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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.

Kelly sourceimg tweaked

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.

Kelly inprog4

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.

Paintingblind header

June 9, 2014

CONTENTS


• BACK IN THE STUDIO
• INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA
• THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP
• PAINTING BLIND
• LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK
• FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


BACK IN THE STUDIO


I got back to Nebraska from Puerto Vallarta in late March, and after having been gone for almost the whole winter, I was really happy to get back into my studio for some extended painting time. With painting, it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the groove when you’ve been away. And if I want to really grow and develop and make some breakthroughs, I need a period of not just weeks, but months where I’m painting almost every day. That’s when the magic really starts to happen.

I got back from Mexico on March 19th, and by the beginning of April I was getting back into full swing. With, of all things, ABSTRACTS!


INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA


Fitzherrera greengreengreen

Green Green by Fitz Herrera.

In the past I often painted abstracts as a way to get warmed up before I dive into “the real stuff”—the male figure. But over the past few years abstracts and landscapes have begun to assume greater importance for me. Now abstracts and landscapes are “the real stuff” for me, too. When I got back from Mexico, I found myself getting captivated all over again by the abstract paintings of a guy from the Philippines named Fitz Herrera. I discovered his art online a couple of years ago and went crazy for it. For some reason the shapes he uses, the colors he chooses, his compositions, and especially the way he uses paint, all really speak to me. He’s one of those painters whose work I look at and go, “I want to be able to do that!” That’s what I call inspiration. And that’s the kind of excitement that has always pushed me to new breakthroughs in my abilities as an artist.


Fitzherrera brownnation

Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

So I printed out some Fitz Herrera paintings I’d found online and tacked them up next to my easel and started painting.


Fitzherrera yellow

Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first, but of course that was perfect…I was going to have to explore and find new ways of doing things, which is always the challenge with painting, or anything where you want to stay excited and exciting.

So I spent several days in the studio, painting abstracts that didn’t work out. I kept trying to find my way into his style. I noticed I really liked the shapes he used, and I sat down and drew a bunch of them with pencil to familiarize myself with them. These were ovals, U shapes, and long skinny triangles, among other things.

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Hidden Treasures, the first successful abstract I did after getting back from Mexico. I was starting to use some of Fitz Herrera's shapes, and I like the painting a lot, but it was still kind of contained and 'safe'----I wanted more sloppy, drippy, explosive things happening.

I also worked at using sloppier, wetter paint mixtures so I could get more spatters and drips, because that’s one of the things I love about his paintings, too. It’s like he’s showing us the process of the painting as part of the painting. Plus it’s wet and luscious and sensual, and I find it sexy and exciting.

I noticed, too, that there are layers and layers going on in his work. I realized I would have to change my approach somewhat. I usually like to work fast and finish a painting as quickly as I can, before I lose momentum. I saw that in order to get these layered effects, I would have to allow time for one layer to dry completely before I could go in and paint another layer on top of that.


THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP


But I had a perfect solution for that issue: I would keep several paintings going simultaneously, so that there would always be a painting that was dry enough to move on to when the others were still wet.

And my studio setup (which you can read about here) was perfect for that. Some part of me sensed, as much as a year previously, that I would be working more and more in this way, and would be needing a space with several easels so that I could move from painting to painting as I worked.

So I had the perfect setup, and I continued working to see if I could find the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera’s paintings.

Then, after a few days of this, I started to break through. One of the hardest things for me was to get in the habit of using really wet, sloppy paint, and just letting it drip and run. I’ve done this occasionally in previous work but never stuck with it. This time I did. I started to get used to it—and I loved it. I loved the freedom of it, and the fact that I was letting go of control and still getting what I wanted.

The other thing, and the really big breakthrough here, also had to do with letting go of control: I started PAINTING BLIND.


PAINTING BLIND


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My first 'Painting Blind' abstract, and the first time I really started to feel I was getting the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera's paintings. It's called 80-Foot Drop because making it happen really was like jumping off a cliff.

