Posts Tagged ‘gay artist’

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Looking through my photographs of Jeff from our 2009 photo shoot in my apartment in Waikiki, I came across the above image. At first glance it doesn’t seem like much. I mean, as a photograph it’s not great. But as I was looking at it I started to see it as a painting. This happens sometimes. Some element or combination of elements will strike me in a way they haven’t before. In this case I started to see the image as a stylized painting, with a much simpler central figure, and I loved the way the bird of paradise fronds fanned out behind it. I also liked the tropical urban setting. I thought, this could be fun. So I began sketching.

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The sketching went surprisingly quickly. It only took 4 or 5 sketches to get to the final working sketch shown here. I scanned this sketch and used my digital projector to project it onto a medium-sized canvas (about 20″x27″) so I could trace the major shapes in pencil. Then I did finishing work on the pencil sketch before putting a purplish wash over the entire canvas. Once that wash dried, I used a fairly small brush to paint in all the outlines with black paint.

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Now here’s where I diverged from my usual practice. I always spend about 45 minutes mixing colors for a painting before i actually start painting. I like to get it all over with before I start painting. But that’s not necessarily the smartest way to do it. Usually it means that once I actually start applying the paint to the canvas, some colors that looked good on the palette just don’t work in the painting. Then I have to mix new colors that do work, and lots of already-mixed paint doesn’t get used.


This is just a longtime habit, and I don’t even think about it, because I am such a creature of habit. Nevertheless, this time I decided to try something different. I began by mixing the greens (some yellow-green, some blue-green, because I’ve found the cool and warm greens vibrate nicely next to each other). Then, instead of continuing by mixing flesh tones, background colors, sky, floor, etc., I stopped myself and actually began painting. I was surprised how hard it was to actually do that. I had to kind of wrench myself out of my habit-rut and just start painting even though it felt “wrong.” I painted in some of the upper bird of paradise fronds near the top of the painting. Once I’d done that, I started mixing up some fleshtones. Not your typical fleshtones, perhaps; I chose burnt sienna and burnt umber for the darks, without even mixing anything with them (I’m going for pure colors as much as possible these days; the less mixing I have to do the better), and an orange mix for the medium lights on the body. (I mixed the orange from cadmium red light and cadmium yellow, although you can use a cadmium orange for that, if you have it—then I greyed the orange a bit with a tiny bit of ultramarine blue.)


This continued to be a divergence from my usual tactics. Rather than trying to mix all the fleshtones before applying them to the canvas, I went ahead and started applying the browns and orange I had to see how they worked. They seemed to be working pretty well but I found I had to create a brighter orange and a duller orange to really make the body pop. As I worked I found I needed an even lighter orange (actually just cadmium-red medium and white) for the lightest areas of the reflected light on the body. For the hottest light from the sun hitting the right side of the face and upper body I used both a yellowish-white (cadmium yellow and yellow oxide) and an orangeish-white.

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By now I had enough color on the canvas that I could mix a color for the low wall behind the figure. I kept the basic pink from the photograph but tweaked it a bit so it went well with the colors around it. It’s basically alizarin crimson with yellow oxide and ultramarine blue. (This is a good basic trio for any dull, cool red—also great for lips, nipples and penises, by the way!) By this time I was eyeing the towel thinking, what shall I do with that? Almost immediately I thought, BLUE! This came from a part of my mind that had already been calculating the possibilities below the level of consciousness. I’ve been painting for long enough that sometimes my subconscious mind works things out for me and all I have to do is just try it and see if it works. So I mixed up an ultramarine blue with a bit of phthalo blue and some white and tried it out and it worked beautifully.


I really want to stress again what a departure this was for me. To not mix all the colors ahead of time in the (usually futile) hope that that would get it all out of the way and then I could just paint, was a big thing for me to let go of. But once I was actually doing it and I saw how much better it worked, it was a no-brainer! This is a lot like that other principle I often harp on in these blog entries (but don’t always do myself), the principle of working all over the painting. You can’t get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working until you actually try stuff. Yes, some of it may be wrong, but when you have lots of pieces in place you can get a much better sense of whether or not they’re all going to work together.


