Posts Tagged ‘artist’

Threepainting header

August 9, 2016

CONTENTS

• THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE
• PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH
• PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA
• PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH
• DIVING IN
• WRAPPING IT UP

(Note: Titles are clickable)


THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE


My default painting routine is to work on one thing at a time.

A painting has always been, for me, a big commitment, and for a long time I thought one at a time was all I could handle. But over the past few years that’s begun changing gradually. I’ve gotten more confident–and I’ve found advantages to keeping several paintings going at the same time.

One is that while the paint is drying on one painting, I can move to the next one. An even bigger advantage is that changing focus from one painting to another gives me more perspective. I’ve found that working on a single painting for days or even weeks at a time starts to burn me out. I get sick of the painting, and in a way I can’t even see it anymore.

But going from one painting to another gives me a break. When I move from one painting to another instead of staying focused on just one, I can see each one with fresher eyes.

Here’s what happened recently when I got three paintings going at once.


PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH


Ballcapbeach sourceimg

This is the source image I used for the Brian in ballcap painting.

A couple of weeks ago I found a photograph I shot of Brian on a Hawaii beach and thought it would be fun to paint it. I did change it a bit though, by adding some palm trees from another painting. They not only give the image more of a tropical feeling, they improve the composition. One of the things I liked and kept from the photo was the sandal in front of the figure; I like that there’s only one. I started sketching in pencil and pretty quickly came up with something I liked.

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Here's the preparatory sketch for the painting I was already calling Ballcap Beach.

The next step was to transfer it to the canvas. Once I had the pencil drawing in place, I used a black-acrylic marker to outline everything.

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After transferring the image to canvas with pencil, I went over all the lines with black acrylic paint.

Once that was dry, I went over everything with an acrylic wash. (A wash is simply very watered-down paint, to cover the underdrawing with a transparent layer of color.) I usually use a single more-or-less neutral tone, but lately I’ve been using several colors which suggest the colors I expect to use in the actual painting.

1890 inprog03

Here's the image after I've applied a multicolor acrylic wash.

My usual next step would be to begin applying the actual paint. But something told me no, wait, let’s not go directly ahead on this painting–let’s start another one. I don’t usually do this, but I trust my gut instincts, so I went looking for another image to paint.


PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA


Nohea2up

I shot this image of Nohea in Hawaii a few years ago. On the right I've tweaked the image in Photoshop to make it easier to see patterns of color and light and dark.

I found inspiration in a photo shoot I did of Nohea a few years ago in the lush tropical backyard of my Honolulu friends Kei and Dick. The image that excited me was actually an image that’s excited me for years, and in fact I’ve already painted it a couple of times. But neither of those (realistic) paintings really satisfied me. I thought I’d like to try an Expressionist approach for this image and see what happened. So I began sketching. When I had sketched enough to figure out what went where, I started transferring the image to canvas.

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Two of the rough sketches which helped me work things out visually in preparation for painting.

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Penciling, outlining and color wash done--ready to start painting.

And, just as with the previous painting, I decided not to start painting on this one just yet.


PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH


Something told me, let’s get one more painting going before we dive into the next step on any of them. So I went looking one more time for inspiration.

Khanh 2up

Here's the source image of Khanh I decided to use for my third painting.

And found it in a relatively recent photo session. I met Vietnamese bodybuilder Khanh at the gym during the short time I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska with family a couple of years ago. I’ve focused on nudes of Khanh in the past but I decided I wanted to do a G-rated image this time. I found some great shots from the very first images I shot of him, in my Lincoln backyard on a summer afternoon.

By now I was so warmed up it only took one sketch to see what I wanted to do with the painting. I went right to putting it onto canvas.

Khanh prepsketch

Here's the preparatory sketch for the Khanh painting.


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Here's the drawing transferred to canvas and inked.



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Color wash done.

Now I had 3 paintings prepped and ready to go.


DIVING IN


I don’t know if I’ve made it clear how unusual it is for me to have three paintings going at once–especially major male-figure paintings with detail and backgrounds and everything. But it is unusual! Nevertheless, as I looked at what I had going and got ready to dive in and start actually painting, it all felt really good and right, like I was ready for this.

I think the big difference is confidence. When I was younger and less experienced, approaching a painting, especially a fairly complex one, was intimidating as hell. I needed everything I could bring to bear to feel like I could deal with it.

But now I’m older and I’ve been painting for a long time, and I’m a lot more confident. I’ve done a lot of paintings and there was nothing in any of these three that I didn’t think I could pull off. In some ways I love being older, and this is one of them.

