Archive for the ‘Drawings’ Category

Findingtheedge

February 8, 2012

• DOING THE WORK
• FAILING WITHOUT FALLING
• WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT
• DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE
• FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER



DOING THE WORK


Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a good friend a few days ago:

hey john

saw your message on FB. glad you like the new one. in my opinion, it’s okay, but i missed what i was aiming for. the battle is still to keep myself from over-finishing! the painting was actually better at an earlier stage, but i just had to keep going. i am getting better, though. i’ve been painting like a madman for the past several weeks, sometimes several a day, but most of them get gessoed over, to become the blank canvas for my next attempt. some of my canvases have 3 or 4 or more layers on them by now. not a bad thing at all. just a  period of intense study and i am growing at a mad rate! dreamed for years of getting to this point with my painting, where i was actually doing the bold, exciting things i always pictured, and it’s finally happening. i just never consciously realized the degree of focus and amount of time that would be required to get to this intensity. now, of course, it seems obvious, now that i’m in it. consciously i dislike being in nebraska in winter, but from a broader perspective i’m able to see that i had to isolate myself to this degree to get to this level of absorption in my work.

As I suggest in the above, I’ve been painting pretty much every day for the past several weeks. I’ve been working as an artist and painting professionally for over 30 years, but I’ve never gotten to this level before. I look back and realize that I THOUGHT I was a serious painter, but I really wasn’t. I hadn’t gotten close to the level of intensity and commitment I’m experiencing right now.

I always knew it was all about going into the studio and DOING THE WORK. But I guess I never realized how much work it requires. Or to be more specific, how much concentrated work. Stopping and starting a lot doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as being able to focus for long periods, like months, at a time. I’ve finally put myself into a position where I’m willing and able to do that.

One way I know I’m really committed (other than the amount of time I’m spending in the studio) is how many paintings I’m gessoing over. (For you non-painters, gesso is the white stuff we put on a canvas to prepare it for painting.) Lately I try to approach every painting as an exercise, as an experiment where I try something out to see what happens. If it turns out well enough to keep, great! If not, great—and time for the next exercise.

But I still have lapses. Like the big “statement” painting I wanted to do of Manuel.



FAILING WITHOUT FALLING


I was feeling kind of confident at this stage—this is a few weeks ago—and I decided what I was going to do was a big “statement” painting. I wanted to do something that would pop off a gallery wall, that would WOW people.

This is not a bad goal in itself, by the way. But when it’s the ONLY goal, you’re in trouble.

Anyway.

I chose a photograph of Manuel to work from, and cut myself a BIG piece of canvas, and got out my sponges.

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The photograph of Manuel I chose to work from.

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Progress at the end of the first day.

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At the end of the third day.

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Oops.

Everything went really well—for a while. I was using sponges, I was loving the size of the painting and the freedom it gave me to move, and I was accomplishing interesting things both with “brushwork” and use of color. And I was excited about the energy and presence in the face. But—I went too far. Of the 4 images you see above, the next-to-last one is where I SHOULD have stopped. It was going so well, I just had to “finish” the face. The result looks like bad plastic surgery. The life and authenticity in the face went away and it got “pretty” and lost its oomph. So after several days of work, I had to gesso over this one.

But that was fine. I wasn’t even that upset. All I had to do was let go of my expectations that this would be the big WOW painting that would blow people away. And I was able to do that, because I realized that was a bogus goal anyway. Plus I knew how much I’d learned in the 3 or 4 days I spent on the painting.

(Big change from the days when a ‘failed’ painting would depress me for days!)

What happened next, though, was not a painting. I decided to do some rough sketches, not out of creative fervor but because I took a look at my bank account!


WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT

Rough sketches are an important source of income for me. Small, affordable sketches are a lot more accessible to most collectors than big expensive paintings, so my sketches sell pretty fast. When money starts looking like it might be an issue, one of the first things I do is sit down and do some rough sketches. This makes it sound like I do it just for the money, but the fact is, it’s great exercise, and no matter what prompts me to sit down and do it, once I begin, I lose myself in the drawing, and sometimes amazing things happen.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog for awhile, you’re aware of a recurring theme: my quest for MORE BOLDNESS! MORE COURAGE! LOOSER, MORE ENERGETIC BRUSHWORK!

Which wouldn’t be a recurring theme at all if it weren’t so damn hard to accomplish!

It’s hard because of FEAR. Fear that the artwork won’t turn out well, whether it’s a blank canvas staring you in the face with its threat of failure, or a painting that’s well on its way and you’re suddenly afraid to take a chance of ruining it by being too daring.

So as I sat down and sharpened my pencils and began to sketch, I had a revelation. I thought, what if I did it wrong from the start? What if I FAILED before I even began? Then there would be nothing to fear!

