Archive for the ‘Paintings’ Category

Threepainting header

August 9, 2016

CONTENTS

• THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE
• PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH
• PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA
• PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH
• DIVING IN
• WRAPPING IT UP

(Note: Titles are clickable)


THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE


My default painting routine is to work on one thing at a time.

A painting has always been, for me, a big commitment, and for a long time I thought one at a time was all I could handle. But over the past few years that’s begun changing gradually. I’ve gotten more confident–and I’ve found advantages to keeping several paintings going at the same time.

One is that while the paint is drying on one painting, I can move to the next one. An even bigger advantage is that changing focus from one painting to another gives me more perspective. I’ve found that working on a single painting for days or even weeks at a time starts to burn me out. I get sick of the painting, and in a way I can’t even see it anymore.

But going from one painting to another gives me a break. When I move from one painting to another instead of staying focused on just one, I can see each one with fresher eyes.

Here’s what happened recently when I got three paintings going at once.


PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH


Ballcapbeach sourceimg

This is the source image I used for the Brian in ballcap painting.

A couple of weeks ago I found a photograph I shot of Brian on a Hawaii beach and thought it would be fun to paint it. I did change it a bit though, by adding some palm trees from another painting. They not only give the image more of a tropical feeling, they improve the composition. One of the things I liked and kept from the photo was the sandal in front of the figure; I like that there’s only one. I started sketching in pencil and pretty quickly came up with something I liked.

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Here's the preparatory sketch for the painting I was already calling Ballcap Beach.

The next step was to transfer it to the canvas. Once I had the pencil drawing in place, I used a black-acrylic marker to outline everything.

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After transferring the image to canvas with pencil, I went over all the lines with black acrylic paint.

Once that was dry, I went over everything with an acrylic wash. (A wash is simply very watered-down paint, to cover the underdrawing with a transparent layer of color.) I usually use a single more-or-less neutral tone, but lately I’ve been using several colors which suggest the colors I expect to use in the actual painting.

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Here's the image after I've applied a multicolor acrylic wash.

My usual next step would be to begin applying the actual paint. But something told me no, wait, let’s not go directly ahead on this painting–let’s start another one. I don’t usually do this, but I trust my gut instincts, so I went looking for another image to paint.


PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA


Nohea2up

I shot this image of Nohea in Hawaii a few years ago. On the right I've tweaked the image in Photoshop to make it easier to see patterns of color and light and dark.

I found inspiration in a photo shoot I did of Nohea a few years ago in the lush tropical backyard of my Honolulu friends Kei and Dick. The image that excited me was actually an image that’s excited me for years, and in fact I’ve already painted it a couple of times. But neither of those (realistic) paintings really satisfied me. I thought I’d like to try an Expressionist approach for this image and see what happened. So I began sketching. When I had sketched enough to figure out what went where, I started transferring the image to canvas.

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Two of the rough sketches which helped me work things out visually in preparation for painting.

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Penciling, outlining and color wash done--ready to start painting.

And, just as with the previous painting, I decided not to start painting on this one just yet.


PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH


Something told me, let’s get one more painting going before we dive into the next step on any of them. So I went looking one more time for inspiration.

Khanh 2up

Here's the source image of Khanh I decided to use for my third painting.

And found it in a relatively recent photo session. I met Vietnamese bodybuilder Khanh at the gym during the short time I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska with family a couple of years ago. I’ve focused on nudes of Khanh in the past but I decided I wanted to do a G-rated image this time. I found some great shots from the very first images I shot of him, in my Lincoln backyard on a summer afternoon.

By now I was so warmed up it only took one sketch to see what I wanted to do with the painting. I went right to putting it onto canvas.

Khanh prepsketch

Here's the preparatory sketch for the Khanh painting.


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Here's the drawing transferred to canvas and inked.



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Color wash done.

Now I had 3 paintings prepped and ready to go.


DIVING IN


I don’t know if I’ve made it clear how unusual it is for me to have three paintings going at once–especially major male-figure paintings with detail and backgrounds and everything. But it is unusual! Nevertheless, as I looked at what I had going and got ready to dive in and start actually painting, it all felt really good and right, like I was ready for this.