This also reminds me of the illustrative factoid I’ve often heard in motivational seminars: the fact that an airliner flying from LA to Honolulu (or anywhere) is off course 95% of the time. The captain (or the autopilot) is constantly correcting. The plane drifts a bit off course, the pilot corrects. This happens over and over again. The point is, you have to do it wrong to get it right. Just as in painting, some of it will fall into place beautifully, and some of it won’t work at all and you’ll need to correct. But the irrational hope that everything will be perfect—and the fear that it won’t—is unfortunately what keeps many people from trying to paint (or do anything requiring courage) in the first place.

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The final painting, 'Tropical City.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Here’s the final painting: “Tropical City.” Notice some of the final touches—I used the same basic purple for the pots and the city skyline. Also made the sky a brighter, more intense yellow. Why is it that yellow skies almost always work so well?? I’m very pleased with this painting and even more pleased that I was able to disrupt my habitual approach to painting and get a lot more effective. Never stop learning!

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I am having an OFF WEEK. I am sitting at the computer in my studio, going through photographs of models, trying to get inspired. TRYING…but it’s not working. These are some of the sketches I’ve done. They pretty much reflect my state of mind. I don’t like any of them. The truth is, I could probably develop them into some good stuff if I had the spirit to do it. But I just don’t right now.

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I usually don’t blog about days like this! But hey, this is part of the life of an artist too. I’m going to stop filtering it out. This kind of day/week/mood hits from time to time. If you’re an artist who pursues your career with any kind of regularity, you know about this. A really good thing I can note here is that I don’t take this as seriously as I used to. I know it’s justoffweek4.jpg part of the game and it doesn’t mean I have lost my chops. It doesn’t mean I won’t be inspired again soon. Inspiration always hits again eventually.

It is also important to note, though, that just sitting and waiting for inspiration to hit is not exactly the best approach. I’ve found it’s far better to actually do some drawing or painting. Even though it’s one of those periods where I don’t like ANYTHING that I’m turning out, by continuing to draw I am making myself a lot more available for inspiration when it DOES strike again. I think it’s also true that moving the body when the mind isn’t interested sometimes gets the mind interested.

There’s another issue that I should address here, too. CASHFLOW. Being an artist who makes one’s living from one’s art carries some special challenges. One is balancing the business self with the creative self. For me one of the hardest things I ever have to do, and it occurs every few months, it seems, is letting go of my financial concerns so that I can create art.cashflow-graphic.jpg
Creating art while the mind is thinking, “Gotta bring in some money to pay the mortgage!” doesn’t work very well. No big surprise there. But sometimes it is HARD to stop thinking about the mortgage, especially in a month when sales are not what you wish they were.

Nevertheless, it’s what you have to do. In fact I venture to say it’s one of the tests of whether or not you’re a committed artist. Learning to put aside those thoughts and just create for the joy of creating is a major life skill. And amazingly, when you do put aside those worries, when you’re done creating and ready to “start worrying” again, things seem much more manageable!

Okay, I feel better than when I started writing this blog entry. I think I’ll draw some more, and maybe this time I’ll do something I don’t hate!

In early February, after concentrating on paintings for the past couple of months, I plunged into pencil drawing again. My process almost always begins by going through my photographs, looking for something that jumps out at me. (I use Photoshop CS3 on my Mac, and the program includes Bridge. I love Bridge—it’s a great way to look at huge masses of photo images quickly and efficiently. Except that it seems to be easily confused/overwhelmed and you have to quit the program and restart it every once in a while. But that’s a minor quibble.)

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Bedsheets and Pillows

I found myself looking through images of Jeff, from September 2009, and even though I’ve already done one painting of Jeff sitting on my bed crosslegged (“Scorpio Rising“), I like the pose a lot and I think a drawing of almost the same pose would still be a fun thing to try. So I opened the image in Photoshop and started fooling around with it. My standard operating procedure these days is to heighten the contrast, take it to grayscale (if I’m going to do a pencil drawing), then Posterize it to about level 7. Posterizing it reduces the number of values showing in the image, which makes my job a lot easier—seeing where the shadows are darkest and lightest is not always easy in a conventional photographic image. It’s much easier in a posterized image, as you can see.