I was painting in the way I always paint, which is: I stand back from the painting, look for an area that doesn’t work yet, and ask myself, what does this area need? Lighter, darker, warmer, cooler—a big broad stroke, a long narrow stroke, a little spot of color—what? When I think I know, I load the brush with paint, move in and lay down a stroke, or two or three or more, where I think it’s needed. This is pretty much my approach whether I’m painting an abstract or a realistic figure. It’s always about asking myself what the painting needs next.

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My second successful experience 'painting blind': Martial Art.

Except this time it wasn’t working so well. I would look the painting over, see a problem area, decide what it needed, and add a stroke or two or three. And it kind of worked, but there was too much calculation going on. The strokes looked planned and boring. I thought, what can I do to introduce a bit less predictability here? And I thought, I’ll close my eyes.

Believe me when I tell you that was not easy to do. I’m a control freak, and I was going to paint with my eyes closed?? But I did it anyway…

I looked at the painting, decided it needed a bit of white in a certain area, then I loaded up my brush with white, and looked at the painting again, poised for action. When I had everything in mind and knew my intention, I CLOSED MY EYES AND ATTACKED.

After the first time I did that, I opened my eyes and went, WOW. It totally worked. I had just put down a series of brushstrokes that were exactly what the painting needed…and they had not come from conscious control, but from setting an intention, then letting go.

I didn’t do this all the time, just when the painting seemed to need it. But it worked almost every time.

Abstracts 4up

Four paintings that happened as I was starting to get into the swing of this new approach: Clockwise from upper left, Rolling the big Wheel, Lazy Susan, Surprise Garden, Little Lulu at the Circus.

I was not getting Fitz Herrera abstracts, but I didn’t really want to replicate his work anyway—I just wanted to see if I could get a bit of his magic. And I was finding my way into it.


LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK


This continued for a couple of weeks and I experienced a whole new way of painting. Having several paintings going at once and letting some of them “rest” while I moved on to others is very different for me. But I found I’m able to see what each painting needs more easily that way than the usual way for me, which is where I focus totally on a single painting for the whole time I’m working on it. This new approach lets the paintings breathe a bit, and I end up allowing each painting to speak to me, rather than forcing it to tell me what it wants—if you know what I mean.

Horizabstracts 2up

A couple of horizontal abstracts from this period: top, Where the Flowers Were; bottom, Summer in My Mind.

The abstract paintings that resulted have gotten an enthusiastic response from my local audience here in Lincoln. The First Friday Art Walk which happens on the first Friday of each month, sends throngs of art appreciators into the hallways of Parrish Studios where my studio is located. This is a new experience for me, since I’ve been selling my art online for all these years and seldom interacting with collectors in person. The May 2, 2014 First Friday was the first time I’d ever done a showing of just abstract works, and it was a big success. People loved the new work and especially enjoyed finding out more about how it was painted.

The abstract paintings themselves have been a great reward, but an even bigger one is seeing how what I’ve learned with them has translated into my other work.


FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

Monochromenudes 3up

Three monochrome nudes greatly influenced by what I learned doing abstracts: left, Asian Male Nude in Greyscale (model: Khanh); middle, Hiking with Manuel; right, Joyful Black Male Nude (model: Victor).

After about 10 days of painting abstracts in this new way, I decided to try some male nudes. I chose to paint monochrome (single-color) works so I could focus on the form and the way the paint is applied without having to concern myself with color. I produced 3 striking pieces, all of which benefited greatly from what I’d been learning with abstracts.

Landscapes 2up

Landscapes influenced by my latest breakthroughs: top, Windward Stormclouds; bottom, Ho'omaluhia Path.

Then I went back to abstracts for another three weeks before trying something else: landscapes. I did two landscapes in mid-May where I used the Painting Blind approach much of the time, and I was more than pleased with the results. With everything I’m painting these days, the abstracts, the male figures, the landscapes, I’m finding the same thing always applies: to grow and change and keep the work exciting, you’ve got to push the boundaries and take chances. You can’t fly without jumping off the edge.