So, to put it simply, I was ready to dive in.


JUMPING AROUND


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I've now started to lay some real paint onto the painting and see how my ideas are going to work out.

I started with the Brian painting–Ballcap Beach–and it was pretty straightforward. What I mean is, I’ve got a basic set of color mixes I use in a painting like this, and I didn’t see any need to re-invent the wheel. One thing that was a bit different and therefore a challenge in this painting was the way I planning to paint the sand of the beach itself. As you may have noticed in the prep sketch and the first stage on canvas, I invented lines radiating across the foreground to give the composition more energy and interest. My plan was to have the pattern of footprints etc. in the beach sand more or less match those lines. I didn’t know exactly how that was going to work but I trusted I’d figure it out as I went—and early indications were that it was going to work.

I worked for a couple of hours on Ballcap Beach until I started to burn out on it, and then switched to the next painting.

1892 inprog03

As I begin applying paint, the work becomes less about line and more about light and shadow.

As I begin applying paint to this one (I’m calling it Khanh in Lincoln) I realize this painting is going to be a lot about light. It’s a summertime backyard scene and although I keep most of the lines I started with, the painting is becoming less about flat line and more about three-dimensional light and shadow. That’s fine with me; I just want to keep going and see where this takes me.

I work on Khanh the rest of that day and a lot of the next one, before I burn out on that one and decide to move on to the next one: Nohea.

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When I begin painting this one, I realize it's probably the most challenging of the three.

Starting to paint the third one (I’m calling it Nohea at Noon) is a bit different than the other two. This one is more of a challenge because of all the lush greenery. There’s a lot going on in this type of subject matter and I don’t want to just copy it. I want to capture a sense of the patterns of a lush jungle without going into a lot of detail. This is not easy, and it’s something I’ve been working on it for quite a few years. It’s a challenge that keeps coming up for me because I love painting the male figure in a lush tropical jungle setting. It’s also a challenge I enjoy.

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I've brought Nohea at Noon quite a ways in two days.

I worked on Nohea at Noon over a couple of days—feeling like I’m doing pretty well at suggesting the jungle foliage without being overly literal—before jumping over to the next painting.


WRAPPING IT UP


Now I had all three paintings at a place where each one required only about one more day of work—in other words, almost ready to wrap them all up. The first one I completed was Khanh in Lincoln.

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Khanh in Lincoln--finished.

My biggest challenge with this painting was color. I wasn’t happy with the colors of the figure for quite a while. I kept adding and subtracting, playing with color, alternating with working on the background, until I got a set of colors that seemed to work well together. Not a hundred percent happy with the painting–but then I never am. I do like the feeling of summer-afternoon light I got. Khanh in Lincoln is finished. Now on to Ballcap Beach!

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Ballcap Beach, the completed painting.

Ballcap Beach came together pretty quickly. It was pretty straightforward, except for the beach, with those radiating composition lines happening underneath. But that approach worked out pretty well. I like the way it feels like a beach, yet it’s still clearly a set of lines that make the composition stronger and more interesting. I also like the expression on Brian’s face. That edgy look he’s giving us was present in the first rough sketch and one of the reasons I liked it so well, so I wanted to keep it in the final painting, and I think I did. This painting was probably the easiest of the three, but still challenging. I really like the way it turned out. Now onto the next one!

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The finished painting: Nohea at Noon.

The last of the three is Nohea at Noon. As I said earlier, this one was the biggest challenge because of the complexity of the greenery. Getting the lighting and colors right on the face and figure was also not easy. It took me a couple of days of work to bring this completion. In the end, I like it, although I wish I’d been able to keep it looser. Still, I think it’s a good painting, if a bit sentimental. I actually like the romantic-fantasy aspect of it.

And so I’m done with all three. It took me about 10 days of working almost every day for about 3-4 hours per day. Not bad, and I think I ended up with three pretty okay paintings. I really like the three-paintings-at-once approach. Not something I’ve always got the energy and intention to undertake, but I definitely want to do it more often.

In the end my only real complaint about this trio of paintings is the usual one: I wish I’d been able to keep that loose, excited, take-a-chance energy of the initial stages right up to the end. But this is always the challenge, and it’s an almost impossible one. It keeps me going and it keeps me excited. I always think when I’m finishing a painting, Damn! I’ll do better on the next one.

Visit my site to see a big selection of my art, old and new.

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.

Newstudio header

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.

Dakota studio 1

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.

Newstudio earlystages

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!

Newstudio toward door

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.

Newstudio newart 6up

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.

