Archive for the ‘All Posts 2007-2010’ Category

I’ve come to the conclusion that many people—most people who don’t paint, actually—have a really skewed picture of what it’s like to be a painter.

They have this romanticized idea that a painter strolls into his studio for an hour or two, when he’s ‘inspired,’ and just picks up a brush and dabs some paint onto a canvas and a painting kind of magically ‘appears.’

If you’ve ever tried to make a painting, you know how far that is from the truth.

In fact, painting is such hard work that I resisted becoming a painter for the first 30 years of my life. Yes, I always had ‘talent’–which means that I could take a pencil and draw some lines that were relatively close to the actual visual appearance of something, and people were impressed. But that’s a long way from being a successful painter.

I started studying painting when I was 15, and then only because my mom (who also has a love-hate thing going on with painting) talked me into coming to her oil-painting class one evening. Misery loves company, I guess.

This was in Thedford, Nebraska (population 300 at the time–now it’s even smaller), and a guy named Tom Talbot, a successful landscape painter from a nearby town, taught a painting class one night a week. I went that night, and I had fun, and I started attending regularly. Only gradually did I realize I had gotten hooked on something that would taunt and torture me for the rest of my life.

The problem with painting is there’s so much that can go wrong! Take mixing colors. This alone is a discipline that takes years to learn properly. Even today I still have trouble with it. And then there’s light and shadow, perspective, composition, anatomy. All easy when they’re working and impossible when they’re not. Not to mention the most vital prerequisite for a good painting: a good drawing.

I’ve been drawing my whole life and I still freeze up a bit when I face a blank sheet of paper. I know that’s probably hard for you to believe, but I think it’s true for almost every artist. Just because I’ve created thousands of successful drawings in my life doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten for a second the tens of thousands that WEREN’T successful.

This is what non-artists forget, or don’t think about. For every successful work of art that comes out of a studio, there are probably 5 or 10 (maybe many more) that never made it to completion. Those are the ones that had the artist feeling like a failure. I’m 60 now and I’ve been drawing for at least 55 of those years. And yet this morning when I sat down to sketch, my first few drawings were so bad I tore them up and threw them away. It’s almost always like that.

As intimidating as drawing is, painting is 20 times worse. This is why I say I love and hate painting. You can have a wonderful drawing and it looks like it’s going to make a great painting—and for any one of a million reasons it can fall flat. When a painting is not working, it’s the worst feeling in the world. You feel heavy, and hopeless, and worthless, and you just want the damn thing to be over with. Yet you have to stand there for hour after hour, day after day, trying to bring it to life. This, not the ‘a dab here, a dab there, voilĂ !’ model, is the reality of painting.

So why am I still torturing myself by being a painter?


When a painting is working, when the magic is happening… the sun comes out, birds sing. My heart opens. I smile. I feel like I could float. For a brief moment I’m actually embodying the world’s romantic vision of the creative artist.

It’s wonderful.

And it happens 3, maybe 4 times a year, if I’m lucky.

Most of the time I’m in the trenches, doing the work, hoping for another of those moments of grace when everything falls into place and I feel touched by angels.

Obviously it’s worth it, or I wouldn’t still be doing it. But it’s worth it in the same way it’s worth it to fall in love even though your heart gets broken. The occasional ecstasy is worth all the pain.

What all this is leading up to is a report on my newest source of inspiration. Because if it weren’t for the inspiration I find from time to time, I wouldn’t still be painting. However: every once in a while I come across the work of another artist who so inspires me that I forget the pain and self-doubt and once again, I take the plunge.


A sample Ashley Wood painting

That happened recently when I discovered the work of Ashley Wood.

As far as I can tell, Ashley Wood is an Australian who has been instrumental in creating several comic-book series with names like World War Robot and Zombies vs. Robots. He has quite a following but I had never heard of him until I ran across him online. He is one of the few artists I’ve ever run across who is as accomplished a painter as he is a cartoonist.

(A brief-but-vital aside here: cartooning is like painting but more so. People think it’s easy and fun because it looks easy and fun. It’s actually every bit as difficult as painting. Maybe more. I don’t expect you to believe me unless you’re an artist who has tried both.)