I think it’s fitting to end this blog entry entitled PAINTING BLIND with a quote from Helen Keller:

“Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”

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.

PV beachshot01

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.

Las terrenas tweak

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.

Ds kelly breckenridge

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.

Winter2013 everythingchanges

December 11, 2013

CHANGE continues to be the main theme in my life and career. In my October 3 blog entry, I shared about my wonderful new studio. Now, a couple of months later, everything has changed—again!

Just when I had gotten everything set up the way I liked it in the new studio, I got a call from the landlord. He had some bad news, he said. Plans had changed. No more artist’s studios—now they were going to rent out the entire space to a church. (A church??)

So I had 30 days to move out.

This was quite a surprise. But I was renting month-to-month, so I knew this kind of thing might happen. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

I was really unhappy—for about an hour. That’s how long it took me to find a positive approach and adapt to the situation. My original goal had been to get a studio in Parrish Studios, an old building in downtown Lincoln that is filled with artists and craftspeople and their studios and shops. I’d given up on that because they had no space. But just 2 days before my landlord called with the bad news, I’d gotten a voicemail from the guy at Parrish Studios telling me a space was opening up, and was I interested?

Well, I was now! I called him, it was still available, I went and saw the space the next day, and decided it would be just fine. Within one week of the call from my landlord, I had moved my studio into the new space.

It’s a bit smaller, but it’s still a very workable space. And the rent is less than half what I was paying in the previous place. And now I really am in the midst of a community of artists, which was what I wanted in the first place.

Parrish interior 3up C

Views of my new space at Parrish Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska. My rolling-workstation-with-homasote-panels system transferred nicely!

It was nice to discover that the setup I’d worked so hard to create in the first studio (with the homasote panels and the rolling workstation) was totally portable. Things were so well organized that by the second day in the new space, I was already painting and producing.

Which was a good thing, because I was now down to less than 3 weeks of painting time before leaving for Brazil!

First friday parrish DS

An added benefit to the new studio is the fact that the studio gets a lot of traffic each month on the First Friday Art Walk. Here I'm prepping for my first First Friday in Lincoln.

As the Nebraska air got colder, my eagerness for my approaching trip to South America grew. But I also found I was loving my new studio so much, I was hating the idea of leaving it. Not enough to change my plans, of course. But that’s the balance I’m trying to work out these days. I like having my studio in a place like Nebraska where it’s easy to focus on my work. But I need to have the stimulation of the tropics regularly as well.

I accomplished a lot in the days before leaving. Then, on November 12, I hopped on a plane and flew to Rio de Janeiro. As soon as I arrived I slipped into a different pace, a different way of life.

Ds w localtalent ipanema

Myself with some of the local talent at Ipanema Beach.

I’m writing this just a few days before my 5-week stay in Brazil ends. It’s been just what I needed. I do miss being able to paint, but it’s been good to focus on other things for awhile, like e-books, digital art, and writing.

It’s also good to be a social animal again. Nebraska is good for focusing on my art, but when I’m there I’m pretty solitary. In Brazil I stay in a hostel and I’m meeting tons of new people every day. I’m going to the beach, going out at night, hanging out with new friends, etc. The difference between my Nebraska life and this life is total. And I find I thrive on the difference.

Ds slacklining

At Ipanema, learning a new sport from new Swedish friend Oliver: Slacklining.

I’ve now been in Rio for a month and it’s been wonderful—but I find I’m starting to wear out a bit from all the social stuff. I’m ready to head back to my studio for a few weeks of painting (and solitude) to recharge my batteries.

I’ll stay in Nebraska for Christmas, then just before New Year’s I head for Honolulu. It will be my first visit in over a year and a half—the longest I’ve been away from Hawaii since the early 1970s. I’ll stay there for a month, catching up with friends and seeing what it’s like to be back home after so long away. February and March remain unplanned.