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Here are a couple of the first drawings I did by 'doing it wrong.'

So I began drawing a nude, but instead of trying to do it right, I just started making random marks all over the paper. Once I had quite a few of these WRONG marks, I started making some that were maybe not so wrong, marks that were sort of heading in the direction of the image I was working from. Then I started making marks that were very close to the source image, but I kept making wrong marks, too, at random, just to remind me that there was nothing precious here, nothing to fear ruining.

This had an amazing effect. I felt free! I started enjoying the act of drawing so much I found myself wondering why I’d never let myself have this much fun before. Sure, drawing had been fun sometimes, but mostly it was work. All of a sudden it wasn’t work anymore! I’d always known that letting myself “do it wrong” was a key to creative freedom, but I’d never before found such an effective way to trick my mind into letting me do that.

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Here are 2 of my favorite drawings of all I've done in the past couple of years--and they happened by letting myself do it wrong.

This unleashed a whole series of exciting new drawings, drawings that were filled with energy, movement and life—and gave me some insight as to what I needed to do in my painting to get to that place I was aiming for.

Over the next few days, trying to apply this new insight I’d gotten from drawing to my paintings, I had some ups and downs…

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This one I liked well enough to keep.

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This one I didn't.

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Interesting, but not interesting enough.

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Promising, but not promising enough.

My turning point happened with a landscape.


DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE

I chose a photograph I’d taken recently in Santo Domingo, a sunset shot of the waterfront.

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This one started out well. I liked the pencil drawing because it had a lot of energy. Then I began painting. After an hour or so, I stood back and…

Santodomingo inprog firstone

OMG. It sucks.

OMG. It totally sucked. How did that happen?

It took a bit for me to realize that, while I had begun with the intention of ‘doing it wrong to set myself free’, I hadn’t done that at all! My old habits had kicked in so strongly I hadn’t even realized what I was doing until I stood back and saw what a boring painting I’d created.

Santodomingo inprog no2

I took another piece of canvas and totally started over.

As soon as I realized what had happened, I tore the painting down and tacked up another piece of canvas, and began again.

With total concentration and a very strong intention, I focused on doing it wrong, on painting and enjoying moving the paint around, on playing, with absolutely no worries about whether the painting ‘worked’ or not. It was working just because I was enjoying myself!

You can guess what happened. An interesting, lively painting happened!

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Santo Domingo 1

And when I stood back from that painting, and realized it was good, it was fun, it was alive…I almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I almost went back in and ‘finished’ it.

Which would have been a HUGE mistake.

Along with the quest for boldness comes this companion challenge: learning when to stop. Part of it is the fear that others will call your work ‘unfinished’, and the rest is just enjoying the painting so much that you forget to watch for that magic moment when everything is in perfect, breathtaking balance. Not a perfectly even, stable, symmetrical kind of balance. No, the kind of balance where everything is poised to fall to earth but somehow is holding together. A balance that takes your breath away because you feel like you’ve been allowed to enter that timeless moment, that instant before everything collapses. That’s what I want in my paintings.

I began to approach it with this painting. I got even closer with the next one…



FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER


I wanted to take the dangerous balance idea even further. I chose a photograph of Eduardo as the taking-off point.

Eduardo source

Not sure why, but Eduardo is my go-to model when I want to try something edgy. He's like a blank canvas for my creative urges…not exactly my muse, but close.

I stayed very awake through this painting. I kept my awareness always on the whole painting, not on making it look like the photograph, but on that precarious balance I was aiming for…because I knew if I took my eye off the tightrope for even a second, there was a chance I’d fall to earth.

Eduardo 2up

And it worked.

I painted and painted…but I also left a lot of it alone. And when I heard myself say, I love it but it’s not finished—

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Ipanema Towers 12

—I stopped!

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PORTRAIT COMMISSIONS AND COMMERCIAL WORK BY DOUGLAS SIMONSON


If you’ve seen much of my art, you know I’m pretty versatile.

That’s also true with my portraits and commercial work. I not only paint and draw portraits on commission, I also do custom photo shoots and commercial illustration.

I customarily go into the studio and paint whatever is exciting or inspiring me at the time. Working on commission is obviously quite different, but it’s a challenge I enjoy. As wonderful as it is to be able to paint whatever I want to paint, there are times when it’s really nice to have some specific guidelines, and that’s what I get when I do a portrait commission.


• THREE PORTRAIT OPTIONS
• ACRYLIC PORTRAITS
• PENCIL PORTRAITS
• PHOTO SHOOTS
• WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU?
• COMMERCIAL ILLUSTRATION



THREE PORTRAIT OPTIONS

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There are 3 basic options when you commission a Douglas Simonson portrait: acrylic painting, pencil drawing and photography.

