Posts Tagged ‘Brazilian’

Getting big with eduardo

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


• ON GALLERIES AND OPENINGS
• THINKING BIG
• TRYING TO HIT A MOVING TARGET
• GETTING THE PAINT DRY
• KEEPING THE PAINT WET
• COLORS
• COMPLETION


September 25, 2012



ON GALLERIES AND OPENINGS

After building a 32-year art career with minimal gallery exposure, and proud of my independence, I now find myself thinking about galleries in a new way.

I’ve never had much luck with, or truck with, galleries, for one simple reason: I’ve focused on the male nude my whole career. And not quiet, discreet male nudes, no. Full-frontal, in-your-face male nudes have always been my specialty. I felt it was my duty to be the artist who dared to paint what others were afraid of.

It’s been very satisfying and I wouldn’t change a thing. But obviously a career like mine was not built on gallery shows.

All that said, my attitudes in this area are changing. Recently I’ve noticed I feel less need to be the standard bearer for the male nude in contemporary fine art. In many ways, I’ve said what I had to say. I find my range of subject matter is expanding and opening up—as I’ve been expanding and opening up.

And it’s been pointed out to me by someone who knows me and my work, and also has a lot of experience in the world of galleries, that a relationship with the right gallery could not only achieve more widespread recognition for my work, it could also make my life easier and give me even more freedom.

It’s not so much about making more money. I’ve survived the hard times and my business is beginning to prosper again, and I’m grateful for that. No, it’s more about being in a whole new phase, and letting go of old prejudices and limitations.



THINKING BIG

It was also pointed out to me that galleries like an artist who can give them big, dramatic works that jump off a gallery wall. BIG PAINTINGS! This totally makes sense but it just hadn’t occurred to me—I was always so focused on doing work that would be easy to ship. Anyway, when I heard that, something clicked inside me. I got excited about doing something BIG.

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This was the image I chose to start with for my REALLY BIG PAINTING.

Sometimes you have to stop being sensible and just go for it. You’ve heard this from me before. My whole journey is about those moments when I wake up to another area of my life where I’ve been playing small, and decide to get big. This is another one of those, only in this case it’s literal.

So I took out my roll of canvas and cut out a 3-foot by 5-foot rectangle. This was the biggest piece that would fit on my easel. Wow, I thought, as I wrestled with it, tacking it onto the corkboard, this is big!

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I cropped the image for a nice horizontal-format closeup that focused on Eduardo's mood. Then I posterized the image to break the values into flat areas of color.

I had already picked out an image I wanted to do, a closeup of an Eduardo photograph from our photo shoot in Rio. This quiet, contemplative moment had just the feeling I wanted. I was excited to see what its impact would be as a huge painting.

As I penciled in the underdrawing, I started to get nervous. I realized how much resistance I had to painting something this big. If it didn’t work, it would be a BIG failure. That was scary. But I also know that SCARY is just a label the mind sometimes attaches to EXCITING.

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Here I've just finished the pencil drawing and I'm ready to start putting paint onto the canvas.

I really wanted to do something loose and bold and filled with dramatic brushstrokes, but as I drew the image onto the canvas, I realized that I had bitten off enough just by choosing to do something this big. My goal was to make the painting work at this size, and the loose, bold brushwork would have to wait for upcoming works. So I chose to use an approach I’ve had some experience with: specifically, a posterized look, with flat areas of color. This is the approach I used with one of the few really large paintings I’ve done in the past, Gato, a closeup portrait of Marcus.

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One of the biggest paintings I'd done previously, a closeup of Marcus entitled Gato.



TRYING TO HIT A MOVING TARGET

With a painting like this, where the areas of color are discrete and distinct from each other, the values (lightness/darkness) are very close. That makes this a big challenge when you’re painting in acrylics, because acrylic paints change value significantly when they dry. That is, they’re light when they’re wet and darker when they dry. So laying down one color next to another on the canvas, unless they’re both completely wet and fresh, will show you a deceptive relationship. With acrylics, you can’t know how 2 areas of color are going to relate until they’re both totally dry.

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The beginning of the painting.

What that means in practice with a painting like this one is that every color must be mixed, applied to the canvas, and allowed to dry before you know whether it will work or not. And because the differences in tone are so subtle, usually it doesn’t work the first time—it will dry a bit darker or lighter than you wanted—and you must remix the color and try again. Sometimes an area of color will need to be repainted 3 or 4 times before it’s just right. And THEN, sometimes one of the colors adjacent to it will no longer work and you have to begin the process again with THAT color.

So it’s a real bitch to get the colors right in a painting like this. Or I should say, get the values right—because the colors don’t have to work all that well if the values do. Because acrylics change so much when they dry, it’s like trying to hit a moving target.

Nevertheless, I had some early success with the Eduardo painting, and that gave me energy to keep going.

Edu na luz inprog3



GETTING THE PAINT DRY

One thing that really helped was, I started using a floor lamp to accelerate the drying. In the past I would be waiting so long for the colors to dry so I could see if they were right, that I would get impatient and start working on something else. Then I would forget exactly what I’d been doing in the other area of the painting. But using a lamp focused right on the wet paint dries it in a minute or two, so I was able to work in real time rather than on a 20-minute delay.

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KEEPING THE PAINT WET

So while I was speeding up the drying of the paint on the canvas, I was trying to keep the paint on my palette wet. Because acrylics dry so fast, when you’re doing a big painting that takes several days or even longer, it’s a major challenge to keep your mixtures wet. I have a plastic box I place over my palette at night to keep the paint wet. I even place a really wet sponge inside the box with the palette to keep the paint from drying. Another trick is to put the whole thing inside the refrigerator, since cool temperatures keep the paint from drying as fast.

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All of this helps, but only up to a point. In practice, I had to keep re-mixing my colors over and over again. When a mixture started to run out, I had to mix more before it dried and darkened, so I could match wet paint to wet paint. Even then it’s really difficult to get it to match exactly. In the 5 days I worked on this painting, I probably spent 75% of my time mixing paint, and 25% of the time actually putting paint on the canvas.

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The painting is almost complete here--just some final touches remain to be done.



COLORS

Just in case you’re interested, my flesh tones were mostly Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Orange and Titanium White. For the middle tones, I reddened that mixture with a bit of Cadmium Red Medium and Alizarin Crimson. The cooler tones are a grey-green made of Yellow Oxide, Ultramarine Blue, Dioxazine Purple and white. For the background I mixed Ultramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue with Titanium White.

Edu na luz w ds

I posed myself in front of the painting so you could get a better idea of just how big it is.



COMPLETION

The first couple of days were difficult, but once I got my colors working, I got into a kind of rhythm, and by day 3 I was moving along pretty smoothly. There were many areas of the painting I had to repaint 3 or 4 times to get the values just right, but with the lamp-drying trick and my growing familiarity with the mixtures I was using for this painting, I was able to work pretty efficiently.

By the end of the 4th day I was done with everything but the final touches, and I was feeling really proud of myself. I’d tackled a huge challenge and pulled it off!

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Here's the finished painting, Eduardo na Luz. Click on the image to see this artwork on my website.

I don’t know if this will end up on the wall of a gallery or not. But I love the fact that opening up to the idea of showing in galleries inspired me to create this big, exciting painting! “Eduardo na Luz” (Eduardo in the Light) is now showing in my gallery online. Click on the image above to go there.



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


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.