So the process of reinventing my life continues. The hardest part is finding a way to travel as much as I want to, and still produce art consistently. I like being in the tropics a lot of the time, but I don’t like being away from my studio. Yet recreating a painting studio wherever I am is a logistical challenge that still seems too daunting. At the moment I’m just allowing things to unfold, and I know sooner or later the next phase will reveal itself. I don’t know what it will look like. I only know it’ll be perfect.

Header khanh kitchentable

October 14, 2013

New Painting: Khanh at the Kitchen Table


Several things came together for me in my newest painting, Khanh at the Kitchen Table. All the work I’ve been doing with the Faces series over the last several weeks has given me more confidence in my use of line and color. I also pushed myself, in this painting, to pay less attention to chiaroscuro (use of light and dark to define form) and more to flat areas and patterns of color. That wasn’t easy, but I did it, and I’m happy with the results.

Khanh source 2up

Top, the source photo for the painting. Below it, the posterized version to give me ideas for color and pattern.

Above is a photograph of Khanh sitting at my kitchen table with a towel over his shoulders. This is the photograph I chose as the source image for this painting, and below it is the posterized version which helped me get color and color-pattern ideas.

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Here's the final rough sketch I did to prepare for the painting.

I worked out the lines in a series of rough sketches; the one above is the final one. I liked the lines and patterns enough in this drawing to go ahead and transfer it to canvas. Below is the pencil drawing on canvas.

Khanh kitchen inprog1

At this point, my usual procedure has been to dilute some black acrylic paint enough so that I can use a fairly fine brush to go over the pencil lines with black. But a few weeks ago, I ordered a black Montana acrylic marker to experiment with. I’m so glad I did. I love this marker, and in fact I’ve ordered other colors to experiment with as well. But for this stage of the painting, the acrylic marker is wonderful. Instead of having to laboriously paint all the lines, I can DRAW them with the marker! This is faster and a lot more fun, and makes it easier for me to keep the flow of the line I had in the pencil version. (I’m using the thick 16mm tip because I paint large, but you can get these acrylic markers in varying thicknesses. Here’s a link in case you’re interested: Montana Acrylic Markers on DickBlick.com.)

Khanh kitchen inprog2

Here's the painting after going over the pencil drawing with black acrylic marker.

So now the painting was ready for the actual painting to begin. I thought I was ready to take the plunge, but something made me hesitate. I realized that if I didn’t think this out first, I would go ahead and automatically use my usual approach, which would not result in the flat color thing I was going for. So I got out my Wacom tablet and pen and did several digital versions on the computer. This gave me lots of chances to try out different color schemes and patterns.

Digitalkhanh 4up

Above you can see some of the color ideas I tried. Below is the version I liked the best.

Khanh kitchentable digital

Once I had the color scheme figured out, it was just a matter of mixing the colors and laying them in. Some paintings are all about the adventure, and you go in knowing you don’t know the path, there will be obstructions and washed-out bridges and the possibility of disaster, but that’s necessary to get where you want to go. This one wasn’t like that. I knew what I wanted and I followed the program. So it was several hours of just filling in the colors, kind of like a very big coloring-book page. Sometimes this is a nice way to paint. It’s relaxing. I can’t do this too often because it gets boring, but sometimes when you’re in between big adventures and big breakthroughs, you do a painting like this to consolidate some of what you’ve been learning during the more difficult phases of discovery.

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Here's the finished painting: Khanh at the Kitchen Table.

Not that there weren’t some challenging parts of this coloring-book page, but nothing that fazed me too much. In the end, painting it was satisfying and enjoyable. What’s even better is that, despite the calm and straightforward nature of the process, the finished painting has life and vitality and a real presence.

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October 3, 2013

CONTENTS


• Changes, Surprises and Going with the Flow
• The New Studio: Physical Dynamics
• The New Studio: Space for Enlightenment



CHANGES, SURPRISES AND GOING WITH THE FLOW


Okay, I’m still in Nebraska. I keep thinking I’m doing something wrong because I said I was going to be living on the road, and except for 5 weeks in the Dominican Republic last winter, I’ve been stuck in Nebraska for a year and a half.

