Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Walkingthetightrope header

February 28, 2014

CONTENTS


• A QUICK RE-CAP
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1
• BEING THERE FOR FAMILY
• PAINTING
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


A QUICK RE-CAP



Back in June 2011 when I made the decision to leave Hawaii and go traveling for at least a year,
I knew I was making a big decision, and changing my whole way of life. But I didn’t know how wide-ranging and complete the change would be.

I’m now nearly 3 years into my “On the Road” lifestyle and I’ve spent less than half that time actually on the road. But it turns out On the Road has meanings that didn’t even occur to me when I began this journey.

PV beachshot01

I took this shot of Puerto Vallarta just a few minutes before sitting down to write this blog entry. This is about 2 blocks from the hostel where I'm staying, the Vallarta Sun (I recommend it!).

I’m writing this from a hostel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I’ve been for a couple of weeks. As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I moved my home and studio to Nebraska in April 2012 for a variety of reasons, primarily ease of travel and to take advantage of the great support system that is my sister Kelly.

Moving from Hawaii to Nebraska was not something I ever thought I would do, but it turned out to be the perfect next step for me. For one thing, I needed to reconnect with family, even more than I consciously realized. For another, moving to a quiet place like Lincoln, Nebraska where I don’t have a social network or a beach or a favorite bar meant much more time spent in the studio. And that has led to quantum leaps in my painting, both in terms of productivity and creative growth.

As I realized what a surprisingly great place Lincoln, Nebraska was for me painting-wise, and as I fell in love with my new studio there, a new plan evolved: I would stay in Lincoln and paint from April through October or so, then when it started getting cold, I would travel in warm places throughout the winter.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1


Winter 2012 was my first try at doing this. I went to the Dominican Republic for 5 weeks in November and December, and as you know from this blog, had a great time and photographed lots of new models. It was my intention to keep traveling until spring, but I went back to Nebraska for Christmas–and lost my momentum.

Las terrenas tweak

One of my photographs from the Dominican Republic. I spent 5 weeks here in Nov-Dec. 2012.

I’ve learned, especially recently, that traveling is all about just going ahead and doing it, trusting that somehow the money to pay for it will appear. It always does work out, often in amazing, miraculous ways. It’s about trust. But last winter, I lost that trust, lost my nerve, and out of financial fear, ended up staying in Nebraska through the miserable months of January, February and March. By the time spring finally arrived, I was clear that whatever it took, I was not going to spend another winter in Nebraska!

Snowy backyard

This is what my backyard looked like in January 2012.

I should mention here that despite the discomfort of that period, it was a happy and productive time for me in terms of painting because I was in my studio working most of the time. It also turned to have been a good thing that I had stayed in Lincoln for the winter because I was able to see my mother more often.


BEING THERE FOR FAMILY


I had been visiting my mother (known to everyone in the family as PJ) frequently during this period. She had dementia and was in a memory-care nursing home in Lincoln. I realized again how valuable and life-changing my Quantum-Touch training was during this time. Where most people’s experience of watching the progress of dementia or Alzheimer’s in a loved one is painful, even devastating, my experience was entirely different.

Ds runs energy PJ

Here I am running energy on PJ in early 2013.

Usually when I visited PJ I would sit down on the bed and place my hands on her body and “run energy” into her for 30 to 45 minutes. She would always become very calm and relaxed when I did this, and often she would fall asleep. The connection I felt with her during these times was probably the strongest, most loving and most intimate I’d experienced with her since I was a baby.

PJ fell and broke her hip in June, and we think she had a stroke simultaneously with this. She died 3 days later. This was a difficult period where she was in intensive care and had her family around her, but she couldn’t communicate. I was able to do energy work on her during this time and experience her body shutting down while I was connected to her. I strongly believe I was able to ease her pain and discomfort during this time, and when she made her final transition out of the body, I felt no sorrow, only a sense of rightness and completion.

I was and am deeply grateful for the fateful decisions I’ve made which allowed me to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right training, to have this experience of my mother’s death.

Ds kelly breckenridge

With my sister Kelly during a short trip to Breckenridge to celebrate her entering a new and expanded phase in her life.

A couple of months later I had another experience of being in the right place at the right time to give my sister Kelly the support she needed to end a relationship that no longer served her. I have to admit this was also a transition that served me–I moved into the bedroom her ex-boyfriend vacated!