There are 3 basic options when you’re thinking about a Simonson portrait: acrylic paintings, pencil drawings and photography. The first choice, an acrylic painting, is the most adventurous and least realistic.

If you’re looking for a more realistic approach, a pencil portrait is the way to go. And the most affordable option is a photographic portrait.


PORTRAIT COMMISSIONS: ACRYLIC PAINTINGS

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This somewhat Picassoesque approach is one approach I use when painting portraits in acrylic.

Acrylic portraits are the wildest and craziest approach to a Simonson portrait. What I mean is, when I paint acrylics I’m not interested in a strictly realistic approach: I like to get adventurous. So if you’re looking for a straightforwardly realistic portrait, this is not what you want. On the other hand, if you want something exciting, different, and bound to start some conversations, an acrylic portrait is the way to go.

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Here's a different approach that looks quite realistic until you study the painting more closely.

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This acrylic portrait is basically very realistic, but with a bit of stylization.

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This painting of my parents is one of my favorites.


Acrylic Portrait Commission Rates:
$2450 for 1 person
$3950 for 2 persons
Portraits with 3 or more persons: Rates on request.

(Terms: Pay 50% at beginning, remaining 50% when portrait is completed.)

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This geometric approach to the patterns of light and shadow is another approach I've used in acrylic portraiture.

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NOT YOUR TYPICAL PORTRAIT: My friends Jeff and Siew commissioned me to do a 'portrait' of their life in Hawaii to keep a taste of the tropics in their new home on the East Coast.




PORTRAIT COMMISSIONS: PENCIL DRAWINGS

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This portrait of Doug and Xavier is a good example of the cross-hatch approach I usually use in a pencil portrait.

A Simonson pencil portrait is a realistic black-and-white pencil portrait. If you want a straightforwardly realistic depiction of yourself or your loved one(s), this is the way to go.

Pencil Portrait Commission Rates:
$950 for one person
$1450 for 2 persons
Portraits with 3 or more persons: Rates on request.

(Terms: Pay 50% at beginning, remaining 50% when portrait is completed.)

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Pencil is ideal for this type of family portrait.

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This pencil portrait of my friend Randy captures his irreverent sense of humor.

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You have another option when you commission a pencil portrait: I also do white-pencil-on-dark-paper drawings. The price for these dramatic pieces is the same as for a conventional pencil portrait.



PHOTO SHOOTS

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This photo portrait is of my niece Hannah.

I’m available to do photo sessions on commission. What that means is, you and I will discuss what kind of photographs you’d like, a location is chosen, and you and I will work together for approximately 2 hours. This results in several hundred photographs.

Broadly speaking, I do 2 types of photo session. One is a Portrait Session, which results in a photographic portrait (or several) suitable for framing. The other is a Custom Session, a shoot customized to your wishes, whether you need images for professional use (business cards, brochures, websites) or personal (online profiles, fantasies, etc.). In either case, you’ll get to keep the images from the shoot (usually from 500-1000 images) for your personal use, and you’ll own all rights to them.

Below: Some examples from recent portrait photo shoots:

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Keep in mind that a photo session with me is not your typical in-studio shoot. I prefer natural lighting, uncontrived/natural settings, and spontaneity. My objective is to show you at your most joyous and ‘alive.’ I’ve had a lot of years of experience at bringing out the true spirit of even the shyest, most reticent subjects, so I’m good at it. It doesn’t matter how unsure you are of your ability to look good in front of a camera; you can rest assured I will bring out, and capture, you at your very best.

Photo Shoot Rates:

Portrait Session: $500 if client provides location, $650 if I provide the location
(includes photo session, a CD of all images, and up to three 13″x19″ frameable photographs)

Custom Session: $350 if client provides location, $500 if I provide the location
(includes photo session and a CD of all images)

Shoots involving 2 or more persons: Rates on request.


WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU?

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Black dots represent recent Simonson travels. Wherever you live in the world, a Simonson portrait commission is within the realm of possibility.

I work only from my own photographs, so your geographic location is a factor in commissioning a portrait. But don’t let that stop you: I travel a lot, and I’m very open to considering some detours to accomplish a photo shoot for a portrait commission. (There may be an additional travel fee, depending on location and my traveling schedule, but not necessarily.) No matter where in the world you live, it’s quite possible for you to set up a portrait commission with me. Just e-mail me me with your questions or request.



COMMERCIAL ILLUSTRATION

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Some examples of recent commercial illustration work I've done.

My artistic versatility and technical skills are well suited to many kinds of commercial illustration. I’ve successfully produced CD case designs, logos, humorous ilustrations for advertising and product labels, and book illustration, among other types of projects. I utilize both physical-world approaches (painting, drawing on paper, canvas or board) and digital media (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) to create commercial illustration and graphic design.