I think the big difference is confidence. When I was younger and less experienced, approaching a painting, especially a fairly complex one, was intimidating as hell. I needed everything I could bring to bear to feel like I could deal with it.

But now I’m older and I’ve been painting for a long time, and I’m a lot more confident. I’ve done a lot of paintings and there was nothing in any of these three that I didn’t think I could pull off. In some ways I love being older, and this is one of them.

So, to put it simply, I was ready to dive in.


JUMPING AROUND


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I've now started to lay some real paint onto the painting and see how my ideas are going to work out.

I started with the Brian painting–Ballcap Beach–and it was pretty straightforward. What I mean is, I’ve got a basic set of color mixes I use in a painting like this, and I didn’t see any need to re-invent the wheel. One thing that was a bit different and therefore a challenge in this painting was the way I planning to paint the sand of the beach itself. As you may have noticed in the prep sketch and the first stage on canvas, I invented lines radiating across the foreground to give the composition more energy and interest. My plan was to have the pattern of footprints etc. in the beach sand more or less match those lines. I didn’t know exactly how that was going to work but I trusted I’d figure it out as I went—and early indications were that it was going to work.

I worked for a couple of hours on Ballcap Beach until I started to burn out on it, and then switched to the next painting.

1892 inprog03

As I begin applying paint, the work becomes less about line and more about light and shadow.

As I begin applying paint to this one (I’m calling it Khanh in Lincoln) I realize this painting is going to be a lot about light. It’s a summertime backyard scene and although I keep most of the lines I started with, the painting is becoming less about flat line and more about three-dimensional light and shadow. That’s fine with me; I just want to keep going and see where this takes me.

I work on Khanh the rest of that day and a lot of the next one, before I burn out on that one and decide to move on to the next one: Nohea.

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When I begin painting this one, I realize it's probably the most challenging of the three.

Starting to paint the third one (I’m calling it Nohea at Noon) is a bit different than the other two. This one is more of a challenge because of all the lush greenery. There’s a lot going on in this type of subject matter and I don’t want to just copy it. I want to capture a sense of the patterns of a lush jungle without going into a lot of detail. This is not easy, and it’s something I’ve been working on it for quite a few years. It’s a challenge that keeps coming up for me because I love painting the male figure in a lush tropical jungle setting. It’s also a challenge I enjoy.

1891 inprog03

I've brought Nohea at Noon quite a ways in two days.

I worked on Nohea at Noon over a couple of days—feeling like I’m doing pretty well at suggesting the jungle foliage without being overly literal—before jumping over to the next painting.


WRAPPING IT UP


Now I had all three paintings at a place where each one required only about one more day of work—in other words, almost ready to wrap them all up. The first one I completed was Khanh in Lincoln.

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Khanh in Lincoln--finished.

My biggest challenge with this painting was color. I wasn’t happy with the colors of the figure for quite a while. I kept adding and subtracting, playing with color, alternating with working on the background, until I got a set of colors that seemed to work well together. Not a hundred percent happy with the painting–but then I never am. I do like the feeling of summer-afternoon light I got. Khanh in Lincoln is finished. Now on to Ballcap Beach!

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Ballcap Beach, the completed painting.

Ballcap Beach came together pretty quickly. It was pretty straightforward, except for the beach, with those radiating composition lines happening underneath. But that approach worked out pretty well. I like the way it feels like a beach, yet it’s still clearly a set of lines that make the composition stronger and more interesting. I also like the expression on Brian’s face. That edgy look he’s giving us was present in the first rough sketch and one of the reasons I liked it so well, so I wanted to keep it in the final painting, and I think I did. This painting was probably the easiest of the three, but still challenging. I really like the way it turned out. Now onto the next one!

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The finished painting: Nohea at Noon.

The last of the three is Nohea at Noon. As I said earlier, this one was the biggest challenge because of the complexity of the greenery. Getting the lighting and colors right on the face and figure was also not easy. It took me a couple of days of work to bring this completion. In the end, I like it, although I wish I’d been able to keep it looser. Still, I think it’s a good painting, if a bit sentimental. I actually like the romantic-fantasy aspect of it.