But then I think about it and realize nothing’s wrong. I am following my plan; it’s just unfolding in unexpected ways. Wow, what a surprise!

My plan was to have a homebase in Nebraska which would make it easier for me to travel and live most of my life on the road. And it’s getting there.

When I moved to Lincoln from Hawaii in April 2012, I rented a duplex on Dakota Street, a few blocks from my sister Kelly’s house. It was great because I had a full basement and I was able to turn that into my studio and office. Living in Lincoln was not exactly my dream but it turned out to be exactly the right thing for my painting. As in, no social life and no beach = lots of focus on painting and lots of art produced.

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Here's what my Dakota street studio looked like.

The Dakota Street duplex worked fine for awhile, but for some reason I knew I wouldn’t be there that long. I had a strong feeling that things would be changing drastically sometime in the fall of 2013. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. When you live your life like I do, watching the currents and adjusting to them and following them rather than trying to force things or plan too much, you start getting a sense for these things.

Another strong sense I had was that I wanted to be around other artists more. I had this vision, in fact, of a group of studios where I could go in and paint and be around other artists, also creating, every day. There’s a place in Lincoln called Parrish Studios which is kind of like that, and I started making regular inquiries there, hoping a studio space would open up.

Then in July, my sister Kelly decided that her live-in boyfriend had to go. Without going into details, let me just say that this was widely seen as a positive move. With Kelly’s extra bedroom becoming vacant, I began to think about moving my office there. Since she helps me with my business when I’m away traveling, it seemed like a good idea to both of us.

I knew that moving in with Kelly would mean I had to find studio space elsewhere. Nothing was happening with Parrish Studios, so one Saturday morning in early August I decided to look on Craigslist for artist’s studio spaces in Lincoln, Nebraska. Almost immediately—and against all odds—something very interesting popped up. It sounded so perfect that I called the number and within 45 minutes I was meeting with the owner to look at the space.

That’s how I found my ideal new studio.

The owner of a building in Lincoln’s Haymarket area (trendy, popular part of downtown Lincoln with lots of clubs, restaurants and galleries) had an unfinished basement space which he wanted to turn into artist’s studios. I was the first artist to look at the space and it was still mostly unfinished. The price was right, the feeling was right, the location was right, and because I was the first and the studios were still being constructed, I even got to help design my own studio space!

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This is the empty space before construction of individual studios. All the way down at the end are the kitchen and bathrooms. I got to choose which part of the area would become my 250-sq-ft studio. I chose the spot at the far end, of course.

That construction was completed pretty quickly, and by early September, I had moved my office (and home) into Kelly’s extra bedroom, and everything else into my new downtown studio.

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Here's a look into my newly constructed studio space. This was early on, when I was still moving stuff in. You can see my trusty easel and corkboard already set up, and my new steel rolling cart painting workstation next to it. Leaning on the wall in the corner is a 4x8 sheet of Homasote.

Lots of big changes had happened in a very short time, but nothing was forced and everything just fell into place with perfect timing. Again I saw how well it works to just pay attention to the currents and follow your instincts on when to jump in and when to just chill.

The only thing I really didn’t like about the new setup was the fact that I had no parking space downtown, and that meant every time I went in to paint I had to feed a parking meter. But I decided I could live with that until I was able to find reasonable long-term parking.


THE NEW STUDIO: PHYSICAL DYNAMICS


Let me tell you about the physical aspects of my new studio. It’s in a space adjacent to a full kitchen with plenty of sinks, which is great for someone who paints in acrylics. It’s 250 square feet, which is just right. Best of all, it has 5 easels instead of just one! I’ll explain:

I’d seen a photo of an artist’s studio some time ago where there were paintings-in-progress tacked up on every wall. That struck me. What a great idea! Walls made of some kind of bulletin-board-like material where you could just tack up your piece of canvas and start a painting. You could have 4 or 5 paintings in progress in different areas of your studio! I’ve never painted this way—but without my realizing it, a year of focused painting in my one-easel studio had gotten me ready for this next step.

