Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Simonson’

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BREAKING IN MY MEXICO STUDIO

December 15, 2014

I was still in the process of setting up my Mexico studio in December 2014. I hadn’t yet completed a painting there—at least not one I was happy enough with to keep.

Part of that was because I didn’t yet have some of what I needed, most of all a decent disposable palette, which is my longtime preference (I was making do with a wall mirror). But it was also because I was in a new place, a new situation, and my confidence wasn’t what it needed to be. Painting, in case you didn’t know, requires a lot of confidence! Painting doesn’t just snap into shape with a lackadaisical approach. You have to be bold and assertive with the paint. I wasn’t quite there yet.

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This is one of my favorite landscape photographs from my Dominican Republic trip a couple of years ago, and I chose this as the source image for my next painting.

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Here's the photograph above after some Photoshop tweaking to make it easier for me to paint from.

That was demonstrated with my first try at a Dominican Republic landscape in early December. I did everything I usually do to get a painting off and running. I chose a landscape photo I liked a lot (one of the images I shot on the beach at Las Terrenas), tweaked it in Photoshop to get the look I like and to help me with the colors, then I drew it onto the canvas with pencil. I kept the pencil underdrawing fairly faithful to the photograph but didn’t bother with much detail, just general placement of the large masses. Then I added a wash and started mixing colors.

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In-progress shots of my first try at the painting. I could have finished it and it would've been passable, but I was not feeling it. If I'm not feeling it, painting becomes a tedious, unhappy experience. And who wants to look at the product of that kind of process?

Then I dove in and started adding color. This is always a crucial phase, where the magic is either there or it isn’t. This time, as I saw fairly early, it wasn’t.

I won’t lie, I was discouraged. This was the 5th or 6th painting I’d done in my Mexico studio and I still hadn’t found my feet. I sat down and looked at the lacklustre landscape I’d just put several hours into, and asked myself what was missing. Almost as soon as I bothered to formulate the question, I knew the answer.

BALLS.

Or, to use a more delicate word, courage. Or yet another word I like: BOLDNESS.

I had been playing it safe. Why, I asked myself yet again, is it so difficult to remember that playing it safe NEVER WORKS?? Ah, the perversity of the human mind. It keeps convincing us that we should do what’s easy and comfortable and not dangerous. Then we find our lives have grown boring and we wonder why.

This also goes back to my comment in the first paragraph above. Painting (at least what I consider GOOD painting) requires boldness and assertiveness. It’s like a rebellious wild beast that requires you to prove over and over again that you’ve got what it takes to master it.

I really liked this image and I wasn’t ready to give up. I decided to get out my big whip and try again to tame this lion.

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First in-progress shot of my second try. This one has more energy right from the beginning.

I began again, and this time I spent a bit more time working on the underdrawing. Rather than just trying for accuracy I paid attention to the vectors. By that I mean the lines of movement, or force, that draw the eye across and through the image. This additional attention to the actual structure made a big difference. This time the underdrawing had some life and energy of its own, and while not enough to guarantee success, at least it was a better stage setting for its possibility. I drew over it with a black acrylic pen and liked the base drawing even more.

Then it was time to start painting. I knew I had to jump off the cliff this time; no playing it safe. I prepared for the big jump as I often do, by looking at the paintings of other artists who inspire me, paintings with bold, exciting brushwork and the willingness to give up humdrum accuracy and clearcut edges for energy, life, excitement. These are paintings where I can clearly feel the courageous jump that has been taken by the painter.

Looking at these paintings and letting them soak into me for a few minutes gave me the courage I needed. I loaded up the paintbrush with some blue for the sky, aimed at the canvas, then closed my eyes!—and let ‘er rip! That first stroke obscured part of my careful underdrawing, which would seem disastrous at first, but no, it was exactly what was needed. The underdrawing was a mere suggestion, and not meant to be followed too closely. What was more important was the energy of the stroke. I repeated the same sequence, and then did it again, sometimes leaving my eyes open, but more often closing them so that I was less in control and the paint was having its way with the canvas. (See my blog entry from June 10, 2014, Painting Blind.)

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Halfway through...things are happening fast this time.

I was keeping the paint very wet, too, so that it would drip and run. This is an important component for me these days; it’s a visual reminder that the painting is about the paint itself more than the image. It’s also another way to ‘break up’ the image, which I find much more visually exciting than mere accuracy.

By this time I was sailing! I had had the balls to dominate the painting right from the first stroke, and it was paying off. For the rest of the painting it was just a matter of staying in that space….which is not an easy thing either. As the painting gets more and more exciting, there’s a very strong tendency to want to keep from screwing it up. That’s when you have to renew your determination to dominate the painting, even if it means destroying it over and over again.

Finished CU1

A closeup of what magic can be produced when you close your eyes and throw caution to the winds.

I managed to do that: mess the painting up over and over again until it was perfect. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, (and nothing is ever perfect except maybe a painting that doesn’t want anything more done to it) but that’s exactly what happened, and what always happens with my best paintings.

