Posts Tagged ‘Bahia’

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

October 28, 2011

I came back to Honolulu for a few weeks between travels (see the “On the Road” links above if you’d like to read more about that) and one of my goals was to get some painting done.

Frustratingly, so many other things demanded my attention in the short time I was on the island that it was difficult to find time to draw or paint. But I did find some! I did 3 paintings while I was in Hawaii.

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There was something compellingly beautiful to me of the profile of Steve Chen in the center of this sketchbook page---I wanted to make it into a painting.

I’m drawing in my sketchbook a lot while traveling, and the first painting I did was inspired by a small sketch I did of Steve Chen’s face. (Steve is my newest model and you can see photos and read the story of my Malibu photoshoot with him here.)

This was the first time I’d painted in several weeks (it’s just not practical to take all my painting stuff on the road with me), and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it came together. Painting heads, or more specifically faces, has always been my favorite thing and it was nice to just be able to focus on that.

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This acrylic-on-paper work was a joy to paint. Everything just flowed. I titled it “Boy in Shadow.” It’s not a portrait of Steve Chen, but it was inspired by him. (Click on the image above to see it on my website.)

It turned out to be a couple more weeks before I was able to find time to paint again. I used to feel guilty when I couldn’t get as much painting and drawing done as it seemed I should, but this, like so many things in my life, is changing. I’m finding more and more that when it’s time to paint, it will happen. It’s not about trying hard to make it happen, it’s about allowing it to happen.

That’s how my next painting came to be. I found myself sketching from my Brazil photographs of Baiano and almost immediately, I had a sketch that really worked and I knew it could become a nice painting.

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I loved the energy of the photograph and the sketch that came from it, and had an idea it could make a nice painting. Click on the image to see the sketch on my website.

I approached this painting in my usual way, transferring the drawing to the canvas, then doing a purple wash over it, then painting the outlines in black paint before applying color (look at any of my previous step-by-step painting entries for a review of all that). However, once I began laying in the actual colors, something was different. I was MUCH LESS CAREFUL. I don’t mean careless, not at all; I mean I simply didn’t bother much about whether I was slopping paint into the wrong areas or covering up some of the underlying outlines. I didn’t bother with it because I knew I’d be cleaning up anything that needed cleaning up much later, when I was doing the finishing touches on the painting.

But because I was so much less careful than usual when I was laying in the colors, there was a LOT MORE ENERGY in the brushstrokes and in the overall painting. This was a wonderful development because, as you know if you’ve read previous painting entries, it’s always a challenge for me to loosen up and keep the painting bold and energetic. And the truth is, it’s really not even necessary to be as careful about where the paint goes at this relatively early stage of the painting. It had just been fear, or you could say lack of trust in myself, that kept me from letting loose this much in the past.

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Here's the finished painting, entitled Tiririca. Click on the image to see this item on my website.

The finished painting rewarded my boldness. Not only is it filled with dynamic energy, it also took a lot less time to finish. It’s not always true that less time spent equals better work, but here that was definitely the case. The older and more experienced in life I get, the more I realize that the best results always come when you can find that place of effortlessness and fluidity.

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This is one of a series of shots I have of Kaimana paddling on a surfboard which I used for the next painting.

It was another week or two before another painting “happened.” This was just a few days before I took off for another 3 months of traveling so I was glad this one came along in time for me to finish it before leaving. I had been thinking about a stylized, almost decorative painting of a nude surfer. So I began doing sketches from a series of Kaimana photos.

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Here and below, some of the exploratory sketches I did for the surfer painting. Click on the image to see this item on my website.

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Click on the image to see this item on my website.

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Click on the image to see this item on my website.

This painting experience was a lot like the previous one, where I found myself much more willing to just take chances and let the paint go where it wanted to. Again there was an effortlessness to the painting, and it took less time than usual.

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Here's the result, a painting I call 'Paddling.' Click on the image to see this item on my website.

My experience with these most recent paintings was wonderful and it seems clear to me that this is just another unexpected benefit of my new lifestyle. Living as I do now, where I often don’t know where I’ll be staying or what I’ll be doing tomorrow, let alone a week or month from now, requires a lot more thinking on my feet and trust in myself. It consistently challenges me and forces me to move through my fears. It’s not surprising to discover that living a life that requires more courage and daring is translating into more courage and daring in my work!