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.

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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.

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!

Art takes balls header

May 24, 2013

• COURAGE AND STAMINA
• LET THE PAINT RUN!
• THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO
• MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID
• NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE
• NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT



COURAGE AND STAMINA


The title isn’t meant to imply anything about the gender of an artist. (Most female artists I know have cojones at least as big as the male ones.)

I’m talking about courage and stamina.

I used to say one of my goals with painting was to get looser and freer with my use of paint. A fellow painter pointed out that ‘looseness’ is not actually an end in itself, and I realized that’s true. So I restated my goal: I aim for boldness, authenticity and courage in my work. The tendency among most of us humans is to attempt to get it right, and get approval for having done it right. Being an artist requires one to give up the need for approval (as much as that’s possible while living in relationship with other beings) and to look instead to your own heart and instincts as the arbiter of what is good and satisfying in your work.

I don’t say that’s easy or that I’m always successful at it, but I have found that I’m most excited and happy with my art when I’m painting in bold, expansive strokes, rather than using a small brush to get some tiny detail just right.

Or, to put it another way, big and bold allows me to say what I want to say with more honesty and power than little and careful.

This is not easy. It takes, like I said, courage and stamina.

To complicate things, as an artist you’re fighting on two fronts. One is the battle at the easel, where you’re always aware of the risk that your next big, audacious brushstroke could destroy hours of work (but playing it safe is even worse!). The other is the battle to stay bold and courageous and keep painting, year in and year out, even when nobody is buying your work and it appears to you that nobody even likes it.

It takes courage and stamina. Or, more succinctly, balls.

It’s true. If you’re doing it right, Art Takes Balls.

I guess I’ve just announced that I do, indeed, have a pair. So with no further ado, allow me to share with you the latest examples of my, uh, ballsiness…



LET THE PAINT RUN!

Thanks not only to my growing boldness but also the encouragement of my friend John, an artist and gallery representative (who reminded me that big paintings look much better on gallery walls!), I paint a lot bigger than I used to. When I decided to do a painting of my old friend and 1990s-era model Ramses, I cut a BIG piece of canvas and tacked it up on my easel.

Waipio sourceimage

This pre-digital 1993 shot of Ramses was on a 35mm slide, so I had to scan it. Not the best image quality, but good enough for me to work from.

It takes a lot of determination for me to let go and just splash paint onto the canvas. Letting go of control has never been easy for me! So I prepare by looking at lots of artists whose work is full of expressive power. Not only does this inspire me and get me excited, it also gives me permission to let go of the need to do it right and the need to get approval. If they did it, I can do it.

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Waipio inprog2

As usual, I drew the outlines of the figure onto the canvas with pencil, then painted over it with a wash. Sometimes I do a single color over the whole painting; other times, as here, I start laying in some of the actual colors I’ll use in the painting.

Waipio inprog3

Here (above) is where I diverged from my usual routine: Taking inspiration from the works of other artists I’d been looking at to prepare for this painting, I used medium to thin my acrylic paint way down, so that when I applied it to the canvas, it would drip and run. I did this with some purple mixes along the top edge, so they would drip down across the entire canvas. I’ve seen this in lots of other artists’ work and always loved the energy of it, but never before had the balls to really commit to it in my own painting. As I stood back and watched the paint run, I felt triumphant. I also felt apprehensive because I’d never done this before. Could I really pull off a painting this loose and out of control?

Waipio inprog4

It turns out, yes, I could, but only by staying really conscious of what I was doing every step of the way. I did this by constantly referring back to the works of other artists I’m looking at while doing this painting. Their works are inspiring and guiding me through this process, and providing me with constant reminders to take chances and be willing to totally mess up the painting in return for a big, bold, energetic series of brushstrokes.

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Above is the finished painting. I’m pleased with it and proud of how much energy it has. I perhaps over-finished the figure a bit, but not too much. This painting was a definite step forward for me and I notice that I don’t get tired of looking at it…definitely a good sign.



THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO

It’s not an easy thing to do, given the way the human eye and mind work, but it’s essential to creating good art. I’m talking about seeing the big shapes. We’re so used to looking at detail, focusing on the parts that interest us most, that seeing the big picture is a challenge. So I use technology to help me.

I like to tweak my source photo in Photoshop to help me see the big shapes and skip the details. I do this by using a filter called Median to blur the image in a way that I like. I can still see the big shapes but the details are mostly gone. Then I use another filter called Posterize to reduce the number of colors (or values, if you’re working in black and white) in the image. I’m left with a nice simplified bunch of basic abstract shapes.