PAINTING


At around this time I rented what I thought was the perfect painting studio in downtown Lincoln, only to move again a couple of months later into a studio that turned out to be even more perfect. (Read about that studio, and the studio design that allowed me to be more productive and efficient than ever before, here.) (Read about the move into the new studio at Parrish here.)

Studios 1 and 2

TOP: Studio 1, which lasted only 2 months. BOTTOM: Studio 2, in Lincoln's Parrish Studios, where I'm very happy and hope to stay for a while.

My painting continued to grow by leaps and bounds. In the last few years I’ve noticed my painting tends to jump between two threads: the Expressionist thread (lots of outlines, flat areas of color, distorted shapes), and the Loose Brushwork thread (loose brushwork, obviously, but a naturalistic approach that’s all about light and shadow). In July the Expressionist thread took off in kind of a new direction: Faces. I got inspired to paint big expressionist faces and had such a good time doing it I kept doing it for several months and eventually did about 25 of them.

I was additionally inspired by the fact that my collectors really liked them and they began selling immediately. (Unlike a lot of painters who feel every painting is their ‘child’ and they hate to let go of it, I tend to get energy from a painting’s being sold, and to be inspired to do more like it.)

Faces 6up

Some paintings from my FACES Series. The phase shown here lasted from about August through October 2013.

Along about late September, with cold weather approaching, I started putting my winter travel plan into action. Without paying too much attention to how much (or how little) money appeared to be available for it, I made reservations for a flight to Rio de Janeiro. In the days before I left, I had another burst of painting inspiration, this time in the Loose Brushwork thread.

Loosebrushwork 3up

In November 2013, just before taking off for the winter, I did a series of excitingly loose, energetic paintings in what I call the Loose Brushwork thread.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2


I left for Brazil on November 12th for a 5-week stay. I was nervous about how things would unfold financially, but decided not to worry about it, to just trust instead. As usual that was a good decision and everything went fine.

Slacklining photomalenude ebook

Two of the many wonderful things that happened during my late 2013 5-week stay in Rio de Janeiro: 1, slacklining with Oliver, and 2, completing a 2-year project, the e-book Finding and Photographing the Male Nude.

I had a great time in Brazil, completing a long-term project that I had actually begun 2 years previous on a visit to Brazil, an e-book titled Finding and Photographing the Male Nude. During my time in Rio, I also discovering an exciting and challenging new sport, slacklining.

I flew back to Nebraska to spend Christmas with my family before heading to Hawaii the day before New Year’s.

Ds hawaii jan2014 2up

Simonson in Hawaii January 2014: Top, hanging out with old friends and new friends; Bottom, at my old stomping grounds, Queen's Surf in Waikiki.

My good friend Allen Hanaike graciously offered me a place to stay, which allowed me to spend a month in Hawaii–my first time back in almost 2 years. I left for Hawaii on January 30, not really knowing how I would pay my ongoing bills while there, but trusting. Within days after arriving for my stay at Allen’s house, out of the blue, I received a $2000 illustration commission from a fellow houseguest who is the Art Director for a California magazine. Trust rewarded, again.

Psmag portraits 6up

Some of the illustrations I did as part of a commission I got while in Hawaii (I did this entire commission digitally, drawing on the computer using a Wacom tablet).

While I was in Hawaii I pondered the next leg of my escape from winter. I chose Puerto Vallarta, and flew here for a month-long stay on February 15. I’ve now been here for 10 days and every day has been sunny and 85 degrees. I am loving it. Staying in a hostel has its challenges as always, but more than makes up for it with the people I meet and the great connections that happen.

PVscenes 3up

Scenes from my Puerto Vallarta stay in February-March 2014.

When I’m not taking excursions and shooting photographs, I’m working on my next e-book and some digital paintings. Oh, and going out with new friends in the evenings.

I’ll return to Nebraska in late March. It will still be cold, but most of the winter will be past. I’m loving being in the tropics but there is a very strong pull to get back into the studio and paint again.

A lot has changed since I began my “On the Road” journey. What I’m realizing is that when I let go of most of my possessions and took off for a year on the road, all that was just a metaphor for the real journey going on inside me. Choosing constant change and adventure meant choosing a different kind of inner life, where I had to rise to a new level of adaptability and staying in the moment. By opening up in this way, I made myself available to take whatever path presented itself, whether it was staying in a hostel in Mexico, finding new models in the Dominican Republic, learning slacklining in Rio, or assisting a loved one in transitioning from one phase of existence to another.