Finished CU2

Another closeup of the kind of brushwork I can only get to by closing my eyes and giving up all hope that the painting will be any good.

I called the finished work “Republica Dominicana” and besides being a terrific piece of work I’m very happy with, it also served as the true christening of my Mexican studio. Turns out I couldn’t properly break in my new studio until I broke through my own walls.

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The finished painting: Republica Dominicana.

Title image

January 31, 2013



When I got back from my Dominican Republic trip on December 12, it took me about a week to catch up on stuff—“stuff” meaning work that wasn’t drawing or painting. Then I was finally free to begin creating art again.

I’d been thinking about painting most of the time I was in the D.R., wishing I could do some. I was very impatient to get back into my studio and start splashing paint onto canvas.

I was so excited to start a painting…

…right up until the moment when it was time to actually GO INTO THE STUDIO AND START A PAINTING!

Then I found all these things I absolutely had to do first. Like making sure my art database was up to date. Rotating the art on my website. Looking at pix of naked guys online. Checking Facebook.

Anything but actually painting!

I always forget about this when I’m away and can’t paint. When I can’t, then I really want to do it. But when I CAN, I find all kinds of things to do instead.

I guess this is human nature, and painters are no exception. It’s always easier to do the less risky stuff.

Finally, though, you just get to the point where you know you have no choice. You have to paint. Doesn’t even matter what you paint. But you have to get started.

So that’s what I did. I began with some landscapes. Safe stuff. And I actually didn’t do too badly. Here’s one of the acrylic sketches I did of the beach in Las Terrenas.

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I followed that with a nice little painting of the road to Las Terrenas.

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Then I did a larger painting that was more of a commitment. “Sunset in Las Terrenas” was kind of a safe, conservative painting both in terms of style and subject matter, but it turned out well, and I felt like I was starting to get somewhere.

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This one's called Sunset in Las Terrenas.

So I decided to do a figure, and I chose a photograph of Manuel with a towel to work from. I had high hopes for this one—I drew it right on the canvas and the drawing had lots of good energy. Then I started painting and—it all went to hell. On the face of it it’s not that bad…I could have finished it and it would have been perfectly okay. But I was not aiming for “okay.” There was no energy, no excitement. For me, working on a painting under those conditions is a kind of torture. So I painted it out.

Failed manuel w towel 3up

This one didn't work out…

I was having trouble because I wasn’t clear what I was aiming for, I just knew it needed to be something exciting and daring. Hard to get somewhere when you don’t know where it is. I just knew where it WASN’T.

The problem—if you want to call it that—is that I spend a lot of time looking at art by other artists. (If you’re interested, you can see some of the art I find inspiring by checking out my boards on Pinterest, especially Art I Like, Abstracts and Bold Brushwork.) I see things that excite me and move me deeply, and I want that kind of energy, emotion and excitement in my work. And that’s great, because it gives me creative energy. But it’s not so great in that it doesn’t give me any direction. Or I should say it gives me TOO MANY directions. There are so many things I want to try, but when you get into the studio, you kind of have to just CHOOSE SOMETHING and begin. You do need to have some idea of what you want to do.

Except sometimes you don’t.

I was so full of energy and so unsure of what I wanted to do with it, I decided to just put up a blank canvas and start throwing paint at it. My goal was not to create a painting, but just to PAINT. I figured this was a good way to tackle the paralysis that was threatening to keep me from painting at all.

And it worked!

Here are some of the results (I didn’t save any of these, but I did take pictures to keep track of my progress).

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The first exercise. It sucked, but it didn't matter. In fact that was kind of the point.


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Exercise piece 2. I'm starting to have more fun here as I really realize it doesn't matter what I do.


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Exercise piece 3. I actually kind of liked this one. But not well enough to keep it. I didn't want to start getting attached to these while I was still using them to loosen up.


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Exercise piece 4. Each one got a little more energetic and interesting…I was startingto get more confident.

I thought the first one pretty much sucked, but reminded myself it didn’t matter. The point was not to make a great painting, but just to paint. So I did another one. And interesting things started to happen.

Just the act of mixing paint and then using my sponges to make big, bold strokes on the canvas was liberating and energizing. What was happening was, I was starting to get my confidence back. I did this sort of thing for a couple of days and I started to feel limbered up, so I decided to try another figure painting. Again, I chose a photograph of my newest model, Manuel.

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Here's a photograph of Manuel at Playa Escondida near Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic. I decided to try doing a painting of this one.



This one went pretty well. The loosening-up process had really done what I needed it to do. It also helped that I painted this one pretty much entirely with sponges, which is a good way to keep myself from getting too careful. It also forces me to work large, which is good for me.

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Manuel at the Beach, in progress.


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Manuel at the Beach, the completed painting.

This one was kind of fun, although I felt I was still playing it a bit too safe. Doesn’t matter; it turned out well and I like it. At this point I just needed some successes to get my confidence back.