Ip15 sourceimage 2up

Left side is the untweaked photo. On the right, the Median filter then Posterize have been applied.

My source image for this painting was a photograph I shot of Eduardo lying on a blanket on the lanai of the Ipanema Towers apartment in Rio. I liked the pose, the composition, the lighting, the colors of this image, and as I tweaked it in Photoshop, I liked it even better.

Ip15 inprog1

Above, you can see the pencil sketch on canvas. I’ve used the tweaked photograph to map out the basic areas of color. My goal is to keep to those simplified shapes all through the painting.

Ip15 inprog2

Ip15 inprog3

In photos 2 and 3 above, you can see my progress. I began with a purple wash, then after that dried I began painting in flat areas of color. As always with this approach, I’m staying aware that acrylic paints are lighter when wet than when dry, so sometimes I have to repaint an area that’s turned out to be too dark, or not dark enough, once it’s dried (5 to 10 minutes later, unless it’s very thick). In this painting I had the most issues with the blanket and had to repaint some areas a couple of times. But I’ve gotten a lot better than I used to be at gauging the amount of value change that’s going to happen after the paint dries.

Ip15 inprog4

In the above photo everything is in place, pretty much. What needs to be done now is balancing. Especially balancing the values (light vs. dark) and the colors (warm vs. cool). In a painting like this that’s a dance that can take a while, with lots of painting or repainting an area, then waiting for the paint to dry, then standing WAY back to see if it worked.

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Above, the final painting. As you can see, one of the big changes I made was to make the middle tones of the body warmer, both the reds and greens. It’s just a matter of trying stuff out, and keeping what works. I call this one “Ipanema Towers 15.”



MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID

When I was in the Dominican Republic doing the Caribbean Boys Gone Wild shoot, my favorite model of the 4 turned out to be Leandro. There was just something about him that was my type: a sweet, shy, handsome boy, with a devilish exhibitionist lurking just underneath. I shot several images of him with a towel over his shoulder, leaning against a coconut palm, and they captured him in a way that I really liked. I chose one of these shots for my next painting.

1611 sourceimage

This image is not a great photograph (it’s not even in focus!), but I like the feeling of it, the way it captures Leandro and that moment in time, and that’s what I’m going for as I turn it into a painting.

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No in-progress shots on this one, since it happened in one feverish burst of creativity. One of my new artistic tools is acrylic colors that are not in a tube but in a squeeze bottle . The dripping I accomplished in the Ramses painting above was done by adding lots of medium to tube paints. But I’ve since begun using these very liquid acrylic paints. They’re formulated to be runny and drippy and just messy as hell…which is exactly what I need. That’s the type of paint I began using in this painting, and I love what happened. In the past when I’ve painted with tube colors (which are a lot thicker and not at all runny), I like the buildup of paint, the impasto possibilities, but what I don’t like is the way the paint kind of fights you as you’re applying it. Discovering these new more-liquid paints has been wonderful! I love the ease with which I can apply a big, runny splash of paint. There’s one fewer barrier between me and just PAINTING. Which worked out very well for me in the above work, which I entitled “Dominican Boy with Towel.”



NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE

The painting that followed Leandro on a Dominican beach was a painting of a Dominican beach itself. I shot lots of pictures of beautiful young men in the D.R., but I also got a lot of wonderful photographs of the place itself. So many, in fact, that it was hard to choose one for a landscape painting. I picked one almost at random, since there were so many good ones. The one I chose is of a place called Playa Bonita, near the town of Las Terrenas. It’s late afternoon so the shadows of the coconut palms are long, and there’s a purpling of the distant sky—great ingredients for a rich, atmospheric painting.

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Here's the original photograph of Playa Bonita in the late afternoon.

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Here's the photo prepared for painting. As usual I've blurred it with median to remove detail, then posterized it to narrow down the range of colors and values.

1612 sourceimage BW

Here's a greyscale (de-saturated) version of the tweaked photo. This version is very useful for reference while I'm painting. Removing the color makes it that much easier to see the big shapes and nothing else.

As I’ve said many times in many blog entries, tweaking the image in the way I’ve done above makes it simpler and removes details, which makes it easier for me to see the BIG SHAPES. If you can get the big shapes right, and get the values (lights and darks) right in relationship to each other, you’ve pretty much got it made, painting-wise.

Playabonita inprog1

To my surprise, after laying in the basic shapes and colors rather quickly, I stood back and everything had kind of fallen into place. This is what happens when you get the big shapes and the values right---everything falls into place.

