Posts Tagged ‘lincoln’

Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic

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

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.


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.


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.

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

Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic

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

August 28, 2012

My latest painting is from a series of photographs I shot of Brian after our Hawaii photo shoot. I had put away my camera—in fact I had run out of space on the memory cards I’d brought along—and Brian and I were relaxing on the beach before heading back to town. I got naked right along with Brian and went swimming. After, we were lying on the beach talking, and I became aware of how great the light was, and how relaxed and hot Brian looked, and I thought, I have to photograph this. Then I remembered—no more memory in the camera.

But I had my little point-and-shoot digital camera with me! So I grabbed it and began shooting. I got some GREAT shots. Unfortunately they were all very low-resoluation so I knew I could never use them as photographs. I did think, however, that someday I might do a painting from one of them.

Someday came just a couple of days ago, when I was casting about for subject matter for my next painting. I came across those lo-res Brian photographs and thought, yes! These really fit my mood right now. I chose my favorite of the moment, tweaked it in Photoshop, printed out a reference photo, tacked a piece of canvas up on my bulletin-board easel, and started mixing colors.

Om tattoo source1

One of the great, but lo-res, photographs I shot of Brian after the photo shoot.

Om tattoo source2

The same photo after tweaking it in Photoshop (using the Median filter, then posterizing) to remove details so I'm forced to see just the big shapes.

I blocked in the painting using the above image, where no detail is visible. This keeps me focused on the big shapes and counters the natural tendency to get too caught up in detail. Detail comes much later, if at all.

Om tattoo inprog

Above is the painting at about the halfway point.

Below you see the finished work (which I entitled “Om Tattoo”). This one took about 5 or 6 hours of work, total.

Om Tattoo painting

Click on the image to see this work on my website. (It may still be available!)


The following is based on a letter I wrote to a fellow artist a few days ago. After I sent it, I thought, that would make a great blog entry. So here it is:

August 30, 2012

Dear John,

Nice to hear from you, and thanks for sharing about what’s going on with you painting-wise.

I had a feeling you were feeling stuck because of the pressure to paint caused by your ‘street scenes assignment’. I had this feeling because (a) I am feeling the same thing right now based on a commission i’m working on, and (2) This is a pretty common response to this kind of situation.

I have a commission to do 4 paintings of exactly the kind of thing I like to do when i’m ‘playing.’ so now i’ve managed to turn play into work and i’m hating it. I know there’s a very small twist of mind—a subtle change of attitude—required to get back to playing, and i’m getting closer to it. This is one of the great dilemmas/challenges of creating for a living and, of course, one of the great challenges of being alive and being a human in a body: How do you give up the belief that it all matters and is important and you must be careful, in favor of the point of view that none of it is real, there is no danger, and boldness and wild abandon are called for virtually all the time?

As I said, i’m getting closer.

In the same vein of giving myself needed good advice under the guise of giving you needed good advice: I’d like to disabuse you of the mistaken notion that you must have a several-hour block of time to get any painting done. It’s not true. Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to do some painting.

Yes, it’s a wonderful luxury to have a 3- or 4-hour block of time in which to paint, and I prefer it. But I like to keep some small pieces of canvas at hand for those 15- or 30-minute periods that pop up. In that amount of time you can easily put the canvas up on the easel (or in my case, tack the piece of unstretched canvas onto my big bulletin board), squeeze out 3 or 4 dollops of paint and just start putting paint on canvas for the pure pleasure of moving paint around with no goal other than that. The goal is not to have a goal. To remind yourself that painting needn’t be a monumental undertaking—that painting is easy and fun when you’re free of the need to achieve something.

What i’m doing at the moment is putting the laptop next to the easel and putting works on the screen that excite me (like Kim English paintings, for instance) and doing quick, rough copies. Or maybe just copying PART of the painting to see how he got a certain effect. Exploring, in other words, with a guide.

The one below is a copy of a painting by Jaime Jones, one of many painters whose work inspires me.

Jaime jones copy1 sm

I spent 25 or 30 mins on this one and while gratified that I had fun and learned quite a bit, had to forgive myself for not even getting close to the crispness and beautifully spaced values of the original. (The judgmental mind thinks that even in a quick copy I should still be able to create a flawless replica, or I obviously am worthless as a painter. Thank you for sharing, Mind.)

Kim english copy1 sm

The second one I tackled, above, is Kim English. Again, I learned, and again, I’m amazed at how difficult it is to get that sense of pervading light he’s so good at. This one took about 20 minutes.