I followed this with some more abstract exercises. Again, I didn’t save these; they were exercises to get me in shape for the next painting.

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Another exercise piece. Looking at this one, several days after doing it, I almost wish I'd kept it. It's better than I realized at the time. Oh well, it served its purpose.



IMG 5544 exercise

I don't feel anything was lost by my having destroyed this one. But it did do what it was meant to do, which was to get me expressing myself with paint, without self-judgment.


And the next painting was another one of Manuel. This was a smaller work, nothing too earth-shattering, but a nice piece, solid, fairly loose, and I felt good about it. More confidence building, more of the day-to-day studio work you have to do to get good enough that you’re prepared when lightning does strike.

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The source photo and the painting, which I entitled Rainy Morning Study.

When I finished Rainy Morning Study, I went right back to my ‘exercises.’ And something happened that surprised me. One of my exercises turned into a real, solid abstract painting that I liked a lot. So I kept it! It’s called “Good Company.”

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This abstract painting is called Good Company.

Excited about the abstract I’d just done, I decided to try another one. This one, too, worked out. Although it wasn’t as spontaneous as Good Company, I like the energy of it. It’s called “Inside Job.” (Both those titles just popped into my head when I finished the paintings, thank goodness. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to come up with painting titles.)

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I titled this one Inside Job.

So after 3 weeks of warming up I feel like the creative juices are starting to flow again. I like the fact that I never know what will happen next, and while I’m not sure where this abstract stream in my work will go, I’m enjoying it, and I do know that it doesn’t matter that much WHAT I’m painting, as long as I AM painting.

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November 18, 2012

• PANIC ATTACK IN THE TROPICS
• HUNTING THE WILD MODEL
• THE MAGIC OF HOSTELS, CONTINUED
• MY NEW BEST AMIGO, JULIO
• JEISON AND THE NOT-SO-NUDE PHOTO SHOOT
• ON NOT SHOWING THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
• GUAYACANES



PANIC ATTACK IN THE TROPICS



I’m back in the brown-boy latitudes.

I got out of Nebraska just in time. I flew out of Omaha November 6 in pre-dawn frigid cold. I arrived in Santo Domingo later that day in 90-degrees-plus heat. Sweaty but happy.

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Having a zapote batida (kind of like a papaya smoothie) in a restaurant near my hostel.

I’ve rented a room in a hostel in the city’s Zona Colonial. The place is called the Hostel Condo Parque and although I was only going to be here for the first week, I like it so much I’m staying the whole 5 weeks.

Zonacolonial scenes

Some random scenes of the Zona Colonial.

The 5 weeks was a pretty random decision. When I purchased my ticket, I looked at the calendar and just chose a departure date and a return date, doing my best to trust my instincts and not overthink it. This is what works for me these days.

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My office-away-from-home in the common area of the Hostal Condo Parque.

The Condo Parque is in most respects a typical no-frills third-world hostel, except that it’s owned and managed by a Swiss expatriate named Walter, who is just the kind of low-key, solid, reliable guy you need running a hostel in the Dominican Republic. The place is clean, well-managed, friendly, affordable and convenient. I recommend it highly. (I first stayed in a shared dorm room with 3 beds so I had roommates, and that was fine, but when I decided I was staying longer, I talked to Walter and got a great deal on a nice, big private room with a kitchenette.)

Fruitstand etc

As soon as I’d dumped my stuff at the hostel, I went exploring.

One of the things I love about Latin American places is the street life, and Santo Domingo has a lot of it. I walked out of the hostel and into a bright, humid tropical afternoon filled with shouting street vendors, loud traffic, lots of people on the sidewalks and lots of color, both literally and figuratively. I breathed it in like a tonic, and strolled down the sidewalks, loving it.

And promptly had a panic attack.

I always conveniently forget how scary it can be the first time in a new, unfamiliar country. I’m excited, of course, but there’s a thin line between excitement and fear. So I’m walking around Santo Domingo and I notice how shallow my breathing is and how fast my heart is beating. When I recognize this, I stop, I breathe, I focus, and I do my best to step outside myself. From there I’m able to see the fear for the illusion that it is. This works most of the time (well, I’ve been practicing for a lot of years). Then, calmer and more centered, I continue on my way, able once again to be present and appreciate the adventure.


HUNTING THE WILD MODEL


But I’m not in the D.R. just to soak up a new culture and have adventures. I’m also here to do what I didn’t manage to do last time I was in Brazil: find some hot new models!

I feel like I’m on a make-or-break with the model thing. I got seriously down on myself after not finding a model after 6 weeks in Brazil a year ago (read about that here.) Of course I had no money at the time and no way to pay models even if I’d found one, or several. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I’m not beating myself up about it so much now, but still…I will feel much better on several levels when I manage to once again capture some naked pix of a hot new boy.


