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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.

1891 inprog02

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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May 20, 2016

I saw a painting at a gallery here in Puerto Vallarta recently that gave me an idea.

Actually it reminded me of an idea I’d already had—one of the many painting ideas that bounce around in my brain for years sometimes before finally getting insistent enough that I start to act on them. The painting I saw that triggered this was a grid of several faces on colorful backgrounds. Because I’ve done a lot of Expressionist portraits over the last 2 or 3 years, the idea of doing something a little different and new with the same subject matter appealed to me. It also made me think of some other works I like, like Andy Warhol’s iconic multiple portraits.

Andy warhol a set of six self portraits 1967

Andy Warhol's self-portrait is similar to the painting I saw which gave me an idea for a new approach to my Expressionist portraits.

I thought about this over a couple of weeks while I was working on commissions, then some time opened up and I started work on my idea. The first thing I did was search through one of my many image archives, this one of intriguing male faces. These are photographic images I’ve found online which I use as inspiration for drawings. I picked out a bunch, then I started sketching. I had a very good day and did around 20 different sketches. I liked a lot of them, so l would need to choose which to use.

12up sixguysroughs

Here are 12 of the 20 or so sketches I did to get ideas for the painting.

My next step was to scan my sketches, then use Photoshop to group them and find the most appealing combination. I had been planning to do a grid of 8 portraits but I realized that was going to be an unwieldy shape—too tall and skinny for most walls. So I decided to do a 6-grid. I tried several combinations and ended up with the 6 you see here.

6upfaces 1

I used Photoshop to try different combinations of the preparatory sketches to see which grouping I liked best. This is the one I liked most and decided to use for the painting. NOTE: The one at lower left is actually a sketch I did a couple of years ago, Asian Male Portrait, which I liked enough to revisit for this painting.

My next step was to cut a piece of canvas for the painting. I decided to make each portrait 14 inches square, which meant the entire image area would be 28″x42″. After cutting the canvas, I drew a grid, then transferred my rough sketches to their appropriate positions in the grid. Next I used one of my favorite tools, a Montana black acrylic marker, to re-draw the faces in black acrylic paint. When that was done, I painted a neutral cool brown wash over the whole thing and while I waited for it to dry, I began mixing my colors.

6guys inprog1

In-progress shot 1: After penciling in the sketches on the canvas, I re-drew them using a black acrylic-paint marker. After I let this dry, I painted a neutral-colored acrylic wash over the whole thing and let it dry while starting to mix my colors.

Then I began painting. I wasn’t sure of the background colors I would use, just that I wanted them bright. As it turned out, I used the 3 primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and their complements (green, purple and orange). I didn’t plan this; it just worked out that way. For fleshtones, I used just about every color of the rainbow, since my six portraits constituted a broad spectrum of ethnicities and skin colors. (That was on purpose, by the way.)

6guys inprog2

In-progress shot 2: I've roughed in all the background colors, and 3 of the portraits.

I’m noticing as I go along that unlike working out the fleshtones for a single portrait, each of these portraits must work not only on its own but in concert with the other faces and fleshtones. In other words, they are individual portraits but they’re also part of a larger composition and I need to constantly be aware of that as I work.

6guys inprog3

In-progress shot 3: At this stage I've roughly painted in all the faces and their backgrounds.

At the end of the second day of work I’ve got all the faces painted in. I quit for the day, knowing that the next day will be about taking the painting to the next level of finish, and maybe completing it. My goal is to be satisfied not only with each individual portrait, but also happy with the way they all work together when I stand back and take in the entire composition.

6guys inprog4

In-progress shot 4: At this stage I've worked on all of the faces to bring them to a higher level of finish. Some have needed more work and revision than others.

In in-progress shot 4, shown above, you can see there have been big changes to the two center faces, the African guy and the redhead, but I’ve also revised the Asian guy at lower left by making his left ear visible. I’ve also reworked the colors somewhat in most of the faces.

The next day I spent quite a few hours bringing the painting to completion. At the end I was happy not only with the portraits on an individual level but with the feel of the whole painting. I call it Six Guys.

