Posts Tagged ‘DIamond Head Beach’

One of my collectors in Australia wrote telling me he’d love to see a painting of my photograph of Tommy lying face-up in wet sand at sunrise on Diamond Head Beach (it’s in my Diary entry called “First Photo Shoot with Tommy (January 2009).”


Though I always appreciate suggestions from my collectors, as you can imagine, I don’t always follow them—sometimes they’re not in tune with where I’m headed artistically. Other times, I really need a little direction, and sometimes a suggestion from a collector can steer me somewhere I might not have thought of going—and sometimes that makes for amazing art that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.


In this case, I was ready for a little direction, so I thought, okay, I’ll give it a shot. I started doing some sketches looking for a way to make the image into a painting. But as it turned out, after working on ideas for a few hours, I found that although I like the image as a photograph, I just wasn’t seeing it as a painting.


But, I was now in the mood to paint something of Tommy from that session…and I came across this one photograph that I thought was just terrific, with Tommy lying in the shorebreak with the golden light of dawn striking his wet body, and the palm trees, and the clouds, the water…just an amazing image.

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I love this photograph of Tommy at sunrise at Diamond Head Beach.

I would’ve loved to have released this image as a photographic print, but because that photo shoot happened before I was awakened to the wonders of Camera Raw, I wasn’t shooting in that format, and ended up with an image where the colors and textures of the deep shadows just weren’t recoverable enough to turn into a photographic print I could be happy with.


But I knew it would make a great painting! I should say, I knew it could make a great painting. But there was a lot going on in this image and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. When approaching a project this complex and daunting, I really need to be sure the image has a powerful emotional impact on me. That’s the power that will push/pull me through the inevitable moments of difficulty or disappointment if/when things don’t go well.

One other factor that I had to consider was that I was leaving for Albuquerque to spend Christmas with my family in just 4 days, and to complete a painting this big and detailed in that amount of time was going to be a real challenge.

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After several hours of sketching I started to get the feeling I was going for.

But I felt that excitement and that emotional charge about this image so I plunged in. I spent an entire day just working on rough sketches. I didn’t want to do a literal copy of the image. I wanted to stylize it because I knew that would be more of an adventure, and possibly more powerful in the end. After making a lot of drawings, I began to get the feeling I was going for.


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This is the drawing I cut out and pasted onto another background (Click on image to see this drawing on my website).

So now I had an feeling for the overall painting, but I needed to focus on the figure, since that was, hello, the focal point. So that took another few hours of drawing and re-drawing the figure until I had it more or less right. Once I had a figure I could live with, I actually cut it out and pasted it onto an earlier drawing in which I liked the background. Then I scanned that pasted-together image to get it into the computer, where I could start working with it in Photoshop.

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I drew this in Photoshop using my Wacom digital tablet.

In Photoshop, I first had to do a line drawing, which you can see here, then needed to select all the color areas and fill them in. Sometimes I used Fill, sometimes I just painted the area with a ‘brush’ via my Wacom tablet, and sometimes I used a gradient. All this was to give me as close an idea as I could get digitally to what might happen once I started actually painting on canvas.

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This is the colored version of the file above.

The result was sufficiently encouraging to get me to the next stage—actually drawing the image on canvas.

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Finally, I was ready to start mixing colors. This is one of the most important stages of any painting, and it’s also one of my least favorite. Mixing colors is tedious and exacting (which is one of the reasons I like to do it on the computer first because that’s more fun and flexible!). Fortunately I have been doing this for enough years that I’m pretty good at it. But just because I’m good at mixing the color I have in mind doesn’t mean that that color is the RIGHT color. What looks good on the palette may or may not look good once it’s up there on the canvas in the context of the colors around it. You know you’ve done a good job of preliminary color mixing when you only have to re-mix 3 or 4 colors out of the maybe 15 or 20 you’re using for the painting. At least this is the way it works in my world.

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The first areas of color I laid in were the sky (some blue at the top, some pale yellow nearer the horizon), part of the beach, a bit of the waves, and a bit of the figure. I don’t always do it, but it’s always a good idea to work all over the painting, right from the start. It lessens the likelihood of unpleasant surprises later on, which can happen if you’re taking one part of the painting to a high level of finish, then you start working on another area and find the two areas don’t hang together.

