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Ltr fm sto domingo part3 B

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November 26, 2012




Albachiara pool


After my successful Dominican-boys-gone-wild photo shoot in Las Terrenas, I was ready to relax around the pool.

I’d accomplished what I set out to do and I was feeling good. So our last full day in Las Terrenas was going to be a quiet, restful one.

Julio and Grischa decided to take a dip in the ocean, since the beach was right in front of our hotel and it was a beautiful day. I had toyed with the idea of taking my computer down to the pool to catch up on work. But then I looked out from the terrace and caught a glimpse of the ocean and I thought, the hell with this. I’m gonna go hang out with the guys at the beach.

Following grischa and julio

I followed Julio and Grischa as they strolled down the beach. It was a perfect day for relaxing.

So I walked down to the beach and jumped into the ocean with Julio and Grischa. The water was warm and the sun was hot. Perfect, I thought. Then the guys decided to take a walk down the beach and explore, and I followed with my camera, getting some great landscape shots.

Javier first sighting

My eagle eyes spotted a perfect body at the other end of the beach…

There were some nice-looking guys on the beach, too. One in particular. I saw him from a distance and thought, Wow. That’s a nice shape. Beautiful body. As we got closer he still looked good. I shot some photos on the sly, but then walked on and dismissed the guy from my mind. No work today.

Javier first sighting XCU

This is a closeup.


Next thing I know, I turn around and Julio is chatting the guy up. He brings him over to me and says, “This is Javier. He wants to model.”

Oh, wow. I was going to rest today.

But I hadn’t reckoned with Julio. Or with Javier!

Javier posing before

Javier is a jewel: he’s cute, he has a great smile, a warm personality, and of course that body.

On top of that, he has his own motorbike so we not only have the model, we also have transportation to the beach. And he has no problem with our going rate for a photo session. And he’s ready to go. Right now!

How could I turn that down?

Ds w javier before

Here I'm chatting with Javier just before Julio and I climbed onto the back of his motoconcho for a ride to a secluded beach.


Just arrived

Here we've just arrived at the spot where we started our hike to the hidden beach.

Julio and I climb on Javier’s bike and a few minutes later we’re at a beach I had visited earlier in my location search, Playa Bonita. We dismount, and Javier leads us into the jungle, up over a little ridge, and down a rocky trail to a beach I didn’t even know was there, called Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach).

Playa escondida

First view of Playa Escondida.

I was sticking to my previous winning strategy: I told Javier he didn’t have to do full frontal nudity. He could hide his privates with his suit or a towel or his hand, whatever was available at the moment. He was fine with that.

Ds works w javier

By this point (3 weeks into my stay in the D.R.) my Spanish had kicked in sufficiently that I was able to direct Javier pretty easily, although there were times when I was glad Julio was there to translate.

Javier collage sized

Even though I’d felt like spending the day relaxing, of course I got into it, and had a great time shooting Javier. He was as much fun as the 4 guys had been on the previous day’s shoot, with the difference that it’s much easier to photograph one guy than trying to coordinate four guys.

We’d brought beer, so the already-relaxed Javier was getting even more relaxed as the shoot continued.


Javier intent

Javier very intent on something.

After a couple of hours, just as I was running out of ideas and thinking it was almost time to finish up, I was taking some random shots of Javier just sitting and relaxing on a rock on the beach. Except he didn’t really seem relaxed. He didn’t seem tense, either…just INTENT. He kept looking down at the hand that was covering his crotch. Except it didn’t seem to be doing a very good job of covering everything, because everything was growing.

The next thing I knew, he opened his hand a bit and a big erection popped out. And Javier started laughing. He wasn’t at all embarrassed or mortified that he had gotten excited—he thought it was hilarious! And he was enjoying being photographed in his excited state.

Javier laughing censored

Javier's big surprise.

Needless to say, Julio and I were enjoying it too. Who would’ve thought this kind of happy surprise would happen in a “no-frontal-nudity” photo shoot?

Javier lettingallhangout

Letting it all hang out is a lot more fun than holding it all in.

I proceeded to get as many shots as possible of Javier in this condition, and I got quite a few. He said, Does this mean I get paid extra? I said Yeah, I think that can be arranged.

