Posts Tagged ‘in progress’

6guys header



May 20, 2016

I saw a painting at a gallery here in Puerto Vallarta recently that gave me an idea.

Actually it reminded me of an idea I’d already had—one of the many painting ideas that bounce around in my brain for years sometimes before finally getting insistent enough that I start to act on them. The painting I saw that triggered this was a grid of several faces on colorful backgrounds. Because I’ve done a lot of Expressionist portraits over the last 2 or 3 years, the idea of doing something a little different and new with the same subject matter appealed to me. It also made me think of some other works I like, like Andy Warhol’s iconic multiple portraits.

Andy warhol a set of six self portraits 1967

Andy Warhol's self-portrait is similar to the painting I saw which gave me an idea for a new approach to my Expressionist portraits.

I thought about this over a couple of weeks while I was working on commissions, then some time opened up and I started work on my idea. The first thing I did was search through one of my many image archives, this one of intriguing male faces. These are photographic images I’ve found online which I use as inspiration for drawings. I picked out a bunch, then I started sketching. I had a very good day and did around 20 different sketches. I liked a lot of them, so l would need to choose which to use.

12up sixguysroughs

Here are 12 of the 20 or so sketches I did to get ideas for the painting.

My next step was to scan my sketches, then use Photoshop to group them and find the most appealing combination. I had been planning to do a grid of 8 portraits but I realized that was going to be an unwieldy shape—too tall and skinny for most walls. So I decided to do a 6-grid. I tried several combinations and ended up with the 6 you see here.

6upfaces 1

I used Photoshop to try different combinations of the preparatory sketches to see which grouping I liked best. This is the one I liked most and decided to use for the painting. NOTE: The one at lower left is actually a sketch I did a couple of years ago, Asian Male Portrait, which I liked enough to revisit for this painting.

My next step was to cut a piece of canvas for the painting. I decided to make each portrait 14 inches square, which meant the entire image area would be 28″x42″. After cutting the canvas, I drew a grid, then transferred my rough sketches to their appropriate positions in the grid. Next I used one of my favorite tools, a Montana black acrylic marker, to re-draw the faces in black acrylic paint. When that was done, I painted a neutral cool brown wash over the whole thing and while I waited for it to dry, I began mixing my colors.

6guys inprog1

In-progress shot 1: After penciling in the sketches on the canvas, I re-drew them using a black acrylic-paint marker. After I let this dry, I painted a neutral-colored acrylic wash over the whole thing and let it dry while starting to mix my colors.

Then I began painting. I wasn’t sure of the background colors I would use, just that I wanted them bright. As it turned out, I used the 3 primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and their complements (green, purple and orange). I didn’t plan this; it just worked out that way. For fleshtones, I used just about every color of the rainbow, since my six portraits constituted a broad spectrum of ethnicities and skin colors. (That was on purpose, by the way.)

6guys inprog2

In-progress shot 2: I've roughed in all the background colors, and 3 of the portraits.

I’m noticing as I go along that unlike working out the fleshtones for a single portrait, each of these portraits must work not only on its own but in concert with the other faces and fleshtones. In other words, they are individual portraits but they’re also part of a larger composition and I need to constantly be aware of that as I work.

6guys inprog3

In-progress shot 3: At this stage I've roughly painted in all the faces and their backgrounds.

At the end of the second day of work I’ve got all the faces painted in. I quit for the day, knowing that the next day will be about taking the painting to the next level of finish, and maybe completing it. My goal is to be satisfied not only with each individual portrait, but also happy with the way they all work together when I stand back and take in the entire composition.

6guys inprog4

In-progress shot 4: At this stage I've worked on all of the faces to bring them to a higher level of finish. Some have needed more work and revision than others.

In in-progress shot 4, shown above, you can see there have been big changes to the two center faces, the African guy and the redhead, but I’ve also revised the Asian guy at lower left by making his left ear visible. I’ve also reworked the colors somewhat in most of the faces.

The next day I spent quite a few hours bringing the painting to completion. At the end I was happy not only with the portraits on an individual level but with the feel of the whole painting. I call it Six Guys.

6guys final

Final stage of the painting Six Guys. This image isn't that different from in-progress shot 4, but this has been properly scanned rather than just photographed in the studio, so you can get a better idea of the actual colors and tonal qualities of the painting.

Below are some closeups of the individual portraits so you can get a better look at each one.

