some time at the PV Home Depot, and with the help of the staff, found a passable alternative: Drywall (tabla roca in Mexico). Drywall that has paper glued to it to cover the gesso actually works fine; it’s easy to push a tack or pushpin into it, and it stays in place sufficiently to hold the corners of a tightly stretched piece of canvas. The price for 2 4’x8′ sheets of drywall plus delivery to my apartment: about US$35.

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My landlord, Felipe, working to install brackets to hold my 'easels' in place.

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The brackets are a little funky but do the job perfectly.


The next step was to find a way to attach the drywall sheets to the wall. I had an idea for a bracket at the top, which was all that was needed because the drywall can just be pushed up against the wall and will stay solidly in place as long as there’s something on top to keep it from falling away from the wall. My landlord Felipe (a gem of a guy!) spent several hours constructing four brackets and attaching them to the wall for me. I now have two sheets of drywall standing securely against one wall of the back of my bedroom. My studio is taking shape.

Lighting

Felipe also installed brackets to hold the clip-on lamps I had finally found.

Every gay person (and some straight ones) know that LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING! It’s especially true when you’re putting together a painting studio. I have found cheap clamp-on lamps are just what I need in my Nebraska studio, since they’re inexpensive so you can buy a lot of them, and you can clamp them on anywhere. Finding a simple clamp-on lamp in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, however, was not as easy as I thought it would be. After a couple of weeks of looking, I finally found them in the local Office Depot. So I bought several and then, with Felipe’s help, put brackets up on either side of the drywall ‘easels.’ Now I have a place to clamp the lights on, and I’m ready to paint!


ART SUPPLIES


Oh wait, I thought I was ready to paint. But it turns out the art supplies I bought here in Mexico are not so great. Evidently the Mexican government protects the local industries in this area, so they only sell made-in-Mexico artists’ supplies at the stores. They have this disposable palette which, as soon as you put some acrylic paint on it, it starts soaking in, and when you try to mix something on it with a palette knife, the paper wrinkles and tears and—well, basically it’s useless. I looked at the single art-supplies store here in PV and it’s all they had. I also looked at the art-supplies store I found in Guadalajara, and they also only carry that one brand. So no useable disposable palettes anywhere.

So I’ve had to get creative. At the local “Everything for 25 pesos” store I bought a $2 rectangular mirror which is about the same size as a palette. Guess what—it works! It’s not great, but it will do for now, until I come back after Christmas, and I’ll bring a couple of disposable palettes in my luggage.

Finding acrylic paints has also been a challenge. The single PV art-supply store has a limited selection, and the paints come in very small tubes and they’re expensive. But just by chance, i found a little store a few blocks from where i live where the guy (Antonio) makes his own acrylic paints and sells them! I was a little dubious, but he claims it’s better quality than the stuff you buy in tubes here. So i bought some and tried it and it seems to be fine. Better yet, it’s liquid so i can paint sloppy without having to have liquid medium. Even better, he will mix colors to order, and his paints are really inexpensive! A small jar sells for 20 pesos, which is about $1.50. the jar is not that small–it’s a really good deal. 

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With a mirror palette and a complete supply of squeezable paints, I'm ready to paint.

So at the 25-peso store, they have these ketchup-type squeeze bottles with a cap on the nozzle. They’re ridiculously cheap, so i bought a bunch of them and I’ve been pouring Antonio’s paints into them. So now I’ve got a line of squeeze bottles and i just grab what i need, squirt some onto the palette and start mixing. It’s actually the best setup i’ve ever had for squeezing paint onto my palette!


I’M PAINTING AGAIN!


Finally, 3 weeks after arriving in PV, I started painting. I did several paintings over a 2-week period and nothing really great happened. But that’s typical. It’s a new environment and I hadn’t painted for several weeks. It took a few tries before my confidence kicked in again. Finally, 1 month after arriving in Puerto Vallarta, I had my breakthrough—a Dominican Republic landscape where I really let go and let the paint have its way, and found that lovely painting energy again. And finally, I’m painting in Mexico!