I was practicing slacklining in Hawaii a few weeks ago and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to it is because it’s the perfect metaphor for my life. I call this blog On the Road, but it could just as easily be called Walking the Tightrope.

Winter2013 everythingchanges

December 11, 2013

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

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

So I had 30 days to move out.

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

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

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

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

Parrish interior 3up C

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

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

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

First friday parrish DS

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

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

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

Ds w localtalent ipanema

Myself with some of the local talent at Ipanema Beach.

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

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

Ds slacklining

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

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

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

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

Lanscapes bigshapes header

June 29, 2013

CONTENTS


• PLAYA BONITA 2
• TIRIRICA BEACH SHACKS



PLAYA BONITA 2



I find I’m getting better at painting landscapes these days,
and mostly I think that’s due to the fact that I’m getting better at seeing the big shapes. Or maybe I should say I’m being more disciplined about ONLY looking at the big shapes. Because you can see the big shapes and still get seduced into overworking and over-detail-ing the painting.

Playabonita1

Here's the first painting I did of Playa Bonita in the Dominican Republic. It was a positive experience for me in learning to see the big shapes.

I really liked what happened with the painting “Playa Bonita,” so I chose another photograph I took the same day, but looking another direction. Like the image I used for the first painting, this one also had some nice shapes, particularly the shadows.

Playabonita2 source

Source image for my second Playa Bonita painting.

Playabonita2 twk

Here's the same image tweaked in Photoshop to give me a better idea of values and big shapes.

I did my usual tweaking with Photoshop, but this time I did something else digital as well: I did a digital painting of the image, not as a finished artwork, but as a way of exploring the image. I wanted to make sure I was only working with the big shapes, and I thought it would be interesting to try doing it digitally. One of the great advantages of doing it that way is that by using Photoshop’s sampling and fill tools, I can lay out the big shapes and quickly color them using exactly the right hues and values. It’s a quick way to see if what I have in mind will work, without all the time and trouble of mixing up a bunch of paint.

Playabonita2 digitalptg

Above is the digital painting I did based on the source photo. I used the Lasso tool which, if you hold down the option key while applying it, allows you to draw straight-sided shapes as simply or with as much complexity as you want. Then I sampled the color I wanted right from the source photo, and used the Fill tool to fill the shape I’d just drawn with that color.

As you can see, reducing the image to its basic shapes in this way gives you a powerfully different way to look at it, and in this case it sets me up perfectly for the approach I want to take with the actual painting.

Here’s a great thing about working with big shapes: painting goes a lot faster. I’m a big fan of paintings that happen quickly. I am not a work-on-it-for-weeks-and-weeks kind of painter. Not at all! If it isn’t happening in the first hour, I usually abandon it and move on to something else. I have nothing against people who like to spend months on a single painting, it’s just not me. Maybe it’s just a short attention span. But I’ve learned I do better work when I don’t torture myself. And I’m a lot happier!

Another thing about working fast is that I have a better chance of keeping the energy level high. And lately I’ve gotten clearer about the fact that I want my paintings to be explosions of energy. Not for me the quiet, considered painting. I want action, vitality, life! I want bold brushstrokes and excitement. It’s what I want in life, and it’s what I want in my paintings.

Playabonita2 inprog

Here's the painting about 75% completed.

In this case, there were very few hiccups and the painting came together nicely—and I kept the energy high! I especially like what happened when I laid in those cool bluish shadow shapes at middle right. They turned out to be just the cool contrast all those warms in the foreground needed. That’s the warm vs. cool magic that can happen when it’s done right, and if you’ve been reading this blog you know I’ve gotten a lot better at managing warms and cools in the past year. Here’s the completed painting:

1617playabonita2

It’s entitled “Playa Bonita 2.”


TIRIRICA BEACH SHACKS


A few days later I decided to try another landscape painting with a similar approach, but a different type of subject matter: buildings.

2227 source

Here's the photo of beach shacks in Tiririca I chose to work from.

I chose a photo of some beach shacks I snapped while walking along the road between the guesthouse where Steph and I were staying in Tiririca, and the town of Itacaré (for more on that trip, go to Brazil Trip with an Unexpected Male Nude Photo Shoot.) It looked like it would be a good opportunity to just see the big shapes.

Sourcefoto tweaked1

Same photo tweaked in Photoshop.