My rates are competitive. Contact me for further information.

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


• HANGING OUT WITH KELLY
• DRAWING, WRITING, PUBLISHING
• HEALING STUFF
• WHERE TO NEXT?

HANGING OUT WITH KELLY

I’ve now been in Lincoln, Nebraska staying with my sister Kelly for 2 weeks.

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I like staying with my sister Kelly because she’s very supportive of my art and she always gives me a great space in which to be creative. Plus she likes to hang out, drink beer, listen to music, and talk about art, design, books, being an entrepreneur, cute boys, and other stuff we both like…so we have fun.

My dad has been generous and loaned me his truck so I have transportation. And I’m spending time with my mom, PJ, who is in a memory-care center (more about that below under Healing Stuff).

I’ve also found a yoga studio where I can take classes, and a great YMCA where I can work out. So I’m staying in shape mentally, physically, spiritually…and of course I’m drawing, writing and publishing.


DRAWING, WRITING, PUBLISHING

While in Lincoln, I’ve been very productive. I completed a sketchbook…

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A few pages from my latest sketchbook, 2009-2011, which contains 80 pages of drawings

I’ve produced a new group of rough sketches…

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Some of my latest bunch of rough sketches. Click on the image to see the Rough Sketches Gallery on my website.

and I put together and published my 4th e-book, Brazilian Boys.

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The cover and some of the page spreads from my 4th and latest e-book, Brazilian Boys (don't worry, the images are not censored in the e-book)

And there’s something else I’ve been doing…



HEALING STUFF

While I’m in Lincoln, I’m spending time with my mom, PJ, who is 82, has dementia and is in a memory care facility. Her awareness of the world around her comes and goes. This would be a very sad and frustrating thing for me if it were not for Quantum Touch.

A couple of years ago, I came across a book called Quantum Touch, which claimed anyone could learn how to heal others. I read that and thought, okay, I doubt it, but I’m intrigued. I took the book home and started doing exercises in “running energy”.

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This is the book that turned me on to Quantum Touch

I was surprised to discover I really COULD feel the energy in my body, and could influence it just by intention. I wondered what it would be like to try the Quantum Touch techniques on another person.

A few days after that, my Brazilian Portuguese tutor, Luzia, called me up and said she couldn’t make our scheduled Portuguese lesson because her homeopath had given her an injection and missed the vein. Her right arm and hand were swollen and incredibly painful. I told her, Hey, why don’t you come over anyway? There’s something I’d like to try on you.

She was in so much pain she said okay, I’ll try anything. So she came over to my apartment and I had her sit on my couch and I sat next to her and laid my hands gently on her arm (VERY gently–she was in so much pain she could hardly stand to have me touch it), and “ran energy” into it for the next hour or so.

What happened amazed us both.

I found I could not only feel the energy buzzing in my hands, I could actually feel the energy moving in her body as well. And I could feel the nature of the energy changing as her arm responded.

It took about 45 minutes of “running energy” for the pain to go from a 10 to a 2 and for the swelling to reduce noticeably. (The next day, Luzia told me the pain was almost completely gone and her arm looked and felt normal again.)

I was blown away, not only by the fact that the technique worked, but also by my experience of actually feeling energy move in another person’s body.

That was my first experience with Quantum Touch, and since then, I’ve done it a lot, and learned a lot. And it’s not a totally unselfish thing; the healing happens to me, too. I’ve learned to love the sensation of connection and well-being that happens when I’m acting as a channel for that healing energy.

So when I visit PJ in the memory-care facility, I tell her, I’m going to run some energy on you now. She says okay, and I sit next to her, put my hands on her shoulders or her arms or hold her hands, and begin breathing and focusing. My hands start to buzz and I start to feel her body relaxing and responding. PJ gets very calm. Sometimes she goes to sleep. And sometimes she starts humming. I think of it as purring.

I don’t expect to reverse her dementia or anything like that. One of the things I’ve learned about running energy is that having expectations really gets in the way. I’m just there to provide healing energy and whatever happens, happens. And what happens is, PJ feels calmer, stronger and better for my having been there. That’s a gift, for both of us.


WHERE TO NEXT?

There’s a wild event in New Orleans I’ve always wanted to attend, but living in Hawaii, everything always seemed (and was) so far away. Now that I’m in Nebraska, New Orleans seems so close! So in a few days, I’m going to experience Southern Decadence for the first time. After that experience—and I will report on it!—it’s off to Baltimore, my first time in that city, to visit my friend Ramses. Then in mid-September, back to Hawaii for a few days to check in, sign prints, and get a little dose of the islands before I take off again…


As I’ve been saying since I published my first e-book, Tropical, recently, I love e-publishing!