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The finished drawing, 'Bedsheets and Pillows.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

So I print out both images (and often I’ll print out extreme closeups of the head and hands and other challenging areas as well) and tack them up by my drawing to use as reference. I use the posterized image as a guide, but I’m also always referring to the grayscale image so I can include the more subtle gradations of tone when and where I want to. This is an approach I’ve put together over many years of drawing from my own photographs.

I spent a couple of days on the Jeff drawing. That’s kind of fast for me for a full-on detailed large drawing like this. Occasionally I’ll be able to finish one in a single day, but more often it takes 3-4 days, working in 3- or 4-hour sessions at a time.


Pensive Marcelino

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This is the photograph of Marcelino I decided to work from.


Again, I opened Bridge and started going through my catalog of model photos (I have about 40,000 images in this collection, and I have another 100,000 or more in my 35mm slide collection, from pre-digital days. I tend to use the most recent photographs more, of course, but occasionally I’ll dip back into images from many years ago). This time I found myself focusing on Marcelino, one of the models I shot in Los Angeles in October when I was there working with Kurt R. Brown. Marcelino is of Mexican descent and I think he was 20 when we shot these photographs at a wildlife refuge in the San Fernando Valley. I chose a quiet pose that feels to me like Marcelino’s sweet, graceful personality.

Here’s the finished drawing. This one took longer than the previous one of Jeff. The one of Jeff just flowed, which happens occasionally. This one of Marcelino was more the standard experience, with some areas going easily, others taking longer—so I probably spent about 4 days on this one. I like the final result. It doesn’t have the powerful presence of the previous drawing, but it has a quiet poetic quality that the other doesn’t.

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The finished drawing, 'Pensive Marcelino.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)



Marcus Canta

For my third drawing in what was turning into a series, I chose Marcus. Anyone who’s been following my work over the past few years knows that Marcus is one of my favorite models. In fact he seems to be the favorite of a great many of my collectors, too.

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I have a whole series of photographs I shot of him in Angra dos Reis (a resort area south of Rio) on a boat, in the late afternoon. He was spraying himself with water from a hose, and singing along with the music I had blaring from the boat’s speakers. Because one of the dials on the camera got moved without my realizing it, the whole series of photographs was overexposed. That’s a shame because I can’t show them as photographs in most cases—but they’re still fine for working from to create drawings and paintings. Despite the overexposure, they still capture the moment. And what a great moment! Because Marcus’ body is almost entirely in shadow I knew this would be a challenge to draw.

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The finished drawing, 'Marcus Canta.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

That made the Posterization function even more useful. Because the light on his body is almost all subtle reflected light, it was very helpful to see the light and dark areas more clearly defined. The drawing was challenging but it went more smoothly than I’d expected and only took 3 days to complete. I’m especially pleased at the way it captures Marcus’ being lost in the moment. I titled it “Marcus Canta” (Marcus Sings).


Chadwick’s Back

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Now I was warmed up and decided to tackle something with a lot of detail. I chose a photograph of Chadwick, another of the models I worked with in Los Angeles in October. This photo was taken in an unpopulated part of Simi Valley. As you can see, Chadwick has an amazing body, very muscular and well defined. I was excited about what kind of pencil drawing I could create using this image.

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The finished drawing, 'Chadwick's Back.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

I used to do my drawings just using one hardness of pencil, a medium-soft…then for some time I was using two pencils, one hard and one soft. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve been using three pencils, an F, an HB and a B. Sometimes I’ll vary the exact pencils I use, but I’ve found one hard pencil (an F or even an H), one medium (HB seems to work well, and it’s very close to a regular #2, so that works, too) and one soft (B, or 2B or 3B or even softer) gives me all the range I need for almost every type of drawing I do. With just 1 or 2 pencil hardnesses I can create a terrific drawing—but with 3, I can get very subtle, beautiful effects that would be almost impossible with just 2 pencils. This drawing, which I titled “Chadwick’s Back,” is a good example of that. Although you really need to see it in person to see all the subtlety. I was surprised at how quickly this one went—it only took me 3 days. Of course those were long days!