There’s this photograph of Wellington and Israel at Massarandupió Beach in Bahia that I love. It really captures one of the many great moments that day. The composition, the lighting, the feeling of the image….I think they’re all wonderful, and I thought it would make a terrific painting. But for a long time I was afraid to tackle it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to capture the light and the feeling of the image. But finally I decided, okay, maybe I’m ready now. I’ll give it a shot!

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This is the photo I started with.


I started by tweaking the image in Photoshop. There are two major differences I make in the image this way. One, I intensify (via saturation and light/dark) the colors, which makes the image more vibrant. In this way I have a guide for mixing colors. It’s possible to mix vibrant colors even though you’re working from a less-than-vibrant photographic image, but it’s a lot more difficult. I like to let the computer do this for me. And in the final analysis, I don’t have to follow the color guide in the photo exactly…it’s just a guide. The second thing I do when tweaking the image is blur it. But I don’t use the Blur function in Photoshop, I use something called Median (Filters -> Noise -> Median). This removes the detail in a more elegant way than just blurring the image. And that’s what I want—to remove the detail. This forces me to look at the major shapes and areas of color and light and dark when working on the painting. I could do that by just squinting at the source image while working, but it’s nice not to have to do that. And of course I keep the undoctored image around in case I want to add in some detail (but not until much later!). Oh, yeah—I often use Posterize on the image after Median. This lessens the number of colors used so it’s easier to see color areas.

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This is the photograph after some tweaking in Photoshop.


My next step was to do a color study. This is a small, rough version of the final painting in which I can work out problems of color, tonal balance (balance of lights and darks), composition and whatever else I might not expect but which will probably crop up in the color study. The color study went pretty well but I found I had difficulties with the tone of the hill behind the figures. I kept getting it too light or too dark. Also it was a tricky mix of greens and purples. I kept remixing the colors until I got it more or less correct. When I had everything looking pretty balanced, I decided I was ready to tackle the big picture.

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The biggest challenge in doing a big finished work, as opposed to a rough sketch, is psychological/emotional. It’s hard not to take the larger work more seriously and care more that it works out. Caring too much about the success of a painting is practically a guarantee of its failure. The difficulty is finding a balance between working toward a vision of the finished work, but not gripping that vision too tightly, so you can stay loose and allow the energy to flow. With this painting I was on both sides of that line, but walked it most of the time. Which worked out pretty well. I needed all the preparatory work I’d done because this painting was a challenge in many ways—but all the work paid off and I managed to keep it loose and fairly spontaneous and still capture the feeling and the light of the original scene. I’m pretty happy with this one. I’m calling it Bahian Beach Boys.

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

For this painting I went back to one of my most consistent themes/fantasies: the naked brown-skinned boy in the jungle. I still have lots of Baiano photos I haven’t used, and I found a nice one for this, where he’s leaning against a tree on a hillside near Itacaré (see my Dec. 1 2008 diary entry for more on that photo shoot).

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New model Baiano on a jungle-y hillside in Itacaré The rough sketch that inspired me to do a finished painting. Click on image to see this item on my website.

This painting actually began the way many of my paintings begin—with a sketch that I really liked. Many times I’ll start with a photograph I really like and then none of the sketches that come from it really excite me. When that happens I usually just move onto another image until I get a sketch that DOES excite me. But with this one, it happened right away. I like the feeling of the sketch and I’m determined to keep the painting loose and not get too careful and overwork it.

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This is the underdrawing on the canvas before the painting begins. Here, the first thin washes of color have been applied.

Next I transferred the sketch to canvas. I did this the easy way—I scanned the sketch, then used my digital projector to project it onto the canvas so I could do it exactly the size I wanted, and retain as much of the feeling of the sketch as possible. You’ll notice I also went into a bit more detail with the plant life.