When you’re painting big shapes and painting energetically, a painting can come together pretty quickly. Of course it can also completely collapse pretty quickly, and that happens to me too (I just don’t usually put those in a blog!). This was one of those that came together pretty quickly. A lot of that was because I was pretty disciplined about painting only the big shapes, almost no small details—maybe a palm frond sticking up here and there just to suggest what kind of trees you’re seeing, but everything else is big, broad brushstrokes. Another help is the black-and-white version of the image. Sometimes color gets in the way of seeing the big shapes, and a greyscale image can clarify things.

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Above is the final painting, “Playa Bonita.” As you can see, I didn’t have to do too much after the basic block-in. When a painting comes together this quickly and almost efforlessly, it’s like magic. It makes you forget (almost) all those times when everything just falls apart and you don’t have a clue why the painting didn’t work!



NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT

I’ve done quite a few paintings and drawings of Kaimana, but every time I go back to my photographs of him, I discover great images that I haven’t painted yet. Below is one of them.

1615 sourceimage

I approached this painting in the same way I’ve been approaching all my paintings lately: as an abstract work that just happens to have some recognizable realistic elements. Of course when I’m finished it usually looks pretty realistic, but what’s important is that while I’m painting, I’m paying more attention to how the colors and shapes and paintstrokes are feeling and interacting than how close the painting is to the source photo. This is another great advantage of paying attention only to the big shapes: there are no details to cramp your style. Or very few, anyway. As I keep saying, when you get the big shapes right, the details fall into place. Or put another way, the details end up getting filled in by the viewer.

1615 inprog1

You can see by the above in-progress shot of the painting that I’m not focusing on any one area; I’m working all over the painting. This used to be something I had trouble remembering to do. Nowadays I do it without even thinking about it. This is great progress for me, and more evidence that I’m looking at the big shapes, the entire composition, almost constantly. Which is great because there’s much less chance it’ll get out of balance.

An interesting thing that happened in the course of this painting was what I did with the water. When I looked at the photograph, the water looked kind of uninteresting and I thought, uh-oh, what am I gonna do with that water? But as I was painting, I was thinking abstractly, and I knew the area needed some visual interest, so I found myself breaking up the water area with bold brushstrokes and strong darks and strong lights. Not accurate but turned out to be totally right for the composition.

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Above is the finished painting. (Difference in colors between in-progress shot and finished painting is due to the difference between shooting something with a camera and scanning it. The finished work, which was scanned, is much closer to the true colors.) I call this one “Hawaiian Nude with Surfboard.”

Painting buzios header

March 21, 2012

• BARRA
• A VISIT TO BUZIOS
• DRAWING HOUSES
• TAKING THE PLUNGE



BARRA


I did a Brazilian beach painting and cityscape back in 1995 called Barra.

Barra is the name of my favorite beach in the Bahian city of Salvador. I liked the painting a lot at the time, and over the years I’ve grown to like it even more. Many times I’ve thought, I wish I could do one of those again.

Meaning, another tropical cityscape with that kind of strength and visual interest and just the right amount of whimsy.

667salvador

Looking back at my own work for inspiration: Barra, a 1995 painting I did of a beach in the Bahian city of Salvador.

But painting doesn’t work that way. At least it doesn’t for me. Capturing the magic that happened with Barra again was something that would happen when it was time for it to happen.

As you know, I’ve recently been living through a Nebraska winter for the first time in 41 years. And as you also know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, it’s been a blessing in disguise, both forcing and allowing me to focus on my art in a way I haven’t for over 20 years.

I’ve been painting or drawing every day for many months now, and to say I’m warmed up and in the groove would be an understatement. I’m hot. I’m cooking. But wait! That doesn’t mean everything I try works out. What it means is, I take bigger chances, and more often. Consequently I’m growing like crazy.

So painting ideas that would have scared me or put me off in the past, I now look at and go, okay, WTF, let’s try it. That’s how I came to do a painting of Búzios.



A VISIT TO BUZIOS

I’d visited Brazil lots of times, but it wasn’t until my 2008 trip there with my friend Steph that I visited Búzios (if you want, you can read about that trip—Búzios is just a small part of it—here).

Búzios was a little fishing village in the 1950s when French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered it and soon the rest of the world did, too. Now it’s a bit different, with Gucci and Prada stores instead of little fishing shacks. But it still has charm and a lot of natural beauty. Steph and I enjoyed our time there a lot, and I shot quite a few photographs.

