Posts Tagged ‘Angra dos Reis’


Let me warn you ahead of time, this is a longer-than-usual post. But if you’re interested in the real nuts and bolts of how a very realistic painting like this gets done—plus the stuff I had to go through in my own mind to get myself through it—you’ll find it here.

I got the idea to do this painting because lately I’ve been online a lot looking at other artists’ work, especially others who do male nudes, and there were some I saw who were doing really amazingly realistic paintings and really pulling it off. Their technique was mind-boggling. I thought, I could do that.

What I mean is, with a bit of work and focus, I can do that kind of work. But generally I don’t. That’s because every time I look at someone else’s super-realistic painting, I think, Jeez, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that kind of detail. I usually see it as incredibly tedious. And being a realist painter is not my goal in life. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it from time to time, but usually I just don’t go there.

Still, I kept looking at these guys’ work and thinking, I would still like to test myself in this area, because it’s been years since I went down that super-realist road, and I’ve grown and changed and it would be interesting to see how it would be. So I was starting to get excited about the idea.

Then I went looking for a photograph to use as source material, and I came back to my favorites, among them Marcus at Angra Dos Reis—our first photo shoot there. There are still a lot of images in that bunch that have promise, and I found one I really liked.

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However! I began examining the photograph in detail, thinking about what was going to be required of me, and I found a LOT of things I did not want to have to mess with, especially the kind of detail work it takes to make a dripping-wet body realistic. It’s not just more highlights because the body is wet; there are all these incredibly complex patterns of water on skin, droplets, shadows of droplets, reflections WITHIN each tiny droplet, droplet TRAILS that get lighter and darker in incredibly subtle ways, etc., etc.—it’s an incredible thicket of visual complexity.

And that’s not even mentioning the swirling water around the model!

I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I decided there was no way I would be able to maintain my momentum over the amount of time and work it would take to do a highly realistic painting from this photograph.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, a few hours later, I don’t even remember exactly what gave me the idea, but I thought, hey, maybe I could try something like this: paint the whole thing pretty quickly, in a fairly crude, unfinished way, but with all the basic lights and darks and colors in place and fairly accurate as far as they went. It would look finished to someone who wasn’t looking for much detail. THEN, I could go in and, one area at a time, and in a fairly relaxed manner (meaning not a day or two, but weeks), I could refine the surface. I could finish each area to a high degree of precision at my own pace.

Now this was a way of conceptualizing the operation that made me think, maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off.

Because as much as I hate the tedium of doing a lot of detail in a painting, there’s still a real pleasure and reward in really capturing a particularly beautiful piece of visual reality. So I decided to go for it.

Before I proceeded, however, I did something else—I cropped the image. This was partly out of laziness. I didn’t want to have to do all that detail. But the truth is, cropping it made for a better composition and a stronger image overall. So cropping worked for me on a couple of levels.

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I also pumped up the contrast and saturation some (left), then made a copy where I posterized the image (right). This is my usual procedure—using the computer (Photoshop) to give myself different ways of seeing and conceptualizing the image before I even begin painting.

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Now the fun began. I transferred the image to canvas (just doing a pencil outline), then painted over that with a neutral brown wash. While that was drying, I began mixing colors. Then I started the first phase, the crude unfinished painting which would serve as the underpainting for all the detail that was to come later.

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This was fairly undemanding and I did it pretty quickly—maybe 2 or 3 hours—because the whole objective was to keep it simple and just get the basics down so the refinement could begin.

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The next day, I started the refining process. I began with the background on the upper left because it looked the most doable, and because it’s generally better to start at the top and work down so your hand is less likely to smear something under it. Over the next couple of days I brought the painting to the condition shown above: the tree shadows and the shallow water behind Marcus are mostly done, as is the slightly deeper water swirling around him on the right.

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The next 3-4 days were spent on, in this order: Marcus’ face and hair (this turned out to be harder than I anticipated because his face is almost entirely in shadow, plus the whole photograph is in sharp focus except for his face), his right shoulder (on our left), the necklace, and his left shoulder (on our right). You can see the progression in the image above. Let me just say that water droplets on a human body are a real challenge. The problem with water—maybe I should say one of the CHALLENGES that water presents—is the extremely subtle value changes that happen in situations like this. If you make the water trail a little too dark it looks like a scar on the body. Make it a little too light and it vanishes entirely. This is complicated by the fact that acrylics always dry darker. So if you get it right while the paint is wet, in 5 minutes it will be too dark. Then you mix it lighter and try again. And if you haven’t got the shadows of the body itself quite right, then the water will never work. So it can be a real bitch! You can see the first shoulder I did looks okay, but the second one is better, so I’m learning as I go.