Next I did the ground, which is the underpainting. I used to use a single color for this—and that does work fine—but lately I’ve been doing one color for the body, one or two colors for the background. That seems to work pretty well for me too. Once the ground had dried, I outlined the forms with dark paint. I used to always use black paint for this, but lately I’ve begun doing colors. In this case I used a really dark warm brown for the body outlines, a really dark green for the foliage outlines, and a dark cool brown for the tree outlines. It’s more work, but it’s subtly different from the black outlines and I like the final effect better.

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Here I begin actually applying the paint. About 60% done.

While that was drying, I mixed my colors for the actual painting. This is usually a pretty time-consuming part of the process—sometimes I’ll spend up to an hour mixing the colors. I think I overdo/overthink this process sometimes though, and I find lately I’m getting better at keeping the mixtures simpler. Which of course is always a good idea. Not only does it save time, the art tends to be better when it’s more spontaneous and LESS complicated instead of more!

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I spent a couple of days on this one and it worked out pretty well. Working all over the painting made it possible to get a color scheme going without too many false moves. I’m also pleased that I didn’t get too careful; I kept the whole painting pretty loose and it has a nice consistency of tone, I think. I’m calling it “Coastal Jungle.”

1407source-2upI was browsing through my thousands of digital photos on my computer, looking for ideas for my next painting, and I found myself in the Marcus April 2006 folder. This was the trip I took to Rio and rented my friends’ Copacabana apartment, and had a photo shoot set up with Marcus and he never showed up–then he showed up two days later at 9 in the morning and I had to drag myself out of bed and collect myself in a hurry to do a 2-hour photo shoot. Marcus is one of the few models I would do that for! This photograph has him in my bedroom on the bed I was sleeping in, sprawled out invitingly. Unfortunately the photograph I liked best was cut off on the left. I wanted a more horizontal composition, so I took another photograph I took at about the same time, and added more leg and bed on the left. Thank goodness for Photoshop!

Extending the composition horizontally and adding a window.

Extending the composition horizontally and adding a window.

Once I had the two photographs put together and had a composition I liked, I wanted to change the mood of the image. The simple bedroom setting was not very exciting to me. I wanted more of a fantasy. I had the idea of adding a window that looked out on a tropical beach setting. So I went looking on the Internet for windows with palm trees showing through them. That was not easy, but I finally found something that was more or less what I was looking for. Using Photoshop, I plopped that window into the upper right corner to see what it looked/felt like. I liked the result and thought, yes, I think this concept is going to work.

First pencil sketch that was getting close to what I wanted.

First pencil sketch that was getting close to what I wanted. (Click on image to go to my art website.)

Using my doctored photographic image, I began sketching. After about 7 or 8 rough sketches, I finally started to get an image that excited me. This required some stylization and simplification, some elongation of the figure, and a “cottage” feeling–which means vertical lines suggesting a simple wood structure, and a window framing palms and an ocean horizon.

Final pencil sketch before I began figuring out color scheme.

Final pencil sketch before I began figuring out color scheme. (Click on image to go to my art website.)

The following drawing was very close to what I wanted. The elements all seemed to be in place. What I needed now was a color scheme. The existing colors of the photographic image were close, but a little boring. I decided that, rather than doing several color studies, I would continue working in Photoshop. That way, when a color area didn’t work, I could easily change the color, or lighten or darken it to see if it helped. This is much easier than repainting a whole area, or starting a new color sketch, until I get the color balance I want.

Layered photoshop image which allowed me to experiment with colors.

Layered photoshop image which allowed me to experiment with colors.

Using Photoshop I was able to cut out the figure from one of the source photographs, elongate and distort it so it fit the drawing I’d created, then “paint” in the color areas on the computer to see how the color scheme was working. This saved me a lot of time, and I was able to fairly quickly find a combination of colors that fit with the fantasy that was taking shape in my mind: colors that gave me the feeling of a lazy afternoon in a tropical beach cottage with a boy I’d met in the city and brought to a little beach town for a romantic weekend together.

The final painting: "Beach Cottage"

The final painting: "Beach Cottage." (Click on image to see the print on my website.)