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PORTRAIT OF MY SISTER

July 10, 2014

My sister Kelly is not just my sister, she’s one of my best friends. I had tried many times over the years to paint a portrait of her, but they never worked out. In fact some were horrifyingly bad. Part of it is that I’m just not used to painting white people! Another thing is, it’s often harder to paint someone you’re very close to. But despite the misses I kept trying.

This blog entry is about how I finally succeeded.

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I always loved this photograph of my sister Kelly and thought it would make a terrific painting.

I’d snapped a photograph of Kelly a couple of years ago that I really liked. We were hanging out with our sister Lisa and her family at their apartment which had a pool. Kelly was relatively relaxed. What that means is, she was only checking sales on her retail sites once every 20 minutes. It was during one of those moments when I saw the light catch her hair just right, and I snapped a picture.

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I tweaked the image in Photoshop to make it easier to paint (among other filters, I used Posterize and Noise->Median).

Later I looked at that photograph and thought it would make a great painting. But I didn’t feel ready to tackle it. For over a year, every time I came across it in my Photo Archives on my computer, I would look at it and think, I’m not ready. But then one day in my Lincoln studio, for reasons I’m not totally clear on, I finally felt ready. I dived in, and magic happened.

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I started by drawing outlines of the different color areas on my canvas.

I’m showing you the step-by-step in-progress shots of the painting here, but they don’t really explain how it came together. The real defining factor was my willingness to keep it loose by not worrying too much about how it was going to turn out. I say that like it’s something I can call on at will. I wish that were true! I wish I could always be in that space. But it’s elusive.

Kelly inprog2

Rather than my usual method of doing a single-color wash over the drawing, this time I did several washes giving me a general idea of the colors of the painting right from the start.

That said, I find the older I get, the less I care about shit in general. This is one of the compensations of age. Your perspective broadens and you have an easier time staying focused on the stuff that matters and kind of letting the rest go wherever it goes. At least that’s how it’s working for me.

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My best paintings seem to happen all in one go, and this one was no exception. This is the painting about 3 hours in.

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Here's the painting about a half-hour later--99% done.

What that means in terms of my work as a painter is that I have a higher percentage of those days when I’m able to just paint, stay loose, and enjoy the process of moving the paint around without trying to make a perfect painting. I say a higher percentage—so now it’s maybe one painting session out of 5 instead of one out of 30! That still means things are less than optimal 80% of the time. That doesn’t mean I don’t do okay stuff during that 80% (I have developed some solid skills in 35 years of painting). But having everything come together in a painting session is still a kind of miracle, and when it happens even 20% of the time, you gotta feel blessed. I certainly do.

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The finished painting.

That day, I was blessed by everything coming together to make possible a terrific painting. And that’s right in line with how blessed I feel to have Kelly as my sister and my friend.

Oh yeah—I call the painting “Workaholic” because Kelly, like me, is one.

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June 9, 2014

CONTENTS


• BACK IN THE STUDIO
• INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA
• THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP
• PAINTING BLIND
• LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK
• FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


BACK IN THE STUDIO


I got back to Nebraska from Puerto Vallarta in late March, and after having been gone for almost the whole winter, I was really happy to get back into my studio for some extended painting time. With painting, it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the groove when you’ve been away. And if I want to really grow and develop and make some breakthroughs, I need a period of not just weeks, but months where I’m painting almost every day. That’s when the magic really starts to happen.

I got back from Mexico on March 19th, and by the beginning of April I was getting back into full swing. With, of all things, ABSTRACTS!


INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA


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Green Green by Fitz Herrera.