I did my usual Photoshop tweaking to remove detail and enhance color, then I posterized the image to make the values clearer. And again, as I did with Playa Bonita 2, I sat down at the computer with my Wacom tablet and did a digital study to reduce the image to its main shapes.

Digitalpaintingversion

And again, preparing in this way made a world of difference. I think it’s not only that one gets to know the subject matter better, it also builds confidence. Seeing that the image works well with just the big shapes and no detail at all, I feel a lot more confident when I step up to the easel and start slinging paint around.

Inprog on easel

The painting went so quickly and so smoothly I only remembered to stop and snap an in-progress photo (above) once, when the painting was almost done. Below is the finished work followed by some details (close-ups) which give you a chance to see the brushwork and appreciate the fact that there really is almost no detail.

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The finished painting: Tiririca Beach Shacks.


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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 1


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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 2



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Tiririca Beach Shacks, detail 3

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

The Complete ON THE ROAD Blog Series (So Far)

Click on image to go to blog entry

Chapter 1, Early June 2011:
On Chucking It All and Going On the Road
Ontheroad1 chucking it all
Chapter 2, Mid-June 2011:
Prepping for the Road
Prepping for road blkborder
Chapter 3, Late June 2011:
Before I Take Off
Before i take off
Chapter 4, July 2011:
Letter from L.A.
Letter fm LA
Chapter 5, July 2011:
Malibu Photo Shoot with Steve Chen
Malibu w stevechen
Chapter 6, August 2011:
Letter from Lincoln
Lincoln w type
Chapter 7, September 2011:
Letter from Baltimore
Baltimore
Chapter 8, October 2011:
Letter from Honolulu
Honolulu hawaii beach
Chapter 9, November-December 2011:
Letter from Brazil
Letterfrombrazil
Chapter 10, February 2012:
Leaving Home…Going Home
Leavinghome goinghome
Chapter 11, July 2012:
Letter from Dakota Street
Ds instudio
Chapter 12, October 2012:
Letter from Banff
Letter from banff header
Chapter 13, November 2012:
Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 1:
Arrival in the Dominican Republic,
and Photo Shoot with Muscleboy Jeison
Header letter stodomingo 1
Chapter 14, November 2012:
Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 2:
Dominican Boys Gone Wild
Letter fm sto domingo part2 B
Chapter 15, November 2012:
Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 3:
Javier: The Boy Can’t Help It
Ltr fm sto domingo part3 B
Chapter 16, December 2012:
Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 4:
TROUBLE, and Getting Wet in Cabarete
Ltr fm sto domingo part4
Chapter 17, December 2013:
Winter 2013: Everything Changes

Winter2013 everythingchanges cropped
Chapter 18, February 2014:
On The Road: Walking The Tightrope

Walkingthetightrope header

letterfrombrazil.jpg

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


• GRATEFUL TO BE BROKE
• BRAZIL ARRIVAL AND COUCHSURFING FAIL
• THE HOSTEL EXPERIENCE
• DANIELA
• RIO AND PURA VIDA
• OLIVER AND THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
• BYE-BYE BRAZIL



GRATEFUL TO BE BROKE

As you read in the first entry of this “On the Road” blog series, last summer I had a revelation in my kitchen and decided to go traveling for a year.

In that first entry, I talked about how imprisoned I was feeling by the fact that I now owned an apartment, and had to pay a big mortgage every month.

There’s more to the story.

When what is now being called the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, I had just bought my apartment AND rented an office, and my monthly expenses had more or less doubled. At almost the same time, or just shortly after, my business began to slow down. A LOT.

My expenses DOUBLED, and then BAM, my income dropped by HALF.

Whoa!

What that meant in practical terms was that suddenly my comfortable life became very UNcomfortable. It became more and more difficult to pay my bills. My income kept dropping, and my expenses stayed high.

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This is pretty much the same thing that happened to my business in mid-2008...

Over the next 2-1/2 years I tried many things to revitalize my art sales, and sometimes they seemed to work, but nothing worked for long. Sales continued to decline, and my financial condition continued to deteriorate. I sold everything I could sell, went deeper into debt, and still the slide continued. The result is, I’ve been going through some very trying times, and it’s been a challenge not to beat myself up for all this, and to maintain my optimism.

It would be easy to blame the global financial crisis for what’s been going on with my business, but what good would that do? And besides, I’ve come to believe that on a deeper level, something entirely different is going on.