When I first saw Ashley Wood’s paintings online, I fell over. Who would have thought I would get so excited over not-very-colorful paintings of battle scenes and robots?


Another of Ashley Wood's paintings. (Click on image to go to Ashley Wood websites)

But it’s not about the subject matter. This guy can PAINT. And by that I mean his paintings are loose and chaotic and yet totally capture what he’s painting. I aspire to that. I love what’s called ‘painterly’ painting. This is painting that’s rich in texture, with energetic brushstrokes, and is clearly a painting, not a photograph. It’s all about using paint energetically. When I saw these paintings I almost levitated over to my easel. I HAD to paint something!

So I did. I started by doing a little copy of one of Ashley Wood’s paintings. How does he stay so loose? I asked myself. Copying his work was a good exercise. It loosened me up.

For a few days I did paintings that didn’t work out—maybe 4 of 5 of them. But that’s typical. It’s about warming up, getting loose, building your self-confidence.


Then I came across one of my photographs—an image of Brian walking across a rocky beach—that excited me visually. Normally an image with this much complexity (notice all those rocks!) is one I would be wary of. But a painter like Ashley Wood can take all that complexity and reduce it to a few brushstrokes and still convince you you’re looking at a rocky beach. I wanted to see if I could rise to the occasion.

Here you can see the progression. As I worked, I kept some printouts of Ashley Wood paintings tacked onto the easel to remind me to STAY LOOSE! It definitely made a difference. See the final product below.


The final painting, 'Koko Crater Day' (click on image to see this item on my website)

After the success of ‘Koko Crater Day,’ I had a lot of energy so I kept going. There were a couple of ‘fails’ before I succeeded again, but I felt so inspired I didn’t let them slow me down.


I finally struck gold again with a very simple shot of Mike T. wading into the surf. One of the things the original photo had going for it was the dramatic lighting. A tip: dramatic lighting is always easier to pull off than subtle, multi-source lighting. The other positive: few colors. All I needed was some blues, some blue-greens, and fleshtones.


The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

So I mixed the colors and jumped right in and because I was feeling so fearless, I was able to put the whole painting together in just a couple of hours! Hallelujah! It was fun and everything just flowed. I love the energy and ‘painterliness’ of the end result, which I titled ‘Into the Surf.’

I want to show you one more piece I did during this several-day period of fevered creation. I wanted to try a landscape, and I found this photograph I’d taken at Sandy Beach. The photograph is not that interesting or exciting in itself. I chose it because the composition is pretty workable, and there’s not too much complexity in the landforms. Also because it’s a spot where I’ve spent a lot of time over the years so I have an emotional attachment.


This painting just flowed, like the ones before it, because I was in a period where I was painting every day, and I was inspired, and felt very confident. It was less like working to create something than like just getting out of the way and allowing the creation to flow through me. That’s a wonderful sensation.


The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I call this one “At Sandy Beach.” Looking at this painting with some time separating me from its creation, I see things I didn’t see when I was in the process. There’s a softness to it I really like, and a feeling of space and lightness. These are things you can’t really do consciously, or at least I can’t—they either happen or they don’t. But as I keep saying, when you’re able to get out of the way and just allow things to come through you, magic happens.

But life is change. This wonderful creative cycle wouldn’t be a creative cycle if it didn’t have a beginning and an end. So a few days after completing ‘At Sandy Beach’ I felt that inspiration waning and although I tried a few more paintings, nothing really worked. I’m back in the trenches now, sitting down to draw every day and just working, working, working. I’m doing good work, just not feeling that magical energy of divine inspiration. But I know that if I just keep creating, the magic will come around again…

My new painting of Jeff, entitled “Presence”, grew out of a sketch that turned out particularly well.

One of the ways I stay in shape, drawing-wise, is by doing a lot of rough sketches. My drawing board is next to my iMac, with its gorgeous 24-inch screen, and I begin by pulling up some random photographs of my various models. Then I start drawing, just flipping through photographic images one by one and drawing whatever comes up. Whenever I don’t have a specific idea for a painting, I’ll just do rough sketches until something interesting happens.