That ended the preparatory phase of the work, and set the stage for the real work: creating the actual painting. I had worked out the color scheme and had a nice approximation of the feeling I was going for, and that made creating the painting itself much easier. There followed 3 days of taking the rough concept and turning it into a finished painting. I kept the finished work pretty faithful to the final sketch, except for going back to the previous sketch to get the plate and discarded cup on the floor–I thought that was a nice touch, suggesting the relaxed nature of the “lost weekend” I was depicting. I decided to call the painting “Beach Cottage.” I’m very happy with this painting, not least because I took a semi-interesting photographic image and turned it into a much richer painting with a whole story behind it.

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1090103Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to put together two of the different ‘streams’ of my paintings—the male nudes and the calligraphic abstracts. Recently I was working from my photographs of Baiano at Itacaré in Brazil. I did a sketch of Baiano where he’s arching his back and has one hand behind his head. After sketching the figure, I added a border which incorporated some of the ‘alien calligraphy’ I’ve used in recent abstracts. I liked the look of this drawing overall, and thought it might work as a painting.

discoveryinprog1discoveryinprog2First thing I did was to transfer the pencil sketch to canvas. Then I repainted all the pencil lines with black acrylic. At this point it looked like it was going to work as a painting. I had a rough idea of the colors I wanted to use, but knew I would have to do some experimenting.

That experimentation was the next step. I did an acrylic wash over the interior, with the figure against a landscape. Those colors were easy. But what about the border? I continued using acrylic washes to try different color combinations.

discoveryinprog3discoveryinprog4I finally settled on making the border yellow with a red inner line, and the calligraphic characters green. Nothing scientific about this—I just kept trying different color combinations until one seemed to work. At that point I could begin applying a more final, thicker layer of paint.  I didn’t want the painting to end at the edge of the yellow border—I needed an area of color outside that. I thought blue would work but the more I painted of that, the less I liked it. After a bit more experimentation, I settled on a purple that picks up the purple in Baiano’s genitals. Don’t know why that worked, but it did. Now it was just a matter of filling in all the lines—covering the entire canvas with paint. Almost done!

1387discoveryThe final step was probably the most tedious: outlining everything in black paint. But this is the final touch that really makes the image pop. Now that I’ve finished, I like it. It’s kind of different from anything I’ve done before, but that’s a good thing. I’m calling it Discovery.

I’ve just returned from Brazil, the first trip I’ve taken there since early last year when I found and photographed Wellington and Israel in Salvador. This time I traveled with my good friend Steph, and I must say we made a great team. She’s a bit like Gina in that she’s beautiful and fun and attracts lots of attention! We stopped over in Miami for a couple of days, then flew to Rio.

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Steph and myself in Miami at the Palace Bar, before catching an evening flight to Rio.


This was Steph’s first time in Brazil so we saw the sights of Rio for a couple of days before heading by bus to Búzios (a 3-1/2 hour ride). I’d never been to Búzios but had heard lots about it. It turned out to be a beautiful, sophisticated yet rustic little town, and we stayed in a charming, simple-but-beautiful room in a pousada called Passeio das Palmeiras (I recommend it, and the proprietor, Lucas, is pretty charming and beautiful himself).

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The morning lifeguard workout in the streets of Búzios---another good reason to visit this little beach town


Our original plan had been to rent a car and drive up the coast from Rio to Salvador, but for various reasons that didn’t work out. Traveling by bus up the coast began to look like a long, hard trek as well—so we wound up going back to Rio by bus so we could fly up to Salvador. From Salvador we would go back south, again by bus, to Itacaré, a place we both wanted to explore.


During our one-night stay in Salvador, I took Steph to one of my favorite restaurants, Caranguejo, and introduced her to Moqueca de Camarão, which is a Bahian seafood bouillabaisse made with coconut milk and dende and shrimp and god knows what else, and is a little bit of heaven. It required just one spoonful to convert Steph. (May I also mention here that, as an inveterate beer drinker, one of the things I love about Brazil is that they are religious about only serving really REALLY cold beer. I love that!)