I was looking at some of those photographs a couple of weeks ago when the idea struck. Looking at the way the houses climbed up the hill, with palm trees peeking out, I started to see something that excited me. I could picture the kind of painting I wanted to do, and it was definitely the same flavor as I’d found when I painted Barra back in 1995. But the photograph was lacking something. There was no beach in it.

Buzios top

This was the photograph that first triggered the idea of a Búzios painting. But it needed something.

So I found a second photograph taken at about the same time which did have the beach in it. Then, using one of my favorite creative tools, Photoshop, I cut and pasted the 2 photographs together.

Buzios beachbottomhalf

This photograph of the actual beach gave me the rest of the visual elements I needed.

Buzios combopic

I put the houses on the hill and the beach together into one image.

The result was not strictly realistic, of course, but it did capture the image of Búzios I’d had in my mind since my visit there. It gave me a starting point for my painting. Below is the first rough sketch I did of my idea for the composition.

Buzios sm 01 border



DRAWING HOUSES

I’ve never been much good at drawing buildings. They’ve just never excited me. But I knew that in order to make this painting work, I needed to improve my house-drawing abilities. I didn’t need to learn to make an architectural drawing, but I did need some practice in capturing the personality of a house, and of a group of houses on a hill. I had a picture in my mind of the kind of whimsical, crazy-angled houses I wanted to put on that hill, but I didn’t yet know how to draw them. So I dived in and began sketching.

Buzios sm 05

The first sketches I did were fairly realistic, since I needed to get a feeling for which details should be left in and which could be left out and still keep the feeling of the building.

Buzios sm 03

Buzios sm 04 border

Buzios sm 06

As I continued, the buildings got less detailed and more fanciful. And I gradually got more confident. I did another compositional study:

Buzios sm 02 border

This time I indicated some boats in the foreground.

Then, as I got closer to actually tackling the painting, I decided to do a color acrylic sketch.

Buzios sm colorprepsketch01

With this acrylic sketch I got to try out some of the sketch ideas in painting form.

I wasn’t that happy with the acrylic sketch, but it helped me by showing me where I didn’t want to go with the painting. I wanted less detail and less 3-dimensionality. I wanted the painting to be flatter, more about line and color, and less about realism.

Despite that, I still felt the need to do a house painting that showed what I’d learned over the past few days of sketching, so I took a piece of Strathmore bristol stock and tacked it up on my easel and did a little painting of a tropical house (below). It was kind of fun, but it was pretty intense, too…lots of precision and detail—the exact opposite of what I was intending for the painting I was about to do.

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If you take another look at the pencil sketches above, you'll find the inspiration for this little tropical house.

For some reason I still feel like I have to ‘pay my dues’ from time to time by doing something detailed and precise, thereby earning the right to do something light, fluid and whimsical. Silly, I know. But I still do it.



TAKING THE PLUNGE

Now that I had paid my dues I finally felt ready to begin the painting. I got up knowing that today was the day. It was with great trepidation that I began sketching onto a big piece of canvas that morning. I felt like I was biting off a lot with this one. But I knew I had to take the plunge.

And magic began to happen. The drawing almost did itself. I was thrilled that all the preparatory work I’d done seemed to be paying off. I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep things so bold, simple and clean if I hadn’t done all those sketches of buildings that weren’t bold, simple and clean.

When I finished drawing the trees and buildings and began on the beach, I ‘saw’ a guy working on his boat and another tourist-type guy standing watching him, and it was as if I’d always known I would put those figures in. Except I hadn’t known it consciously. But there they were, and they fit perfectly.

The next step was to ‘ink’ it, using black acrylic paint to go over the lines of the drawing.

Inprog1 buzios

The next step, as usual, was to paint a wash of purplish-brown over the inked drawing, and wait for that to dry. While it dried I began mixing colors.

Often in these step-by-step recountings of my studio process, I talk about the difficulties I encountered in a particular painting and how I overcame them. But sometimes, everything just falls into place. This was one of those (magical) times.

Inprog2 buzios

Not that I wasn’t making decisions all the time as I went along. For instance, I knew that I wanted to reserve the whitest white of the houses on the hill for the lower center, because I knew that white would draw the eye. So I consciously chose which group of houses would be the focal point on the hill. Another thing that happened in the course of the drawing was realizing I needed one of the palm trees to be another focal point, so I made the lower right palm tree the biggest, closest tree and made it stand out slightly in front of the background. There’s always gotta be this dance between the foreground and the background, or between the focal point and the stuff around it that makes it the focal point.