Because Tropical was so much easier, faster and more affordable to create as an e-book than it would have been as a conventional book, and because the response to it was so great, I immediately started work on a second e-book.

For a long time I’d been wanting to put together in book form a collection of my early male figure drawings and paintings. I started drawing male nudes around 1980, and my first drawings were from naked guy magazines of the time like In Touch, Playgirl, etc. Back then, the models in those magazines were almost always white guys. But my passion was Asian, Polynesian, Black and Latin men, so I used to draw from those magazine photographs and turn the white guys into interesting ethnic experiments.

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Early Simonson drawings. Both these images started out as photographs of Caucasian men.

Then as I got more confident I started taking photographs of some of my friends who were willing to pose, and I drew from those photographs. This took some courage, and was a huge shift for me, since working from my own photographs meant I was seeing myself as the creator, not just an interpreter of someone else’s images. This was the very beginning of what would turn into a lifelong career as a painter (and later as a photographer, too), though I didn’t know it at the time.

I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think those early years and the art that I was creating then make an interesting visual story. And of course such a collection would be interesting to anyone who likes to look at male nude art. So I decided my second e-book would be a sort of retrospective of my first decade, 1980-1990. I decided I would call it Classic Simonson.

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Thanks to Photoshop and many hours of work, I was able to transform a lot of my old, scratched-up 35mm slides into clean, clear digital images.

Classic Simonson was a challenge to put together mostly because I didn’t have very good source material. When I first started making drawings of the male nude I didn’t have any practical way of keeping copies of the art once it had been sold. This was long before the era of home scanners, and getting a professional negative or transparency made was not affordable for me back then. In most cases, I made do by putting the art on an easel and shooting 35mm slides of it.

As primitive as some of those early attempts at documentation were, they were a lot better than nothing. I began to sift through those old slides and sometimes negatives and photographs of the early art, and I found a surprising number of useable images. And some that didn’t seem that useable at first blush eventually yielded good results when I digitized them and applied my Photoshop skills. I wound up with about 150 works which I eventually whittled down to 128.

I decided to put the art in order chronologically, year by year, to show my progress as an artist. It’s interesting to see it in that context, and I think when you view the book you’ll find the progression and growth interesting. For me personally, going through these early artworks was a bit like reading an old diary. I was reminded of people who had come and gone in my life; boyfriend dramas; friends I’d been close to and who are now gone; and lots of wonderful memories.

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Beginning to work from my own photographs was a big step. Chinaman's Hat is a painting from an early photo shoot with Jon K., and on the right, Coconut Milk is from a North Shore photo shoot with Dwayne.

I recently met a heavyset older guy at Hula’s, and only after talking to him for a few minutes and looking into his eyes did I recognize one of my best and most beautiful models from those early years. I was shocked. I’d been living with the 1985 image of him for all these years. I realized in a whole new way how much time has passed. (I have to say, though, when I was talking to him, I could still see that spark of beautiful-boy sexiness twinkling in his eyes.)

So looking at these drawings and paintings is looking back in time. And knowing that the beauty captured in them has not endured in the real world just adds to their beauty. Now they’re not only sexy and beautiful, but poignant as well. I like that the book I ended up putting together puts my early work in context and gives me (and hopefully you, too) a new, broader perspective on it.

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On the left, the cover of my newest e-book, Classic Simonson, which is available both on the Amazon Kindle and in PDF format on my website. On the right, my first e-book, Tropical, which Amazon thought was too racy to be put on the Kindle.

Once I had prepared the images, I wrote the introduction and designed a cover, and began the process of converting the digital files into e-book form. As I said, Classic Simonson is my second e-book. The first one is a book of photographs, Tropical. When I finished Tropical I wanted to put it on Amazon in Kindle format, so I spent a lot of hours learning how to convert my content into the format Kindle uses. Then I submitted it to Amazon. To my surprise, they responded a couple of days later with a rejection notice. They said the book did not meet their “content guidelines.” I can only guess what caused that. Maybe they don’t like erections? Oh well…it’s been selling fast on my website and from the feedback I’m getting, people are loving it. Maybe it’s a selling point that it was too racy for Amazon!

At any rate, I decided to try again with Amazon with this new book. For one thing, there are no actual erections in these early drawings, and for another, they’re drawings, not photographs. So I prepared Classic Simonson in Kindle format, and submitted it. Amazon accepted it! That made me happy. I’m thrilled to have an e-book on Amazon. Then, since I also wanted to offer the book in PDF format (the Kindle format isn’t as good as PDF for viewing on non-Kindle devices), I created a PDF version of Classic Simonson to offer on my website.