And so I’m done with all three. It took me about 10 days of working almost every day for about 3-4 hours per day. Not bad, and I think I ended up with three pretty okay paintings. I really like the three-paintings-at-once approach. Not something I’ve always got the energy and intention to undertake, but I definitely want to do it more often.

In the end my only real complaint about this trio of paintings is the usual one: I wish I’d been able to keep that loose, excited, take-a-chance energy of the initial stages right up to the end. But this is always the challenge, and it’s an almost impossible one. It keeps me going and it keeps me excited. I always think when I’m finishing a painting, Damn! I’ll do better on the next one.

Visit my site to see a big selection of my art, old and new.

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February 23, 2015

I’m now about 4 months into my Mexico experience, and I can finally say the studio is firing on all cylinders. And so am I.

I went back to Nebraska at Christmas not only to spend the holidays with family but also to pick up some much-needed artists’ supplies. I mentioned in an earlier entry that Mexico does not seem to have something I consider essential to acrylic painting, disposable palettes. Well, they have them but the ones I’ve found here are like tissue paper and basically useless. So I brought back some good disposable palette pads in my suitcase. I also brought some other necessities, like my portable Bose speakers so I can have music playing while I paint—another essential. I also brought more blank canvas and some other things I needed.

Now my studio, while not as great as my Lincoln studio, is fully functional. I could use more space and I’d kill for a rolling metal cart like the one I have in Nebraska, but the bottom line is, I can paint, and I am painting.

PAINTING FAILS

Avery painting fail

This image of Avery from an early-morning Diamond Head photo shot has a lot of potential. I lost my nerve halfway through this one, but I think eventually I'll be able to pull it off and it's going to be great.

When I use a title like PAINTING FAILS, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek; I don’t really consider any painting a a failure. I’m always learning and I think I learn more from the so-called failures. Plus there’s such a thing as warm-up exercises, and that’s another good way to look at a painting that didn’t turn out the way I thought I wanted it to. There were several of these on the way to getting rolling in my new studio.

Khanh painting fail

I did a lot of preliminary sketches for this one but I never quite got the composition and forms the way I wanted them. I thought it would come together in the painting phase but it never did.

In case you’re wondering what happens to a ‘failed’ painting: I gesso over it and then it’s ready for another painting to go on top of it. I have some canvases three or four paintings thick. I’ve explained in previous blog entries that if you’re pushing yourself and growing as a painter, you’re going to have a lot of ‘failures.’ But I think it bears repeating. A lot of people, especially those who’ve never painted, think that a ‘successful’ artist like myself steps into the studio and starts painting and everything he touches is great. IT’S NOT TRUE. I have long stretches, sometimes many weeks, where nothing turns out. Then there are other periods where almost everything seems to flow and every painting turns out well. These ups and downs are part of an artist’s life, and the only exceptions I know of are formula painters who basically paint the same thing over and over again—and that’s not me.

Fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to not take it too seriously when nothing seems to work. I just keep painting.

PAINTING SUCCESSES

Vinicius in hawaii

Vinicius in Hawaii was a small, relatively straightforward painting that came together pretty easily.

The first painting that worked after I got back to Mexico after Christmas was a nude of Vinicius. I played it safe with this one, and that was what I needed to do. I needed a little confidence builder, so I chose an image I knew I could pull off without too much stretching. Dramatic lighting and a simple composition make things a lot easier. I was able to do this one in a few hours, and while it’s not great, it’s a nice little painting and it made me feel more ready to tackle whatever came next.

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Modern Times, an abstract grid painting done in a loose, gestural style.

The second successful painting I did in January was an abstract. This was an abstract grid painting, of a type I’ve done a lot over the years, but in keeping with my direction over the past couple of years, I painted it very loosely, with lots of broad strokes and drips. This one came together pretty easily and I had a good time painting it. I call it Modern Times.

The next painting I tried was a face. Again, something I’ve done many times before. I kept this one pretty straightforward, too, although I did experiment a bit with color. I kept the whole painting very muted, using only greys for most of it. The touches of red and orange you see in this one are actually very muted as well, but next to the greys they really pop out. Again, not a huge challenge, but a good effort, and one I like. I titled it “Limbo.”