Sometimes I’ll draw rough sketches day after day for a week before something really strikes me. But a few days ago, I was drawing from some photographs of Jeff (from my first photo session with him, where he was sitting on my bed), and got lucky.


The initial sketch (click on image to see this item on my website)

I really liked the feeling and energy of this rough sketch, enough so that I did a second version of it. In the second version I taped an additional sheet of paper onto the left because the hand was getting cut off and the composition was looking like it needed to be more square.


The second sketch, with additional paper taped onto the left (click on image to see this item on my website)

I liked the energy of the first sketch, but I really loved what happened in the second sketch. Some magic happened with that one. One of my favorite things about both sketches is that funky one-eye-way-too-big thing…I don’t know why I like it so much, but I do.

Below is a shot of the finished painting on my easel. I didn’t take any in-progress shots of the actual painting process because it happened so fast! At this point I’d been painting nonstop for several days—I think I did 3 paintings in the space of a week—so I was warmed up. The more warmed up I am, the more in the painting groove, the more likely wonderful things will happen. Taking even a couple of days off from painting usually means another several-day warmup period before things get flowing again. I think this is pretty standard for most painters.


Anyway, before I began, I mentally saw the colors I wanted to use—the red background, the green of the comforter—and as I began covering the canvas with color, I saw that it was going to work. That’s always a huge relief! I did have to do a lot of repainting of various parts of the body to get the right mix of flesh tones. I ended up using a lot of oranges and pinks, and used the rich earth-yellow tones of raw sienna to bring it all together.


The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I’ve always had a tendency toward crowded compositions, so I was really happy that I was able to give the figure room to breathe in this one. Notice how much space there is above Jeff’s head in this painting. In the past I’d have probably have brought the top edge down much closer to the top of his head—and probably brought the bottom up closer to his foot as well. I don’t know why it’s been a challenge for me to give a composition breathing space. It’s almost like I have a fear of wasting space in the painting by not filling it up with something. Sounds silly, I know. But for me, painting is always about going through my fears, and this is just another one I’m beginning to master. There’s a quote I read, attributed to Aristotle Onassis, that I’ve always loved: when asked the secret of his success, he reportedly said, “Three things. Boldness, boldness, and more boldness.”

Well, I’ve now acquired my first model via Facebook. Brian is a friend of a friend whom I’d never met in person, but he’d seen my work. He messaged me on Facebook saying he was interested in being a model. I looked at his online photos. He’s Chinese-Filipino and his look and physical type is one I’ve always had a weakness for. As I looked at his online photos I felt a definite stir of attraction. That’s one of my potential-model signals. But it’s always hard to tell from candid photographs what someone really looks like (and feels like) in person. So I said yeah, come on over to my place so I can see you in the flesh.


As soon as Brian walked into my apartment, I was pleasantly surprised (it was a bit like my experience with Jason). He was taller and better-looking than his pictures had shown. And he was very pleasant and no-attitude, and we got along just fine. I took some test shots and was pretty sure I wanted to work with him, but I wanted him to be a little more in shape. He said he’d be more than willing to watch his diet and work on his abs for a couple of weeks in order to be in better shape to model for me. I loaned him one of my favorite workout books, the Navy Seal Workout Book, which has some great abs exercises in it. I wondered if he’d follow through, because in the past I’ve had potential models who weren’t able to do this.

But Brian was a man of his word. He called me up about 10 days later and said he’d been doing great at his program and thought he was just about ready. So we set a date.

It was on a Thursday morning, just 2 weeks after our initial interview, that I drove to his apartment and picked him up at the crack of dawn. Then we drove out to one of my favorite deserted-secluded-beach spots, a place near Koko Crater, just beyond Hawaii Kai. We got out of the car and hiked over to the rocky beach where I’ve done many photo shoots in the past.


The day was beautiful, and big waves were crashing on the beach and the rocks as I directed Brian to a little thicket where I had him pretend he’d just arrived at a deserted beach and was going to do some nude sunbathing. He did a good job at this, and I saw that he was going to be easy to work with. This part was a warm-up, and after just a couple of minutes I had him gather up his stuff and we continued on toward the beach, where I had him jump in the water.