In the past I often painted abstracts as a way to get warmed up before I dive into “the real stuff”—the male figure. But over the past few years abstracts and landscapes have begun to assume greater importance for me. Now abstracts and landscapes are “the real stuff” for me, too. When I got back from Mexico, I found myself getting captivated all over again by the abstract paintings of a guy from the Philippines named Fitz Herrera. I discovered his art online a couple of years ago and went crazy for it. For some reason the shapes he uses, the colors he chooses, his compositions, and especially the way he uses paint, all really speak to me. He’s one of those painters whose work I look at and go, “I want to be able to do that!” That’s what I call inspiration. And that’s the kind of excitement that has always pushed me to new breakthroughs in my abilities as an artist.


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Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

So I printed out some Fitz Herrera paintings I’d found online and tacked them up next to my easel and started painting.


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Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first, but of course that was perfect…I was going to have to explore and find new ways of doing things, which is always the challenge with painting, or anything where you want to stay excited and exciting.

So I spent several days in the studio, painting abstracts that didn’t work out. I kept trying to find my way into his style. I noticed I really liked the shapes he used, and I sat down and drew a bunch of them with pencil to familiarize myself with them. These were ovals, U shapes, and long skinny triangles, among other things.

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Hidden Treasures, the first successful abstract I did after getting back from Mexico. I was starting to use some of Fitz Herrera's shapes, and I like the painting a lot, but it was still kind of contained and 'safe'----I wanted more sloppy, drippy, explosive things happening.

I also worked at using sloppier, wetter paint mixtures so I could get more spatters and drips, because that’s one of the things I love about his paintings, too. It’s like he’s showing us the process of the painting as part of the painting. Plus it’s wet and luscious and sensual, and I find it sexy and exciting.

I noticed, too, that there are layers and layers going on in his work. I realized I would have to change my approach somewhat. I usually like to work fast and finish a painting as quickly as I can, before I lose momentum. I saw that in order to get these layered effects, I would have to allow time for one layer to dry completely before I could go in and paint another layer on top of that.


THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP


But I had a perfect solution for that issue: I would keep several paintings going simultaneously, so that there would always be a painting that was dry enough to move on to when the others were still wet.

And my studio setup (which you can read about here) was perfect for that. Some part of me sensed, as much as a year previously, that I would be working more and more in this way, and would be needing a space with several easels so that I could move from painting to painting as I worked.

So I had the perfect setup, and I continued working to see if I could find the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera’s paintings.

Then, after a few days of this, I started to break through. One of the hardest things for me was to get in the habit of using really wet, sloppy paint, and just letting it drip and run. I’ve done this occasionally in previous work but never stuck with it. This time I did. I started to get used to it—and I loved it. I loved the freedom of it, and the fact that I was letting go of control and still getting what I wanted.

The other thing, and the really big breakthrough here, also had to do with letting go of control: I started PAINTING BLIND.


PAINTING BLIND


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My first 'Painting Blind' abstract, and the first time I really started to feel I was getting the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera's paintings. It's called 80-Foot Drop because making it happen really was like jumping off a cliff.

I was painting in the way I always paint, which is: I stand back from the painting, look for an area that doesn’t work yet, and ask myself, what does this area need? Lighter, darker, warmer, cooler—a big broad stroke, a long narrow stroke, a little spot of color—what? When I think I know, I load the brush with paint, move in and lay down a stroke, or two or three or more, where I think it’s needed. This is pretty much my approach whether I’m painting an abstract or a realistic figure. It’s always about asking myself what the painting needs next.

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My second successful experience 'painting blind': Martial Art.

Except this time it wasn’t working so well. I would look the painting over, see a problem area, decide what it needed, and add a stroke or two or three. And it kind of worked, but there was too much calculation going on. The strokes looked planned and boring. I thought, what can I do to introduce a bit less predictability here? And I thought, I’ll close my eyes.

Believe me when I tell you that was not easy to do. I’m a control freak, and I was going to paint with my eyes closed?? But I did it anyway…

I looked at the painting, decided it needed a bit of white in a certain area, then I loaded up my brush with white, and looked at the painting again, poised for action. When I had everything in mind and knew my intention, I CLOSED MY EYES AND ATTACKED.