Both versions are available now. Click here to go to Amazon and see the Kindle version of Classic Simonson. Click here to see the PDF version available on my website. Whichever version you choose, I hope you enjoy this look back at the early years of my career as an artist of the male nude.

In early February, after concentrating on paintings for the past couple of months, I plunged into pencil drawing again. My process almost always begins by going through my photographs, looking for something that jumps out at me. (I use Photoshop CS3 on my Mac, and the program includes Bridge. I love Bridge—it’s a great way to look at huge masses of photo images quickly and efficiently. Except that it seems to be easily confused/overwhelmed and you have to quit the program and restart it every once in a while. But that’s a minor quibble.)

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Bedsheets and Pillows

I found myself looking through images of Jeff, from September 2009, and even though I’ve already done one painting of Jeff sitting on my bed crosslegged (“Scorpio Rising“), I like the pose a lot and I think a drawing of almost the same pose would still be a fun thing to try. So I opened the image in Photoshop and started fooling around with it. My standard operating procedure these days is to heighten the contrast, take it to grayscale (if I’m going to do a pencil drawing), then Posterize it to about level 7. Posterizing it reduces the number of values showing in the image, which makes my job a lot easier—seeing where the shadows are darkest and lightest is not always easy in a conventional photographic image. It’s much easier in a posterized image, as you can see.

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The finished drawing, 'Bedsheets and Pillows.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

So I print out both images (and often I’ll print out extreme closeups of the head and hands and other challenging areas as well) and tack them up by my drawing to use as reference. I use the posterized image as a guide, but I’m also always referring to the grayscale image so I can include the more subtle gradations of tone when and where I want to. This is an approach I’ve put together over many years of drawing from my own photographs.

I spent a couple of days on the Jeff drawing. That’s kind of fast for me for a full-on detailed large drawing like this. Occasionally I’ll be able to finish one in a single day, but more often it takes 3-4 days, working in 3- or 4-hour sessions at a time.


Pensive Marcelino

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This is the photograph of Marcelino I decided to work from.


Again, I opened Bridge and started going through my catalog of model photos (I have about 40,000 images in this collection, and I have another 100,000 or more in my 35mm slide collection, from pre-digital days. I tend to use the most recent photographs more, of course, but occasionally I’ll dip back into images from many years ago). This time I found myself focusing on Marcelino, one of the models I shot in Los Angeles in October when I was there working with Kurt R. Brown. Marcelino is of Mexican descent and I think he was 20 when we shot these photographs at a wildlife refuge in the San Fernando Valley. I chose a quiet pose that feels to me like Marcelino’s sweet, graceful personality.

Here’s the finished drawing. This one took longer than the previous one of Jeff. The one of Jeff just flowed, which happens occasionally. This one of Marcelino was more the standard experience, with some areas going easily, others taking longer—so I probably spent about 4 days on this one. I like the final result. It doesn’t have the powerful presence of the previous drawing, but it has a quiet poetic quality that the other doesn’t.

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The finished drawing, 'Pensive Marcelino.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)



Marcus Canta

For my third drawing in what was turning into a series, I chose Marcus. Anyone who’s been following my work over the past few years knows that Marcus is one of my favorite models. In fact he seems to be the favorite of a great many of my collectors, too.

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I have a whole series of photographs I shot of him in Angra dos Reis (a resort area south of Rio) on a boat, in the late afternoon. He was spraying himself with water from a hose, and singing along with the music I had blaring from the boat’s speakers. Because one of the dials on the camera got moved without my realizing it, the whole series of photographs was overexposed. That’s a shame because I can’t show them as photographs in most cases—but they’re still fine for working from to create drawings and paintings. Despite the overexposure, they still capture the moment. And what a great moment! Because Marcus’ body is almost entirely in shadow I knew this would be a challenge to draw.

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The finished drawing, 'Marcus Canta.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

That made the Posterization function even more useful. Because the light on his body is almost all subtle reflected light, it was very helpful to see the light and dark areas more clearly defined. The drawing was challenging but it went more smoothly than I’d expected and only took 3 days to complete. I’m especially pleased at the way it captures Marcus’ being lost in the moment. I titled it “Marcus Canta” (Marcus Sings).


Chadwick’s Back

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Now I was warmed up and decided to tackle something with a lot of detail. I chose a photograph of Chadwick, another of the models I worked with in Los Angeles in October. This photo was taken in an unpopulated part of Simi Valley. As you can see, Chadwick has an amazing body, very muscular and well defined. I was excited about what kind of pencil drawing I could create using this image.

