Posts Tagged ‘male figure’

Threepainting header

August 9, 2016

CONTENTS

• THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE
• PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH
• PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA
• PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH
• DIVING IN
• WRAPPING IT UP

(Note: Titles are clickable)


THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE


My default painting routine is to work on one thing at a time.

A painting has always been, for me, a big commitment, and for a long time I thought one at a time was all I could handle. But over the past few years that’s begun changing gradually. I’ve gotten more confident–and I’ve found advantages to keeping several paintings going at the same time.

One is that while the paint is drying on one painting, I can move to the next one. An even bigger advantage is that changing focus from one painting to another gives me more perspective. I’ve found that working on a single painting for days or even weeks at a time starts to burn me out. I get sick of the painting, and in a way I can’t even see it anymore.

But going from one painting to another gives me a break. When I move from one painting to another instead of staying focused on just one, I can see each one with fresher eyes.

Here’s what happened recently when I got three paintings going at once.


PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH


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This is the source image I used for the Brian in ballcap painting.

A couple of weeks ago I found a photograph I shot of Brian on a Hawaii beach and thought it would be fun to paint it. I did change it a bit though, by adding some palm trees from another painting. They not only give the image more of a tropical feeling, they improve the composition. One of the things I liked and kept from the photo was the sandal in front of the figure; I like that there’s only one. I started sketching in pencil and pretty quickly came up with something I liked.

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Here's the preparatory sketch for the painting I was already calling Ballcap Beach.

The next step was to transfer it to the canvas. Once I had the pencil drawing in place, I used a black-acrylic marker to outline everything.

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After transferring the image to canvas with pencil, I went over all the lines with black acrylic paint.

Once that was dry, I went over everything with an acrylic wash. (A wash is simply very watered-down paint, to cover the underdrawing with a transparent layer of color.) I usually use a single more-or-less neutral tone, but lately I’ve been using several colors which suggest the colors I expect to use in the actual painting.

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Here's the image after I've applied a multicolor acrylic wash.

My usual next step would be to begin applying the actual paint. But something told me no, wait, let’s not go directly ahead on this painting–let’s start another one. I don’t usually do this, but I trust my gut instincts, so I went looking for another image to paint.


PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA


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I shot this image of Nohea in Hawaii a few years ago. On the right I've tweaked the image in Photoshop to make it easier to see patterns of color and light and dark.

I found inspiration in a photo shoot I did of Nohea a few years ago in the lush tropical backyard of my Honolulu friends Kei and Dick. The image that excited me was actually an image that’s excited me for years, and in fact I’ve already painted it a couple of times. But neither of those (realistic) paintings really satisfied me. I thought I’d like to try an Expressionist approach for this image and see what happened. So I began sketching. When I had sketched enough to figure out what went where, I started transferring the image to canvas.

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Two of the rough sketches which helped me work things out visually in preparation for painting.

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Penciling, outlining and color wash done--ready to start painting.

And, just as with the previous painting, I decided not to start painting on this one just yet.


PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH


Something told me, let’s get one more painting going before we dive into the next step on any of them. So I went looking one more time for inspiration.

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Here's the source image of Khanh I decided to use for my third painting.

And found it in a relatively recent photo session. I met Vietnamese bodybuilder Khanh at the gym during the short time I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska with family a couple of years ago. I’ve focused on nudes of Khanh in the past but I decided I wanted to do a G-rated image this time. I found some great shots from the very first images I shot of him, in my Lincoln backyard on a summer afternoon.

By now I was so warmed up it only took one sketch to see what I wanted to do with the painting. I went right to putting it onto canvas.

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Here's the preparatory sketch for the Khanh painting.


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Here's the drawing transferred to canvas and inked.



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Color wash done.

Now I had 3 paintings prepped and ready to go.


DIVING IN


I don’t know if I’ve made it clear how unusual it is for me to have three paintings going at once–especially major male-figure paintings with detail and backgrounds and everything. But it is unusual! Nevertheless, as I looked at what I had going and got ready to dive in and start actually painting, it all felt really good and right, like I was ready for this.