Kim english copy2 sm

The one above, the third, is also Kim English, and I blithely eliminated the figure because I just wanted to focus on the steps and the way he captured the light. Again, I had fun and learned a lot, and again, wow, it’s amazing how far off my version is, and how I missed that until now when I’m looking at it on a computer screen. But–this is how I get closer to being able to capture it.

By the way, both 2 and 3 were done entirely using burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and white (except I added some burnt umber for the dark figures in 2).

Robt lemler copy1

The one above took about a half-hour. The painting is by Robert Lemler, whom I recently discovered online. This was relatively easy to copy because the big shapes are so obvious and there’s not much detail to distract. Not that my copy is anywhere near the original. But a very good exercise and one I really enjoyed. (I do think my shrubs look more like green boulders, but for a quick exercise I’m fine with them.)

So there you are. You don’t need a lot of time to learn a lot, and have a lot of fun, as long as you’re not too busy beating yourself up for not having created a timeless masterpiece.

And really, just spending 20 to 30 minutes every day glopping some paint onto canvas and moving it around makes a huge difference, more than you can imagine if you haven’t tried it for a few weeks or months and seen the results.

Enough for now…thanks for being a stand-in for me so I can write a letter to myself. Back to the easel!


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

Ds instudio w subtitle2

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


July 7, 2012

As I write this from my Lincoln, Nebraska studio, after spending 3 full months in Honolulu and now another three-plus months in Nebraska, I’m thinking: Hey! This is supposed to be the “On the Road” Blog!

My full-time travel lifestyle seems to have gotten bogged down!

Well…once again we find out, THINGS OFTEN DON’T GO AS PLANNED.

Then again–the magic usually doesn’t happen inside the plan.


SHORT RE-CAP: My goal was to (a) sell my Waikiki apartment and get out from under an onerous mortgage, and (b) pack up my entire studio and office and ship it to Nebraska, where a more affordable cost of living and a more central location would facilitate my new full-time travel lifestyle.

On April 4, I sank into my seat on the plane in Honolulu with a huge sigh of relief. My entire life and career had been packed into boxes and was on its way to Lincoln, Nebraska. And now, finally, so was I! Best of all, my apartment had been sold and was already in escrow. Everything was falling into place.

Or so I thought.

Within 24 hours the apartment sale had fallen through and that began a long chain of similar disappointments. Now, over 2 months later, the apartment is still unsold.

And here I am in Nebraska working my butt off to keep the mortgage paid on my Hawaii apartment.

You can imagine the frustration I’ve been feeling.


Something unexpected has begun to happen.


I’m now living in a 1-bedroom brick duplex on Dakota Street, in a quiet neighborhood just a few blocks from my sister Kelly’s house. The duplex has a full basement, and that’s where I’ve set up my studio. Now that everything is in place and I’ve begun actually painting, I’ve found this may be the best studio I’ve ever created for myself. It’s set up exactly as I like it and there’s plenty of space.

So I’ve got a great studio.

Unfortunately, I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I have NO LIFE.

Wait, did I say “unfortunately”?

It turns out NO LIFE is exactly what the doctor ordered. Here in Lincoln, I don’t have the distractions I had in Honolulu. No social life to speak of, no ocean singing its siren song, no Hula’s just around the corner.

So here I am with a great studio, no social life, and bills to pay…I guess there’s only one thing to do.




It’s taken me a while to get it, but now I know: This is why I’m in Nebraska.

Let me give you a little history. I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years. I’ve created a lot of art in that time, but not nearly as much as I could have. I keep records of these things, and recently I looked at my art-production numbers over my career. Turns out my most productive year ever happened back in 1990. I did over 120 original works that year (not counting rough sketches). That’s about 10 a month! The early 1990s as a whole were an incredibly productive period for me.

Not a coincidence that I produced some of my most memorable works during that time.

DS 1986 studio small

This is me in the late 1980's. I didn't know it, but my most productive period as a painter was about to begin.

Fast-forward to 2011, last year. I produced 24 originals. For the whole year. Quite a difference. Yes, I’d been traveling, but that’s not the heart of it. Mostly I just hadn’t made painting a priority.

If you’ve never painted, you won’t know about the love-hate relationship. When a painting is working it’s a magic time. It makes everything worthwhile. But when a painting is not working, it’s a nightmare! And when you don’t have a painting going, and it’s time to start one, it’s terrifying. You’ll do almost anything to avoid going into the studio. This is how it is for me and many other painters I know. What it really comes down to is fear. It’s just too easy to give in to the fear of failure or screwing up.