Getting wet is always a prelude to one of my favorite model activities: toweling off. I got a lot of shots of this, and of course with the gorgeous early-morning light and the beautiful model, it was easy to get great images. It was at this point that I began to see what a difference two weeks of watching the diet and working on abs had made. Brian’s body was really looking good.

For the next segment, I took advantage of the setting and we walked over to an area where the waves were crashing dramatically against some big lava rocks. Again, with the light, the setting and the model, it was easy to get some great shots.


At this point I brought out a prop I’d picked up at a supermarket on the way to the shoot: an orange. I had Brian sit on a towel and eat the orange, and I didn’t want him to eat it daintily, I wanted him to DEVOUR it. I wanted him to get really messy. He did a good job of this, and commented on how sweet the orange was. “Good,” I said. “Now I want you to squeeze the juices out and let them run down your face and your body.” This was a lot of fun for both of us, and not only got me some light-hearted and very sensual photographs, it also relaxed the model.


I pushed him even further in the next segment. I had him climb down into a tidepool and float around in the water for a bit. Then I told him to stand up and spread his arms out wide and shout as loud as he could. About the 3rd time he shouted, he started to really open up and I started to get some great shots!

That was the climax of the shoot, so to speak—the point of greatest excitement and intensity. I felt good about the images I’d gotten, and knew that it had been a good photo shoot. I had Brian get out of the water and start toweling off, and just at that point I realized I was totally out of memory space. I’d filled up all the memory cards I’d brought. I usually bring my laptop along so that I can be uploading the images from one memory card while I’m using another, which means I can shoot all day and not run out of memory. But I hadn’t brought my computer, figuring I’d have enough memory without it. So the shoot was effectively over anyway.

This was good in a way. Because the mood between us was so relaxed at that point, and because it was still so early (about 8:30 a.m.), we decided to hang out at the beach for a while and just relax. I actually got naked myself and jumped in the water and rolled around in the sand. That was excellent! It made me realize how long it had been since I’d actually just let myself play in that way. Because I’d already gotten so many great images and it had been a successful photo shoot, I allowed myself to just relax. And it felt wonderful.


While Brian and I were taking dips and rolling around in the sand, I kept seeing how great he looked, how relaxed and sexy, and I really regretted not being able to capture those images. Then I remembered I had my little Casio Exilim digital camera in my backpack. So I ran up the beach and grabbed that and got some photographs of Brian in the sand (like the one above). These are actually some of my favorite shots of the day because they’re so relaxed and sexy. Because the photos are so low-resolution, I won’t be able to present them to my collectors as photographic prints—but I will be able to create drawings and paintings from them if I’m moved to do that at some point.

Obviously this was a great photo shoot and I got some wonderful images. But my favorite thing about it is how relaxed and fun those final few minutes were, and I have to thank Brian for being so easy to be with that, in a total reverse of what usually goes on in these photo sessions, where I have to work hard to relax the model, this time it was the model who relaxed ME.

Update to this Entry:

In November 2012 I published an e-book of uncensored photographs of Brian from the above photo shoot. You can purchase it for instant download here.

As you’ll remember, if you’ve been reading this blog, my second photo shoot with Jeff took place at a gorgeous location—my friend Doug Smith’s beautifully landscaped tropical pool and garden. (If you don’t remember, read that entry HERE.)

I was thrilled at how many really amazing and beautiful photographs I captured that day. But I found that when I started looking through them for images to paint or draw, I was intimidated! The photographs were so great as photographs that I wasn’t sure that I shouldn’t just leave them alone.

But as I thought about it, I realized I was limiting myself unnecessarily. I was thinking I had a duty to do something realistic before taking off into more stylized, inventive directions. I’ve always had this idea that I have to justify my less realistic work by balancing it with more realistic works. And with all these gorgeous images, I was really feeling that.


No, this is not one of my paintings. It's a famous work by Matisse called Bathers by a River.