I think the big difference is confidence. When I was younger and less experienced, approaching a painting, especially a fairly complex one, was intimidating as hell. I needed everything I could bring to bear to feel like I could deal with it.

But now I’m older and I’ve been painting for a long time, and I’m a lot more confident. I’ve done a lot of paintings and there was nothing in any of these three that I didn’t think I could pull off. In some ways I love being older, and this is one of them.

So, to put it simply, I was ready to dive in.


JUMPING AROUND


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I've now started to lay some real paint onto the painting and see how my ideas are going to work out.

I started with the Brian painting–Ballcap Beach–and it was pretty straightforward. What I mean is, I’ve got a basic set of color mixes I use in a painting like this, and I didn’t see any need to re-invent the wheel. One thing that was a bit different and therefore a challenge in this painting was the way I planning to paint the sand of the beach itself. As you may have noticed in the prep sketch and the first stage on canvas, I invented lines radiating across the foreground to give the composition more energy and interest. My plan was to have the pattern of footprints etc. in the beach sand more or less match those lines. I didn’t know exactly how that was going to work but I trusted I’d figure it out as I went—and early indications were that it was going to work.

I worked for a couple of hours on Ballcap Beach until I started to burn out on it, and then switched to the next painting.

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As I begin applying paint, the work becomes less about line and more about light and shadow.

As I begin applying paint to this one (I’m calling it Khanh in Lincoln) I realize this painting is going to be a lot about light. It’s a summertime backyard scene and although I keep most of the lines I started with, the painting is becoming less about flat line and more about three-dimensional light and shadow. That’s fine with me; I just want to keep going and see where this takes me.

I work on Khanh the rest of that day and a lot of the next one, before I burn out on that one and decide to move on to the next one: Nohea.

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When I begin painting this one, I realize it's probably the most challenging of the three.

Starting to paint the third one (I’m calling it Nohea at Noon) is a bit different than the other two. This one is more of a challenge because of all the lush greenery. There’s a lot going on in this type of subject matter and I don’t want to just copy it. I want to capture a sense of the patterns of a lush jungle without going into a lot of detail. This is not easy, and it’s something I’ve been working on it for quite a few years. It’s a challenge that keeps coming up for me because I love painting the male figure in a lush tropical jungle setting. It’s also a challenge I enjoy.

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I've brought Nohea at Noon quite a ways in two days.

I worked on Nohea at Noon over a couple of days—feeling like I’m doing pretty well at suggesting the jungle foliage without being overly literal—before jumping over to the next painting.


WRAPPING IT UP


Now I had all three paintings at a place where each one required only about one more day of work—in other words, almost ready to wrap them all up. The first one I completed was Khanh in Lincoln.

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Khanh in Lincoln--finished.

My biggest challenge with this painting was color. I wasn’t happy with the colors of the figure for quite a while. I kept adding and subtracting, playing with color, alternating with working on the background, until I got a set of colors that seemed to work well together. Not a hundred percent happy with the painting–but then I never am. I do like the feeling of summer-afternoon light I got. Khanh in Lincoln is finished. Now on to Ballcap Beach!

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Ballcap Beach, the completed painting.

Ballcap Beach came together pretty quickly. It was pretty straightforward, except for the beach, with those radiating composition lines happening underneath. But that approach worked out pretty well. I like the way it feels like a beach, yet it’s still clearly a set of lines that make the composition stronger and more interesting. I also like the expression on Brian’s face. That edgy look he’s giving us was present in the first rough sketch and one of the reasons I liked it so well, so I wanted to keep it in the final painting, and I think I did. This painting was probably the easiest of the three, but still challenging. I really like the way it turned out. Now onto the next one!

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The finished painting: Nohea at Noon.

The last of the three is Nohea at Noon. As I said earlier, this one was the biggest challenge because of the complexity of the greenery. Getting the lighting and colors right on the face and figure was also not easy. It took me a couple of days of work to bring this completion. In the end, I like it, although I wish I’d been able to keep it looser. Still, I think it’s a good painting, if a bit sentimental. I actually like the romantic-fantasy aspect of it.