6guys upperleftCU

6guys upperrighttCU

6guys africanCU

6guys redheadCU

6guys asianCU

6guys lowerrightCU

Mexico studio header

February 23, 2015

I’m now about 4 months into my Mexico experience, and I can finally say the studio is firing on all cylinders. And so am I.

I went back to Nebraska at Christmas not only to spend the holidays with family but also to pick up some much-needed artists’ supplies. I mentioned in an earlier entry that Mexico does not seem to have something I consider essential to acrylic painting, disposable palettes. Well, they have them but the ones I’ve found here are like tissue paper and basically useless. So I brought back some good disposable palette pads in my suitcase. I also brought some other necessities, like my portable Bose speakers so I can have music playing while I paint—another essential. I also brought more blank canvas and some other things I needed.

Now my studio, while not as great as my Lincoln studio, is fully functional. I could use more space and I’d kill for a rolling metal cart like the one I have in Nebraska, but the bottom line is, I can paint, and I am painting.

PAINTING FAILS

Avery painting fail

This image of Avery from an early-morning Diamond Head photo shot has a lot of potential. I lost my nerve halfway through this one, but I think eventually I'll be able to pull it off and it's going to be great.

When I use a title like PAINTING FAILS, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek; I don’t really consider any painting a a failure. I’m always learning and I think I learn more from the so-called failures. Plus there’s such a thing as warm-up exercises, and that’s another good way to look at a painting that didn’t turn out the way I thought I wanted it to. There were several of these on the way to getting rolling in my new studio.

Khanh painting fail

I did a lot of preliminary sketches for this one but I never quite got the composition and forms the way I wanted them. I thought it would come together in the painting phase but it never did.

In case you’re wondering what happens to a ‘failed’ painting: I gesso over it and then it’s ready for another painting to go on top of it. I have some canvases three or four paintings thick. I’ve explained in previous blog entries that if you’re pushing yourself and growing as a painter, you’re going to have a lot of ‘failures.’ But I think it bears repeating. A lot of people, especially those who’ve never painted, think that a ‘successful’ artist like myself steps into the studio and starts painting and everything he touches is great. IT’S NOT TRUE. I have long stretches, sometimes many weeks, where nothing turns out. Then there are other periods where almost everything seems to flow and every painting turns out well. These ups and downs are part of an artist’s life, and the only exceptions I know of are formula painters who basically paint the same thing over and over again—and that’s not me.

Fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to not take it too seriously when nothing seems to work. I just keep painting.

PAINTING SUCCESSES

Vinicius in hawaii

Vinicius in Hawaii was a small, relatively straightforward painting that came together pretty easily.

The first painting that worked after I got back to Mexico after Christmas was a nude of Vinicius. I played it safe with this one, and that was what I needed to do. I needed a little confidence builder, so I chose an image I knew I could pull off without too much stretching. Dramatic lighting and a simple composition make things a lot easier. I was able to do this one in a few hours, and while it’s not great, it’s a nice little painting and it made me feel more ready to tackle whatever came next.

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Modern Times, an abstract grid painting done in a loose, gestural style.

The second successful painting I did in January was an abstract. This was an abstract grid painting, of a type I’ve done a lot over the years, but in keeping with my direction over the past couple of years, I painted it very loosely, with lots of broad strokes and drips. This one came together pretty easily and I had a good time painting it. I call it Modern Times.

The next painting I tried was a face. Again, something I’ve done many times before. I kept this one pretty straightforward, too, although I did experiment a bit with color. I kept the whole painting very muted, using only greys for most of it. The touches of red and orange you see in this one are actually very muted as well, but next to the greys they really pop out. Again, not a huge challenge, but a good effort, and one I like. I titled it “Limbo.”

Limbo

Limbo is an Expressionist portrait in muted tones.

My next painting was another nude, and this time I did push myself. The style I’ve been developing recently is very loose and gestural, with lots of drips. This is something I admired in other artists’ work for years but was never quite able to get to myself. Until recently. The big breakthrough for me happened last summer (see my entry called “Painting Blind” for more details).

The “Painting Blind” approach is simple—close your eyes and attack the canvas without seeing where your paint is going—but it’s really difficult. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope with your eyes closed. Scary! Getting myself into the frame of mind this kind of painting requires is the real challenge. The thing that works the most consistently for me is to find inspiring works by other painters and look at them intensely, letting the energy kind of soak into me. Then I get up, pick up my brush and load it with paint, and with eyes closed, let ‘er rip!