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The finished drawing, 'Chadwick's Back.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

I used to do my drawings just using one hardness of pencil, a medium-soft…then for some time I was using two pencils, one hard and one soft. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve been using three pencils, an F, an HB and a B. Sometimes I’ll vary the exact pencils I use, but I’ve found one hard pencil (an F or even an H), one medium (HB seems to work well, and it’s very close to a regular #2, so that works, too) and one soft (B, or 2B or 3B or even softer) gives me all the range I need for almost every type of drawing I do. With just 1 or 2 pencil hardnesses I can create a terrific drawing—but with 3, I can get very subtle, beautiful effects that would be almost impossible with just 2 pencils. This drawing, which I titled “Chadwick’s Back,” is a good example of that. Although you really need to see it in person to see all the subtlety. I was surprised at how quickly this one went—it only took me 3 days. Of course those were long days!


Unbuttoned

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My final drawing in the group of 5 began with a photograph of Rogério, one of the 2 models I shot on my very first Brazil photo shoot back in March 2004. This was a flash photograph taken after a full day of shooting, on the boat and on an island in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). We were on our way back to the marina and night was falling. It’s a photograph I’ve looked at dozens of times and never paid much attention to. For some reason, this time it jumped out at me. It’s hard for me to put into words the impression it made on me, but there was a moment there that really struck me, that had never struck me before, and I wondered if I could come close to capturing it in pencil. I cropped the image to concentrate on Rogério’s head and upper torso only. I decided that would be all I would put in the drawing. Then I started drawing.

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The finished drawing, 'Unbuttoned.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Even though it may appear there’s less detail here, and less to draw than in some of the others I’d just finished, there were still challenges. Capturing the exact expression on the face was one of them. Another was getting the close-cropped hair on Rogério’s temple to look right. In the end this drawing took 4 days to complete. But when I finished it, I felt good. I felt I’d come pretty close to capturing the feeling I’d gotten from the photograph. I call this one “Unbuttoned.” This was the fifth in the series, and I’d spent about 3 weeks doing these drawings. I put them up on my website and announced them just a day after finishing this final work.

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

For Valentine’s Day this year I decided to do a whole new series of rough sketches of couples. One reason for that is that I have so many great shots of Kawai and Sam that I haven’t drawn yet. Another reason is, I knew it would be a challenge. Drawing couples is more than twice as hard as drawing a single figure…

…because of the relationships. Drawing is all about relationships, you know. I’m talking about how different parts of the image fit together. Everything depends on the relative position of the line you’re drawing. When you’re drawing a single figure, you get used to knowing where the hands are going to fall relative to the arm and the rest of the body, for instance. You get used to drawing a body in many different positions. All you have to concern yourself with is one body and you know about where everything is going to end up.

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Here's a sketch where it's vital to get relative positions of hands, arms, legs, etc. absolutely accurate.

But when you have two figures, things suddenly get a lot more complicated. First of all, you have twice as many figures to concern yourself with. That’s not so bad, because you still know basically where each figure’s hands, feet, head, etc. are going to go. But wait a minute! Where are Sam’s hands relative to Kawai? Is Kawai’s shoulder higher up than Sam’s shoulder? Is Sam’s left foot really that far away from Kawai’s right foot? If you’re not careful, you can begin a nice drawing of two boys standing and holding hands, and then halfway through realize that those hands can’t reach each other! Soon after I began working on this couples series, something interesting started to happen. Let me see if I can explain this. It has to do with the difference between how I hold a pencil and how I hold a brush. When I draw, I usually grasp the pencil fairly low, close to its point, and rest the heel of my hand on the paper for support (this is how most of us use a pen or pencil for writing). This gives one a great deal of control over one’s line. When I paint, I tend to hold the brush farther up, and with a grip more like I would use if I picked up a stick and wanted to whack something with it. You have less control over your line this way, but if you want big, loose movements, this is a much better technique.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

The interesting thing that started to happen is this: I found myself holding the pencil as if it were a brush, and drawing almost as if I were painting. I was no longer resting the heel of my hand on the paper, which meant I had less control. But I had more freedom. This was scary and exhilarating. I don’t know why it occurred to me to do this; it happened spontaneously. But with staying loose and being more free one of the major themes of my life, and with my always aiming at loosening up more and more, it’s not too surprising when this kind of thing happens. But it was still exciting! And the quality of my line changed. It became more raw, less controlled and less calculated. For some reason I found this new, rougher line more beautiful. Perhaps because it was less controlled, it seemed to me more honest.