And so I’m done with all three. It took me about 10 days of working almost every day for about 3-4 hours per day. Not bad, and I think I ended up with three pretty okay paintings. I really like the three-paintings-at-once approach. Not something I’ve always got the energy and intention to undertake, but I definitely want to do it more often.

In the end my only real complaint about this trio of paintings is the usual one: I wish I’d been able to keep that loose, excited, take-a-chance energy of the initial stages right up to the end. But this is always the challenge, and it’s an almost impossible one. It keeps me going and it keeps me excited. I always think when I’m finishing a painting, Damn! I’ll do better on the next one.

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October 18, 2012


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

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

Source 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Getting big with eduardo

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• ON GALLERIES AND OPENINGS
• THINKING BIG
• TRYING TO HIT A MOVING TARGET
• GETTING THE PAINT DRY
• KEEPING THE PAINT WET
• COLORS
• COMPLETION


September 25, 2012



ON GALLERIES AND OPENINGS

After building a 32-year art career with minimal gallery exposure, and proud of my independence, I now find myself thinking about galleries in a new way.

I’ve never had much luck with, or truck with, galleries, for one simple reason: I’ve focused on the male nude my whole career. And not quiet, discreet male nudes, no. Full-frontal, in-your-face male nudes have always been my specialty. I felt it was my duty to be the artist who dared to paint what others were afraid of.

It’s been very satisfying and I wouldn’t change a thing. But obviously a career like mine was not built on gallery shows.

All that said, my attitudes in this area are changing. Recently I’ve noticed I feel less need to be the standard bearer for the male nude in contemporary fine art. In many ways, I’ve said what I had to say. I find my range of subject matter is expanding and opening up—as I’ve been expanding and opening up.

And it’s been pointed out to me by someone who knows me and my work, and also has a lot of experience in the world of galleries, that a relationship with the right gallery could not only achieve more widespread recognition for my work, it could also make my life easier and give me even more freedom.

It’s not so much about making more money. I’ve survived the hard times and my business is beginning to prosper again, and I’m grateful for that. No, it’s more about being in a whole new phase, and letting go of old prejudices and limitations.



THINKING BIG

It was also pointed out to me that galleries like an artist who can give them big, dramatic works that jump off a gallery wall. BIG PAINTINGS! This totally makes sense but it just hadn’t occurred to me—I was always so focused on doing work that would be easy to ship. Anyway, when I heard that, something clicked inside me. I got excited about doing something BIG.

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This was the image I chose to start with for my REALLY BIG PAINTING.

Sometimes you have to stop being sensible and just go for it. You’ve heard this from me before. My whole journey is about those moments when I wake up to another area of my life where I’ve been playing small, and decide to get big. This is another one of those, only in this case it’s literal.

So I took out my roll of canvas and cut out a 3-foot by 5-foot rectangle. This was the biggest piece that would fit on my easel. Wow, I thought, as I wrestled with it, tacking it onto the corkboard, this is big!

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I cropped the image for a nice horizontal-format closeup that focused on Eduardo's mood. Then I posterized the image to break the values into flat areas of color.

I had already picked out an image I wanted to do, a closeup of an Eduardo photograph from our photo shoot in Rio. This quiet, contemplative moment had just the feeling I wanted. I was excited to see what its impact would be as a huge painting.

As I penciled in the underdrawing, I started to get nervous. I realized how much resistance I had to painting something this big. If it didn’t work, it would be a BIG failure. That was scary. But I also know that SCARY is just a label the mind sometimes attaches to EXCITING.

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Here I've just finished the pencil drawing and I'm ready to start putting paint onto the canvas.

I really wanted to do something loose and bold and filled with dramatic brushstrokes, but as I drew the image onto the canvas, I realized that I had bitten off enough just by choosing to do something this big. My goal was to make the painting work at this size, and the loose, bold brushwork would have to wait for upcoming works. So I chose to use an approach I’ve had some experience with: specifically, a posterized look, with flat areas of color. This is the approach I used with one of the few really large paintings I’ve done in the past, Gato, a closeup portrait of Marcus.

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One of the biggest paintings I'd done previously, a closeup of Marcus entitled Gato.