NOTE ABOUT THE CENSORED IMAGES: My practice is to not show full-frontal nudity on this blog. But you can see uncensored images of Javier by purchasing any or all of the selection of photographic prints of him I released a few weeks after I returned from my Dominican trip. Because the selection on my website rotates, I can’t guarantee they’ll be online at this moment, but sooner or later they’ll pop up (no pun intended!). Just click here to visit my website and navigate to the photographs section.

And that was that. Another exciting day in Las Terrenas. Javier got dressed, we all packed up, and hiked back to his motorbike, and then rode back into town.

As we were riding down the back streets of Las Terrenas on the way back to our hotel, I was thinking, Wow, two photo shoots in two days. I’m so glad Julio is around or this wouldn’t have happened. The next thing I know, Julio has yelled “Stop!” and Javier has stopped the motorbike. What’s going on? I asked.

Turns out Julio just couldn’t quit. He had seen another potential model and said, We have to talk to this guy!

And that’s how we met Manuel.


Javier manuel

Javier and his friend Manuel.

Manuel was just gorgeous, with a beautiful body and a beautiful face with dark eyes and long, dark lashes. He turned out to be a friend of Javier’s (Las Terrenas is not a big town). Julio began talking to him about modeling, and Javier was also very helpful, letting Manuel know that he had just done some modeling for me and it was great! And you don’t even have to show everything, he said. This from a guy who had just shown us everything and more. Hilarious!

Manuel was very interested in modeling. And I was interested in photographing him. But it was already late afternoon and we were leaving early the next morning.

I got his number, but didn’t really think anything would happen…I couldn’t imagine making the long trek back to Las Terrenas for a third time before leaving the Dominican Republic.

Little did I know.


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Paintingwithoutbrushes head

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October 12, 2012

This is the story of a large figurative painting I did using no brushes, only sponges.

I’ve found sponges help me with one of my major challenges: getting too careful and picky with my paintings. Just having a big sponge dripping with paint in my hand instead of a brush puts me in the right state of mind to place big, bold strokes and take my chances rather than trying to control everything.

This wasn’t the first time I’d used sponges instead of brushes. I did a painting in June 2009 called “Late Afternoon at Queen’s Surf” (below) which was painted mostly with a single small kitchen sponge (I did use brushes for the finishing phase of this painting).


More recently, just a few weeks ago, I did a piece called “Octopus Plant” (below) which I painted entirely with sponges, except for a very few final-touch brushstrokes. I loved the way using sponges kept my paint application free and energetic in this piece. It gave the finished work a nice, light-filled vitality.


Also, in the week before starting the painting discussed in this blog, I did several small acrylic-on-canvas studies using sponges, exploring the possibilities. So when I began this painting I was feeling fairly confident of my ability to put paint on the canvas with a sponge, and my willingness to give up some degree of control in return for a bold vitality.

However, as it turned out, what I learned in the process of doing this painting went way beyond expanding my sponge-painting abilities.

There are 3 major painting challenges that came up for me in the course of doing this painting:

Values (Light vs. Dark)
Color Temperature (Warm vs. Cool)
Edges (Hard vs. Soft)

For this challenge I chose a horizontal image similar to my previous large painting, Eduardo na Luz (which you can read about in my Going Big blog entry) in that it’s just the head and upper body. The image I settled on was a photograph of Steve Chen taken during our Malibu photo shoot last year. 

Stevechen source 3up

As usual, I printed out several versions of the reference image: one conventional continuous-tone color version, one posterized, and a greyscale version of the posterized image. As I’ve explained in other blog entries, the posterization allows me to see the color breakdown in ways I might not see so well just looking at the conventional photograph. It also makes it easier to see the warm colors and the cool colors.

(A very condensed note on my understanding of warm vs. cool: When you’ve got warm light—a sunny day, for instance—you’ll have cool shadows. So if your highlights go toward yellow or orange, your shadows will tend toward purple or blue. The reverse is also true: cool light—a cloudy day, for instance—tends to produce warm shadows. I’ve known about warm vs. cool for many years but only recently have I really admitted to myself how important it is, and I’ve started paying a LOT more attention to it. That wound up making a big difference in this painting.)