But where to find those bulletin-board walls? Corkboard was pretty expensive–there must be something else. Some time and online research eventually led me to a material called Homasote. It’s used mostly for soundproofing, but it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I bought 4 panels (4 feet by 8 feet, 1/2-inch thick, about $25 each) and nailed them up on the walls of my studio. Now I had easels everywhere!

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Here's an interior shot of my studio showing two Homasote panels on the walls at right, and another on the far left. Each of these panels constitutes an easel and painting work area.

The other big innovation was a rolling workstation.

Rolling workstation

ROLLING PAINTING WORKSTATION: This stainless-steel rolling cart is 49 inches high, tall enough that I can easily stand and mix my paints. And with enough surface area to easily hold all my painting equipment.

Online, I found and purchased exactly what I was looking for: a stainless-steel rolling cart which was tall enough that I could mix my paints standing up. Plus, it had enough surface area for all my painting equipment—paints, palettes, palette knives, rags, brushes, everything. So now I could roll my painting workstation from easel to easel anytime I wanted to switch from one painting to another, with almost zero set-up required.


THE NEW STUDIO: SPACE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT


I was excited about this new studio set-up but didn’t really know how it would work in practice.

However, after a few days of painting in the new space and with some minor adjustments, I have to say, it’s brilliant! The new set-up works like a dream. What a joy it is to come to a stopping place on one painting and be able to simply roll your cart to the next one and continue painting with no setup required!

Newstudio cart between2spaces

Here you see the rolling painting workstation between two homasote-panel painting areas. Moving physically to a new painting area becomes quick and easy. However, the mental/emotional trip from one area to another can be more of a challenge…

I make it sound easy and smooth, and physical-equipment-wise, it was. But there is also a whole other dynamic going on, and that’s what I’m talking about when I call this section “Space for Enlightenment.”

I’ve often referred to my love-hate relationship with painting. That’s just a dramatic way of saying that it’s really easy to talk yourself out of actually doing some painting, because painting is HARD. Well, actually it’s not the painting that’s hard: it’s what your mind does with the painting that makes it hard! The mind tends to think that every painting will probably fail and then you’ll feel awful, so let’s go catch up on e-mail instead, okay? It’s easy to talk yourself out of dealing with all the stuff that goes with painting.

When your studio is in your home it’s REALLY easy to distract yourself this way.

But having a studio I have to drive to changes everything. Even the fact that I have to feed a parking meter constantly to use my studio turns out to be a helpful aid in focusing. Now, when I’m in my studio, it’s very clear I’m there to paint, and if I don’t paint, I’m wasting the quarters I just fed into the meter.

So now when I have a thought like, That painting is too hard, let’s update the website instead, I am much better at just saying, Thank you for sharing, Mind. Then I get up, move away from the computer, roll my workstation over to the painting that’s calling me at the moment, and start painting.

I make it sound easy. It’s not. It can be incredibly hard to just move over to the painting and pick up a brush and start applying paint. Once you’re doing it, you get into the flow and it’s fine. But wow, getting started can be a bitch.

I define enlightenment as finding that space within yourself where you feel completely at peace, and realizing (and FEELING) that you are much bigger than this body and mind. Believing your own thoughts is NOT the way to enlightenment. Allowing your thoughts to flow but not attaching to them is.

So my new studio really is helping me move toward enlightenment. Because it’s so obvious I’m there to paint, it becomes much easier to see those distracting, negative thoughts for what they are, and to just let them go. It’s time to paint NOW, not later. Not just because that parking meter is ticking, but because I need to produce a lot of paintings before I leave for the winter!

That’s the other part of all this. As soon as all the changes began to reveal themselves and fall into place, it became time to make my travel reservations. I’m off to spend a month in Brazil in November-December.

The rest of the winter remains to be seen. I’ll be back in Nebraska for short spurts of painting, then back to the tropics.

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Here are the first few paintings produced in my new studio. It's been a busy couple of weeks.