My “On the Road” experiment has now been going on for nearly six months and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love this life and its challenges and rewards. I’m growing, changing, getting stronger and more self-aware every day, in a way I simply wouldn’t have if I’d played it safe and stayed in Hawaii.

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It's scary and challenging and never boring. The first 6 months being On the Road have been phenomenal.

So when I look back at my decision from this vantage point, it’s pretty clear to me that if I hadn’t been going through such difficult times financially, if I hadn’t been feeling so up against the wall, I would never have made such a bold, outrageous decision.

The more clearly I see myself and my life (and I’m getting clearer fast out here on the tightrope), the more grateful I am for the trials and tribulations that kicked my ass out of my comfort zone!

At the same time, there are a lot of days when I just wish I had more money and I could pay all my debts right now. Because it’s one thing to be sitting in your apartment in Waikiki and feeling financial pressures. It’s another to be staying in a hostel in Brazil and not knowing how you’re going to pay for another week’s food and lodging! This is the kind of challenge I am now embracing in my life: seeing every trial as a gift.

There are no accidents. If my business had continued to grow and flourish, I wouldn’t now be on one of the greatest adventures of my life.

And the real adventure is not the travel or the daily challenges of living on the road. It’s discovering, over and over again, how powerful I am when I give up the need to control things or change them, and instead practice acceptance and gratitude.

And discovering that the more willing I am to have things stay exactly as they are, the faster they shift!



BRAZIL ARRIVAL AND COUCHSURFING FAIL

I flew to São Paulo on October 27.

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It was my first time in Brazil in 3 years and I was pretty happy to be back. My Hawaii friend David Moyer now lives in São Paulo and kindly offered me a place to stay while I was there. My plan was to stay in São Paulo for about a week, then take off and explore some Brazilian places I hadn’t seen before—and find one or more hot new models to photograph.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

I belong to a website called couchsurfing.org, and prior to taking off on this trip, I was hosting couchsurfers from all over the world in my Waikiki apartment for several months. I didn’t do this get couchsurfer “cred”, I did it because I thoroughly enjoyed it. But when I did get the idea to go traveling for a year it occurred to me that I could experience the other side of the couchsurfing experience. I was planning to explore more of Brazil by going where the couches were, and letting that help define my travels. So I spent a lot of time on the computer while staying at Dave’s in São Paulo, trying to set up some couches to surf. I was particularly interested in going to Paraty, a beautiful little colonial beach town halfway between São Paulo and Rio.

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Scenes from my time in São Paulo

It was pretty frustrating. Either no response, or they would respond but they were traveling and couldn’t host, one thing after another. I realized that I should have started setting this up months before. I was in São Paulo for over 2 weeks before I realized I was going to have to find another solution.

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Couchsurfing.org is an awesome website and organization and I totally support it. However, it didn't work out so well for me when I was trying to find a place to stay in Paraty...

I was functioning on very little income, so hotels simply weren’t an option. But one of the couchsurfers who hadn’t been able to host me in Paraty had suggested something else: a hostel.

I don’t think I had ever actually stayed in a hostel. I’ve stayed in pousadas, and bed and breakfast places, but I had never shared a single dorm room with 8 or 10 strangers. But I looked at the prices, and I thought, Why not? I’m on an adventure anyway—and I need to get out of São Paulo and start the next phase of this trip! So I booked a $17-a-night dorm room bed in a hostel in Paraty, and spent $40 for the 4-hour bus ride.



THE HOSTEL EXPERIENCE

This turns out to be another gift my financial issues have given me. Staying at the MistiChill Hostel in Paraty was an awesome experience.

Side note here: I was painfully shy when I was younger, and it took me a lot of years and a lot of work to teach myself to be more courageous socially. But I have learned. And one of the things I’ve trained myself to do when faced with a stranger is to march right up to him or her, extend my hand and say “Hi! I’m Douglas.” I do this almost without thinking now. Well, actually, I do it TOTALLY without thinking, because if I thought about it I wouldn’t be able to do it.

I bring this up because this is the perfect approach to hostel life. I walked into the MistiChill Hostel and was immediately confronted with about 10 new people, all milling around the rather small common area. So I did what I do. I introduced myself and learned all their names (remembering names is another thing I’ve trained myself to do). Now I was everybody’s new friend, and when a group began forming to go out to dinner, I was automatically included. Awesome!

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New friends and a party every night when you're staying at a hostel!

(I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled alone and been in a hotel in a strange new city and wished I knew someone I could hang out with. Obviously this is not a problem in a hostel!)