THE MAGIC OF HOSTELS, CONTINUED


After my experience at the MistiChill Hostel in Paraty, Brazil, last year (read about that here), as well as Pura Vida in Rio, I’ve become a confirmed hostel-goer. My introduce-myself-to-everyone-with-no-hesitation method of creating instant new social circles works very well in hostels, and the Condo Parque was no exception. After 24 hours in Santo Domingo I already had a dozen new friends and was having a great time.

Newfriends collage

Fun with new friends I've met at the hostel.


MY NEW BEST AMIGO JULIO


I tried going out to the gay bars in Santo Domingo as soon as I arrived, but it was early in the week, and it’s a weekends-only scene here, unless you are interested in hustlers, which I’m not. I had some encounters with the very aggressive hustlers but I have enough experience in this area (think Brazil) that I know how to rid myself of them pretty easily.

But I was looking forward to a place where I could meet some regular non-hustler gay people.

I went to a bar called NYC on Thursday night, which is the first night of the weekend here, I guess, and was so turned off by the heavy hustler presence all around the front door that I didn’t even go in. But across the street was the other bar I wanted to check out, Esedeku (the phonetic spelling of SDQ, the Santo Domingo airport code). So I went over there, and to my relief, there were no hustlers, just regular, friendly people. Right away I started talking to the tall, good-looking guy behind the bar. His name was Julio.

Julio

My new friend Julio.

It turned out Julio was the owner of the bar. He’s Mexican, from Puerto Vallarta, and he was new to the Dominican Republic—he had just bought the bar and moved to Santo Domingo two months before, from San Francisco. I told him about my model hunt, and he said he’d love to help me in any way he could. In fact, he immediately suggested I consider his bartender Jeison, who is a bodybuilder and is actually pretty hot.

Esedeku

This is Julio's bar, Esedeku, in the light of day. The terrace on top is where I interviewed my first potential model.

Lots of people tell me they would love to help me with my model shoots, and usually they’re not very serious. To my surprise, Julio turned out to be the exception. The next day, he called and invited me to come with him to his gym and we could see if there’s anybody there that I like, and if so, he could introduce us.

That’s what we did, and I met a couple of guys right away through Julio. He was happy to go up to them and do the talking. I loved it! Even after all these years, the initial moment of going up to guys and talking to them about modeling still scares me and ties my stomach up in knots, and when I have somebody who’s happy to go up and meet the guys and do the hard work for me, I’m thrilled.

Over the next couple of days Julio and I spent a lot of time together talking about everything under the sun. He’s happy and excited to help me with the model hunt, and I’m happy to give him advice about running a business, which is something he’s doing for the first time. We enjoy each other’s company and it’s great having a new friend who’s not only fun to hang out with, but is excited about joining me in my D.R. model-hunt adventure.


Jeison AND THE NOT-SO-NUDE PHOTO SHOOT


One of the issues of being a male-nudes photographer on a severe budget in a foreign country is, where do I interview the models? It’s often difficult to bring them into my lodgings, especially when I’m staying in a hostel.

Julio, bless him, came to the rescue. He told me he’d be happy to let me use his bar as an interview location. He has a terrace atop the bar, so we decided to use that as an interview setting, and we scheduled an interview with bartender Jeison.

Jeison testshots collage vertical

I interviewed Jeison and took some test shots of him on the terrace of Julio's bar.

We set the interview for 1pm and Jeison showed up at 2pm. I wasn’t pleased about that, but when he started taking off his clothes and revealing that amazing physique, I began to forgive him. As Julio had said, Jeison had a really beautiful body. The more I saw of him, the more I liked him.

Something I always insist on during the interview is that the model get totally naked. I want him to be okay with full nudity, or it’s a dealbreaker. I’ve been doing it this way for over 30 years.

But once again, I find myself changing in unexpected ways.


ON NOT SHOWING THE WHOLE ENCHILADA


As you may know if you’re a regular follower of my art, I’ve recently been doing fewer full-frontal nudes. In my career it’s been almost a point of honor for me to never be afraid to show what seemed to frighten most other artists (and gallery owners)–the penis!

But I’m mellowing. I no longer feel the need to make that same statement, over and over again. If full frontal nudity feels natural and right in the work, great, I obviously have no problem with it. But I’m not going to go out of my way to make sure it’s always present.

I may sound casual as I say this, but it’s a BIG shift in my perspective.

I already knew, through Julio, that Jeison was not willing to “show everything.” Even in the recent past, I would have said, Okay, goodbye, not interested. But now, I look at Jeison and I think, hmmm, how would this work? And I began to get an idea.

I’m a big fan of those online photos where you see (presumably) straight boys in drunken weekend parties getting naked in front of each other and everybody else, sometimes baring all and sometimes hiding their privates with a hand or a hat or a bottle of beer. I love the mix of innocent fun and sexual tease. And as I thought about it, I thought it might be fun to do a photo shoot like that, and Jeison seemed like a good place to start.

Saggerz

I found these images online and used them as examples to show Jeison what I had in mind for our photo shoot. (By the way, if I'm infringing anyone's rights by using any of these images, please notify me and I'll remove them.)