Limbo

Limbo is an Expressionist portrait in muted tones.

My next painting was another nude, and this time I did push myself. The style I’ve been developing recently is very loose and gestural, with lots of drips. This is something I admired in other artists’ work for years but was never quite able to get to myself. Until recently. The big breakthrough for me happened last summer (see my entry called “Painting Blind” for more details).

The “Painting Blind” approach is simple—close your eyes and attack the canvas without seeing where your paint is going—but it’s really difficult. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope with your eyes closed. Scary! Getting myself into the frame of mind this kind of painting requires is the real challenge. The thing that works the most consistently for me is to find inspiring works by other painters and look at them intensely, letting the energy kind of soak into me. Then I get up, pick up my brush and load it with paint, and with eyes closed, let ‘er rip!

The other important part is to keep the paint really sloppy and wet so there’s lots of dripping. It may seem like a superficial effect, and maybe it is, but it helps keep me in the space where I need to be: committed to the painting but willing to keep it messy and imperfect.

Steve at nudebeach

I had to get into a very particular state of mind to manage the looseness and spontaneous energy of the painting Steve at the Nude Beach.

This was the approach I set for myself for this nude. I chose a photograph of Steve Chen from our Malibu photo shoot. Even with all the warming up I’d done over the previous weeks of painting, I was still a bit nervous about this one. But as it turned out, it went fine. I was able to stay loose and keep the painting messy and I was very pleased with the result.


PLANTS

Since I moved to Mexico a particular type of painting keeps popping into my head. This place is bringing out my love of vivid colors and heavy outlines, and I’ve been wanting to try something like that in my paintings, but wasn’t sure what subject matter I wanted to use.

When I bought my Waikiki apartment back in 2008, I immediately started buying potted plants and soon the place was a jungle. For some reason owning my own place made me want to fill it with plants! When I left Hawaii in 2012, I had to get rid of all my plants. I hated that. Living in Nebraska, I just didn’t feel the urge—I knew I wasn’t going to be there that long. But now, living in Mexico and having my own place again, I find I’m once again starting to fill my space with plants.

So, given my love of plants. my fascination with plantforms, and the fact that I have several great live-in models, I decided painting some plants might be a good way to explore this vivid colors-heavy outlines thing that was forming in my mind.

Plantwarmup1

This is one of the 'plant warm-ups' I did.

I did quite a few warmups, and that helped. Then I decided to do a plant photo shoot. I have several pothos plants and I shot about 100 photos of one of these plants from lots of different angles, mostly pretty close-up. Then I started drawing from some of those photographs.

This turned out to be fun, and some of my sketches were getting interesting. I was enjoying the simple shapes and their complicated relationships. I didn’t yet know how it would translate into paint.

Pothos1 sources

Here's the source photo and the preparatory drawing I did to prepare for the first plant painting.




Pothos1 inprog1

I drew the image onto the canvas, painted thick black outlines, let that dry, and did a purple wash over the whole thing.

I used everything I’ve learned over the past couple of years in the first painting I did of my pothos plant. By that I mean that once I had put the basic shapes onto the canvas, I attacked and painted blind and wet. Lots of can’t-see-what-I’m-doing brushstrokes, which meant lots of energy and interesting textures, and lots of drips. Of course in between the blind painting, I’m standing back and deciding what area needs what colors, where it needs to be darker, where lighter, etc. It’s a dance between conscious control on the one hand, and blind passion and physical motion on the other.

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The painting in progress.

The result can be magic, and Pothos 1 definitely has some of that. I was very pleased with how it turned out. I’m beginning to feel like I can consistently do this messy, drippy energetic style, and that makes me happy because I love what happens when I get this approach to work.

Pothos1

Here's the finished work: Pothos 1.

I decided to do a series of three pothos paintings. For #2, I kept the process as much like the first one as possible. This one was a little trickier, but it still worked out well.

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Here I am with Pothos 2.

The final painting was the hardest, probably because I was starting to lose interest. I don’t usually do a series of several paintings focused on a single subject or theme because I am easily bored. Yeah, I’m sure there’s some ADD going on there. So it was a good challenge for me to see if I could stay focused long enough to do 3 paintings in the same vein. Plus I had in mind blue, yellow and red backgrounds for the 3 paintings, and I wanted to see what they looked like together.