Of course all those subdominant focal points are there to make an interesting path for the eye to end up at the dominant focal point, which is the guy in the hat standing on the beach. Which I didn’t even put in until I was actually laying in the final drawing on the canvas. This is why I sometimes say, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I do know what I’m doing, but it’s like my body knows, not my conscious mind, and somehow, more often than not, I end up doing what works.

There were little adjustments that needed to be made as I finished the painting, but the big stuff had already been worked out. Just about 1 week after I first started doing rough sketches, I completed the painting I call “Búzios.”

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The finished painting: Búzios.

LINK: Douglas Simonson Gallery: Paintings

Findingtheedge

February 8, 2012

• DOING THE WORK
• FAILING WITHOUT FALLING
• WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT
• DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE
• FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER



DOING THE WORK


Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a good friend a few days ago:

hey john

saw your message on FB. glad you like the new one. in my opinion, it’s okay, but i missed what i was aiming for. the battle is still to keep myself from over-finishing! the painting was actually better at an earlier stage, but i just had to keep going. i am getting better, though. i’ve been painting like a madman for the past several weeks, sometimes several a day, but most of them get gessoed over, to become the blank canvas for my next attempt. some of my canvases have 3 or 4 or more layers on them by now. not a bad thing at all. just a  period of intense study and i am growing at a mad rate! dreamed for years of getting to this point with my painting, where i was actually doing the bold, exciting things i always pictured, and it’s finally happening. i just never consciously realized the degree of focus and amount of time that would be required to get to this intensity. now, of course, it seems obvious, now that i’m in it. consciously i dislike being in nebraska in winter, but from a broader perspective i’m able to see that i had to isolate myself to this degree to get to this level of absorption in my work.

As I suggest in the above, I’ve been painting pretty much every day for the past several weeks. I’ve been working as an artist and painting professionally for over 30 years, but I’ve never gotten to this level before. I look back and realize that I THOUGHT I was a serious painter, but I really wasn’t. I hadn’t gotten close to the level of intensity and commitment I’m experiencing right now.

I always knew it was all about going into the studio and DOING THE WORK. But I guess I never realized how much work it requires. Or to be more specific, how much concentrated work. Stopping and starting a lot doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as being able to focus for long periods, like months, at a time. I’ve finally put myself into a position where I’m willing and able to do that.

One way I know I’m really committed (other than the amount of time I’m spending in the studio) is how many paintings I’m gessoing over. (For you non-painters, gesso is the white stuff we put on a canvas to prepare it for painting.) Lately I try to approach every painting as an exercise, as an experiment where I try something out to see what happens. If it turns out well enough to keep, great! If not, great—and time for the next exercise.

But I still have lapses. Like the big “statement” painting I wanted to do of Manuel.



FAILING WITHOUT FALLING


I was feeling kind of confident at this stage—this is a few weeks ago—and I decided what I was going to do was a big “statement” painting. I wanted to do something that would pop off a gallery wall, that would WOW people.

This is not a bad goal in itself, by the way. But when it’s the ONLY goal, you’re in trouble.

Anyway.

I chose a photograph of Manuel to work from, and cut myself a BIG piece of canvas, and got out my sponges.

Manuelbytree bigfailed

The photograph of Manuel I chose to work from.

Manuelbytree bigfailed1

Progress at the end of the first day.

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At the end of the third day.

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Oops.

Everything went really well—for a while. I was using sponges, I was loving the size of the painting and the freedom it gave me to move, and I was accomplishing interesting things both with “brushwork” and use of color. And I was excited about the energy and presence in the face. But—I went too far. Of the 4 images you see above, the next-to-last one is where I SHOULD have stopped. It was going so well, I just had to “finish” the face. The result looks like bad plastic surgery. The life and authenticity in the face went away and it got “pretty” and lost its oomph. So after several days of work, I had to gesso over this one.

But that was fine. I wasn’t even that upset. All I had to do was let go of my expectations that this would be the big WOW painting that would blow people away. And I was able to do that, because I realized that was a bogus goal anyway. Plus I knew how much I’d learned in the 3 or 4 days I spent on the painting.

(Big change from the days when a ‘failed’ painting would depress me for days!)

What happened next, though, was not a painting. I decided to do some rough sketches, not out of creative fervor but because I took a look at my bank account!


WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT

Rough sketches are an important source of income for me. Small, affordable sketches are a lot more accessible to most collectors than big expensive paintings, so my sketches sell pretty fast. When money starts looking like it might be an issue, one of the first things I do is sit down and do some rough sketches. This makes it sound like I do it just for the money, but the fact is, it’s great exercise, and no matter what prompts me to sit down and do it, once I begin, I lose myself in the drawing, and sometimes amazing things happen.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog for awhile, you’re aware of a recurring theme: my quest for MORE BOLDNESS! MORE COURAGE! LOOSER, MORE ENERGETIC BRUSHWORK!