So to give myself strength, I opened a book about Henri Matisse. It takes courage to paint the way he painted, especially back then. I took courage from his story and his paintings. One of my favorite paintings of all time is “Bathers by a River” by Matisse. I decided that would be my inspiration for my first Jeff-at-the-pool painting.


The photograph I chose to work from is one of Jeff standing by one of the many fountains that adorn the pool. As I said, I could’ve chosen any one of several hundred great shots from that day. But there was something aboout this one that felt a bit like Matisse to me—not sure why. Anyway, that’s the one I chose.

I began sketching. My job was to begin simplifying the forms and shapes—looking for the essence of the image. You can see my progress in the four preparatory sketches shown below. One of the major changes I made was to add a second, invented figure in the pool at the lower right. Another invention was to give the standing figure a vertical staff to hold. These changes were all instinctive. That’s what the sketching process is about for me with a painting like this. I think of stuff, and try it, and see how it looks. If I like the way it looks, and it feels right and fits, I keep it. I don’t necessarily know why I added the second figure, and the staff, I just know they looked right and felt right. I must admit, I like having a bit of mystery in the painting. What’s that staff about? What’s the relationship between the two figures? I don’t know that I could put it into words, but I have a feeling about what is going on.


The 4th sketch shown was my final sketch. I’d taken it as far as I wanted to go with pencil. It was time to put it on canvas and see what happened.


The final painting: 'Boys at the Fountain' (click on image to see this item on my website)

I kept the tones muted and somber except for the greens of the foliage and the water streaming down (or up?) above the fountain. The idea of putting white behind the standing figure came to me as I was painting, and it worked. I had a bit of trouble with the water in the pool. I had to repaint it several times before I got it the way I wanted it.

I like the final result. It’s more realistic and less stylized than I intended—not as bold and uncompromising as Matisse’s Bathers painting, certainly, but I like the feeling of it and I like the hint of mystery and intrigue it contains. I call it “Boys at the Fountain.”

I guess I have a reputation for not being interested in white guys. But it’s not true. I’m just not that interested in most white guys.

So when I got an email from a 25-year-old Irish boy named Jason who had met my assistant Spencer and now wanted to model for me, I was not that interested. The photos he sent with the email were just okay. I delayed responding to him for a couple of weeks. Finally, though, I thought, what the hell, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I meet him in person.

I contacted him and we set up a meeting at my place in Waikiki. It was 5 o’clock on a weekday. When he walked out of the elevator, I was really taken aback. Not only did he look better than his pictures…he looked WAY better.


And it wasn’t just his looks. Something about the way he carried himself, his easy smile, the lack of attitude—I was immediately smitten. I retained enough presence of mind to chat with him a bit while I got my camera equipment out. Jason was brand-new to Hawaii, having just moved here from California a few weeks previous. His ambition: to be a fireman. This was getting better and better.

As much as I liked him in person, I knew I needed to take some test shots. Just because his presence was bowling me over didn’t mean that he would photograph well (although I had a hard time believing he wouldn’t). I started shooting as we talked, then I had him take off his shirt and we talked some more, and I kept taking photographs. What a great smile…what a pretty body…I was trying hard to stay objective but it was difficult.

I told him I was pretty sure I wanted to work with him, and said I’d give him a call in the next week or so to confirm that. He left, and I ran to the computer to upload the images I’d shot so I could get a good look at them. I really wanted to see what the photographs looked like without the distraction of his standing there in front of me.

Wow. They were just as great as I thought they’d be. Jason was my new favorite model, and I couldn’t wait to have him all to myself for a few hours of intense picture-taking. And that happened fairly quickly. A little less than a week later, Jason and I drove out to Hawaii Kai, where my friends Kei and Dick live. I’ve used their backyard pool for a lot of photo shoots in the past.


When we got there and walked into the pool area, I was blown away. It had always been a nice setting, but the vegetation has gotten even lusher and bigger in the past couple of years, and Kei has done a lot of work on the pool area as well. There’s a new lava-rock shower column poolside that Kei designed and built himself (you can see it behind Jason in the right-hand photo above). Gorgeous! I was getting amped up and the model wasn’t even naked yet.