So I’ve got a lot of painting to do between now and early November when I leave. And I am in just the enlightened and enlightening space to do it.

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September 24, 2013

PAINTING FACES


I’ve always loved drawing and painting faces, and I seem to have a facility for it. It’s always been the easiest thing for me to draw. Maybe that’s why I resisted it for so long.

I’ve always pushed myself to be more balanced than that. I mean I didn’t want to just be able to draw faces, so I stretch myself by drawing all kinds of things. Buildings are the hardest! But I’ve gotten better, over the years, at landscapes, still lifes, etc. And of course my ability to draw the male figure has really flourished. But I always keep coming back to faces.

(Read a related blog entry from 2012: Four Faces.)

And I’m finally at a point in my career where I feel I can focus on just one thing, at least for a bit. So I’ve decided to focus on FACES. And guess what. I’m having a terrific time and I love the art that’s happening!

It’s now late September 2013, and I started this new focus in late July. So I’ve been doing this painting-faces-the-way-I-want-to thing for 2 months now (with some time off for moving—more on that later). It started with July 26, the day I did an amazing FOUR PAINTINGS IN ONE DAY!

That day unfolded like a fever dream. I barely even remember doing those paintings, which isn’t surprising. When a painting really takes off I lose myself in it so totally that when it’s done, I stand back in a kind of daze, saying “What happened?” That happened over and over again that day. It was like a dam breaking.

The 4 paintings I did that day are: Straight Shooter, Jonny’s Dilemma, Deep Down, and Still Waters.

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I painted all 4 of these faces in one day.

When I came out of my trance at the end of the day and looked at what I had done, I knew this was the start of something exciting.

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This one is entitled Likes to Party.

The next day I kind of rested from that incredible outpouring. Which is to say, I only did one painting, Likes to Party, an Asian-looking kid with kind of a punk haircut.

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This is Killer Joe.

The following day, I did another face painting, Killer Joe.

With Killer Joe things started to get clearer to me. That was the first painting where I was kind of able to stay conscious while I was doing it, and get a sense of what was happening here. This is a tricky balance: you want to shape the painting somewhat consciously, but you don’t want to stop the flow that’s coming from a wordless, semi-conscious part of yourself with which you really have no direct contact except painting.

I began posting the art on my website and on many of the other sites where I exhibit my work: Fine Art America, Society6, SaatchiOnline, Artfinder, Etsy, etc. The response was immediate: People loved the faces and were really responding to them.

I don’t paint just to please others, but it’s nice when it happens! And for me it’s really unpredictable. Some of my favorites never seem to click with most people, while works I think are just okay sometimes turn out to be wildly popular. With Killer Joe, I kind of understood it, because he has a real presence and the colors are great…but that doesn’t totally explain it.

Nor does it need to be explained. The point is, I was making paintings I really enjoyed and seemed to come from somewhere deep and real (without being heavy or dark), and people were feeling something from them, and responding. So my excitement about this new direction, or maybe I should say new focus, kept growing.

(Side note here: In the last year-plus I’ve made it a practice to exhibit my work much more widely online in order to maximize exposure. An unexpected fringe benefit has been the immediate feedback I’m now getting. I didn’t have this when I just showed my work on my own website. As I said, I don’t paint just to please others, but when I’m getting this kind of feedback an energy happens, it feeds on itself, it grows, and my painting energy expands like crazy.)

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I did 2 paintings over the next 2 days: Marco with Gold Chain, and Just Turned 19.

On July 29 I did Marco with Gold Chain. The next day, July 30, I did Just Turned 19.

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I call this one Louie After His Shower (pencil study on left came first).

Next I did Louie After His Shower, and this one was the most finished one yet. I spent two days on it. Like Killer Joe, this one seemed to resonate with people. I tend to think that’s because the colors are great and the lighting is dramatic and interesting—but really, I don’t know. People just like Louie. The important thing for me was that with every painting I did I was having more fun and getting more confident. And I was surprising myself, which is vital to my process!