The other important part is to keep the paint really sloppy and wet so there’s lots of dripping. It may seem like a superficial effect, and maybe it is, but it helps keep me in the space where I need to be: committed to the painting but willing to keep it messy and imperfect.

Steve at nudebeach

I had to get into a very particular state of mind to manage the looseness and spontaneous energy of the painting Steve at the Nude Beach.

This was the approach I set for myself for this nude. I chose a photograph of Steve Chen from our Malibu photo shoot. Even with all the warming up I’d done over the previous weeks of painting, I was still a bit nervous about this one. But as it turned out, it went fine. I was able to stay loose and keep the painting messy and I was very pleased with the result.


PLANTS

Since I moved to Mexico a particular type of painting keeps popping into my head. This place is bringing out my love of vivid colors and heavy outlines, and I’ve been wanting to try something like that in my paintings, but wasn’t sure what subject matter I wanted to use.

When I bought my Waikiki apartment back in 2008, I immediately started buying potted plants and soon the place was a jungle. For some reason owning my own place made me want to fill it with plants! When I left Hawaii in 2012, I had to get rid of all my plants. I hated that. Living in Nebraska, I just didn’t feel the urge—I knew I wasn’t going to be there that long. But now, living in Mexico and having my own place again, I find I’m once again starting to fill my space with plants.

So, given my love of plants. my fascination with plantforms, and the fact that I have several great live-in models, I decided painting some plants might be a good way to explore this vivid colors-heavy outlines thing that was forming in my mind.

Plantwarmup1

This is one of the 'plant warm-ups' I did.

I did quite a few warmups, and that helped. Then I decided to do a plant photo shoot. I have several pothos plants and I shot about 100 photos of one of these plants from lots of different angles, mostly pretty close-up. Then I started drawing from some of those photographs.

This turned out to be fun, and some of my sketches were getting interesting. I was enjoying the simple shapes and their complicated relationships. I didn’t yet know how it would translate into paint.

Pothos1 sources

Here's the source photo and the preparatory drawing I did to prepare for the first plant painting.




Pothos1 inprog1

I drew the image onto the canvas, painted thick black outlines, let that dry, and did a purple wash over the whole thing.

I used everything I’ve learned over the past couple of years in the first painting I did of my pothos plant. By that I mean that once I had put the basic shapes onto the canvas, I attacked and painted blind and wet. Lots of can’t-see-what-I’m-doing brushstrokes, which meant lots of energy and interesting textures, and lots of drips. Of course in between the blind painting, I’m standing back and deciding what area needs what colors, where it needs to be darker, where lighter, etc. It’s a dance between conscious control on the one hand, and blind passion and physical motion on the other.

Pothos1 inprog2

The painting in progress.

The result can be magic, and Pothos 1 definitely has some of that. I was very pleased with how it turned out. I’m beginning to feel like I can consistently do this messy, drippy energetic style, and that makes me happy because I love what happens when I get this approach to work.

Pothos1

Here's the finished work: Pothos 1.

I decided to do a series of three pothos paintings. For #2, I kept the process as much like the first one as possible. This one was a little trickier, but it still worked out well.

Ds pothos2 sm

Here I am with Pothos 2.

The final painting was the hardest, probably because I was starting to lose interest. I don’t usually do a series of several paintings focused on a single subject or theme because I am easily bored. Yeah, I’m sure there’s some ADD going on there. So it was a good challenge for me to see if I could stay focused long enough to do 3 paintings in the same vein. Plus I had in mind blue, yellow and red backgrounds for the 3 paintings, and I wanted to see what they looked like together.

Pothos3

Third and last in the series: Pothos 3.

I did stick with it, and I did finish the final one. I learned something, too. I can stay focused long enough to do something if I have a clear enough picture of the goal.

Pothos series 3up

Here are all three Pothos paintings. I like the way they look together.

(By the way, each of these paintings is approximately 24″x32″, or 60x81cm.)

I’m pretty excited about two things. One, I find I am able to consistently get myself into that brave, willing-to-risk-it-all space that my current painting approach requires. Two, I’m really happy to see myself getting more disciplined and focused with my painting.

Oh, one other thing I’m really happy about: I LOVE living in Puerto Vallarta!!