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Steph's first Moqueca de Camarão in Salvador


We didn’t really know what we were in for when we got on the bus from Salvador to Itacaré. Well, actually, you can’t get a bus from Salvador to Itacaré. You have to get a bus for Itabuna or Ilhéus, and then catch ANOTHER bus to Itacaré. So we blithely got on the bus (which I must admit was very comfortable) and settled in for a six-hour journey. Actually it might have been seven—the time zone kept changing and nobody told us, which meant we kept thinking we were either way ahead of schedule or we were about to miss our next bus, which didn’t add to our peace of mind. Anyway, after six or seven hours on the nice bus, we then had to spend two and a half more hours on the not-so-nice bus, and by then it was late at night, so by the time we rolled into Itacaré, we were pretty exhausted.

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Views from the bus ride, Salvador-Itabuna


But the next morning when we got up and saw in the full light of day where we’d landed, we were happy. Itacaré is a very cool little hippie-surfer town, with great beaches, great waves, and a lot of charm and atmosphere. we stayed in a pousada called Hanalei (yes, like the beach on Kauai) which was like a Swiss-Family-Robinson treehouse, only not in a tree. Charming and well-managed—and the breakfast itself was worth the price of admission. GREAT food! Another pousada I can heartily recommend, if you ever want to make the trek to Itacaré.

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Some views of Itacaré's scenery


—Which you might want to do, because this is one of those places everybody falls in love with. It’s friendly and rustic and has lots of cool places to hang out—and beautiful, with 7 or 8 or 10 beaches, I don’t know how many, all close together and all gorgeous. Some gorgeous people too. We met quite a few of them, and on our second day there, we met a boy named Baiano. I had not been planning to work on this trip, but when I met this boy, I changed my mind. Here was a raw sexiness I felt I had to capture! Everything fell into place very quickly. I met him around noon, and by 3pm we had hiked to a deserted hilltop overlooking a beautiful beach, where Baiano got naked and I made him climb up and down the trails for the next 2 hours.

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Left: Baiano with surfboard. Right: Following Baiano up the hill on the way to our photo session.


Just as exciting as the model was the setting. This is the kind of backdrop I just can’t find in Hawaii, because it’s so populated. Itacaré is a small town in the middle of nowhere with a surplus of beaches, so you can shoot a nude model in places like this without worrying about lots of people wandering through your photo shoot. Like most of my models, Baiano is a sexy boy with charm, charisma and an oversupply of testosterone. It’s a combination that works for me. As is usually the case, Baiano was a bit surprised at how much fun it was to model for me, and at the conclusion of the shoot, we were good buddies.

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Some shots of Baiano in Itacaré


Steph and I left Itacaré with some reluctance, but it was time to go home. This time we skipped the bus and flew from Ilhéus to Salvador (45 minutes instead of 9 hours). We spent one last day in Salvador, most of it on the beach in Barra, where we ran into Wellington, my model from last year. We took him out for dinner and drinks that night, then went home because we had to get up early for our flight home.
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Wellington and Steph on our last day in Bahia


What a wonderful trip, but so great to be home again. I hated to leave Brazil but was overjoyed to get back because I’d been missing painting so much. I’m now happily ensconced in my studio painting and drawing like mad!

The beach shoot in the previous entry happened on a Thursday. Saturday was the day we’d scheduled a boat excursion to some of the islands in the bay (Bahia de Todos os Santos). Renting a boat is always an interesting process in Brazil (maybe it is everywhere, i don’t know—I’ve only done it in Brazil). So all of us arrived at the beach in Barra, which is where we were supposed to meet the boat, and we were loaded down with supplies (beer and soft drinks, sandwich fixings, and ICE) for the day trip, and—NO BOAT!

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Waiting for them to bring the boat around...

The dreadlocked guy I’d been dealing with, who calls himself "Marco Polo", told me that the R$500 (500 reais, about $250) boat I’d hired and given him a deposit on was not available—it was being repaired "out on the island"—and sorry, but all we have available is the BIG boat for 900 reais ($450). Is that okay? We were already there, ready to go, the ice was melting—I felt like I didn’t have much choice but to give in to the manipulation. But I was pretty philosophical about the extra expense—my attitude in these situations is, everything happens for a reason. And when we finally got on the boat I saw that it was exactly what I’d had in mind and if we’d taken the less-expensive boat I might well have been disappointed.