So when we did the interview, I told him the plan was to do a “no completamente desnudo” (not completely nude) photo shoot. He would hide his privates with a towel, his hand, shorts, or whatever, and there would be lots of almost-naked-shots but nothing completely naked. He liked the sound of that, I thought it would be an intriguing experiment, and it was also going to cost me less than full nudity.

Now all we needed was a location.


GUAYACANES


Finding the model(s) is always a challenge. But after that you have two more challenges: finding a location, and finding transportation to and from the location. I’d recently met the owner of a Santo Domingo gay hotel (Adam Suites), a guy named Gilbert originally from Miami, and he gave me a good price for a van and driver. So that part was taken care of. Now I just needed a nice, secluded beach close to the city.

All the beaches within an hour or two of Santo Domingo are touristy and overbuilt, but I thought there must be a little cove or inlet or something somewhere along that long coastline where we could find some privacy. So Julio, myself, Jeison and the driver piled into the van, and went looking for that beach I was picturing.

But it was not happening. After we wasted an hour and a half of precious time trying to find a place that met my expections, we were all getting very frustrated. It was getting so late we had to stop somewhere and shoot some pictures, or I would have wasted the whole excursion.

Getting to guayacanes collage 2

Top left, myself and Julio waiting for the model to arrive; top right, Gilbert, Jeison and Julio pose on the balcony of the Adam Suites Hotel; lower left, Jeison arrives; lower right, we arrive at Guayacanes Beach.

So finally I said to the driver, Stop here, and the “here” was a place called Playa Guayacanes. It was typical of the beaches near Santo Domingo, by which I mean touristy and overpopulated, but because it was mid-morning on a weekend, the only people around were a few vendors and some fishermen. I looked around at the palm trees and the fishing boats and thought, you know, this is kind of picturesque. And it’s not a completely nude shoot anyway. Maybe I can make this work.

So we unloaded our gear and Jeison stripped down and we got started. As the session unfolded over the course of about 3 hours, I was surprised again and again by what great shots I was finding with the beach chairs, the fishing boats, the kiosks—all the stuff I had been so adamant about avoiding. In the end I was really happy I’d been able to let go of my preconceptions and trust that things were working the way they were for a reason.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that shooting an almost-nude gorgeous man was just as stimulating and interesting as shooting a totally nude gorgeous man. Not better, not worse, just a different set of challenges and possibilities.

Guayacanes jeison collagevert bigger

A few of the nearly 1000 shots I got of Jeison at Guayacanes Beach.

Another plus: usually we’re in a secluded spot, the model is completely nude, and I’m always a bit on edge with the concern that we’ll be interrupted. It was nice not to have that worry for a change.

Julio jeison walking

Julio (left) and Jeison walking as we moved from section of the beach to another about halfway through the shoot.

Through all this, Julio was a great asset. He’s the one who introduced me to the model, he supplied the setting for the interview, and he came along on the photo shoot to help out. I couldn’t believe my luck: not only did I have a new friend I really enjoyed being around, I also had a terrific volunteer assistant. Thanks Julio!

Jeison ds eating

With my first Dominican photo shoot in the can, I relax and have some chicken on the beach with the model.

When we got back to the city in the early afternoon, I was exhausted (I always am after a photo shoot). But I felt great! I felt like I’d broken the model-hunt jinx and I was back in the saddle again. Plus I was over the moon about all the great new images I’d gotten! It was a great beginning to my Dominican adventure.

NOTE: If you’re reading this blog soon after it was posted, some of the first sketches I did of Jeison from the photo shoot described above may still be online and available.You can check by clicking here.

NEXT, IN LETTER FROM SANTO DOMINGO PART 2: TRIP TO LAS TERRENAS




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Palmsprings6pm heading


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




October 18, 2012


I had such a good experience painting “Steve with Towel” using sponges (see Painting Without Brushes), I decided to undertake something more challenging.

I was looking through my photos of Rob in Palm Springs and found one that I really liked. Not a nude, but that’s okay with me; these days I’m thinking more about gallery shows and I’m liking the idea of doing works with a broader appeal. I’ve painted so many frontal nudes in my career I finally feel I can do something less confronting without feeling like I’ve compromised.

Source 1

Above is the photograph I decided to use for my next painting. This is an image I wouldn’t have undertaken not too long ago. You know I love painting the figure with just a plain blue (or yellow or orange or whatever) background, so all I have to deal with is the face and figure. There’s a whole lot more going on in this one.

But there’s been a tectonic shift in my painter’s view of the world in the last several weeks, and that’s because of my new understanding of color. The previous two paintings and lots of practice pieces in between have really cemented my new awareness of color temperature (warm vs. cool).

Because of this, I look at this image and see relationships I wouldn’t have seen in the past. Instead of just seeing dark greens in the background, I now see COOL dark greens. And I see the warmer greens against the cooler ones. In the middle ground I see the cool purples and the warmer greens and oranges. In the pool I see the difference between the cool blues and the warmer blue-greens. And on the figure, I see the purples and greens in the shadow areas. What used to be a sea of complexity that overwhelmed me is now a set of puzzle pieces I feel competent to put together!