So for years and years, it was incredibly easy to avoid painting and do just about anything else. And that worked, for a while. But one basic fact turns out to be unavoidable…


Whether I like it or not!

Turns out I needed the combination of factors that are now in place–a great studio space, no distractions, and financial pressures–to rediscover myself as a painter.


Once I got the studio set up and started painting, things really started to bubble and then boil over. I’m talking about a creative fever. I didn’t know until now how hungry I was to paint and try out all those visual ideas that had been popping into my brain all these years but which I had managed to avoid because of fear.

So it turns out I didn’t move to Nebraska just to create a more practical jumping-off point for my new traveling lifestyle–I moved here so I could become a BETTER PAINTER.

It took the combination of factors I just mentioned to get me out of my comfort zone and back into Painter Mode.

SERIOUS Painter Mode.

In the month of June I completed FOURTEEN PAINTINGS.

And I had an amazing time doing it.

Recent art comp

These are just some of the paintings I've completed in the past few weeks. Click on the image to see these and more on my website.

I’m learning, growing, changing, breaking through my fears over and over again. I thought I wasn’t on the road, but guess what: like Jamiroquai said, I’m TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING.

You can’t go from years of painting in a haphazard, lackadaisical way to painting full-time with great enthusiasm and energy, without experiencing some major shifts.

One of the great developments has been that my painting has gotten looser. I recently wrote to an artist I greatly admired and told her how much I loved how loose her paintings were and that’s what I’m always going for. She pointed out that looseness wasn’t really an end in itself, and I said yes, thank you, you’re absolutely right. I realized what I’m really saying is, I keep going for PAINTING WITHOUT FEAR.

That’s what I’ve been doing here in Lincoln.

I’ve been painting with more courage than ever before, spending a lot of time out on the tightrope where it’s dangerous and exciting and where the magic lives.

I thought I was stuck in Lincoln. No, I’m FLYING in Lincoln. When the time comes and I’m out on the road again, I will bring more of ME along. I’ll be bigger, stronger, more present, BRAVER. I would say “I can hardly wait,” except that there is no WAITING involved.

I’m too busy PAINTING!

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

1415dakota 2up wtext

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

June 12, 2012

I’ve been in Lincoln, Nebraska since April 4. In that time I’ve managed to set up a new home and studio in a brick duplex on a shady street in a quiet neighborhood. The place is awesome. It has a big backyard where I see rabbits and squirrels and lots of birds every day. It’s inexpensive and comfortable and has an entire basement where I’ve set up my office and studio and there’s still plenty of room for storage.

What’s really great is that here in Lincoln, I don’t have a life! I know that doesn’t sound so great, but it’s perfect for me right now because for the first time in like, oh, 20 years!, I’m in a situation where I can really commit to and focus on my painting. I didn’t realize until I got here and got set up that one of the reasons I’ve made this move is exactly this: the opportunity to dive into painting in a way I really couldn’t in Hawaii. 

So I’ve got lots of painting activity to tell you about—and show you—in this blog entry.


Vinni img9560

This is a shot I took of Vinni on the lanai of my Waikiki apartment last year.

The first major painting I undertook in my newly set-up Nebraska studio was from a photograph of Vinni (Vinicius), the Brazilian guy I photographed almost exactly a year ago in Hawaii. I found a photograph I really liked and decided to do it with a semi-stylized approach. 

I did a LOT of sketching (over 20 drawings) before I began painting, to get this the way I wanted it, with the movement and energy I wanted. As you may be able to see from these images, the position of the figure in the painting is quite different from the photograph. In the photograph, Vinni is in a rather static position. In the painting, he’s leaning forward almost as if he’s about to fly off the chair. There’s more life and movement in his pose. I’ve not only exaggerated the angles in his body, I’ve also exaggerated the angles of everything in the painting: the windows, the louvers in the windows, the shelves with the plants on them, etc. The result is a feeling of life and motion and energy. At least that’s what I was going for, and when I look at the finished painting, I do feel that. Obviously I’ve also exaggerated the colors, and invented a few (like the yellows around Vinni’s arm).

“Vinni’s Hair” took me 4 or 5 days to complete. I immediately jumped right into the next painting…


The second painting was an abstract. Some time ago, inspired by the paintings of Wosene Worke Kostrof (google him to check out his amazing Ethiopian abstracts), I’d done some studies on the computer, using my Wacom tablet. I decided it was time to try to translate them into a real-world painting. This was pretty straightforward since I had already worked out most of the shapes and the colors, so it was a lot of fun.