After the first time I did that, I opened my eyes and went, WOW. It totally worked. I had just put down a series of brushstrokes that were exactly what the painting needed…and they had not come from conscious control, but from setting an intention, then letting go.

I didn’t do this all the time, just when the painting seemed to need it. But it worked almost every time.

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Four paintings that happened as I was starting to get into the swing of this new approach: Clockwise from upper left, Rolling the big Wheel, Lazy Susan, Surprise Garden, Little Lulu at the Circus.

I was not getting Fitz Herrera abstracts, but I didn’t really want to replicate his work anyway—I just wanted to see if I could get a bit of his magic. And I was finding my way into it.


LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK


This continued for a couple of weeks and I experienced a whole new way of painting. Having several paintings going at once and letting some of them “rest” while I moved on to others is very different for me. But I found I’m able to see what each painting needs more easily that way than the usual way for me, which is where I focus totally on a single painting for the whole time I’m working on it. This new approach lets the paintings breathe a bit, and I end up allowing each painting to speak to me, rather than forcing it to tell me what it wants—if you know what I mean.

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A couple of horizontal abstracts from this period: top, Where the Flowers Were; bottom, Summer in My Mind.

The abstract paintings that resulted have gotten an enthusiastic response from my local audience here in Lincoln. The First Friday Art Walk which happens on the first Friday of each month, sends throngs of art appreciators into the hallways of Parrish Studios where my studio is located. This is a new experience for me, since I’ve been selling my art online for all these years and seldom interacting with collectors in person. The May 2, 2014 First Friday was the first time I’d ever done a showing of just abstract works, and it was a big success. People loved the new work and especially enjoyed finding out more about how it was painted.

The abstract paintings themselves have been a great reward, but an even bigger one is seeing how what I’ve learned with them has translated into my other work.


FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

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Three monochrome nudes greatly influenced by what I learned doing abstracts: left, Asian Male Nude in Greyscale (model: Khanh); middle, Hiking with Manuel; right, Joyful Black Male Nude (model: Victor).

After about 10 days of painting abstracts in this new way, I decided to try some male nudes. I chose to paint monochrome (single-color) works so I could focus on the form and the way the paint is applied without having to concern myself with color. I produced 3 striking pieces, all of which benefited greatly from what I’d been learning with abstracts.

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Landscapes influenced by my latest breakthroughs: top, Windward Stormclouds; bottom, Ho'omaluhia Path.

Then I went back to abstracts for another three weeks before trying something else: landscapes. I did two landscapes in mid-May where I used the Painting Blind approach much of the time, and I was more than pleased with the results. With everything I’m painting these days, the abstracts, the male figures, the landscapes, I’m finding the same thing always applies: to grow and change and keep the work exciting, you’ve got to push the boundaries and take chances. You can’t fly without jumping off the edge.

I think it’s fitting to end this blog entry entitled PAINTING BLIND with a quote from Helen Keller:

“Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”

Walkingthetightrope header

February 28, 2014

CONTENTS


• A QUICK RE-CAP
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1
• BEING THERE FOR FAMILY
• PAINTING
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


A QUICK RE-CAP



Back in June 2011 when I made the decision to leave Hawaii and go traveling for at least a year,
I knew I was making a big decision, and changing my whole way of life. But I didn’t know how wide-ranging and complete the change would be.

I’m now nearly 3 years into my “On the Road” lifestyle and I’ve spent less than half that time actually on the road. But it turns out On the Road has meanings that didn’t even occur to me when I began this journey.

PV beachshot01

I took this shot of Puerto Vallarta just a few minutes before sitting down to write this blog entry. This is about 2 blocks from the hostel where I'm staying, the Vallarta Sun (I recommend it!).

I’m writing this from a hostel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I’ve been for a couple of weeks. As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I moved my home and studio to Nebraska in April 2012 for a variety of reasons, primarily ease of travel and to take advantage of the great support system that is my sister Kelly.