The greyscale version of the image lets me see values more clearly. This, like warm vs. cool, is something of which I’ve always known the importance, but only recently have I expanded my ability to see and focus on the really subtle value differences you find in an image. In the painting I did previous to this one, Eduardo na Luz, I really had to pay attention to values. (See Trying to Hit a Moving Target in the Going Big blog entry.) In the course of that painting, I spent a lot of time getting better at SEEING the differences in values. I was determined to cut down the number of times I had to repaint different passages in the painting. Because I was so focused on this, I really made progress in my ability to see microscopically small variations in value. That made a big difference on Eduardo na Luz, and an even bigger difference on the painting you’re reading about here.


Here's the selection of sponges I used for the painting.

In the image above you see a variety of kitchen sponges I bought at a grocery store. I bought small and large sponges, and some I cut in half so I would have more variety to work with…since I’m still discovering what it’s like to paint with sponges. The variety you see here has proven to work pretty well.

When I paint with a brush, I tend to use 1 or 2 brushes throughout the whole painting, which means that every time I change colors I have to rinse the brush clean and dry it, then dip into the next color.

With sponges, I have 4 corners on each sponge, so I can move from sponge to sponge without cleaning them; one sponge corner is for the darkest purple, for instance, and another one for the lighter purple, another for medium flesh, etc. I end up with a pile of sponges beside my palette, each one carrying different colors of paint on its corners. I paint with the sponges damp (but not soaking), so the paint on them tends to stay wet for quite a while, which is nice.

1549 inprog1

I started out in my usual way, drawing the image roughly onto the canvas, then doing a dark wash (dioxazine purple + burnt umber) over the entire area. Using a sponge, of course. In the above image you see the beginning of my application of the wash.

1549 inprog2

Here’s the next phase. I decided to use the brown-purple wash for everything but the figure itself; for that I chose a burnt-sienna (with a bit of ultramarine blue added to grey it down a bit) wash, thinking a reddish-brown tone under the fleshtones would probably be a good idea. By the way, applying a wash over a big area is a whole lot faster and easier with a sponge!

1549 inprog3

Next I mixed up a blue for the background. My favorite blue mixture these days is ultramarine blue with a touch of phthalo blue. So first I took a sponge and laid that in. What fun to have that big, broad sponge to lay in those large areas. I used big, broad movements, using my whole upper body. And was rewarded with some nice-looking ‘brushwork.’ Then I mixed some fleshtone—a medium, not too light and not too dark—and laid in the first fleshtones. I was VERY determined to not get too careful, to keep the strokes big and bold, and I think I did pretty well. One thing I’ve always been good at is squinting—my mom taught me that—so that I see how it’s looking without the distraction of the details. And I really had to do that even more than usual with this stage of this painting.

As soon as I laid in the fleshtones, I stood back (WAY back) from the painting and thought, “YES!” I really liked the energy of the work already. A good sign.

Next I mixed some colors for the towel. Usually painting something like a towel is boring for me. But this time I actually had fun! Using sponges, I was able to paint whole big sections of the towel quickly. Plus, I was less tempted than usual to get picky with it. And because I’ve gotten much better at judging values lately, I was able to better manage a difficult part of the painting, the greys on the towel (the shadowed areas of the white stripes). I took a couple of strokes with my carefully judged greys and boom, the towel started to look three-dimensional. Having a little bit of that kind of ‘magic’ happen early in the painting is very encouraging and really helps!

1549 inprog4

After painting the towel I went into the shadows. In my photograph I saw some very warm reddish tones in the shadows on the left-hand side of the body so I put some of those in. At this point I was not yet sure about those, knowing I would need to wait for them to dry, and to get some other color in around them, before knowing whether they would be okay without further work.

At this point I felt the painting was looking pretty good. I still wanted to do a lot to it, but I also felt that I could stop totally at this point and still have something I liked. That’s a good feeling. But I was having too much fun to quit. I wanted to see what this would grow into.

1549 inprog6

Next I tackled some of the more subtle areas, like the reflections within the shadows. You’ll see I added some cool (bluish) lighter tones within the shadows, specifically on the left side of the face, in the center of the chest, and under the nearer arm. If you don’t get the values exactly right on these reflection-within-the-shadow colors, they won’t work—so you really have to pay attention. I actually had to repaint these a couple of times before they worked.