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Above you see the condition of the painting about 5 days later. I’ve worked on the chest and abdominal muscles over that time, and there was a lot of painting and repainting. As I’ve continued I’ve gotten better at making the water droplets and trails look realistic, which is a good thing because when you get into the areas where it’s reflected light (the left side of the chest and abs, for instance), the value changes are REALLY subtle. But I’m pleased at the overall look of things so far. And I’m really pleased that my strategy is working: instead of getting burned out on the painting after 2 or 3 days, I’ve been able to come back each day and push it a little farther toward completion. One thing I’ve had to be careful about is keeping track of how each color was mixed. This is more necessary because, given how quickly acrylics dry, to do a painting over several days or weeks requires paints to be remixed several times. I’ve managed to do a pretty good job of this. It’s now been almost 10 days I’ve been working on this painting.

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The final painting: 'Tudo Molhado' (click on image to see this item on my website)

The painting is finally done—two weeks after beginning it. The last 4 days or so were spent working on the legs, the swirling water between the legs, and the big spume of white water gushing around Marcus’ right side. I won’t say I’m 100 percent pleased with the finished work—there are some areas I would like to fix but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure it would be worth it to go in and take the chance of ruining what I’ve accomplished so far. I’m finished with this one, for better or worse. And even with the few areas I wish I’d done better, I look at the painting and overall I think I did a good job. I certainly learned a lot of things that will make my next realistic painting better. Most of all, I’m pleased that I was able to maintain a consistent working pace for a two-week period on a single painting. That’s real stamina, from my point of view, and it’s made me stronger and more confident.

Oh yeah, the title. I’m calling it “Tudo Molhado.” That’s Portuguese and I learned that phrase when I was doing a photo shoot with Eduardo in Rio and I had him get in the shower and get totally wet, then run out into the light outside while he was still dripping. He wasn’t sure he understood, so he said, “Tudo molhado??”— “All wet?”

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After doing a fairly flat, stylized painting (“Tropical City”), I was in the mood for something more loose and painterly. I decided to unleash my creative forces on Marcus, my favorite Brazilian model. I found a great image from my 2nd photo shoot with him in Angra dos Reis. We (myself, 5 of my friends from Hawaii and California, my Brazilian agent Luiz, and two models, Marcus and Sandro) had chartered a boat in Angra, and set out to find a deserted island. When we found it, we unloaded Marcus and Sandro on the beach. One of the things Marcus was doing once we got onto the beach was playing around with one of the oars he’d used to row us over from the big boat. I love this shot of him standing on the beach holding the oar.


First thing I did, as usual, was go into Photoshop to tweak the photograph and make it easier to paint from. The first step was using Levels to heighten the contrast (which also intensifies the colors). This lost a lot of the detail in the foliage inside the shadows, which was fine with me—less stuff to paint, plus less distraction from the model in the final work.

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Next I used Median to soften all the edges. This helps keep me from getting too interested in detail, almost all of which is unnecessary in the type of painting I was going for here. Finally, I used Posterize to cut down the total number of colors and tones in the image. This makes it a lot easier to decide what colors to mix and where to put them. It’s almost like having a paint-by-number diagram. Well, almost.

Next I printed out all the various tweaks of the image so I’d have reference images to work from while painting. At that point it was time to cut out a piece of canvas and tack it up onto my big drawing board (actually it’s an oversize bulletin board, which works perfectly). Then I transferred the image onto the canvas with pencil and covered it all with a purplish-brown wash—my usual procedure. (You probably can’t see it in the images below, but enough of the underdrawing is visible that I have a guide to all the major color areas of the painting.)

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Using the same approach as I used in the previous painting—mixing just two or three colors and then trying them out before going ahead and mixing all the colors I’d use in the whole painting—I mixed some greens and started painting them in. I got a little carried away and took the foliage in the upper left to a high level of finish, but caught myself and began filling in the background. At that point I started mixing some browns and oranges for the fleshtones and began applying them.

At that point it was time to stop for the day. I usually do my best painting work in the mornings, so I stopped and began again the next morning. I used browns and cadmium reds/oranges for most of the body. For the highlights on the body I tried a bit of yellow in the white (see light on Marcus’ back on left-hand image above) but found that a cooler white worked better. Like the previous painting, Tropical City, this was a figure mostly in shadow with some highlights on the upper part of the body. That means the reflected light inside the shadowed part of the body is important. In this case I used some intense cadmium red in some places, cadmium orange in others, for the lightest reflected lights. Not all of the lights and darks make sense anatomically but they work overall so that’s okay with me. Once I had the body mostly done I added the rest of the foliage in the upper right and began painting in the beach area.

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The beach area went pretty fast and next thing I knew the painting was finished! I like that I didn’t get too caught up in detail on this one. It’s loose and has some spontaneity. I also like that the mix-paint-as-you-go principle I experimented with on the previous painting worked pretty well with this one too. Title: “Paddler.”

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The final painting, 'Paddler.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)