TRYING TO HIT A MOVING TARGET

With a painting like this, where the areas of color are discrete and distinct from each other, the values (lightness/darkness) are very close. That makes this a big challenge when you’re painting in acrylics, because acrylic paints change value significantly when they dry. That is, they’re light when they’re wet and darker when they dry. So laying down one color next to another on the canvas, unless they’re both completely wet and fresh, will show you a deceptive relationship. With acrylics, you can’t know how 2 areas of color are going to relate until they’re both totally dry.

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The beginning of the painting.

What that means in practice with a painting like this one is that every color must be mixed, applied to the canvas, and allowed to dry before you know whether it will work or not. And because the differences in tone are so subtle, usually it doesn’t work the first time—it will dry a bit darker or lighter than you wanted—and you must remix the color and try again. Sometimes an area of color will need to be repainted 3 or 4 times before it’s just right. And THEN, sometimes one of the colors adjacent to it will no longer work and you have to begin the process again with THAT color.

So it’s a real bitch to get the colors right in a painting like this. Or I should say, get the values right—because the colors don’t have to work all that well if the values do. Because acrylics change so much when they dry, it’s like trying to hit a moving target.

Nevertheless, I had some early success with the Eduardo painting, and that gave me energy to keep going.

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GETTING THE PAINT DRY

One thing that really helped was, I started using a floor lamp to accelerate the drying. In the past I would be waiting so long for the colors to dry so I could see if they were right, that I would get impatient and start working on something else. Then I would forget exactly what I’d been doing in the other area of the painting. But using a lamp focused right on the wet paint dries it in a minute or two, so I was able to work in real time rather than on a 20-minute delay.

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KEEPING THE PAINT WET

So while I was speeding up the drying of the paint on the canvas, I was trying to keep the paint on my palette wet. Because acrylics dry so fast, when you’re doing a big painting that takes several days or even longer, it’s a major challenge to keep your mixtures wet. I have a plastic box I place over my palette at night to keep the paint wet. I even place a really wet sponge inside the box with the palette to keep the paint from drying. Another trick is to put the whole thing inside the refrigerator, since cool temperatures keep the paint from drying as fast.

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All of this helps, but only up to a point. In practice, I had to keep re-mixing my colors over and over again. When a mixture started to run out, I had to mix more before it dried and darkened, so I could match wet paint to wet paint. Even then it’s really difficult to get it to match exactly. In the 5 days I worked on this painting, I probably spent 75% of my time mixing paint, and 25% of the time actually putting paint on the canvas.

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The painting is almost complete here--just some final touches remain to be done.



COLORS

Just in case you’re interested, my flesh tones were mostly Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Orange and Titanium White. For the middle tones, I reddened that mixture with a bit of Cadmium Red Medium and Alizarin Crimson. The cooler tones are a grey-green made of Yellow Oxide, Ultramarine Blue, Dioxazine Purple and white. For the background I mixed Ultramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue with Titanium White.

Edu na luz w ds

I posed myself in front of the painting so you could get a better idea of just how big it is.



COMPLETION

The first couple of days were difficult, but once I got my colors working, I got into a kind of rhythm, and by day 3 I was moving along pretty smoothly. There were many areas of the painting I had to repaint 3 or 4 times to get the values just right, but with the lamp-drying trick and my growing familiarity with the mixtures I was using for this painting, I was able to work pretty efficiently.

By the end of the 4th day I was done with everything but the final touches, and I was feeling really proud of myself. I’d tackled a huge challenge and pulled it off!

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Here's the finished painting, Eduardo na Luz. Click on the image to see this artwork on my website.

I don’t know if this will end up on the wall of a gallery or not. But I love the fact that opening up to the idea of showing in galleries inspired me to create this big, exciting painting! “Eduardo na Luz” (Eduardo in the Light) is now showing in my gallery online. Click on the image above to go there.



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Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

Below is the finished work.

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

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


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Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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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.

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

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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!)


20 MINUTES IS ENOUGH: LETTER TO A FELLOW ARTIST

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.

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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!

Aloha
Douglas


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


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 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.”