1549 inprog7

By now I was actually moving into the final-touches phase. The basics were working so well that very little ‘detail work’ was required to bring the painting to a near-complete level of finish. I’m talking about the eyes, lips, the smaller patterns of lights and darks in various areas. I also went in and added more blue to the background so it was more ‘finished’-looking. I could’ve left it alone but just wanted to finish it more.

Here are some closeups of the final touches I put in to finish the painting.

1549 CU1

I mixed up a very light yellow for highlights, then used an even lighter pink on top of that. Sometimes I do the reverse, with the highest highlights yellow (warm) and the near-highlights a cool pink. I just experiment and see which one works better. Here you can see (on the underarm) the purplish shadows and the warm yellowish-greenish lighter areas within them. Cool shadows with warm reflections within them (which happened here because the sand was reflecting upward) can be magical!

1549 CU3 abs

In the detail above: I enjoyed defining the serratus anterior (the rippled area between the nipple and the lower right edge of the body) with just a few quick strokes of the sponge.

The face became kind of a symphony of warm and cool values. The really reddish shadows are next to the dull greenish in-between shadows which are next to the medium fleshtones which are next to the lighter fleshtones which are next to the yellow and pink highlights. And then there’s the purple triangle under the eye on the right side…a happy accident I knew enough to leave alone.

1549 CU2 head

Notice also on this closeup of the head, something I discovered when I thought I was finished with the painting. I stood back from it and I realized that the whole figure had hard edges all around. This is something that wouldn’t have bothered me even a few weeks ago. But for years I’ve read about how it’s good to lose some edges, to have some edges really sharp and others very soft or even nonexistent, and how that makes things appear more three-dimensional…I’ve read it for years and seen it in others’ work, but never got to the point where I was able to really apply it. But in the moment when I stood back from this painting and saw that it was a bit too ‘cut-out’ looking against the background, I knew I needed to soften some edges. I didn’t do much. I just softened the outline of Steve’s hair on the upper left and on the right just a bit above his ear. Those two very small, subtle touches made a world of difference. I stood back from the painting and suddenly it was more three-dimensional. NOW I decided it really was finished, and I was really happy with it. This one went fast—only took two days!


The finished painting, entitled 'Steve with Towel.' Click on the image to see this work on my website.

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

4faces heading

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October 1, 2012

I can never predict what people’s reaction will be to my artworks.

Sometimes a work that I absolutely love doesn’t get much reaction and takes a long time to find a buyer (although I have noticed that there’s always SOMEONE out there who winds up loving the piece as much as I did!). Other times a work that I was lukewarm about turns out to be wildly popular. What do I know? I’m just the guy who paints them, and though it may sound disingenuous, I’m being totally honest when I say, sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I just let the painting flow through me. I’m often surprised at what the painting looks like when I’m done.


Forest Spirit, an acrylic-on-paper painting I did in June 2009.

That was the case with a painting I did in the summer of 2009 called Forest Spirit. I kind of made it up as I went along, and I felt some magic happening as I did. I thought, will people like this? And they did! Whatever the painting’s magic is, I’m not the only one that feels it. Just a few weeks after I completed it, the painting sold to a longtime collector of mine, a doctor in California, who fell in love with it.

Three years later, and just a few weeks ago, I got a call from that same doctor telling me he was opening a new private clinic and wondered if I would consider creating several paintings for the lobby/waiting area. He wanted something with the same vibe as Forest Spirit.

Well, this was pretty exciting for me, because I liked Forest Spirit so much myself. So of course I said yes, that sounds like fun! He wanted four faces, two men and two women, representing a fairly wide ethnic diversity.

I got right to work, and this is when the trouble began.

I had conveniently forgotten that I had created Forest Spirit pretty much by accident. It kind of just happened. And here I had committed myself to creating four new paintings with a similar look and feel.

If you’re not a painter or an artist of some kind, maybe you think that once you’ve created something, you can do it again whenever you want to.

Uh…no. It ain’t like that. At least it isn’t with me!

So recreating the energy I was feeling when I painted Forest Spirit was not something I quite knew how to do when I started. But I figured, what the hell, I’ll just start trying stuff and we’ll see what happens! So I started sketching. I used my Wacom tablet and did the sketches in Photoshop because that way I could make lots of changes easily, and try out different color schemes easily and quickly. Below is a sampling of some of the first sketches I did over a period of several weeks.