Over the next couple of hours I found Jason to be as easy to work with as he is handsome and charming. Am I gushing? Sorry, but I love this guy. He’s so down-to-earth and easy-going, and yet such a treat for the eyes. And his body looks superb from any angle. It’s not a big muscular body, it’s a lithe, graceful, lightly muscled body. And his proportions are perfect.

At one point in the photo shoot I ran out of ideas and asked Jason if he had any. He said, How about I be the poolboy? And he picked up the net thing that you use to scoop leaves and debris out of the pool. Not that there were any leaves or debris—Kei is beyond meticulous about that sort of thing. So Jason actually went and found some dead leaves and threw them into the pool so he’d have something to scoop.



First I had him be the hot poolboy who’s cleaning your pool with his boardshorts practically falling off. Jason did this very well. Then we had the shorts fall totally off and he was the naked poolboy for awhile. These ended up being some of my favorite shots of the day, and not just because it’s such a delicious fantasy, but because these poses were completely natural and unstudied, and because what he was doing put almost every muscle in his body to work…with wonderful visual results.


All in all, a great photo shoot and a great model. Thanks, Jason!


In August 2012 I published an e-book of uncensored photographs of Jason from this photo shoot. You can order it for instant download here.

My friend Doug Smith has a beautiful house in the Makiki-Punahou area of Honolulu.

Even more beautiful than the house itself is its beautifully landscaped backyard and pool. It’s not your typical pool. It’s L-shaped, with a hot tub in the elbow of the L, with lots of tropical foliage and Southeast Asian statuary surrounding the pool. It’s gorgeous and I first saw it when Doug hosted a post-surf beerfest for our local gay surf club. I was looking around at how beautiful (and private) it was, and thinking, wow, I’d love to do a photo shoot here.

A couple of months later, Jeff (see blog entry on my first photo shoot with jeff) contacted me and told me he was going to be in Hawaii again and wondered if I’d like to do a second photo shoot with him. I did. I had actually been hoping to get another chance to shoot Jeff because he’s a great model, and because our first photo shoot was not ideal. (Because of time limitations we’d had to shoot at my apartment which was okay but not the ideal location.)

Doug was happy to let me do a photo shoot at his home, so Jeff and I met there one morning, and I showed him around before we began the photo shoot.


After relaxing for a few minutes and having some Starbucks, we got to “work.” I had Jeff strip down on the patio.


Then once he was naked, we started exploring the possibilities in and around the pool. The morning light was perfect.


No matter how inviting the pool is, getting into the water first thing in the morning is always a shock. It helped that Jeff could then jump right into the hot tub to warm up. All of this makes for great shots, of course.


Getting the model wet whenever possible is, as you know, one of my main m.o.’s. Getting the model wet is sexy and sensual and makes for beautiful visuals especially in morning light. Even better, getting the model wet means he has to dry off. A towel is always a great prop, especially when you have a beautiful blue-orange-purple multicolored towel next to a golden-skinned model against a green, green tropical backdrop.


On one side of the pool, among the palms, was a bit of Southeast Asian statuary that had been made into a fountain. I had Jeff swim over to that side of the pool and clamber up onto the pool’s edge and pose next to the fountain. Then I had him get back in the water and position himself under the falling water in front of the fountain. I got a couple of my favorite shots of the day there.


There were a lot of great settings, though. Another of my favorite places was the other end of the backyard where there was a big stone Buddha head at the foot of the pool, and behind that a pair of beautiful old wooden gates. Posing Jeff in these areas again yielded some of the best shots of the day.


All in all, it was a phenomenal photo shoot. The morning light worked perfectly for the setting, and what a setting! I’m hopeful Doug will let me use it again because it’s one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting in. And Jeff, as always, did a great job as a model. I not only love his face and body, I also always enjoy the energy, spark and sense of humor he brings to the occasion.

You’ll see some interesting paintings and drawings come from this photo shoot, I’m sure. (Not that I know what will happen exactly, until I actually find myself creating it in my studio!)

Update to this Entry:

In April 2013 I published an e-book called “Jeff” which contains almost 100 uncensored photographs from both of my photo shoots with Jeff. You can purchase it for instant download here.