Posts Tagged ‘art’

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.

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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.

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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.

Facescollage header

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.

Firstfour 4up

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.

Louie 2up

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.

Channing 2up

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.

Rocco 2up

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.

Backtobrasil 2up

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.

Babypizza 2up

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.

Dj baller 2up

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.

Colorfulface jerome 2up

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!

Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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

September 10, 2012

I’ve been looking at a lot of art online. That’s how I find inspiration and new challenges. When I was younger, like back in the 1980s, I used to haunt the art section of the main library in downtown Honolulu. There I discovered the art of amazing painters like John Singer Sargent, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla, and so many more. Unfortunately there were many artists I never knew about because of course a library can only buy so many books on one subject—plus there are always thousands of wonderful artists one never hears of simply because they never had a “big enough” career to get published.

I’m thrilled to be living in a time when all that has changed. The Internet contains the equivalent of several MILLION Honolulu libraries…and it’s all available to me anytime I want. Any artist who really wants to show her work to the world can do so with a few hours of work and very little expense. So anytime I feel the need for inspiration, I can do an online search. Sure, there are lots of not-so-great artists to sort through, but with a little patience there are always gems to uncover.

Lately I’ve been looking for artists who paint with verve and fire and flashing brushwork (or perhaps palette-knife work), and some of the gems I’ve uncovered are David Shevlino, Tibor Nagy and Carol Marine. Some I’ve rediscovered through finding more and newer work by them include Maggie Siner and Ashley Wood. And these are just a few.

4up inspiringartists

By looking at these artists’ work, and sometimes at YouTube videos of the artists actually painting which they’ve been kind enough to share with us, I get ideas about ways I can open up my work and make it more lively and exciting. Something I had considered but hadn’t really understood the huge significance of, is the nature of the PHYSICAL ACT of painting.

I was watching a YouTube video of one of those artists who performs on a stage (Garibaldi, I think it was) with a huge canvas and thrills the audience with his big, flashy moves and the way he splashes the paint onto the surface and gradually we see a recognizable face appear. I don’t necessarily want to perform on a stage like that, but I was impressed by the showmanship. And I realized something: it wasn’t just about showmanship. Those BIG MOVEMENTS create a certain kind of brushstroke and a certain kind of energy in the resulting art. Those dancelike moves don’t just entertain the audience, they infuse the work with excitement!

So I resolved to use more of my body while painting. Instead of just moving my wrist and hand to paint, I would use my whole arm, my shoulder, my whole body! I went looking for subject matter.

I found a photograph of Mike T. I liked. The lighting and Mike’s muscularity seemed like good raw material for the approach I wanted to try.

Billabong source2

Here's the untweaked source image of Mike T. I decided to work from.

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I zoomed in on the figure, got rid of the background, then tweaked everything so I could see areas of color and light and dark more easily.

Since I was going to try something new here, I thought it would be a good idea to do a rough sketch first to work out color mixes etc.

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Here's the study I did before beginning the actual painting. Click on the image to see this work in the Rough Sketches Gallery on my website.

Once I’d done the rough sketch, I felt ready to tackle the ‘real thing.’ Below is the beginning.

Billabong inprog1

I went into this painting with a different intention than usual. In line with the observations I mentioned above, I made it my purpose to use my whole body to paint, and I decided that meant I should be careful and thoughtful BEFORE rather than DURING the act of painting.

Let me clarify that. What I decided to do was stop and consider where I wanted to place my next stroke. Once I had decided, I would fly into motion, painting with no thought, just action. Intention and consideration was one thing: the actual ACT of putting paint on canvas was separate.

I found that this worked well! I was able to paint each stroke with a lot of energy and abandon, because I wasn’t trying to think and paint at the same time. Compare the rough sketch with the beginning of the actual painting above and you’ll see there’s a different feel to the brushstrokes.

Billabong inprog2

Above is the next phase of the painting. Here it’s mostly done except for the face. The face is probably the most challenging place in the painting for the approach I was attempting here, because with the face it’s harder to maintain objectivity. Because it’s always the focal point and therefore carries more weight and is more significant, it’s harder to abandon yourself. So I found that I was trying to THINK AND PAINT at the same time, rather than separating thought and action as I ‘d been able to do with the rest of the painting. I was getting too careful. That’s why you see the face has been scrubbed away in the image above. I had to completely wipe out my first attempt and get away from the painting for a day or so before trying again.

Below is the finished work.

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The finished work: Billabong Shorts. Click on the image to see this work on my website.

When I went back to the painting the next day, I was able to keep myself focused enough to avoid making the face too ‘precious’ and being too careful. I’m really pleased with what I learned on this painting. Next: Getting even looser and more dynamic with my painting.


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


Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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


August 28, 2012

My latest painting is from a series of photographs I shot of Brian after our Hawaii photo shoot. I had put away my camera—in fact I had run out of space on the memory cards I’d brought along—and Brian and I were relaxing on the beach before heading back to town. I got naked right along with Brian and went swimming. After, we were lying on the beach talking, and I became aware of how great the light was, and how relaxed and hot Brian looked, and I thought, I have to photograph this. Then I remembered—no more memory in the camera.