8up sketches

Some of the first (digital) sketches I did, looking for the magic.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting. I knew these were kind of fun and interesting, but I also knew they weren’t yet what I was aiming for. The client was happy with the direction I was going, though, so I kept on sketching.

(One of the things that really helped me, because I liked it so well in Forest Spirit, was making the eyes asymmetrical—or to say it another way, not level. One eye way the hell up there and the other one down here. Calling on the spirit of Picasso, I guess. Anyway, I really liked that, and I decided to stick with it as the one really consistent feature of these images.)

By about the third week I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get something I really liked, and was also right for the commission. And that’s when some of the magic started to happen. This is how it works when you’re being an artist for a living. You don’t wait for inspiration and magic to strike. You work and work and keep producing so that when the magic and inspiration strike, you’ve already got a pencil (or a digital pen) in your hand. You’ve got the bottle in which you can catch the lightning when it strikes, so to speak.

Below are the first sketches I did that really felt exciting, one of a black man with a shaved head, the other of a blonde woman.

2up tuscan blkman sketches

I finally came up with some sketches I really liked.

With the black man, I just loved the lines and the way they came together. But it wouldn’t have mattered how beautifully they came together if there hadn’t also been a real personality there, and there was.

With the woman, I wasn’t sure exactly what I had, because I’m so not used to drawing female faces! But I felt her personality, and I knew that was the key.

I started on the painting of the black man first, and it went fairly well, until it was almost done, and then I realized I didn’t like what was happening. I was using a naturalistic light-and-shadow approach that made the head look rather 3-dimensional. But what I loved about the image was the way the face came together because of the lines themselves, not an illusion of light and shadow. So I repainted the whole thing and this time made the face flatter. No more light and shadow, just areas of color that allowed the lines to shine forth. And this time I got what I wanted. I call this one “Noble Black Man.” My first painting for the commission was done, and when I sent the image to my client, he liked it. That was great, and gave me energy to tackle number two, the blonde woman.

2up nobleblkman

The light-and-shadow approach (left) didn't work so well for me on this one, so I repainted it with flatter color areas (right), and found I liked it much better.

Painting the woman was really interesting! As you know, I paint male faces and figures almost exclusively, so this was a different experience. One significant change I had to make from the sketch to the painting was the line of the jaw. In the sketch I was doing what I’m used to, giving the face a strong jawline because I’m used to painting men. It took awhile, but I did finally realize that this is a woman, and that jawline and the angularity of the face needed to be softened a bit. She can still be a strong woman and a strong personality, but let’s make her look like a female instead of a male! So I softened the jaw and made the whole shape of her face more feminine. That worked.

I wanted something kind of romantic and soft to go with this beautiful but very strong female face, so I found some pictures of Tuscany and made that the backdrop. I decided to call this one “Tuscan Woman” and when I sent the image to my collector friend, once again he was pleased. Two done and two to go!


Tuscan Woman

There were two left and we decided one would be an Asian woman, and one would be a Caucasian man. I decided to tackle the Asian woman first.

Since I’ve painted so many beautiful Asian men in my career, I thought it shouldn’t be that difficult to paint a beautiful Asian woman. Wrong! This turned out to be a real challenge. I had a kind of feeling for what I wanted, but I just couldn’t picture it. I went online and searched and searched for images that would give me ideas, and I wasn’t able to find what I wanted. I sketched and sketched and sketched, and it just wouldn’t come. Finally, after several days of frustration, I basically just gave up, said fuck it, and started playing, using my imagination rather than trying so hard, and guess what…there she was.

2up exotic jungle girl

On the left, the digital sketch I came up with for the Asian girl. On the right, the finished painting.

My client liked the results of this one as much as I did. I was thrilled. I’d found the magic.

But now I had to do #4. The white guy. The white guy we had decided was going to be a surfer dude. Or maybe I decided that, I don’t remember. Anyway, that was the image I was going for. I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted, a Caucasian guy, probably Australian, with the kind of sun-bleached crazy hair that hot surfer boys have.

I put this one off for several days. I didn’t even start sketching. I was too nervous. I decided to just let myself be and it would happen when it was time.

And sure enough, one morning without even thinking too much about it, I found myself sitting down and sketching the Surfer Dude from some photos I’d found online, and like magic, there he was.