Moving from Hawaii to Nebraska was not something I ever thought I would do, but it turned out to be the perfect next step for me. For one thing, I needed to reconnect with family, even more than I consciously realized. For another, moving to a quiet place like Lincoln, Nebraska where I don’t have a social network or a beach or a favorite bar meant much more time spent in the studio. And that has led to quantum leaps in my painting, both in terms of productivity and creative growth.

As I realized what a surprisingly great place Lincoln, Nebraska was for me painting-wise, and as I fell in love with my new studio there, a new plan evolved: I would stay in Lincoln and paint from April through October or so, then when it started getting cold, I would travel in warm places throughout the winter.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1


Winter 2012 was my first try at doing this. I went to the Dominican Republic for 5 weeks in November and December, and as you know from this blog, had a great time and photographed lots of new models. It was my intention to keep traveling until spring, but I went back to Nebraska for Christmas–and lost my momentum.

Las terrenas tweak

One of my photographs from the Dominican Republic. I spent 5 weeks here in Nov-Dec. 2012.

I’ve learned, especially recently, that traveling is all about just going ahead and doing it, trusting that somehow the money to pay for it will appear. It always does work out, often in amazing, miraculous ways. It’s about trust. But last winter, I lost that trust, lost my nerve, and out of financial fear, ended up staying in Nebraska through the miserable months of January, February and March. By the time spring finally arrived, I was clear that whatever it took, I was not going to spend another winter in Nebraska!

Snowy backyard

This is what my backyard looked like in January 2012.

I should mention here that despite the discomfort of that period, it was a happy and productive time for me in terms of painting because I was in my studio working most of the time. It also turned to have been a good thing that I had stayed in Lincoln for the winter because I was able to see my mother more often.


BEING THERE FOR FAMILY


I had been visiting my mother (known to everyone in the family as PJ) frequently during this period. She had dementia and was in a memory-care nursing home in Lincoln. I realized again how valuable and life-changing my Quantum-Touch training was during this time. Where most people’s experience of watching the progress of dementia or Alzheimer’s in a loved one is painful, even devastating, my experience was entirely different.

Ds runs energy PJ

Here I am running energy on PJ in early 2013.

Usually when I visited PJ I would sit down on the bed and place my hands on her body and “run energy” into her for 30 to 45 minutes. She would always become very calm and relaxed when I did this, and often she would fall asleep. The connection I felt with her during these times was probably the strongest, most loving and most intimate I’d experienced with her since I was a baby.

PJ fell and broke her hip in June, and we think she had a stroke simultaneously with this. She died 3 days later. This was a difficult period where she was in intensive care and had her family around her, but she couldn’t communicate. I was able to do energy work on her during this time and experience her body shutting down while I was connected to her. I strongly believe I was able to ease her pain and discomfort during this time, and when she made her final transition out of the body, I felt no sorrow, only a sense of rightness and completion.

I was and am deeply grateful for the fateful decisions I’ve made which allowed me to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right training, to have this experience of my mother’s death.

Ds kelly breckenridge

With my sister Kelly during a short trip to Breckenridge to celebrate her entering a new and expanded phase in her life.

A couple of months later I had another experience of being in the right place at the right time to give my sister Kelly the support she needed to end a relationship that no longer served her. I have to admit this was also a transition that served me–I moved into the bedroom her ex-boyfriend vacated!


PAINTING


At around this time I rented what I thought was the perfect painting studio in downtown Lincoln, only to move again a couple of months later into a studio that turned out to be even more perfect. (Read about that studio, and the studio design that allowed me to be more productive and efficient than ever before, here.) (Read about the move into the new studio at Parrish here.)

Studios 1 and 2

TOP: Studio 1, which lasted only 2 months. BOTTOM: Studio 2, in Lincoln's Parrish Studios, where I'm very happy and hope to stay for a while.