(Nevertheless, NOTE TO SELF: If you’re going to rent a boat and sail to deserted islands, Angra dos Reis is a much better choice. Lots more boats to choose from—and more competitive prices—and lots more islands to choose from too!)

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Leaving Salvador...hijinks enroute...quiet moment with Israel and Fernando.

We loaded our stuff and ourselves onto the boat and sailed out into the Bay to a place called Ilha de Frades, one of many small (and some not-so-small) islands in the Bahia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay) which is the bay on which Salvador is located. It took us nearly 2 hours to reach the island (and this was sailing across just one corner of the bay—it’s one of the biggest in the world). Once there, we found another beautiful, deserted beach—beautiful in a very different way from the one we’d visited two days before. This was more like the beaches in the islands of Angra dos Reis, though with more coconut palms, which add a visual element I always like.

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Wellington bringing gear to shore; Kelly and Israel; the boys on the beach; playing by the tidepool.

There was no dinghy or rowboat, which meant that once the schooner was anchored, we had to ferry my camera equipment to shore in plastic bags held atop the heads of the models. Remind me to get a boat with a rowboat next time!

Anyway, once we had all our stuff over on the beach, I began following the boys around with my camera (always a challenge to keep up with them!), shooting nonstop, and my sister Kelly following us with the video camera—also doing her best to keep up.

Things went very well and then we reached an area where the rocks were very slippery, and as I’m shooting the guys playing in a tidepool, I hear a yell and turn to see that Kelly’s feet have gone out from under her and she’s sitting in a tidepool—she’s soaked, and so is the video camera. Almost instantly Wellington ran over to ‘save’ her (he’s very gallant around Kelly) and he also slipped, fell, and slid right into the same tidepool. Fortunately all Kelly had was a scraped elbow—but the video camera was no longer working, and as it turned out, was pretty much trashed—not only had salt water had gotten into the circuits, the impact itself broke a key component (we found this out later). Kelly, as you can imagine, felt terrible—but I reassured her that it was nobody’s fault and shit happens! And anyway, it’s just a piece of equipment—it can be replaced.

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Heading home after a long day in the sun...

As philosophical as I was about the loss of the equipment, it was still a blow for me—I’d been really enjoying the process of videotaping this whole trip (and already editing the movie in my mind), and suddenly it seemed like that part of the project was going to be fatally compromised. I soon realized i was overreacting, and there’s always a way to deal with it—but it took me a bit to get to that point.

Anyway, I kept shooting the models even though i was feeling preoccupied and upset. As I shot the photos, I was thinking, well, these aren’t going to be much good because I’m not focused like I should be. But the next day, when I looked at the results on the computer, I was blown away by how good they were. I guess I’m more professional than I realized. Not a bad thing to discover.

So the second model shoot, despite the loss of the video camera, turned to be a good, productive day. We sailed back to Salvador, got off the boat and waded to shore with all our stuff, and I headed straight home and fell into bed, out like a light.

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Wellington became our new best friend in Salvador.

Once the second photo shoot was over, I could finally relax and enjoy being in Salvador. But I was so tired I found myself mostly just catching up on sleep. I did enjoy myself, though. Salvador is a great place, and the people we met made it even better. Over the next few days, Wellington kind of adopted Kelly and me, and took us everywhere. He’s the kind of guy who, wherever he goes, finds friends. Either you already know him and like him, or you’re about to. This meant that we got incredible warmth (and great service too!) from people wherever we went with him. He made the rest of our stay in Salvador even better than it would’ve been otherwise.

I also have to thank Fernando for providing so much help and guidance, and generally doing a great job as a talent-scout-agent-tour-guide and general helper. Again, his website is bahiaboybrasil.com, if you’re headed for Salvador and you need somebody to take care of you and show you around.

Kelly and I spent three days in Rio before heading home to, respectively, Hawaii and Lincoln, Nebraska. I enjoyed showing her around one of my favorite towns and we met a lot of nice people there too. I got back to Honolulu on Saturday, April 14, and as great a time as I had in Brazil this trip, it was wonderful to be home! I can hardly wait to start work on new paintings and drawings of Israel and Wellington. (And planning my next trip…?)