The sketch for the Surfer Dude painting turned out so well I was afraid to paint it for fear I'd lose the magic of the sketch....

And he was gorgeous! I don’t even know how I created this boy but just looking at that face made me melt. That’s pretty amazing.

I so fell in love with the sketch I came up with, I was afraid to paint it for fear I wouldn’t be able to keep the magic of the sketch. But I didn’t let that stop me; I just plunged right in, and started the painting the very next morning after the day I did the rough sketch.

I painted all day, and it was one of those rare experiences where the image seemed to paint itself. I just held onto the brush and let it flow! When I finished I stood back and said, “Wow! Did I paint HIM?”


Surfer Dude, my personal favorite of the 4 paintings. Did you notice one eye is green and one is blue? Just for fun and to make him even more interesting...

I wasn’t surprised, but I WAS relieved and happy when I shared this final image with my client and he loved it as much as I did. Which meant I had successfully completed the commission.

4faces heading notype

Here are all 4 of the paintings together. As I write this, my Noble Black Man, Tuscan Woman, Exotic Jungle Girl and Surfer Dude have all been rolled up and put in a tube (a big tube—each of these works is 2 feet by 3 feet) and sent off to their new home. I haven’t seen the room where they’ll be hanging but I know one thing for sure—they’ll add a whole lot of energy and personality and beauty! I’m grateful I got to explore this side of myself—and proud that I was able to rise to the occasion and create 4 works that I like and were also just what the collector was hoping for.

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

Getting big with eduardo

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September 25, 2012


After building a 32-year art career with minimal gallery exposure, and proud of my independence, I now find myself thinking about galleries in a new way.

I’ve never had much luck with, or truck with, galleries, for one simple reason: I’ve focused on the male nude my whole career. And not quiet, discreet male nudes, no. Full-frontal, in-your-face male nudes have always been my specialty. I felt it was my duty to be the artist who dared to paint what others were afraid of.

It’s been very satisfying and I wouldn’t change a thing. But obviously a career like mine was not built on gallery shows.

All that said, my attitudes in this area are changing. Recently I’ve noticed I feel less need to be the standard bearer for the male nude in contemporary fine art. In many ways, I’ve said what I had to say. I find my range of subject matter is expanding and opening up—as I’ve been expanding and opening up.

And it’s been pointed out to me by someone who knows me and my work, and also has a lot of experience in the world of galleries, that a relationship with the right gallery could not only achieve more widespread recognition for my work, it could also make my life easier and give me even more freedom.

It’s not so much about making more money. I’ve survived the hard times and my business is beginning to prosper again, and I’m grateful for that. No, it’s more about being in a whole new phase, and letting go of old prejudices and limitations.


It was also pointed out to me that galleries like an artist who can give them big, dramatic works that jump off a gallery wall. BIG PAINTINGS! This totally makes sense but it just hadn’t occurred to me—I was always so focused on doing work that would be easy to ship. Anyway, when I heard that, something clicked inside me. I got excited about doing something BIG.

Edu9733 fullimage source

This was the image I chose to start with for my REALLY BIG PAINTING.

Sometimes you have to stop being sensible and just go for it. You’ve heard this from me before. My whole journey is about those moments when I wake up to another area of my life where I’ve been playing small, and decide to get big. This is another one of those, only in this case it’s literal.

So I took out my roll of canvas and cut out a 3-foot by 5-foot rectangle. This was the biggest piece that would fit on my easel. Wow, I thought, as I wrestled with it, tacking it onto the corkboard, this is big!


I cropped the image for a nice horizontal-format closeup that focused on Eduardo's mood. Then I posterized the image to break the values into flat areas of color.

I had already picked out an image I wanted to do, a closeup of an Eduardo photograph from our photo shoot in Rio. This quiet, contemplative moment had just the feeling I wanted. I was excited to see what its impact would be as a huge painting.

As I penciled in the underdrawing, I started to get nervous. I realized how much resistance I had to painting something this big. If it didn’t work, it would be a BIG failure. That was scary. But I also know that SCARY is just a label the mind sometimes attaches to EXCITING.

Edu na luz inprog1

Here I've just finished the pencil drawing and I'm ready to start putting paint onto the canvas.