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I continued working all over the painting, bringing the beach and trees area, the clouds and sky area, and the breaking waves and shorebreak area, to a fairly finished state. I kind of broke the rule I just stated above by avoiding the figure and foreground. I had a couple of diametrically opposed reasons for doing that. One, I was nervous about the figure—if it doesn’t work, the painting doesn’t work! Two, I was excited about the figure and wanted to save the best part for last. Neither of these reasons was really good enough to justify this behavior, but hey, I’m a crazy emotional artist, I’m not supposed to always do the sensible thing.


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The finished painting, which I've entitled Shorebreak (Click on image to see this painting on my website).

Kind of a big jump from the previous in-progress photo to this finished work, but that’s because I got so into the painting I forgot to take pictures. Remember, I was working under a deadline, too, so I was kind of feverish. But I was also really happy and excited because everything was coming together! I took a chance with this one—lots of chances, actually, one of the biggest being that I could do it in 4 days. If I hadn’t been able to pull it off I would have had a hard time shaking off that feeling of failure through the Christmas holidays. I was very grateful and happy that it worked out so well, and I went off to Albuquerque with a light step and a happy heart!

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Friday, January 16 was the day of the big storm. At least that’s what all the media here in Honolulu said: The island of Oahu will sustain gale-force winds and heavy rains, they said, and they closed the schools and lots of businesses in anticipation of the tempest. Meanwhile, I had scheduled a photo shoot with my new friend Antonio, who was vacationing from California and had exactly one day available to model for me, the last day of his stay here—Friday, January 16.

I awoke at 6am and called Antonio, who was staying at a hotel just a block away. It was still dark out, but was starting to rain, and chances for a decent photo shoot looked slim. But at 630 I picked him up at his hotel and we decided to take our chances. We headed for Diamond Head with our fingers crossed. When we hiked down the trail to the beach, it was looking pretty grey and cloudy. Antonio was sucking down coffee like he really needed it—only after the photo shoot was over did he tell me that he’d gotten less than an hour of sleep the night before…

As we walked down the beach to the spot where I usually like to set up, I surveyed the morning sky. Pretty cloudy, but surprisingly, not that bad. It certainly didn’t look like a huge storm was about to hit. But you never know, and these things can happen fast, so I hurried Antonio along so we could get started shooting before the weather went to hell.

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I started shooting Antonio in the grey light of dawn and while not ideal, I was getting some useable shots. Then, suddenly, while Antonio was running naked down the beach, the clouds parted, and the light of an intense sunrise shone through. I couldn’t believe our good luck.

Now Antonio and I really sprang into action. We didn’t know how long we would have this fabulous light–it could disappear at any moment—so I had Antonio running, jumping, somersaulting, diving into the ocean and running out again, basically wearing himself out—while I tried to keep up by snapping photos as fast as the camera would let me.

The light was a gift that could be taken away at any moment, so we took full advantage...

Looking good in that great morning light!

Amazingly, we continued shooting in this wonderful dawn light for two and a half hours, and no storm hit. I guess I must be living right, because the gods were really watching out for me that morning. I shot almost 2000 images of Antonio, and not only was the light great, Antonio was an exceptionally good model. He was relaxed and fun and had great energy right from the beginning, and as the photo shoot continued, he got even better.

There’s a certain kind of straight-boy street-kid attitude that I find really sexy (and I’ll bet I’m not the only one), and at one point in the shoot I asked Antonio if he could do that, and he fell right into it. He started walking toward me with his shorts falling down, sometimes even falling OFF, and giving me that Latin-boy I’m-gonna-fuck-you-up, or maybe it was I’m-gonna-fuck-you, attitude, but whatever you wanna call it, he totally nailed it. And me too! I had to take a few deep breaths to compose myself…!

This is one of those straight-boy attitude things that really stirs up my fantasies.

As I said, we were able to shoot for 2 and a half hours and the light stayed great. Partly because the weather was such a pleasant surprise, and partly because Antonio was so much fun and did such a great job, this was one of the best and most fun photo shoots I’ve done in a long time.  I now have a wealth of beautiful images of Antonio and my plan is to release some of them as photographs before I even begin drawing from them. They’re so great I want to start sharing them immediately.

It was a fun morning!

Update to this Entry:

In May 2012 I published an e-book called “Antonio” which contains over 60 uncensored photographs from the photo shoot discussed above. You can purchase it for instant download here.