P.S. If you’re reading this blog before March 25, 2015, these paintings are not yet available for purchase and shipping, since they are here with me in Mexico. I’ll be taking them back to the U.S. March 25 and then they’ll go up on the website and become available for sale. If you’d like to reserve any of them, that’s possible; just e-mail me and I can let you know about availability.

Visit the Douglas Simonson website here.

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PORTRAIT OF MY SISTER

July 10, 2014

My sister Kelly is not just my sister, she’s one of my best friends. I had tried many times over the years to paint a portrait of her, but they never worked out. In fact some were horrifyingly bad. Part of it is that I’m just not used to painting white people! Another thing is, it’s often harder to paint someone you’re very close to. But despite the misses I kept trying.

This blog entry is about how I finally succeeded.

Kelly sourceimg

I always loved this photograph of my sister Kelly and thought it would make a terrific painting.

I’d snapped a photograph of Kelly a couple of years ago that I really liked. We were hanging out with our sister Lisa and her family at their apartment which had a pool. Kelly was relatively relaxed. What that means is, she was only checking sales on her retail sites once every 20 minutes. It was during one of those moments when I saw the light catch her hair just right, and I snapped a picture.

Kelly sourceimg tweaked

I tweaked the image in Photoshop to make it easier to paint (among other filters, I used Posterize and Noise->Median).

Later I looked at that photograph and thought it would make a great painting. But I didn’t feel ready to tackle it. For over a year, every time I came across it in my Photo Archives on my computer, I would look at it and think, I’m not ready. But then one day in my Lincoln studio, for reasons I’m not totally clear on, I finally felt ready. I dived in, and magic happened.

Kelly inprog1

I started by drawing outlines of the different color areas on my canvas.

I’m showing you the step-by-step in-progress shots of the painting here, but they don’t really explain how it came together. The real defining factor was my willingness to keep it loose by not worrying too much about how it was going to turn out. I say that like it’s something I can call on at will. I wish that were true! I wish I could always be in that space. But it’s elusive.

Kelly inprog2

Rather than my usual method of doing a single-color wash over the drawing, this time I did several washes giving me a general idea of the colors of the painting right from the start.

That said, I find the older I get, the less I care about shit in general. This is one of the compensations of age. Your perspective broadens and you have an easier time staying focused on the stuff that matters and kind of letting the rest go wherever it goes. At least that’s how it’s working for me.

Kelly inprog3

My best paintings seem to happen all in one go, and this one was no exception. This is the painting about 3 hours in.

Kelly inprog4

Here's the painting about a half-hour later--99% done.

What that means in terms of my work as a painter is that I have a higher percentage of those days when I’m able to just paint, stay loose, and enjoy the process of moving the paint around without trying to make a perfect painting. I say a higher percentage—so now it’s maybe one painting session out of 5 instead of one out of 30! That still means things are less than optimal 80% of the time. That doesn’t mean I don’t do okay stuff during that 80% (I have developed some solid skills in 35 years of painting). But having everything come together in a painting session is still a kind of miracle, and when it happens even 20% of the time, you gotta feel blessed. I certainly do.

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The finished painting.

That day, I was blessed by everything coming together to make possible a terrific painting. And that’s right in line with how blessed I feel to have Kelly as my sister and my friend.

Oh yeah—I call the painting “Workaholic” because Kelly, like me, is one.

Art takes balls header

May 24, 2013

• COURAGE AND STAMINA
• LET THE PAINT RUN!
• THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO
• MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID
• NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE
• NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT



COURAGE AND STAMINA


The title isn’t meant to imply anything about the gender of an artist. (Most female artists I know have cojones at least as big as the male ones.)

I’m talking about courage and stamina.

I used to say one of my goals with painting was to get looser and freer with my use of paint. A fellow painter pointed out that ‘looseness’ is not actually an end in itself, and I realized that’s true. So I restated my goal: I aim for boldness, authenticity and courage in my work. The tendency among most of us humans is to attempt to get it right, and get approval for having done it right. Being an artist requires one to give up the need for approval (as much as that’s possible while living in relationship with other beings) and to look instead to your own heart and instincts as the arbiter of what is good and satisfying in your work.

I don’t say that’s easy or that I’m always successful at it, but I have found that I’m most excited and happy with my art when I’m painting in bold, expansive strokes, rather than using a small brush to get some tiny detail just right.

Or, to put it another way, big and bold allows me to say what I want to say with more honesty and power than little and careful.