I really wanted to do something loose and bold and filled with dramatic brushstrokes, but as I drew the image onto the canvas, I realized that I had bitten off enough just by choosing to do something this big. My goal was to make the painting work at this size, and the loose, bold brushwork would have to wait for upcoming works. So I chose to use an approach I’ve had some experience with: specifically, a posterized look, with flat areas of color. This is the approach I used with one of the few really large paintings I’ve done in the past, Gato, a closeup portrait of Marcus.


One of the biggest paintings I'd done previously, a closeup of Marcus entitled Gato.


With a painting like this, where the areas of color are discrete and distinct from each other, the values (lightness/darkness) are very close. That makes this a big challenge when you’re painting in acrylics, because acrylic paints change value significantly when they dry. That is, they’re light when they’re wet and darker when they dry. So laying down one color next to another on the canvas, unless they’re both completely wet and fresh, will show you a deceptive relationship. With acrylics, you can’t know how 2 areas of color are going to relate until they’re both totally dry.

Edu na luz inprog1a

The beginning of the painting.

What that means in practice with a painting like this one is that every color must be mixed, applied to the canvas, and allowed to dry before you know whether it will work or not. And because the differences in tone are so subtle, usually it doesn’t work the first time—it will dry a bit darker or lighter than you wanted—and you must remix the color and try again. Sometimes an area of color will need to be repainted 3 or 4 times before it’s just right. And THEN, sometimes one of the colors adjacent to it will no longer work and you have to begin the process again with THAT color.

So it’s a real bitch to get the colors right in a painting like this. Or I should say, get the values right—because the colors don’t have to work all that well if the values do. Because acrylics change so much when they dry, it’s like trying to hit a moving target.

Nevertheless, I had some early success with the Eduardo painting, and that gave me energy to keep going.

Edu na luz inprog3


One thing that really helped was, I started using a floor lamp to accelerate the drying. In the past I would be waiting so long for the colors to dry so I could see if they were right, that I would get impatient and start working on something else. Then I would forget exactly what I’d been doing in the other area of the painting. But using a lamp focused right on the wet paint dries it in a minute or two, so I was able to work in real time rather than on a 20-minute delay.

Edu na luz inprog4


So while I was speeding up the drying of the paint on the canvas, I was trying to keep the paint on my palette wet. Because acrylics dry so fast, when you’re doing a big painting that takes several days or even longer, it’s a major challenge to keep your mixtures wet. I have a plastic box I place over my palette at night to keep the paint wet. I even place a really wet sponge inside the box with the palette to keep the paint from drying. Another trick is to put the whole thing inside the refrigerator, since cool temperatures keep the paint from drying as fast.

Edu na luz inprog5

All of this helps, but only up to a point. In practice, I had to keep re-mixing my colors over and over again. When a mixture started to run out, I had to mix more before it dried and darkened, so I could match wet paint to wet paint. Even then it’s really difficult to get it to match exactly. In the 5 days I worked on this painting, I probably spent 75% of my time mixing paint, and 25% of the time actually putting paint on the canvas.

Edu na luz inprog6

The painting is almost complete here--just some final touches remain to be done.


Just in case you’re interested, my flesh tones were mostly Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Orange and Titanium White. For the middle tones, I reddened that mixture with a bit of Cadmium Red Medium and Alizarin Crimson. The cooler tones are a grey-green made of Yellow Oxide, Ultramarine Blue, Dioxazine Purple and white. For the background I mixed Ultramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue with Titanium White.

Edu na luz w ds

I posed myself in front of the painting so you could get a better idea of just how big it is.


The first couple of days were difficult, but once I got my colors working, I got into a kind of rhythm, and by day 3 I was moving along pretty smoothly. There were many areas of the painting I had to repaint 3 or 4 times to get the values just right, but with the lamp-drying trick and my growing familiarity with the mixtures I was using for this painting, I was able to work pretty efficiently.

By the end of the 4th day I was done with everything but the final touches, and I was feeling really proud of myself. I’d tackled a huge challenge and pulled it off!


Here's the finished painting, Eduardo na Luz. Click on the image to see this artwork on my website.

I don’t know if this will end up on the wall of a gallery or not. But I love the fact that opening up to the idea of showing in galleries inspired me to create this big, exciting painting! “Eduardo na Luz” (Eduardo in the Light) is now showing in my gallery online. Click on the image above to go there.

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