Source 2

But to make it even easier for me to see and deal with all the puzzle pieces, I did my usual Photoshop tweaking of the image. Using the Posterize filter, I altered the image so that I had a clearer breakdown of both values (light and dark) and hue (colors). Then, with both the unaltered photo and the tweaked version as references, I have more information available. (Compare the water in the pool in the unaltered photo and the tweaked one and see how much easier it is to see what’s going on. Now it’s possible to see it as abstract colored shapes. That is the way you have to see it in order to paint it.)

This was to be another big, bold sponge painting, so I cut myself a piece of canvas that would give me plenty of room to work. The dimensions for the painting are 36×48 (91x121cm), or 3 feet by 4 feet. A big painting, for me.

(One of the issues for me in the past with attempting a complex image like this was that there was a lot of detail, and a lot of differing kinds of detail. That’s no fun when you’re painting small. But until recently I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider painting really big. Thank goodness I got over that! Because an image like this becomes MUCH easier (and more fun) when it’s big enough that you’re not having to work into tiny, detailed areas to get something right. Of course with sponges you don’t even have the option of doing tiny, detailed areas—and that’s a good thing.)

Inprog01

Inprog02

Above you can see the initial reference drawing, then the next stage where I’ve done a brownish wash over the whole painting, then begun laying in the background and some of the water in the pool. I’m using sponges for all of this and doing my best to keep it really loose—although I got a little carried away and did more detail than I intended on some of the plants. They didn’t need to be that finished this early in the game. But that’s okay; that will all be changed when the painting is more complete anyway.

Inprog03

Inprog04

In the above in-progress photos you can see I’ve blocked in more of the pool and begun laying in some flesh tones to see how it’s all going to fit together. It’s never a good idea to finish one area of a painting at a time—it’s much better to skip around and work in several areas of the painting, because every time you add color or values to one area, it changes the areas around it. A painting is a dynamic thing; you can’t expect it to ‘hold still’ while you’re finishing one area of it. When you work all over the painting there’s a much better chance it will all work well together in the end.

Inprog05

At this point I have been working on the painting for a couple of days. You can see it’s starting to come together. Mixing the colors has been a challenge. Knowing what I now know about warm and cool and how they alternate, it’s been much easier than it would have been in the past. But it’s still been challenging, and often I’ve found when I apply the shade I’ve just mixed on my palette, it’s not right and I have to try again. This has been especially true of the fleshtones, because in this painting, mostly they’re not what we think of as flesh tones at all. Instead, they’re cool blue-greens and warm lavenders, with a bit of orange and some yellows in the highlights.

Inprog06

The next day, I bring the work further toward completion by finishing more of the background, the water in the pool (notice I’ve added the white splashes), and continuing to work on Rob’s flesh tones. I had to paint, and repaint, and repaint again, to get just the right colors and values in his body. The light is rather complicated, plus with acrylics they always dry darker so sometimes it’ll look right when it’s wet, but then it dries and you realize you have to repaint it—AGAIN.

Approximately 5 days after beginning it, I finish the painting.

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The finished painting, entitled 'Palm Springs, 6 PM.'

Final touches included getting the flesh tones just right (FINALLY!), adding the chrome railing, and adding some final touches in the foliage in the background. I’ve decided to call it ‘Palm Springs 6pm’. I feel it’s a big breakthrough in several ways: the size of it, the fact that I did such a complex work using only sponges (and not getting caught up in detail!), and the fact that I was able to use my increasing awareness of color temperature to bring more life to the image.


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Letter from banff header

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October 27, 2012


I’ve just returned from my first visit to Canada in over 25 years!

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, my “traveling the world lifestyle” has not been going exactly according to plan. My April move to Nebraska was supposed to facilitate full-time travel. But finances got in the way.

Which, as I’ve also mentioned before, was perfect, because it’s allowed me to focus on my painting–and that has been, and continues to be, a wild, exciting trip all its own.

Anyway, my original vision was to spend a couple of months getting settled in Nebraska, then taking off again to someplace with palm trees and beaches and beautiful brown-skinned men.

I had not pictured a trip to the not-so-tropical Canadian Rockies.

But there you go. If I’ve learned anything since I started this “On the Road” blog, it’s that plans are just something you make so the surprises are more exciting.

I have a new collector named John who lives in Banff, Alberta. Over the past few months John and I have developed quite a correspondence. He works in a gallery, he is an aspiring artist himself, and he also writes great letters. I was intrigued by his insights into the whole artist-gallery-marketing thing.

The more we “talked” via e-mail, the more I thought it would be great if I could just hang out with John for a few days and brainstorm, talk painting, etc. I also wanted to visit the gallery where he works. So, since I’ve recently overcome a lot of my inhibitions regarding asking my friends and supporters to host me, I wrote to him and invited myself to visit for a week. Fortunately, he said yes!