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MistiChill Hostel in Paraty. Clockwise from upper left: Looking down from the 2nd floor; breakfast was served on the beach every morning; view from the front door of MistiChill; the common area of the hostel.

I must admit that sleeping in a small room with 7 other people and a tiny bathroom has its challenges. I did not always get a good night’s sleep. But somewhat to my surprise, I handled this all pretty well. One of my goals on this trip is to get more flexible, and I saw this as another opportunity. I did not see it as my right to have a good night’s sleep. Instead, I began to look at a good night’s sleep as a gift that one sometimes gets, and when it happens, you appreciate it profoundly. And when you don’t, it’s really not that big a deal. (But I was happy I had my headphones and my iPod.)

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Scenes of Paraty and nearby beach Trindade.

I spent over a week in Paraty, and I had a new group to hang out with every night, and I enjoyed every night! However, I was a bit frustrated that I was not finding models. I had hoped that the Paraty beach scene would be something like the Rio beach scene, with gorgeous boys running around in speedos. Nope. I had an awesome time in Paraty but I did not find a model, or even get close to it.

I wasn’t sure where I was going to head next, either. I didn’t want to go to Rio because I’ve been there so many times, I was feeling like I was over it. But along came Daniela.



DANIELA

One morning I woke up to a new girl in the room where I was staying. She was in the lower bunk opposite me. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Daniela.”

Daniela is a tall, pretty girl born and raised in Rio de Janeiro who looked like she was from Germany or Holland. Her heritage was German and Italian, so that’s why. But she’s totally Brazilian, with all the expressiveness and extreme social energy that goes with that. As soon as I met her, my new-crowd-every-night thing stopped because we were instant best friends. I started hanging out with her and another girl I really liked a lot, Luciana, who was visiting from São Paulo.

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Daniela and Luciana.

They were a lot of fun, and Daniela solved my problem of where I should go next. “I’m going back to Rio day after tomorrow,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me? I know a great hostel right near where I live in Copacabana and I’ll call them and put in a good word for you.”

I’d been waiting for a sign from the universe and here it was. So two days later Daniela and I took the 4-hour bus ride from Paraty to Rio, and she took me to the hostel she had lined up for me, the Pura Vida Hostel in Copacabana.



RIO AND PURA VIDA

My first impression of the Pura Vida hostel was, Oh my god. It’s beautiful.

It’s up on a hill on a side street in Copacabana and it looks like a castle. I found out later it used to be the Polish Embassy in the 1920’s, back when Rio was still Brazil’s capital. And now it’s a hostel. Like the MistiChill, there was a constant parade of new people and my meeting-people skills were pressed into action once again.

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The Pura Vida Hostel in Rio de Janeiro.

I hadn’t been sure I even wanted to go to Rio, but once I was there, something wonderful and unexpected happened: I fell in love with Rio all over again. It was like running into an old boyfriend after many years and finding out that you’ve both grown and changed, but the old magic is still there, and it’s better now because you’re more relaxed with each other. I felt comfortable and at home in Rio. Yet that teasing flavor of the exotic was still there.

(Plus, and I don’t know why it is, but the men are definitely hotter in Rio. Lots of model material!)

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But I went through some major challenges while in Rio. I was keeping in touch with my assistant via e-mail and Skype, and together we decided what bills we could pay and what we would have to put off. It was a never-ending juggling act. I made a mistake at this point, and I’ve done this before: I put paying bills ahead of my personal well-being. The result of this was, after 3 or 4 days in Rio, I found my pockets empty, and I couldn’t even go to the beach and rent a beach chair and umbrella.

I got pretty depressed at this point.

I went through a couple of pretty difficult days, and I realized something: if I don’t take care of myself first, I won’t be able to pay my bills anyway. I have to take care of myself or I can’t write or create art. Pretty basic, but I hadn’t gotten this yet. This was a good realization. So I stopped doing that.

It meant putting off another couple of bills, and that was uncomfortable, but I had to do it. Once again I was able to go to the beach, which was important, because that was one of the main places where I could scout for models.



OLIVER AND THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

One day on the gay beach in Ipanema I met a boy named Oliver, a tall, skinny black boy with a big afro and a bigger personality.

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Ipanema, looking toward the gay beach.

Oliver is a model and actor, and social butterfly, and very funny and entertaining. He and his friends were a lot of fun and I was really enjoying hanging out with them and trying to understand their rapid-fire Portuguese.