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Third and last in the series: Pothos 3.

I did stick with it, and I did finish the final one. I learned something, too. I can stay focused long enough to do something if I have a clear enough picture of the goal.

Pothos series 3up

Here are all three Pothos paintings. I like the way they look together.

(By the way, each of these paintings is approximately 24″x32″, or 60x81cm.)

I’m pretty excited about two things. One, I find I am able to consistently get myself into that brave, willing-to-risk-it-all space that my current painting approach requires. Two, I’m really happy to see myself getting more disciplined and focused with my painting.

Oh, one other thing I’m really happy about: I LOVE living in Puerto Vallarta!!

P.S. If you’re reading this blog before March 25, 2015, these paintings are not yet available for purchase and shipping, since they are here with me in Mexico. I’ll be taking them back to the U.S. March 25 and then they’ll go up on the website and become available for sale. If you’d like to reserve any of them, that’s possible; just e-mail me and I can let you know about availability.

Visit the Douglas Simonson website here.

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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.

Kelly sourceimg

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.

Kelly inprog1

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.

Kelly inprog3

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Art takes balls header

May 24, 2013

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



COURAGE AND STAMINA


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

I’m talking about courage and stamina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



LET THE PAINT RUN!

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

Waipio sourceimage

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

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

Waipio inprog1

Waipio inprog2

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

Waipio inprog3

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

Waipio inprog4

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

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



THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO

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

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

Ip15 sourceimage 2up

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

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

Ip15 inprog1

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

Ip15 inprog2

Ip15 inprog3

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

Ip15 inprog4

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

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



MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID

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

1611 sourceimage

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

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



NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE

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

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

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

1612 sourceimage BW

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

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

Playabonita inprog1

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

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

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



NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT

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

1615 sourceimage

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

1615 inprog1

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

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

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

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.

Manuelbytree bigfailed

The photograph of Manuel I chose to work from.

Manuelbytree bigfailed1

Progress at the end of the first day.

Manuelbytree bigfailed2

At the end of the third day.

Manuelbytree bigfailed3

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!

1130108 and 09

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.

IMG 3912santodomingo twk1

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!

Title image

January 31, 2013



When I got back from my Dominican Republic trip on December 12, it took me about a week to catch up on stuff—“stuff” meaning work that wasn’t drawing or painting. Then I was finally free to begin creating art again.

I’d been thinking about painting most of the time I was in the D.R., wishing I could do some. I was very impatient to get back into my studio and start splashing paint onto canvas.

I was so excited to start a painting…

…right up until the moment when it was time to actually GO INTO THE STUDIO AND START A PAINTING!

Then I found all these things I absolutely had to do first. Like making sure my art database was up to date. Rotating the art on my website. Looking at pix of naked guys online. Checking Facebook.

Anything but actually painting!

I always forget about this when I’m away and can’t paint. When I can’t, then I really want to do it. But when I CAN, I find all kinds of things to do instead.

I guess this is human nature, and painters are no exception. It’s always easier to do the less risky stuff.

Finally, though, you just get to the point where you know you have no choice. You have to paint. Doesn’t even matter what you paint. But you have to get started.

So that’s what I did. I began with some landscapes. Safe stuff. And I actually didn’t do too badly. Here’s one of the acrylic sketches I did of the beach in Las Terrenas.

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I followed that with a nice little painting of the road to Las Terrenas.

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Then I did a larger painting that was more of a commitment. “Sunset in Las Terrenas” was kind of a safe, conservative painting both in terms of style and subject matter, but it turned out well, and I felt like I was starting to get somewhere.

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This one's called Sunset in Las Terrenas.

So I decided to do a figure, and I chose a photograph of Manuel with a towel to work from. I had high hopes for this one—I drew it right on the canvas and the drawing had lots of good energy. Then I started painting and—it all went to hell. On the face of it it’s not that bad…I could have finished it and it would have been perfectly okay. But I was not aiming for “okay.” There was no energy, no excitement. For me, working on a painting under those conditions is a kind of torture. So I painted it out.