Wosene experimenting3

Wosene experimenting4

The digital paintings are above. Below is the acrylic painting I did using elements from them.


My next painting was a portrait of Jason, the Irish redhead who modeled for me a couple of years ago. I wanted to do a painting using flat color. My source was a photograph I’d tinkered with in Photoshop using the Posterize filter. That filter takes the nearly infinite graduations of color and tone in the original photograph and reduces them to a relatively few areas of flat color. It’s a beautiful effect and I like translating it into painting.

Redhead source2up

Above you see the source photograph and the results of tweaking the color a bit.

Redhead inprog2up

The photo at left above shows the result of using some Photoshop filters (Posterize and Median) to make the image easier to work from. Above on the right, the painting is well underway. Below, the finished painting. As you can see, I had a lot of fun with color, especially the oranges and greens.


Kawai sam 8549twk

My next painting was inspired by a photograph of Sam and Kawai. In this image Sam was drying Kawai’s back, and I really liked the contrast between the poses of the two: Kawai kind of leaning forward, totally surrendering to having his back toweled off, and Sam very active and aggressive in a loving way, with his back arched and his legs kind of spread. I did several drawings to exaggerate the poses even more before putting it on canvas and starting to paint it. I was intending to keep this loose and spontaneous, but it didn’t really happen that way…

Longleanboyfrd inprog3up

Above are some in-progress shots of the painting. As you can see, rather than something loose and spontaneous, it ended up being rather tight and meticulous. Oh well. As Picasso said, “Painting is my master. It makes me do what it wants.” Below, the finished painting. Click on the image to see it on my website.


Although I didn’t succeed in doing a loose, spontaneous painting with “My Long Lean Boyfriend,” I got a lot closer to my aim in the next painting. For this one I wanted to just do a simple portrait…not challenge myself too much in terms of the image, so I could focus on just staying loose with the painting. I found what I needed image-wise in a photograph of Rod I took a few years ago at Diamond Head Beach.

Rod 2 8 02twk 2up

As you can see, I did my usual tweaking in Photoshop so I could use both a continuous-tone photograph and a posterized version as references. I plunged right in with this painting. After drawing the head and shoulders roughly onto the canvas, I began splashing the paint on, not even pre-mixing my colors (which usually takes me about a half hour!). I just squeezed out some cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt sienna, yellow oxide, dioxazine purple and some white onto my palette and started painting with big, broad strokes.

Definitely NOT my usual approach, and I was really enjoying just throwing the paint onto the canvas, but my mind was going, This will never work out. But as I continued, to my complete surprise, everything fell into place and I ended up with a nice, loosely painted portrait of a beautiful young man. Doesn’t look anything like Rod, but that wasn’t necessarily my purpose anyway. 

I have to tell you, this was a pretty exciting painting for me. Whenever I can break through my need for control and do something this spontaneous and energetic and SURPRISING, it’s a big day for me.


For my next painting I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak (while my courage and excitement were still high off the success of “More Than You Know”), so I dived into a new painting the very next day. This time I wanted to try a landscape. I found a photograph I shot at Tiririca, the beach in Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil where I stayed with my friend Steph back in 2008.

IMG 9120 twk 2up

Here you see my requisite two versions (although sometimes I do 4 or 5 versions with different degrees of tweaking to give me different ways of looking at light-and-shadow patterns).

Bahianbeachscene inprog 2up

Here’s the work in progress. I did pretty well at staying loose for the first part of the painting, but got a little too careful in the latter stages.

I’m pretty happy with it but feel like I got a little too careful. I got a little too caught up in painting the individual fronds of the palm trees, rather than paying attention to the big shapes. So they wound up being less strong than they could have been. But overall I think it works.

Then I moved on to my next attempt at looseness and spontaneity…


IMG 3957comp

For my next attempt at letting go of control I chose one of the most out-of-control models I’ve worked with, Israel. The group of images below is the composite I printed out as a reference for the painting. As usual I used Photoshop to make the light-and-shadow patterns more obvious.

Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time mixing the colors…just squeezed out the basics and started painting. This was easier than the previous paintings because I’m starting to get into the flow of this thing. And my confidence is high. This is all part of what happens when you paint regularly, which I’m now doing. Been a long time since I’ve painted this consistently, day in and day out, week after week, and the benefits are already starting to show. This painting flowed nicely and came together quickly with few missteps. That’s what happens when you’re truly warmed up and in the flow!

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