That’s how, at the beginning of October, I found myself flying north to Calgary instead of south to the tropics.

Bus to banff 1

Bus to banff 2

Bus to banff 3

This was my third time to Canada and my first time in Alberta. From the airport in Calgary it was a 2-hour bus ride to Banff. The photos above were shot from the bus, starting with leaving Calgary with the mountains in the distance, then gradualy approaching the foothills, then starting to get into the Rockies themselves.

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Myself outside the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

I was dropped off at the door of a huge old Scottish castle of a hotel called the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where John met me.

John showed me around a bit, and the day after I arrived, he took me to work with him. This involved standing outside in the cold while John and another staffer worked out the engineering problems of transferring a 9-foot 900-pound sculpture of an eagle from one vehicle to another. This was actually fairly interesting (I had, after all, wanted to know more about the inner workings of a successful gallery), but just the same it was too f***ing cold!

I also spent some time in the gallery, where it was NOT so cold, and enjoyed a lot of great art.

John was scheduled to drive the van with the eagle sculpture in it to another gallery in Jasper a couple of days after that, and I was going along for the ride. Jasper is about 4 hours’ drive north of Banff, even deeper in the mountains, and even colder. I felt like I was really venturing farther and farther into the Great White North. But it was beautiful, and an adventure, and I looked forward to it.

Ds by lake

On the road to Jasper, we stopped and took pictures. By the way, John, thanks for the loan of the coat!

As things turned out, John drove the van to Jasper, and I followed him in his car. It was an amazingly scenic drive, and we stopped fairly often so I could take pictures.

Pyramidlake

Pyramid Lake in Jasper.

Jasper, like Banff, is beautiful and COLD. There I accompanied John to a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner on October 8 at the home of the owner of the gallery, and it was a wonderful evening. I got to meet more artists and more gallery people, and absorbed a lot more gallery-inner-workings lore. The next day we drove back to Banff just in time to help put together an event at the hotel.

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Here's a shot of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel I took during a scenic drive around Banff.

To promote the gallery, two of their best-known painters were going to be part of the “entertainment” for a conference of urban planners. This turned out to be fun for me in an unexpected way. When I was traveling all over the U.S. in the early 1990s doing lectures and art shows, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when you’re doing art-related events in hotel ballrooms. As we were setting up for the event I realized my experience could be useful here…and, well, to be honest, I kind of took over. But it was exactly what was needed, and after the event, everybody thanked me and said they were glad I’d been there. I was happy because the event had been a big success and I’d been able to contribute significantly.

Hotel event 1

Linda Wilder (left) and Alice Helwig, the painters at the event. In the center is a canvas to which we invited conference guests to contribute a few brushstrokes each. That was also a hit.

Hotel event 2

The artists, Linda Wilder and Alice Helwig, were both terrific landscape painters and did a great job of painting while also interacting with interested observers. Afterward, John and I and the two artists went out for beer and pizza and I totally enjoyed spending time with them. I’ve never really hung out with artists, but after this trip I think I should do more of it.

Overall, my experience of being an unofficial part-time employee of the gallery was interesting and, as I realized once I was there and involved, exactly the kind of experience I was hoping for.

This “I didn’t know I had planned it until it was happening” thing is a recurring theme for me, and I learn more about myself every time I write another chapter in this blog…I seem to be able to create great experiences for myself on a subconscious level, by trusting my gut and making plans that may not even make sense to me on the face of it…but then as they’re playing out, I realize they were just what I intended, without knowing it consciously.

This happened in another way on the Banff trip as well, via the “mini-workshops” I gave John.

In our e-mail correspondence I’d been giving John some tips on painting. I had a vague idea of giving him a kind of workshop while I was there, though I hadn’t done any planning or anything. But, again, it worked out exactly as my subconscious had intended.

Ds mixing paints

This was the 'mixing paints' portion of the mini-workshop. The reason I look like a chef is because I didn't want to get paint on my clothes, so John loaned me something to cover up with.

It’s been a lot of years since I have taught drawing, and I’ve never really taught painting. But I had a lot of fun doing these ‘workshops’ (we did 3 of them during the week I was there, each lasting about 3 hours), and from the results, I’d say I was pretty effective as a teacher. I realized I could easily do a year’s worth of workshops and still have tons of material to impart. Hmmm…I’m getting ideas!

As I write this, I’m thinking about my age, and how I sometimes forget how many years of experience I’ve accumulated. Then I have experiences like the hotel event and the workshops I did with John, where abilities and skills I’d forgotten I had come to the fore, and I just slip back into that role, but with the added confidence that age brings.

The same thing is happening to me a lot these days when I paint. Over and over I realize, I KNOW HOW TO DO THIS. There is always more to learn, and god knows I still have failed paintings, but now, after over 30 years of doing this, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it. And it’s a nice solid feeling, this confidence that comes to a large degree simply from the accumulation of experiences.