This is not easy. It takes, like I said, courage and stamina.

To complicate things, as an artist you’re fighting on two fronts. One is the battle at the easel, where you’re always aware of the risk that your next big, audacious brushstroke could destroy hours of work (but playing it safe is even worse!). The other is the battle to stay bold and courageous and keep painting, year in and year out, even when nobody is buying your work and it appears to you that nobody even likes it.

It takes courage and stamina. Or, more succinctly, balls.

It’s true. If you’re doing it right, Art Takes Balls.

I guess I’ve just announced that I do, indeed, have a pair. So with no further ado, allow me to share with you the latest examples of my, uh, ballsiness…



LET THE PAINT RUN!

Thanks not only to my growing boldness but also the encouragement of my friend John, an artist and gallery representative (who reminded me that big paintings look much better on gallery walls!), I paint a lot bigger than I used to. When I decided to do a painting of my old friend and 1990s-era model Ramses, I cut a BIG piece of canvas and tacked it up on my easel.

Waipio sourceimage

This pre-digital 1993 shot of Ramses was on a 35mm slide, so I had to scan it. Not the best image quality, but good enough for me to work from.

It takes a lot of determination for me to let go and just splash paint onto the canvas. Letting go of control has never been easy for me! So I prepare by looking at lots of artists whose work is full of expressive power. Not only does this inspire me and get me excited, it also gives me permission to let go of the need to do it right and the need to get approval. If they did it, I can do it.

Waipio inprog1

Waipio inprog2

As usual, I drew the outlines of the figure onto the canvas with pencil, then painted over it with a wash. Sometimes I do a single color over the whole painting; other times, as here, I start laying in some of the actual colors I’ll use in the painting.

Waipio inprog3

Here (above) is where I diverged from my usual routine: Taking inspiration from the works of other artists I’d been looking at to prepare for this painting, I used medium to thin my acrylic paint way down, so that when I applied it to the canvas, it would drip and run. I did this with some purple mixes along the top edge, so they would drip down across the entire canvas. I’ve seen this in lots of other artists’ work and always loved the energy of it, but never before had the balls to really commit to it in my own painting. As I stood back and watched the paint run, I felt triumphant. I also felt apprehensive because I’d never done this before. Could I really pull off a painting this loose and out of control?

Waipio inprog4

It turns out, yes, I could, but only by staying really conscious of what I was doing every step of the way. I did this by constantly referring back to the works of other artists I’m looking at while doing this painting. Their works are inspiring and guiding me through this process, and providing me with constant reminders to take chances and be willing to totally mess up the painting in return for a big, bold, energetic series of brushstrokes.

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Above is the finished painting. I’m pleased with it and proud of how much energy it has. I perhaps over-finished the figure a bit, but not too much. This painting was a definite step forward for me and I notice that I don’t get tired of looking at it…definitely a good sign.



THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO

It’s not an easy thing to do, given the way the human eye and mind work, but it’s essential to creating good art. I’m talking about seeing the big shapes. We’re so used to looking at detail, focusing on the parts that interest us most, that seeing the big picture is a challenge. So I use technology to help me.

I like to tweak my source photo in Photoshop to help me see the big shapes and skip the details. I do this by using a filter called Median to blur the image in a way that I like. I can still see the big shapes but the details are mostly gone. Then I use another filter called Posterize to reduce the number of colors (or values, if you’re working in black and white) in the image. I’m left with a nice simplified bunch of basic abstract shapes.

Ip15 sourceimage 2up

Left side is the untweaked photo. On the right, the Median filter then Posterize have been applied.

My source image for this painting was a photograph I shot of Eduardo lying on a blanket on the lanai of the Ipanema Towers apartment in Rio. I liked the pose, the composition, the lighting, the colors of this image, and as I tweaked it in Photoshop, I liked it even better.

Ip15 inprog1

Above, you can see the pencil sketch on canvas. I’ve used the tweaked photograph to map out the basic areas of color. My goal is to keep to those simplified shapes all through the painting.

Ip15 inprog2

Ip15 inprog3

In photos 2 and 3 above, you can see my progress. I began with a purple wash, then after that dried I began painting in flat areas of color. As always with this approach, I’m staying aware that acrylic paints are lighter when wet than when dry, so sometimes I have to repaint an area that’s turned out to be too dark, or not dark enough, once it’s dried (5 to 10 minutes later, unless it’s very thick). In this painting I had the most issues with the blanket and had to repaint some areas a couple of times. But I’ve gotten a lot better than I used to be at gauging the amount of value change that’s going to happen after the paint dries.