One of the test shots I took of Tommy when we first met.

One of the test shots I took of Tommy when we first met.

A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I was introduced to Tommy by my friend Kawai. Tommy (who works as a dancer in Waikiki under the name Christian) is originally from Arizona, and has only lived in Hawaii a few months. I had seen him dancing on the dais at Hula’s from time to time and was definitely interested in meeting him. When he walked into my apartment for a preliminary meeting, I was struck by how tall and beautifully proportioned he is. Plus he has beautiful eyes, among other things. I knew I wanted to work with him but had to put it off until after Christmas because of my usual visit-the-family trip to Nebraska. Finally in mid-January 2009 I managed to find a time that worked for both Tommy and me.

On a weekday morning at sunrise (the better to avoid a populous beach), Tommy and I drove to an area near Diamond Head and hiked down a surfer trail to the beach. We were lucky; it was a nice sunrise and a nice morning. A few clouds, but still some great light.

Tommy getting ready for the shoot to begin.

Tommy getting ready for the shoot to begin.

Quiet, static poses to begin...

Quiet, static poses to begin...

I began with some calm, static poses, since both photographer and model needed to warm up. I was also stalling a bit, waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon so I would have that magic light.

As soon as the sunlight began to strike the beach, I had Tommy begin moving. The first thing I had him do was run up and down the beach. (One of the things I’ve realized about myself as a photographer recently is how much I like action shots. I mean, I knew this for a long time but only recently did I realize that not every photographer does this. I’m not much for carefully posed shots with an orchestrated backdrop. I’d rather just put the model into a situation and turn him loose and see what happens.)

The action began with Tommy running up and down the beach.

The action began with Tommy running up and down the beach.

After Tommy had done some running and gotten warmed up (and with his long, graceful legs and body, that made for some great shots) , I had him jump into the surf and get wet.  (Jumping into the ocean naked in the chilly air of dawn is a bit of a shock for a model, but not that much of a hardship when you compare Hawaii to much of the rest of the world…the water here is pretty warm even in January!)

Then, once he’d gotten wet, I had him come out of the water and begin rolling around on the beach while the surf alternately rolled in over him, creating beautiful splashing patterns, and receded, leaving him lying in the wet sand. (Seriously, one of my favorite things to photograph is a beautiful naked man rolling around in the surf in the golden light of dawn. I mean, how can you go wrong??)

tommy5791tommy5745tommy5762One of my favorite things to do with a model, especially an inexperienced model who is a bit unsure, is tell them to act like they’re totally drunk and stagger around for a bit before falling down, as drunkenly and awkwardly as possible. This often results in unusual, provocative images that somehow manage to be awkward and beautiful at the same time. These can be a total delight, and a real challenge, to draw. And every once in a while, you do get a magical image that works as a photograph as well as a potential drawing or painting. Just as importantly, though, it relaxes the model and that’s always a good thing.

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As beautiful as the setting and the light were, Tommy’s body was their equal. He reminds me of a thoroughbred racehorse, with those long beautiful legs, and an elegance and grace that comes through no matter what.

tommy5942Of course the natural next set of poses after rolling around in the surf is grabbing a towel and drying off. I must have shot forty or fifty thousand shots of this in my career, but it’s always beautiful, and one reason for that is it’s such a natural thing. And in my book, there are fewer things sexier than a beautiful man drying off…

I shot Tommy in many other poses and settings in the area, and finally when the light started getting a bit flat and I was tired, I told him, Okay, we’re done! And of course as soon as I said that, he relaxed in a way he hadn’t been able to for the previous couple of hours. This almost always happens, especially with a less-experienced model. As soon as I tell him the shoot is over and you can dry off and get dressed, he stops trying to pose and look beautiful and just becomes himself. This is what happened with Tommy. At that moment I start shooting like crazy, before the model catches on that he’s still being photographed. In those few moments I often capture a side of the model that was not available up to that point.

tommy6222.jpgIt was a great photo shoot, but I think I only scratched the surface. Tommy has such a beautiful, elegant body, I think I only began to capture all that he has to offer visually. So I may have to do another shoot with him. Plus he will be more relaxed a second time, and that will make a big difference. In the meantime, though, I have a lot of beautiful images of him to work from. And the photographs themselves are so nice I may release some of them before I even begin drawing and painting from them.

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