So overall, I’d have to say my excursion to the Frozen North was worth the (minor) discomfort. I had some great experiences and, despite the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies in October, I am more confirmed than ever in my love of the tropics and my feeling that that’s where I belong. Which is why I’m headed to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in the next couple of weeks. Watch for that report!




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Getting big with eduardo

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• 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.

Edu9733 fullimage source

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!

Edu9733croptwk2

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.

Edu na luz inprog1

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.

Edu na luz inprog1a

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.

Edu na luz inprog4



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.

Edu na luz inprog5

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.

Edu na luz inprog6

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.



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Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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September 10, 2012

I’ve been looking at a lot of art online. That’s how I find inspiration and new challenges. When I was younger, like back in the 1980s, I used to haunt the art section of the main library in downtown Honolulu. There I discovered the art of amazing painters like John Singer Sargent, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla, and so many more. Unfortunately there were many artists I never knew about because of course a library can only buy so many books on one subject—plus there are always thousands of wonderful artists one never hears of simply because they never had a “big enough” career to get published.

I’m thrilled to be living in a time when all that has changed. The Internet contains the equivalent of several MILLION Honolulu libraries…and it’s all available to me anytime I want. Any artist who really wants to show her work to the world can do so with a few hours of work and very little expense. So anytime I feel the need for inspiration, I can do an online search. Sure, there are lots of not-so-great artists to sort through, but with a little patience there are always gems to uncover.

Lately I’ve been looking for artists who paint with verve and fire and flashing brushwork (or perhaps palette-knife work), and some of the gems I’ve uncovered are David Shevlino, Tibor Nagy and Carol Marine. Some I’ve rediscovered through finding more and newer work by them include Maggie Siner and Ashley Wood. And these are just a few.

4up inspiringartists

By looking at these artists’ work, and sometimes at YouTube videos of the artists actually painting which they’ve been kind enough to share with us, I get ideas about ways I can open up my work and make it more lively and exciting. Something I had considered but hadn’t really understood the huge significance of, is the nature of the PHYSICAL ACT of painting.

I was watching a YouTube video of one of those artists who performs on a stage (Garibaldi, I think it was) with a huge canvas and thrills the audience with his big, flashy moves and the way he splashes the paint onto the surface and gradually we see a recognizable face appear. I don’t necessarily want to perform on a stage like that, but I was impressed by the showmanship. And I realized something: it wasn’t just about showmanship. Those BIG MOVEMENTS create a certain kind of brushstroke and a certain kind of energy in the resulting art. Those dancelike moves don’t just entertain the audience, they infuse the work with excitement!

So I resolved to use more of my body while painting. Instead of just moving my wrist and hand to paint, I would use my whole arm, my shoulder, my whole body! I went looking for subject matter.

I found a photograph of Mike T. I liked. The lighting and Mike’s muscularity seemed like good raw material for the approach I wanted to try.

Billabong source2

Here's the untweaked source image of Mike T. I decided to work from.

Mikesource twk 2up

I zoomed in on the figure, got rid of the background, then tweaked everything so I could see areas of color and light and dark more easily.

Since I was going to try something new here, I thought it would be a good idea to do a rough sketch first to work out color mixes etc.

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Here's the study I did before beginning the actual painting. Click on the image to see this work in the Rough Sketches Gallery on my website.

Once I’d done the rough sketch, I felt ready to tackle the ‘real thing.’ Below is the beginning.

Billabong inprog1

I went into this painting with a different intention than usual. In line with the observations I mentioned above, I made it my purpose to use my whole body to paint, and I decided that meant I should be careful and thoughtful BEFORE rather than DURING the act of painting.

Let me clarify that. What I decided to do was stop and consider where I wanted to place my next stroke. Once I had decided, I would fly into motion, painting with no thought, just action. Intention and consideration was one thing: the actual ACT of putting paint on canvas was separate.

I found that this worked well! I was able to paint each stroke with a lot of energy and abandon, because I wasn’t trying to think and paint at the same time. Compare the rough sketch with the beginning of the actual painting above and you’ll see there’s a different feel to the brushstrokes.

Billabong inprog2

Above is the next phase of the painting. Here it’s mostly done except for the face. The face is probably the most challenging place in the painting for the approach I was attempting here, because with the face it’s harder to maintain objectivity. Because it’s always the focal point and therefore carries more weight and is more significant, it’s harder to abandon yourself. So I found that I was trying to THINK AND PAINT at the same time, rather than separating thought and action as I ‘d been able to do with the rest of the painting. I was getting too careful. That’s why you see the face has been scrubbed away in the image above. I had to completely wipe out my first attempt and get away from the painting for a day or so before trying again.

Below is the finished work.

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The finished work: Billabong Shorts. Click on the image to see this work on my website.

When I went back to the painting the next day, I was able to keep myself focused enough to avoid making the face too ‘precious’ and being too careful. I’m really pleased with what I learned on this painting. Next: Getting even looser and more dynamic with my painting.


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