Some of my faces paintings were done from pencil sketches and some weren’t. As you can see above, Louie did, and the next painting, Channing, also came from a sketch.

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The Picassoesque Channing also started as a pencil sketch.

Channing was a bit more Picassoesque and fractured than some of the others so far. More discovery, more surprises. By now it was August 2 and I was one week into this process. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

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Rocco went from rough to kind of smooth in the transition from sketch to finished painting.

After more pencil sketches, trying out more faces ideas, Rocco happened on August 6. In this one the roughness of the sketch (which I kinda liked) got a bit smoothed-out in the final painting. Which is all right, but generally these days I like to keep the brushwork looser and more interesting than this.

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Back to Brasil happened on August 7. This is my favorite of the faces paintings so far.

Then on August 7, I did Back to Brasil. This one was (and is) my favorite faces painting so far. I love everything about it: the lines, the forms, especially the colors. And I like the personality of the guy. He’s handsome and strong and interesting. One of the things I enjoy most about the process of painting faces is the often-unexpected personalities that come into being on the canvas in front of me. Anyway, I LOVE everything about this painting!

And guess what: response has been ho-hum. (But this is the way it works. I get to have my favorites, but once I’m done with the painting and out of the ‘trance’, my judgment of the work is totally subjective and I become just another viewer of the work and not an authority on what’s great and what’s not. Which begs the question, who or what is the final arbiter here? How do we know what’s great and what’s not? I guess time, or history, is about as close as we can get to answering that question. But watch how different artists go in and out of favor over the centuries and you’ll see that even that is changeable and subjective. The moral here: enjoy what you enjoy and don’t fool yourself into thinking you have the authoritative opinion.)

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This is called Comes From a Small Town.

On August 10, I did Comes from a Small Town, another experiment with lines and colors, and some interesting dynamics. Haven’t decided yet what I think of this one. There are things about it I like, and things I don’t like. But it’s finished, for better or worse. (I’m pretty good at resisting the urge to go back in and screw around with a painting I’ve already called finished.)

At this point my momentum slowed a bit. Other matters became pressing. I began making preparations for a big move. I was moving out of the duplex I had been renting for a little over a year, and dividing my stuff between two locations: a single room in my sister’s house, and a painting studio I was renting in the Haymarket Square section of downtown Lincoln. This was a good move and an exciting one, but would definitely disrupt my workflow for a few weeks.

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Something different in the Faces series: a portrait of my 2-year-old niece Elisabeth called Baby with Pizza.

Still, I was able to keep painting, and my next work was a bit of a departure. On August 16 I completed Baby with Pizza. I consider it one of the faces paintings, but there’s more going on in this one, and the subject is not a handsome young male but a little two-year-old girl, my niece Elisabeth—eating a slice of pizza in her highchair. I used the same basic technical and stylistic approach I used with the other faces paintings, but this one has more context, more background. It’s not just a head and shoulders on a colored background; there’s more going on. I was really pleased that this painting, although not really intended as a portrait, captured Elisabeth’s very interesting personality and way of being in the world.

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On the left, DJ. On the right, Baller.

During the period of August 21-25, and in the midst of moving preparations, I was able to complete two more face paintings: DJ and Baller. Both have a lot of oomph and presence, and I’m very happy with both. As the series continues I notice they’re getting a more polished, finished look. I Iike this, but I miss the roughness of some of the early ones. This is something I’ll be addressing as the faces series continues.

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Two of the first paintings I did in my new studio space: Colorful Face, and Jerome Has a Good Thought.

At this point my art production slowed and halted while I dealt with the realities of moving my entire home and studio to two new locations. I’m writing this in late September, and I have just finished setting up my new studio and have produced my first works there, two paintings called Colorful Face and Jerome Has a Good Thought. They’re both interesting in different ways Jerome, especially, surprised me with its unusual color palette and unexpected emotional notes. I’ll follow up in the next few days with an entry on the move, the new studio, and what’s happening as I start producing more paintings in my new situation!