Unbuttoned

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My final drawing in the group of 5 began with a photograph of Rogério, one of the 2 models I shot on my very first Brazil photo shoot back in March 2004. This was a flash photograph taken after a full day of shooting, on the boat and on an island in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). We were on our way back to the marina and night was falling. It’s a photograph I’ve looked at dozens of times and never paid much attention to. For some reason, this time it jumped out at me. It’s hard for me to put into words the impression it made on me, but there was a moment there that really struck me, that had never struck me before, and I wondered if I could come close to capturing it in pencil. I cropped the image to concentrate on Rogério’s head and upper torso only. I decided that would be all I would put in the drawing. Then I started drawing.

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The finished drawing, 'Unbuttoned.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Even though it may appear there’s less detail here, and less to draw than in some of the others I’d just finished, there were still challenges. Capturing the exact expression on the face was one of them. Another was getting the close-cropped hair on Rogério’s temple to look right. In the end this drawing took 4 days to complete. But when I finished it, I felt good. I felt I’d come pretty close to capturing the feeling I’d gotten from the photograph. I call this one “Unbuttoned.” This was the fifth in the series, and I’d spent about 3 weeks doing these drawings. I put them up on my website and announced them just a day after finishing this final work.

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Here's the photo of Kawai and Sam that inspired me to make a new painting.)

There are a lot of great images from the Kawai-Sam photo shoot I still haven’t used. I came across another great one recently and decided it would make a great painting. I didn’t want to do something literal and realistic, though, I wanted to do something stylized and interesting.

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One of the first studies I did for the proposed painting. (Click on image to see it on my website.)

But when I set out to do something stylized I usually have to draw the pose realistically a few times to get a sense of it before I can start to play with it and turn it into something more interesting. This is one of the first sketches I did. It’s cute, but in this case just a first step toward what I’m going for.

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This sketch is much closer to what I want. (Click on image to see it on my website.)

I had to do several more drawings before I got to what I was aiming for. This sketch has the kind of movement and dynamic tension I want in the painting. Even though the figures are a mostly vertical element, there are lots of diagonals cutting across the painting to keep the eye moving. This is the main compositional function of the leaves whose vectors cut across the figures diagonally. It’s also interesting how often the strong straight lines are partnered with a sensuous rounded shape. This happens both in the foliage and in the men’s bodies. (I want to be clear that this analytical look at the drawing is something I can do after it’s done and I have some distance from it. When I’m actually in the process of drawing this is not where my mind is at all. I’m just thinking, oh, a line here might work, let’s see what it looks like, oh yeah, that feels good, and now it needs a curve here…etc.)

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After transferring the drawing to canvas, I put a purple wash over it, then paint the outlines in black.

Once I had a drawing I liked, I transferred it to the canvas with pencil. Then I did a purple wash over the entire canvas and once that was dry, I used a small round brush to re-draw the entire drawing in black. This is now the framework on which I can begin to hang color.

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Beginning to add color. It's important to work all over the painting.

I have a relatively consistent palette I can resort to when I begin a painting like this. Rather than reinventing the wheel every time I start a painting, I have some old standbys I use, like burnt umber for the dark darks (sometimes with a bit of alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue added for flavor), burnt sienna for the medium darks, and for the lighter flesh tones, a mix of yellow oxide (yellow ochre), alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and titanium white. As I paint with these basic colors, I add in some cadmium reds (a warmer, more orange-y red than alizarin), some pure yellow oxide, some pure raw sienna, and sometimes some cadmium yellow as well. I’m going for a basic fleshtone with some vivid surprises thrown in. Notice that as I begin the painting I’m already working all over to some degree. As I’ve said many times, the more you can work all over the painting as you go, the more you can adjust color and light and dark as you work, rather than getting to the end of a painting and having one area that just refuses to work well with everything else.

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This painting is coming along well by this point. No major hitches. Another thing I like to do is let one color area “leak” into another. So you see splashes of green on the bodies and bits of flesh tone in the plants. This adds visual interest and makes for a more unified color scheme.

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The final painting, 'Embrace.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

This is the finished work. I’m happy with how it turned out. One of the nice surprises is the way the blues pop out and by contrast make the rest of the image even warmer. I like the warmth both for what it says about the emotion of the painting and because the setting is a wet, humid tropical jungle. I’ve titled this one “Embrace.”