Which wouldn’t be a recurring theme at all if it weren’t so damn hard to accomplish!

It’s hard because of FEAR. Fear that the artwork won’t turn out well, whether it’s a blank canvas staring you in the face with its threat of failure, or a painting that’s well on its way and you’re suddenly afraid to take a chance of ruining it by being too daring.

So as I sat down and sharpened my pencils and began to sketch, I had a revelation. I thought, what if I did it wrong from the start? What if I FAILED before I even began? Then there would be nothing to fear!

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Here are a couple of the first drawings I did by 'doing it wrong.'

So I began drawing a nude, but instead of trying to do it right, I just started making random marks all over the paper. Once I had quite a few of these WRONG marks, I started making some that were maybe not so wrong, marks that were sort of heading in the direction of the image I was working from. Then I started making marks that were very close to the source image, but I kept making wrong marks, too, at random, just to remind me that there was nothing precious here, nothing to fear ruining.

This had an amazing effect. I felt free! I started enjoying the act of drawing so much I found myself wondering why I’d never let myself have this much fun before. Sure, drawing had been fun sometimes, but mostly it was work. All of a sudden it wasn’t work anymore! I’d always known that letting myself “do it wrong” was a key to creative freedom, but I’d never before found such an effective way to trick my mind into letting me do that.

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Here are 2 of my favorite drawings of all I've done in the past couple of years--and they happened by letting myself do it wrong.

This unleashed a whole series of exciting new drawings, drawings that were filled with energy, movement and life—and gave me some insight as to what I needed to do in my painting to get to that place I was aiming for.

Over the next few days, trying to apply this new insight I’d gotten from drawing to my paintings, I had some ups and downs…

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This one I liked well enough to keep.

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This one I didn't.

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Interesting, but not interesting enough.

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Promising, but not promising enough.

My turning point happened with a landscape.


DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE

I chose a photograph I’d taken recently in Santo Domingo, a sunset shot of the waterfront.

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This one started out well. I liked the pencil drawing because it had a lot of energy. Then I began painting. After an hour or so, I stood back and…

Santodomingo inprog firstone

OMG. It sucks.

OMG. It totally sucked. How did that happen?

It took a bit for me to realize that, while I had begun with the intention of ‘doing it wrong to set myself free’, I hadn’t done that at all! My old habits had kicked in so strongly I hadn’t even realized what I was doing until I stood back and saw what a boring painting I’d created.

Santodomingo inprog no2

I took another piece of canvas and totally started over.

As soon as I realized what had happened, I tore the painting down and tacked up another piece of canvas, and began again.

With total concentration and a very strong intention, I focused on doing it wrong, on painting and enjoying moving the paint around, on playing, with absolutely no worries about whether the painting ‘worked’ or not. It was working just because I was enjoying myself!

You can guess what happened. An interesting, lively painting happened!

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Santo Domingo 1

And when I stood back from that painting, and realized it was good, it was fun, it was alive…I almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I almost went back in and ‘finished’ it.

Which would have been a HUGE mistake.

Along with the quest for boldness comes this companion challenge: learning when to stop. Part of it is the fear that others will call your work ‘unfinished’, and the rest is just enjoying the painting so much that you forget to watch for that magic moment when everything is in perfect, breathtaking balance. Not a perfectly even, stable, symmetrical kind of balance. No, the kind of balance where everything is poised to fall to earth but somehow is holding together. A balance that takes your breath away because you feel like you’ve been allowed to enter that timeless moment, that instant before everything collapses. That’s what I want in my paintings.

I began to approach it with this painting. I got even closer with the next one…



FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER


I wanted to take the dangerous balance idea even further. I chose a photograph of Eduardo as the taking-off point.

Eduardo source

Not sure why, but Eduardo is my go-to model when I want to try something edgy. He's like a blank canvas for my creative urges…not exactly my muse, but close.

I stayed very awake through this painting. I kept my awareness always on the whole painting, not on making it look like the photograph, but on that precarious balance I was aiming for…because I knew if I took my eye off the tightrope for even a second, there was a chance I’d fall to earth.

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And it worked.

I painted and painted…but I also left a lot of it alone. And when I heard myself say, I love it but it’s not finished—

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Ipanema Towers 12

—I stopped!