But I had my little point-and-shoot digital camera with me! So I grabbed it and began shooting. I got some GREAT shots. Unfortunately they were all very low-resoluation so I knew I could never use them as photographs. I did think, however, that someday I might do a painting from one of them.

Someday came just a couple of days ago, when I was casting about for subject matter for my next painting. I came across those lo-res Brian photographs and thought, yes! These really fit my mood right now. I chose my favorite of the moment, tweaked it in Photoshop, printed out a reference photo, tacked a piece of canvas up on my bulletin-board easel, and started mixing colors.

Om tattoo source1

One of the great, but lo-res, photographs I shot of Brian after the photo shoot.

Om tattoo source2

The same photo after tweaking it in Photoshop (using the Median filter, then posterizing) to remove details so I'm forced to see just the big shapes.

I blocked in the painting using the above image, where no detail is visible. This keeps me focused on the big shapes and counters the natural tendency to get too caught up in detail. Detail comes much later, if at all.

Om tattoo inprog

Above is the painting at about the halfway point.

Below you see the finished work (which I entitled “Om Tattoo”). This one took about 5 or 6 hours of work, total.

Om Tattoo painting

Click on the image to see this work on my website. (It may still be available!)


20 MINUTES IS ENOUGH: LETTER TO A FELLOW ARTIST

The following is based on a letter I wrote to a fellow artist a few days ago. After I sent it, I thought, that would make a great blog entry. So here it is:

August 30, 2012

Dear John,

Nice to hear from you, and thanks for sharing about what’s going on with you painting-wise.

I had a feeling you were feeling stuck because of the pressure to paint caused by your ‘street scenes assignment’. I had this feeling because (a) I am feeling the same thing right now based on a commission i’m working on, and (2) This is a pretty common response to this kind of situation.

I have a commission to do 4 paintings of exactly the kind of thing I like to do when i’m ‘playing.’ so now i’ve managed to turn play into work and i’m hating it. I know there’s a very small twist of mind—a subtle change of attitude—required to get back to playing, and i’m getting closer to it. This is one of the great dilemmas/challenges of creating for a living and, of course, one of the great challenges of being alive and being a human in a body: How do you give up the belief that it all matters and is important and you must be careful, in favor of the point of view that none of it is real, there is no danger, and boldness and wild abandon are called for virtually all the time?

As I said, i’m getting closer.

In the same vein of giving myself needed good advice under the guise of giving you needed good advice: I’d like to disabuse you of the mistaken notion that you must have a several-hour block of time to get any painting done. It’s not true. Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to do some painting.

Yes, it’s a wonderful luxury to have a 3- or 4-hour block of time in which to paint, and I prefer it. But I like to keep some small pieces of canvas at hand for those 15- or 30-minute periods that pop up. In that amount of time you can easily put the canvas up on the easel (or in my case, tack the piece of unstretched canvas onto my big bulletin board), squeeze out 3 or 4 dollops of paint and just start putting paint on canvas for the pure pleasure of moving paint around with no goal other than that. The goal is not to have a goal. To remind yourself that painting needn’t be a monumental undertaking—that painting is easy and fun when you’re free of the need to achieve something.

What i’m doing at the moment is putting the laptop next to the easel and putting works on the screen that excite me (like Kim English paintings, for instance) and doing quick, rough copies. Or maybe just copying PART of the painting to see how he got a certain effect. Exploring, in other words, with a guide.

The one below is a copy of a painting by Jaime Jones, one of many painters whose work inspires me.

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I spent 25 or 30 mins on this one and while gratified that I had fun and learned quite a bit, had to forgive myself for not even getting close to the crispness and beautifully spaced values of the original. (The judgmental mind thinks that even in a quick copy I should still be able to create a flawless replica, or I obviously am worthless as a painter. Thank you for sharing, Mind.)

Kim english copy1 sm

The second one I tackled, above, is Kim English. Again, I learned, and again, I’m amazed at how difficult it is to get that sense of pervading light he’s so good at. This one took about 20 minutes.

Kim english copy2 sm

The one above, the third, is also Kim English, and I blithely eliminated the figure because I just wanted to focus on the steps and the way he captured the light. Again, I had fun and learned a lot, and again, wow, it’s amazing how far off my version is, and how I missed that until now when I’m looking at it on a computer screen. But–this is how I get closer to being able to capture it.

By the way, both 2 and 3 were done entirely using burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and white (except I added some burnt umber for the dark figures in 2).

Robt lemler copy1

The one above took about a half-hour. The painting is by Robert Lemler, whom I recently discovered online. This was relatively easy to copy because the big shapes are so obvious and there’s not much detail to distract. Not that my copy is anywhere near the original. But a very good exercise and one I really enjoyed. (I do think my shrubs look more like green boulders, but for a quick exercise I’m fine with them.)

So there you are. You don’t need a lot of time to learn a lot, and have a lot of fun, as long as you’re not too busy beating yourself up for not having created a timeless masterpiece.

And really, just spending 20 to 30 minutes every day glopping some paint onto canvas and moving it around makes a huge difference, more than you can imagine if you haven’t tried it for a few weeks or months and seen the results.

Enough for now…thanks for being a stand-in for me so I can write a letter to myself. Back to the easel!

Aloha
Douglas


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