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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Here's the source image for the painting, before and after tweaking in Photoshop.


For my second painting of Jeff, I got a bit more ambitious. I chose a shot of him sitting on the floor in my living room in the late-afternoon light. By ambitious, I mean that instead of just focusing on the figure as I often do, here my intention was to create a fully realized environment, with light, shadow and space, so that the viewer has a sense of place and time, and all the emotional components that come with that.I wanted to do a more stylized approach on this one. The first thing I did was start playing with the image in Photoshop. As usual, I applied the Posterize filter to get a more stylized, colorful look. This is usually gives me ideas about ways to transform the photographic image into a painting. As you can see, I also moved one of the plants, and changed the exterior view through the windows to something more colorful and tropical. Being able to re-create the source image digitally like this is a great tool in planning the painting before even beginning to do rough sketches.
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Some of the first sketches.


Next I started doing actual real-world sketches on paper. In fact, I did a LOT of rough sketches trying to get the figure the way I wanted it. The ones you see here are just a few of them. When my intention is to give the figure a more stylized look, that means I have to draw it over and over again until I have a really good grasp of all the dynamics of the pose and the way the parts of the body fit together within that. Sometimes I’ll draw the pose 20 times or more before I finally hit on a way to bring it to life in a simplified, stylized manner.

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More of the preparatory sketches where I'm working out visual ideas.

Once I got the figure more or less right, I worked on integrating it into the background. This involved more rough sketches while I worked out the relationships between the figure, the sofa, the plants, etc. It always changes things when you take the photographic image and start transforming into lines on a piece of paper. My final goal was to have a painting that consisted of a line drawing AND a somewhat realistic light-and-shadow environment, and have them work well together. And the first step toward that was to get a line drawing that worked.

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Sometimes I use old-fashioned cut-and-paste to try out different combinations of model and background.


The top image you see here is a more finalized sketch where I began adding light and shadow to get a better idea of how things were working, or not. This felt pretty good to me, but I wasn’t happy with the model’s hand. It looked awkward to me. So I went looking for a similar pose in the same series of photos, and found another one where I liked the hand better. I also noticed that in that pose, I liked the position of the legs better, too. So I did another drawing of the figure with those changes, and liked it. To see how that would work, rather than re-drawing the entire background, I just cut out the figure and laid it on top of the light-and-shadow drawing I’d just done, and it worked pretty well. So now I was ready for the next stage of the process.
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After scanning the final prep sketch, I had to 'clean it up' in Photoshop before adding color.


Next I scanned the pasted-together drawings so I could work with them in the computer. Once I had the scan, I worked on it in Photoshop to clean it up. That meant getting rid of as many greys as possible so I could have a mostly purely black-and-white image to work with. By putting that on its own Photoshop layer, I can create another layer “behind” it where I can apply color, so that I can do a digital test painting before doing the real thing in acrylic on canvas.
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Test painting I did in Photoshop using my Wacom digital tablet.


This is the test painting I did in Photoshop. I sampled colors directly from the digital source photos, and kept some of the colors as is, while tweaking others. The result was an image I thought looked pretty workable. Doing this (which took about an hour and a half) also gave me some insight into some of the challenges that would present themselves when I began actually creating the painting in the real world. Not all of them, of course, but the more I know ahead of time, the better.
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Beginning the actual painting on canvas.


Now, after 4 days of sketching and preparing both digitally and on paper, I was ready to start the actual painting. I used a digital projector to project my digital drawing onto the canvas, traced it with pencil, then painted that line drawing in black. Once that was dry, I began painting a reddish-brown wash over the line drawing. Next step was to mix the colors.
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This is where having done the digital test painting really pays off. Even though there’s never an exact translation of color between the computer screen and the real world, I have a very good printer, and by printing out the source photos and the digital test painting, I have something I can put in front of me while I’m mixing the acrylic paint on my palette. This helps a lot!
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Almost done...