Ip15 inprog4

In the above photo everything is in place, pretty much. What needs to be done now is balancing. Especially balancing the values (light vs. dark) and the colors (warm vs. cool). In a painting like this that’s a dance that can take a while, with lots of painting or repainting an area, then waiting for the paint to dry, then standing WAY back to see if it worked.

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Above, the final painting. As you can see, one of the big changes I made was to make the middle tones of the body warmer, both the reds and greens. It’s just a matter of trying stuff out, and keeping what works. I call this one “Ipanema Towers 15.”



MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID

When I was in the Dominican Republic doing the Caribbean Boys Gone Wild shoot, my favorite model of the 4 turned out to be Leandro. There was just something about him that was my type: a sweet, shy, handsome boy, with a devilish exhibitionist lurking just underneath. I shot several images of him with a towel over his shoulder, leaning against a coconut palm, and they captured him in a way that I really liked. I chose one of these shots for my next painting.

1611 sourceimage

This image is not a great photograph (it’s not even in focus!), but I like the feeling of it, the way it captures Leandro and that moment in time, and that’s what I’m going for as I turn it into a painting.

1611

No in-progress shots on this one, since it happened in one feverish burst of creativity. One of my new artistic tools is acrylic colors that are not in a tube but in a squeeze bottle . The dripping I accomplished in the Ramses painting above was done by adding lots of medium to tube paints. But I’ve since begun using these very liquid acrylic paints. They’re formulated to be runny and drippy and just messy as hell…which is exactly what I need. That’s the type of paint I began using in this painting, and I love what happened. In the past when I’ve painted with tube colors (which are a lot thicker and not at all runny), I like the buildup of paint, the impasto possibilities, but what I don’t like is the way the paint kind of fights you as you’re applying it. Discovering these new more-liquid paints has been wonderful! I love the ease with which I can apply a big, runny splash of paint. There’s one fewer barrier between me and just PAINTING. Which worked out very well for me in the above work, which I entitled “Dominican Boy with Towel.”



NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE

The painting that followed Leandro on a Dominican beach was a painting of a Dominican beach itself. I shot lots of pictures of beautiful young men in the D.R., but I also got a lot of wonderful photographs of the place itself. So many, in fact, that it was hard to choose one for a landscape painting. I picked one almost at random, since there were so many good ones. The one I chose is of a place called Playa Bonita, near the town of Las Terrenas. It’s late afternoon so the shadows of the coconut palms are long, and there’s a purpling of the distant sky—great ingredients for a rich, atmospheric painting.

1612 sourceimage

Here's the original photograph of Playa Bonita in the late afternoon.

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1612 sourceimage twkd

Here's the photo prepared for painting. As usual I've blurred it with median to remove detail, then posterized it to narrow down the range of colors and values.

1612 sourceimage BW

Here's a greyscale (de-saturated) version of the tweaked photo. This version is very useful for reference while I'm painting. Removing the color makes it that much easier to see the big shapes and nothing else.

As I’ve said many times in many blog entries, tweaking the image in the way I’ve done above makes it simpler and removes details, which makes it easier for me to see the BIG SHAPES. If you can get the big shapes right, and get the values (lights and darks) right in relationship to each other, you’ve pretty much got it made, painting-wise.

Playabonita inprog1

To my surprise, after laying in the basic shapes and colors rather quickly, I stood back and everything had kind of fallen into place. This is what happens when you get the big shapes and the values right---everything falls into place.

When you’re painting big shapes and painting energetically, a painting can come together pretty quickly. Of course it can also completely collapse pretty quickly, and that happens to me too (I just don’t usually put those in a blog!). This was one of those that came together pretty quickly. A lot of that was because I was pretty disciplined about painting only the big shapes, almost no small details—maybe a palm frond sticking up here and there just to suggest what kind of trees you’re seeing, but everything else is big, broad brushstrokes. Another help is the black-and-white version of the image. Sometimes color gets in the way of seeing the big shapes, and a greyscale image can clarify things.

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Above is the final painting, “Playa Bonita.” As you can see, I didn’t have to do too much after the basic block-in. When a painting comes together this quickly and almost efforlessly, it’s like magic. It makes you forget (almost) all those times when everything just falls apart and you don’t have a clue why the painting didn’t work!



NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT

I’ve done quite a few paintings and drawings of Kaimana, but every time I go back to my photographs of him, I discover great images that I haven’t painted yet. Below is one of them.

1615 sourceimage

I approached this painting in the same way I’ve been approaching all my paintings lately: as an abstract work that just happens to have some recognizable realistic elements. Of course when I’m finished it usually looks pretty realistic, but what’s important is that while I’m painting, I’m paying more attention to how the colors and shapes and paintstrokes are feeling and interacting than how close the painting is to the source photo. This is another great advantage of paying attention only to the big shapes: there are no details to cramp your style. Or very few, anyway. As I keep saying, when you get the big shapes right, the details fall into place. Or put another way, the details end up getting filled in by the viewer.

1615 inprog1

You can see by the above in-progress shot of the painting that I’m not focusing on any one area; I’m working all over the painting. This used to be something I had trouble remembering to do. Nowadays I do it without even thinking about it. This is great progress for me, and more evidence that I’m looking at the big shapes, the entire composition, almost constantly. Which is great because there’s much less chance it’ll get out of balance.

An interesting thing that happened in the course of this painting was what I did with the water. When I looked at the photograph, the water looked kind of uninteresting and I thought, uh-oh, what am I gonna do with that water? But as I was painting, I was thinking abstractly, and I knew the area needed some visual interest, so I found myself breaking up the water area with bold brushstrokes and strong darks and strong lights. Not accurate but turned out to be totally right for the composition.

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Above is the finished painting. (Difference in colors between in-progress shot and finished painting is due to the difference between shooting something with a camera and scanning it. The finished work, which was scanned, is much closer to the true colors.) I call this one “Hawaiian Nude with Surfboard.”

Painting buzios header

March 21, 2012

• BARRA
• A VISIT TO BUZIOS
• DRAWING HOUSES
• TAKING THE PLUNGE



BARRA


I did a Brazilian beach painting and cityscape back in 1995 called Barra.

Barra is the name of my favorite beach in the Bahian city of Salvador. I liked the painting a lot at the time, and over the years I’ve grown to like it even more. Many times I’ve thought, I wish I could do one of those again.

Meaning, another tropical cityscape with that kind of strength and visual interest and just the right amount of whimsy.

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Looking back at my own work for inspiration: Barra, a 1995 painting I did of a beach in the Bahian city of Salvador.

But painting doesn’t work that way. At least it doesn’t for me. Capturing the magic that happened with Barra again was something that would happen when it was time for it to happen.

As you know, I’ve recently been living through a Nebraska winter for the first time in 41 years. And as you also know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, it’s been a blessing in disguise, both forcing and allowing me to focus on my art in a way I haven’t for over 20 years.

I’ve been painting or drawing every day for many months now, and to say I’m warmed up and in the groove would be an understatement. I’m hot. I’m cooking. But wait! That doesn’t mean everything I try works out. What it means is, I take bigger chances, and more often. Consequently I’m growing like crazy.

So painting ideas that would have scared me or put me off in the past, I now look at and go, okay, WTF, let’s try it. That’s how I came to do a painting of Búzios.



A VISIT TO BUZIOS

I’d visited Brazil lots of times, but it wasn’t until my 2008 trip there with my friend Steph that I visited Búzios (if you want, you can read about that trip—Búzios is just a small part of it—here).

Búzios was a little fishing village in the 1950s when French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered it and soon the rest of the world did, too. Now it’s a bit different, with Gucci and Prada stores instead of little fishing shacks. But it still has charm and a lot of natural beauty. Steph and I enjoyed our time there a lot, and I shot quite a few photographs.

I was looking at some of those photographs a couple of weeks ago when the idea struck. Looking at the way the houses climbed up the hill, with palm trees peeking out, I started to see something that excited me. I could picture the kind of painting I wanted to do, and it was definitely the same flavor as I’d found when I painted Barra back in 1995. But the photograph was lacking something. There was no beach in it.

Buzios top

This was the photograph that first triggered the idea of a Búzios painting. But it needed something.

So I found a second photograph taken at about the same time which did have the beach in it. Then, using one of my favorite creative tools, Photoshop, I cut and pasted the 2 photographs together.

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This photograph of the actual beach gave me the rest of the visual elements I needed.

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I put the houses on the hill and the beach together into one image.