My painting continued to grow by leaps and bounds. In the last few years I’ve noticed my painting tends to jump between two threads: the Expressionist thread (lots of outlines, flat areas of color, distorted shapes), and the Loose Brushwork thread (loose brushwork, obviously, but a naturalistic approach that’s all about light and shadow). In July the Expressionist thread took off in kind of a new direction: Faces. I got inspired to paint big expressionist faces and had such a good time doing it I kept doing it for several months and eventually did about 25 of them.

I was additionally inspired by the fact that my collectors really liked them and they began selling immediately. (Unlike a lot of painters who feel every painting is their ‘child’ and they hate to let go of it, I tend to get energy from a painting’s being sold, and to be inspired to do more like it.)

Faces 6up

Some paintings from my FACES Series. The phase shown here lasted from about August through October 2013.

Along about late September, with cold weather approaching, I started putting my winter travel plan into action. Without paying too much attention to how much (or how little) money appeared to be available for it, I made reservations for a flight to Rio de Janeiro. In the days before I left, I had another burst of painting inspiration, this time in the Loose Brushwork thread.

Loosebrushwork 3up

In November 2013, just before taking off for the winter, I did a series of excitingly loose, energetic paintings in what I call the Loose Brushwork thread.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2


I left for Brazil on November 12th for a 5-week stay. I was nervous about how things would unfold financially, but decided not to worry about it, to just trust instead. As usual that was a good decision and everything went fine.

Slacklining photomalenude ebook

Two of the many wonderful things that happened during my late 2013 5-week stay in Rio de Janeiro: 1, slacklining with Oliver, and 2, completing a 2-year project, the e-book Finding and Photographing the Male Nude.

I had a great time in Brazil, completing a long-term project that I had actually begun 2 years previous on a visit to Brazil, an e-book titled Finding and Photographing the Male Nude. During my time in Rio, I also discovering an exciting and challenging new sport, slacklining.

I flew back to Nebraska to spend Christmas with my family before heading to Hawaii the day before New Year’s.

Ds hawaii jan2014 2up

Simonson in Hawaii January 2014: Top, hanging out with old friends and new friends; Bottom, at my old stomping grounds, Queen's Surf in Waikiki.

My good friend Allen Hanaike graciously offered me a place to stay, which allowed me to spend a month in Hawaii–my first time back in almost 2 years. I left for Hawaii on January 30, not really knowing how I would pay my ongoing bills while there, but trusting. Within days after arriving for my stay at Allen’s house, out of the blue, I received a $2000 illustration commission from a fellow houseguest who is the Art Director for a California magazine. Trust rewarded, again.

Psmag portraits 6up

Some of the illustrations I did as part of a commission I got while in Hawaii (I did this entire commission digitally, drawing on the computer using a Wacom tablet).

While I was in Hawaii I pondered the next leg of my escape from winter. I chose Puerto Vallarta, and flew here for a month-long stay on February 15. I’ve now been here for 10 days and every day has been sunny and 85 degrees. I am loving it. Staying in a hostel has its challenges as always, but more than makes up for it with the people I meet and the great connections that happen.

PVscenes 3up

Scenes from my Puerto Vallarta stay in February-March 2014.

When I’m not taking excursions and shooting photographs, I’m working on my next e-book and some digital paintings. Oh, and going out with new friends in the evenings.

I’ll return to Nebraska in late March. It will still be cold, but most of the winter will be past. I’m loving being in the tropics but there is a very strong pull to get back into the studio and paint again.

A lot has changed since I began my “On the Road” journey. What I’m realizing is that when I let go of most of my possessions and took off for a year on the road, all that was just a metaphor for the real journey going on inside me. Choosing constant change and adventure meant choosing a different kind of inner life, where I had to rise to a new level of adaptability and staying in the moment. By opening up in this way, I made myself available to take whatever path presented itself, whether it was staying in a hostel in Mexico, finding new models in the Dominican Republic, learning slacklining in Rio, or assisting a loved one in transitioning from one phase of existence to another.

I was practicing slacklining in Hawaii a few weeks ago and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to it is because it’s the perfect metaphor for my life. I call this blog On the Road, but it could just as easily be called Walking the Tightrope.