Failed manuel w towel 3up

This one didn't work out…

I was having trouble because I wasn’t clear what I was aiming for, I just knew it needed to be something exciting and daring. Hard to get somewhere when you don’t know where it is. I just knew where it WASN’T.

The problem—if you want to call it that—is that I spend a lot of time looking at art by other artists. (If you’re interested, you can see some of the art I find inspiring by checking out my boards on Pinterest, especially Art I Like, Abstracts and Bold Brushwork.) I see things that excite me and move me deeply, and I want that kind of energy, emotion and excitement in my work. And that’s great, because it gives me creative energy. But it’s not so great in that it doesn’t give me any direction. Or I should say it gives me TOO MANY directions. There are so many things I want to try, but when you get into the studio, you kind of have to just CHOOSE SOMETHING and begin. You do need to have some idea of what you want to do.

Except sometimes you don’t.

I was so full of energy and so unsure of what I wanted to do with it, I decided to just put up a blank canvas and start throwing paint at it. My goal was not to create a painting, but just to PAINT. I figured this was a good way to tackle the paralysis that was threatening to keep me from painting at all.

And it worked!

Here are some of the results (I didn’t save any of these, but I did take pictures to keep track of my progress).

IMG 5533 exercise

The first exercise. It sucked, but it didn't matter. In fact that was kind of the point.


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Exercise piece 2. I'm starting to have more fun here as I really realize it doesn't matter what I do.


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Exercise piece 3. I actually kind of liked this one. But not well enough to keep it. I didn't want to start getting attached to these while I was still using them to loosen up.


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Exercise piece 4. Each one got a little more energetic and interesting…I was startingto get more confident.

I thought the first one pretty much sucked, but reminded myself it didn’t matter. The point was not to make a great painting, but just to paint. So I did another one. And interesting things started to happen.

Just the act of mixing paint and then using my sponges to make big, bold strokes on the canvas was liberating and energizing. What was happening was, I was starting to get my confidence back. I did this sort of thing for a couple of days and I started to feel limbered up, so I decided to try another figure painting. Again, I chose a photograph of my newest model, Manuel.

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Here's a photograph of Manuel at Playa Escondida near Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic. I decided to try doing a painting of this one.



This one went pretty well. The loosening-up process had really done what I needed it to do. It also helped that I painted this one pretty much entirely with sponges, which is a good way to keep myself from getting too careful. It also forces me to work large, which is good for me.

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Manuel at the Beach, in progress.


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Manuel at the Beach, the completed painting.

This one was kind of fun, although I felt I was still playing it a bit too safe. Doesn’t matter; it turned out well and I like it. At this point I just needed some successes to get my confidence back.

I followed this with some more abstract exercises. Again, I didn’t save these; they were exercises to get me in shape for the next painting.

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Another exercise piece. Looking at this one, several days after doing it, I almost wish I'd kept it. It's better than I realized at the time. Oh well, it served its purpose.



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I don't feel anything was lost by my having destroyed this one. But it did do what it was meant to do, which was to get me expressing myself with paint, without self-judgment.


And the next painting was another one of Manuel. This was a smaller work, nothing too earth-shattering, but a nice piece, solid, fairly loose, and I felt good about it. More confidence building, more of the day-to-day studio work you have to do to get good enough that you’re prepared when lightning does strike.

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The source photo and the painting, which I entitled Rainy Morning Study.

When I finished Rainy Morning Study, I went right back to my ‘exercises.’ And something happened that surprised me. One of my exercises turned into a real, solid abstract painting that I liked a lot. So I kept it! It’s called “Good Company.”

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This abstract painting is called Good Company.

Excited about the abstract I’d just done, I decided to try another one. This one, too, worked out. Although it wasn’t as spontaneous as Good Company, I like the energy of it. It’s called “Inside Job.” (Both those titles just popped into my head when I finished the paintings, thank goodness. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to come up with painting titles.)

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I titled this one Inside Job.

So after 3 weeks of warming up I feel like the creative juices are starting to flow again. I like the fact that I never know what will happen next, and while I’m not sure where this abstract stream in my work will go, I’m enjoying it, and I do know that it doesn’t matter that much WHAT I’m painting, as long as I AM painting.