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

This was a breakthrough drawing for me. The more I experimented with this new approach, the more fun I started having. I got bolder (always a good thing!). I decided to see what would happen if I also used this approach with colored pencils. The sketch you see here is the first one where I really let go with this approach. You can see the overall look is quite different. Up close the lines look crazy and out of control; but when you pull back, you can see everything works together to create an image. And because of the agitated, energetic quality of the line, it has more energy and life than a very careful, controlled series of lines would have. I like a controlled line sometimes–it can be very beautiful–but for me, now, at this point in my life, if I can be a channel for beauty that is less controlled and more influenced by ‘chance,’ that makes me feel more alive, and much happier.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

For the remainder of the time I spent working on the couples series (I completed 34 sketches in a period of a couple of weeks!), I used the technique I’ve described, approaching drawing more as if it were painting. If you look at the series as a whole (S1090115 through S1090227), you can see I went back and forth between the more controlled and the more spontaneous approaches, but overall I stayed much looser, and I’m very happy with the results. From the response once the Valentine’s Day Showing went online, it seems you guys are, too!

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Soon after my early August photo session with Mike T., I got a chance to start creating some drawings of him. For my first drawing I chose a shot of Mike which happened this way: I had him wearing white briefs and getting wet in a tidepool. I wanted to see him in soaking-wet briefs. So I got those shots, and they weren’t all that great. So I had him take off the briefs. As soon as he took them off he started wringing them out, and that made for some nice shots. Then I got an idea. I told him to start wiping the briefs across his chest, then his stomach, and in effect using it as a washcloth. This made for a whole series of great shots, and the one you see here is one of the best.

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This started out as a pretty straightforward pencil drawing. However, I’ve recently begun varying my pencil leads more. What I mean is, where I used to customarily use a single pencil for an entire drawing, I’ve begun using different hardnesses for different purposes in the drawing. So for the darkest darks I’m using a very soft lead, and for the lightest areas (well, actually the second-lightest areas since leaving the paper untouched supplies the lightest lights) I use a very hard lead. For those of you who are draughtsmen and are interested in specifics, here’s what I’ve been using: For the darkest darks, I use a 2B or a 3B, occasionally even a 4B. For less-dark darks, I use a B (more or less equivalent to a number 1 pencil). For darker middle tones, I use an HB, and for lighter middle tones, an F. For the lightest shadow areas, I’ll use an H, and occasionally for even lighter tones, a 2H or a 3H. You can get by using just a couple of different hardnesses and you’ll still have plenty of range for most drawings, since just varying the pressure already gives you so much range with pencils. But if you want really subtle, fine variations in tone, use 4 or 5 variations in hardness. That’s what I wanted in this drawing, and it definitely made a difference. One challenge was the tattoo. This is where the different pencils really helped. There’s an overall subtlety and power to this drawing that I wouldn’t have been able to get with just 1 or 2 pencils. I call it “Polished” not just because it looks a bit as if Mike is polishing himself, but also because I feel like it’s one of the most polished drawings I’ve done to date.

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I began a second drawing soon after. I wanted to keep this one a bit looser—doing two very meticulous, detailed drawings in a row is just a bit too much for me. I need variation. So I decided to do this one in a looser style. For my source image I chose a shot of Mike sitting on a towel and looking at something in the distance. I love the way his body looks in this photo, and his profile is really lovely.

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Since I chose to do this drawing more loosely, I didn’t use so many variations of pencil lead. I mostly used a really soft pencil, and instead of careful crosshatching, did more of a scribble. Keeping the scribbles somewhat consistent, of course! Then, in places, I’d go in and smear the pencil lead to get softer variations in tone. That would then sometimes require going in again with a gneaded eraser to lift out highlights in the smeared areas. This approach gives the drawing a very different look than what you see in “Polished,” but it’s one I like just as much. It just has a different energy. I chose to leave the background out on this drawing, for two reasons—one, I’m lazy and didn’t want to draw all that, and two, the positive-negative spatial interplay I got by just putting the body against white space really worked. Or put more simply, the figure actually worked better and was stronger without the background. I called this one “Near Sandy’s” (“Sandy’s” is the local nickname for Sandy Beach, which is very near the location where we did our photo shoot).

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A few days later, I decided I wanted to do a simple acrylic painting of Mike. I chose an image where Mike is just beginning to remove his boardshorts. I found the gesture beautiful and intriguing. The original image was a little dark and low-contrast so I tweaked it in Photoshop before beginning to do preparatory sketches. I did several sketches in pencil, then did a light-and-shadow study in colored pencil. I was still not sure what I was going to do color-scheme-wise, but with just a single figure on a colored background, I wasn’t too worried that I’d be able to make it work.

Painting the figure turned out to be a pretty straightforward task, using standard light-and-shadow techniques and naturalistic color.

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Then, however, I added black outlines and an electric purple background (with a glow just behind the figure to make it ‘pop’). That gave the piece a cartoon-y, action-figure feeling, while the naturalistic rendering of the figure allows us to still appreciate the beauty and sexuality of the figure. I’m calling this one “Supermike.”

Update to this Entry:

In March 2013 I published an e-book called “Muse: Drawings and Paintings Inspired by Mike T.” You can purchase it for instant download here.