Several hours of painting got me quite a ways along. By this point I was feeling pretty good about how it was going, except I wasn’t at all happy with the head or face. So I painted over the face and continued with the rest of the painting, with the intention of going back and working on the head/face as part of the last phase of the painting. By now I’d been working on the painting for nearly a week and was hoping one more day would do it.
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Finished! Title: Ohua Afternoon (click on image to see this item on my website)


The next day I started work on repainting the head. After many false starts, I finally got a face and an expression that felt alive, and whose looks I liked. Then, a few more finishing touches, and I was done! This was one of the most ambitious projects I’d undertaken in quite a long time, and on completion, I felt pretty triumphant! Since my apartment is on Ohua Avenue, I’m calling it “Ohua Afternoon.”

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Here's the photograph I began with.

I got the idea for my first painting of Jeff as I sometimes do, by accident, while playing around with Photoshop. There were several photos of Jeff sitting crosslegged on my bed that I liked, and I liked the plants behind him, but for some reason I thought, why not see what it would look like without the plants, and in fact without any definite background at all? So using Photoshop’s selection tools, I selected everything but the figure and the bed and the pillows, and then inverted the selection and hit the delete button. This effectively erased the background.


When you “erase” something in Photoshop, that area changes to whatever the Background color is at the time. Default for the Background color is white, so usually that’s what you “erase” to. However, this time the background went to an interesting red tone. This is probably because I was using that color the last time I was working in Photoshop.

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Some interesting accidents happened on the computer...(image on right tilted and Posterized)

When this happened I could easily have hit “Undo” and changed the Background color to white, or anything, and repeated the action—but instead, I looked at what had happened and said, “Whoa. Cool!” Because the color really worked. Not a color I would have consciously chosen…but there are no accidents, right? On top of that, because of the way I had made the selections in the first step of tweaking the photo, there was a nice little halo effect around Jeff’s head and shoulders. The overall result was so striking I thought, hey, this would really work as a painting. So I tilted the whole thing a bit clockwise (so that the edge of the bed was more level) and applied a Posterize filter, and thought, hey, I’m ready to go on this.

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Beginning the painting on canvas.

Next step was to transfer the image to canvas, via a pencil line drawing, then lay down a reddish-brown wash over the drawing. While that was drying I mixed colors. I began with the red background and the blue pillows. You should keep in mind that at this stage I have no idea if the painting will work. But as I continued with this one, I started to get a good feeling: a feeling of hesitant exultation, a feeling that says, “Hey…this might just work out!”


(I am telling you guys all this because I think there is a misapprehension among non-artists that we so-called “successful artists” just go into the studio and start painting and magic happens. I’m here to tell you, NO, that’s not how it works. Maybe 1 in 20 times it works that way. But 95% of the time it’s like the process I’m describing now. You have an idea, you think it might work, but you’re afraid to start. No matter how many successful paintings you’ve done, there is still that leap of faith you hae to take to get going. Then once you start, most of the time you are still deep in doubt. You wouldn’t believe how often I start working on something and it just looks like shit—and I’m thinking, oh god, give me faith in myself. Because this does NOT look good…probably the hardest part of being an artist is having that faith in yourself that you will produce something decent, despite all the indications at the moment. So please don’t think that every time I start painting it’s this effortless magical thing–or that everything I attempt actually works out.)

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Things are looking like they might work out.


Anyway, things are going well. The red and the fleshtones are working well together—which is a huge relief, because there are about 43 million ways to mix fleshtones and I never do them exactly the same way twice. So the fleshtones were working with the red, and the blues I chose for the sheets and pillows were working too! This is great. At this stage all I have to do is stay out of my own way and not f**k it up!

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The final painting: Scorpio Rising (click on image to see it on my website)

After about a day and a half of further work, I’ve finished. And it turned out well! This painting was one happy accident after another. Though I don’t mean to be falsely modest and imply that I didn’t have something to do with its turning out okay. I see my task as an artist to get as technically proficient as I can so that when those happy accidents strike, I’m alert enough and technically skilled enough to take advantage of them.

(About the title: Jeff is a Scorpio and there’s that Scorpio tattoo on his chest, so even though Scorpio is his sun sign and not his rising sign, I decided to call the painting “Scorpio Rising” just because it’s such a great title.)