When the sun drops behind Pedra da Gávea, it’s time to head down Farme de Amoedo for after-beach drinks and socializing. So I joined Oliver and his friends and off we went to a place called Tô Nem Ai. This is a sidewalk bar-café where everybody goes after the beach. (Tô Nem Ai is a Brazilian Portuguese expression which basically means “I don’t give a shit” or “Who cares?”)

We had already been drinking at the beach, and we drank more at Tô Nem Ai. I was having a great time. At some point in the evening, and I don’t remember exactly when or how this happened, Oliver and I began kissing. I do remember exactly how his lips felt. This boy was an amazing kisser. Oh my god. I also found out he was 19 years old. Less than one-third my age. Guess what. Tô nem ai.

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Fun with Oliver and friends.

One of Oliver’s friends was named Eder. Eder was model material. I didn’t approach him that night for two reasons: 1, I was busy kissing Oliver. 2, I didn’t want to offer him a modeling job when I was drunk and then find out later that he wasn’t all that hot after all. So I held back.

The next day at the beach, I saw Eder again when I wasn’t drunk, and then I knew. Yes, he’s hot. I started talking to him about modeling.

Eder was one of those people who, when you’re talking to him, seldom looks at you. He was busy looking around at everyone else. This was not a good sign, but I chose to ignore it. He was beautiful and he had a great body, and my time in Brazil was growing short. I needed a model! (I did not have the money to pay him, but I decided to just trust that it would be there when I needed it.)

Eder and I made arrangements to email each other that evening and firm up arrangements for him to come to the hostel the next day where he and I could go over the model agreement and the arrangements for the photo shoot itself.

I emailed him that night. The next day I began checking early for his return email.

It never arrived.

The next day, I went to the beach and Oliver was there, with Eder, and they came up to me and Eder said immediately, “I never got your email.” I told him I’d sent it. At this point it started to become clear to me that this was not going to work out, because rather than engaging me about this and going ahead and planning a photo shoot anyway, Eder simply shrugged and walked away.

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Eder and Oliver.

After many years of dancing the dance with potential models, I recognize the danger signs early. When you’re trying to put together a photo shoot with someone, things usually go one way or the other. Either things flow and fall into place nicely—or they don’t. And when they don’t, it’s a clear sign that nothing is going to be easy here, and it’s best to move on.

It was obvious things weren’t going to flow with Eder, and it was time to move on.

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The weather in Rio was sucking.

Unfortunately I only had a few more days in Rio, and to make matters worse, the weather was sucking. 3 out of every 4 days were rainy and/or cold and cloudy. I began to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have spent 6 weeks in Brazil and not found a model.

I began to think back on all the guys I’d seen on the street in Rio who were hot and might have made great models. I began to beat myself up for not chasing them down the street and stopping them and talking to them and giving them my card. Then I stopped myself. How long is it going to take before I learn to give myself a break and trust the way things are unfolding? If I’d been meant to find a model during this Brazil stay, it would have happened. It’s not the end of the world that I didn’t find one. It will happen when it happens. I’ve been through this before, and a great new model always surfaces. If I’ve learned anything by now, it’s that you can’t control this kind of thing. So I let go and gave myself a break.



BYE-BYE BRAZIL

I spent my final days in Rio just enjoying the place and allowing things to flow the way they flowed.

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On the bus with Adriano.

My final evening in Rio I spent with a friend from Hawaii in Ipanema, and we visited a sauna called G Spa filled with beautiful men (too bad it was my last night or I might’ve found a model!). I did find a new friend, Adriano, and he helped make my final evening in Rio memorable.

The next day I took the 6-hour bus ride to São Paulo where I hung out for a day at Dave Moyer’s, then went to the airport at Guarulhos to catch a midnight flight to Dallas.

I’m now staying at the home of my Hawaii friends Bud and James, who now live in Austin, Texas. I’m catching up on writing and drawing (hard to find space for that kind of thing in a hostel!). Missing Brazil already, but glad to be back in the U.S. too. What a joy to have my own room and bathroom with hot water—and real toilet paper! I am appreciating the little things like never before.

Next, Christmas with the family in Nebraska, and then back to Hawaii in early January. Eager to get back to my studio and do some painting before taking off on the next phase of the adventure.

And who knows? I may find a model in Texas. Or Nebraska. Anything could happen.


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

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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!