The result was not strictly realistic, of course, but it did capture the image of Búzios I’d had in my mind since my visit there. It gave me a starting point for my painting. Below is the first rough sketch I did of my idea for the composition.

Buzios sm 01 border



DRAWING HOUSES

I’ve never been much good at drawing buildings. They’ve just never excited me. But I knew that in order to make this painting work, I needed to improve my house-drawing abilities. I didn’t need to learn to make an architectural drawing, but I did need some practice in capturing the personality of a house, and of a group of houses on a hill. I had a picture in my mind of the kind of whimsical, crazy-angled houses I wanted to put on that hill, but I didn’t yet know how to draw them. So I dived in and began sketching.

Buzios sm 05

The first sketches I did were fairly realistic, since I needed to get a feeling for which details should be left in and which could be left out and still keep the feeling of the building.

Buzios sm 03

Buzios sm 04 border

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As I continued, the buildings got less detailed and more fanciful. And I gradually got more confident. I did another compositional study:

Buzios sm 02 border

This time I indicated some boats in the foreground.

Then, as I got closer to actually tackling the painting, I decided to do a color acrylic sketch.

Buzios sm colorprepsketch01

With this acrylic sketch I got to try out some of the sketch ideas in painting form.

I wasn’t that happy with the acrylic sketch, but it helped me by showing me where I didn’t want to go with the painting. I wanted less detail and less 3-dimensionality. I wanted the painting to be flatter, more about line and color, and less about realism.

Despite that, I still felt the need to do a house painting that showed what I’d learned over the past few days of sketching, so I took a piece of Strathmore bristol stock and tacked it up on my easel and did a little painting of a tropical house (below). It was kind of fun, but it was pretty intense, too…lots of precision and detail—the exact opposite of what I was intending for the painting I was about to do.

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If you take another look at the pencil sketches above, you'll find the inspiration for this little tropical house.

For some reason I still feel like I have to ‘pay my dues’ from time to time by doing something detailed and precise, thereby earning the right to do something light, fluid and whimsical. Silly, I know. But I still do it.



TAKING THE PLUNGE

Now that I had paid my dues I finally felt ready to begin the painting. I got up knowing that today was the day. It was with great trepidation that I began sketching onto a big piece of canvas that morning. I felt like I was biting off a lot with this one. But I knew I had to take the plunge.

And magic began to happen. The drawing almost did itself. I was thrilled that all the preparatory work I’d done seemed to be paying off. I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep things so bold, simple and clean if I hadn’t done all those sketches of buildings that weren’t bold, simple and clean.

When I finished drawing the trees and buildings and began on the beach, I ‘saw’ a guy working on his boat and another tourist-type guy standing watching him, and it was as if I’d always known I would put those figures in. Except I hadn’t known it consciously. But there they were, and they fit perfectly.

The next step was to ‘ink’ it, using black acrylic paint to go over the lines of the drawing.

Inprog1 buzios

The next step, as usual, was to paint a wash of purplish-brown over the inked drawing, and wait for that to dry. While it dried I began mixing colors.

Often in these step-by-step recountings of my studio process, I talk about the difficulties I encountered in a particular painting and how I overcame them. But sometimes, everything just falls into place. This was one of those (magical) times.

Inprog2 buzios

Not that I wasn’t making decisions all the time as I went along. For instance, I knew that I wanted to reserve the whitest white of the houses on the hill for the lower center, because I knew that white would draw the eye. So I consciously chose which group of houses would be the focal point on the hill. Another thing that happened in the course of the drawing was realizing I needed one of the palm trees to be another focal point, so I made the lower right palm tree the biggest, closest tree and made it stand out slightly in front of the background. There’s always gotta be this dance between the foreground and the background, or between the focal point and the stuff around it that makes it the focal point.

Of course all those subdominant focal points are there to make an interesting path for the eye to end up at the dominant focal point, which is the guy in the hat standing on the beach. Which I didn’t even put in until I was actually laying in the final drawing on the canvas. This is why I sometimes say, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I do know what I’m doing, but it’s like my body knows, not my conscious mind, and somehow, more often than not, I end up doing what works.

There were little adjustments that needed to be made as I finished the painting, but the big stuff had already been worked out. Just about 1 week after I first started doing rough sketches, I completed the painting I call “Búzios.”

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The finished painting: Búzios.

LINK: Douglas Simonson Gallery: Paintings