6guys final

Final stage of the painting Six Guys. This image isn't that different from in-progress shot 4, but this has been properly scanned rather than just photographed in the studio, so you can get a better idea of the actual colors and tonal qualities of the painting.

Below are some closeups of the individual portraits so you can get a better look at each one.

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6guys africanCU

6guys redheadCU

6guys asianCU

6guys lowerrightCU

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March 29, 2016

Horst M., one of my favorite longtime collectors in Germany recently asked my permission to allow some of his Simonson art to be shown in an exhibition at a gay center in Munich.

Since Horst has a pretty extensive collection of my work, he said I wouldn’t need to send anything to Germany. Great! I love a public exhibition of my work that doesn’t require anything from me but a “Go for it!”

Subcenter desk

Staff and clients at Munich's Schwules Kommunkationszentrum (Sub gay center)

The Schwules Kommunikationszentrum, also known as the Sub Center, is a non-profit LGBT support center. The exhibition of my work was one of several art shows held there over the past several months. I’m pleased to have my art shown there and to be a part of their efforts to support LGBT causes in Munich.

Exhibition Douglas IV

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Exhibition Douglas I

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Munichshow 09

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Munichshow 03

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Munichshow 08

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Munichshow 10

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

Munichshow 07

Simonson art at Munich's Sub gay center

The exhibition ended March 24, but if you’re in Munich, stop by and visit the Schwules Kommunikationszentrum and say hello!

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February 23, 2016

On February 23 I put on a live painting demonstration in my studio at ArtVallarta.

I’ve done painting and drawing demonstrations before, but I’d never done a full-on three-hour demonstration of how to create an acrylic painting. My momentary nervousness faded as soon as I started mixing colors and painting, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the process.

Toranoinpool sourceimage

I used this photograph of Torano from a Hawaii photo shoot as the source image for my demonstration painting.

I chose a photograph from a Hawaii photo shoot with Torano in the pool of my Honolulu condo as the subject matter for my demonstration. This was a good image for my purposes because it’s a clearly defined face with strong light coming from a single direction. The less complicated the light, the easier the painting—–and with only 3 hours to complete most or all of the work, I wanted to keep it simple.

Demo 01

I began by mixing paint and laying in large areas of the painting loosely, to see early on how my colors were working.

Demo 02

Demo 03

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Demo palette2

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Demo 10

My audience of painting students seemed to be delighted to be ‘let in on the secrets’ of creating a painting. They watched intently, taking notes and asking questions throughout—about the nature of acrylic paints, brushwork, composition, mixing colors, working from photographs, and much more.

Demo 04

Demo 05

Demo 06

Demo 07

Demo 08

Demo 09

Demo 11

Demo 12

Last shot

Here's the painting as it looked at the end of the three-hour demonstration. I spent a couple of hours completing it the following day (see image below).

In 3 hours I managed to get near completion on a lively, exciting painting, while narrating my process. Thanks to my students for sharing with me some of the photographs they shot during the demonstration.

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Here's the completed painting, which I entitled Fourth of July.

The day after the demo, I spent a couple of hours in my studio moving the painting to completion. It’s now showing online in my Paintings Gallery. It’s called Fourth of July.

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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.

Pothos3

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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BREAKING IN MY MEXICO STUDIO

December 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

DR 1sttry 2upinprog

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

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

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

BALLS.

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

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

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

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

DR 2ndtry inprog1

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

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

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

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

DR 2ndtry inprog2

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

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

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

Finished CU1

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

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

Finished CU2

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

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

DR finished

The finished painting: Republica Dominicana.

Madeittomexico header

December 9, 2014

CONTENTS


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

(Note: Titles are clickable)


THE DECISION


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

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

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

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

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

Then, just when I was starting to relax—


MELTDOWN


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

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

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

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


ARRIVAL AND APARTMENT-HUNTING


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

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

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

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

I was wrong.

It took me less than 24 hours.

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

Mex apt ext

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SETTING UP MY STUDIO


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

First studio shot

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

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

Felipe working sm

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

Brackets2

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


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

Lighting

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

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


ART SUPPLIES


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

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

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

Studio squeezebottles CU1 sm

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

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


I’M PAINTING AGAIN!


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