Posts Tagged ‘male nude painting’

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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.

PAINTING 1: VINNI’S HAIR


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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…

PAINTING 2: SUSPENDED

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.

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


PAINTING 3: REDHEAD

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.

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

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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.


PAINTING 4: MY LONG LEAN BOYFRIEND



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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…


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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.



PAINTING 5: MORE THAN YOU KNOW



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.

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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.


PAINTING 6: BAHIAN BEACH SCENE



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.

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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).

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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…


PAINTING 7: COLORS OF BAHIA


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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


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

October 28, 2011

I came back to Honolulu for a few weeks between travels (see the “On the Road” links above if you’d like to read more about that) and one of my goals was to get some painting done.

Frustratingly, so many other things demanded my attention in the short time I was on the island that it was difficult to find time to draw or paint. But I did find some! I did 3 paintings while I was in Hawaii.

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There was something compellingly beautiful to me of the profile of Steve Chen in the center of this sketchbook page---I wanted to make it into a painting.

I’m drawing in my sketchbook a lot while traveling, and the first painting I did was inspired by a small sketch I did of Steve Chen’s face. (Steve is my newest model and you can see photos and read the story of my Malibu photoshoot with him here.)

This was the first time I’d painted in several weeks (it’s just not practical to take all my painting stuff on the road with me), and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it came together. Painting heads, or more specifically faces, has always been my favorite thing and it was nice to just be able to focus on that.

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This acrylic-on-paper work was a joy to paint. Everything just flowed. I titled it “Boy in Shadow.” It’s not a portrait of Steve Chen, but it was inspired by him. (Click on the image above to see it on my website.)

It turned out to be a couple more weeks before I was able to find time to paint again. I used to feel guilty when I couldn’t get as much painting and drawing done as it seemed I should, but this, like so many things in my life, is changing. I’m finding more and more that when it’s time to paint, it will happen. It’s not about trying hard to make it happen, it’s about allowing it to happen.

That’s how my next painting came to be. I found myself sketching from my Brazil photographs of Baiano and almost immediately, I had a sketch that really worked and I knew it could become a nice painting.

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I loved the energy of the photograph and the sketch that came from it, and had an idea it could make a nice painting. Click on the image to see the sketch on my website.

I approached this painting in my usual way, transferring the drawing to the canvas, then doing a purple wash over it, then painting the outlines in black paint before applying color (look at any of my previous step-by-step painting entries for a review of all that). However, once I began laying in the actual colors, something was different. I was MUCH LESS CAREFUL. I don’t mean careless, not at all; I mean I simply didn’t bother much about whether I was slopping paint into the wrong areas or covering up some of the underlying outlines. I didn’t bother with it because I knew I’d be cleaning up anything that needed cleaning up much later, when I was doing the finishing touches on the painting.

But because I was so much less careful than usual when I was laying in the colors, there was a LOT MORE ENERGY in the brushstrokes and in the overall painting. This was a wonderful development because, as you know if you’ve read previous painting entries, it’s always a challenge for me to loosen up and keep the painting bold and energetic. And the truth is, it’s really not even necessary to be as careful about where the paint goes at this relatively early stage of the painting. It had just been fear, or you could say lack of trust in myself, that kept me from letting loose this much in the past.

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Here's the finished painting, entitled Tiririca. Click on the image to see this item on my website.

The finished painting rewarded my boldness. Not only is it filled with dynamic energy, it also took a lot less time to finish. It’s not always true that less time spent equals better work, but here that was definitely the case. The older and more experienced in life I get, the more I realize that the best results always come when you can find that place of effortlessness and fluidity.

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This is one of a series of shots I have of Kaimana paddling on a surfboard which I used for the next painting.

It was another week or two before another painting “happened.” This was just a few days before I took off for another 3 months of traveling so I was glad this one came along in time for me to finish it before leaving. I had been thinking about a stylized, almost decorative painting of a nude surfer. So I began doing sketches from a series of Kaimana photos.

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Here and below, some of the exploratory sketches I did for the surfer painting. Click on the image to see this item on my website.

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Click on the image to see this item on my website.

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Click on the image to see this item on my website.

This painting experience was a lot like the previous one, where I found myself much more willing to just take chances and let the paint go where it wanted to. Again there was an effortlessness to the painting, and it took less time than usual.

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Here's the result, a painting I call 'Paddling.' Click on the image to see this item on my website.

My experience with these most recent paintings was wonderful and it seems clear to me that this is just another unexpected benefit of my new lifestyle. Living as I do now, where I often don’t know where I’ll be staying or what I’ll be doing tomorrow, let alone a week or month from now, requires a lot more thinking on my feet and trust in myself. It consistently challenges me and forces me to move through my fears. It’s not surprising to discover that living a life that requires more courage and daring is translating into more courage and daring in my work!


Every couple of days I spend an hour or so preparing the next photoset for my Simonson on Location photography website.

This is always an opportunity for me to review past photo shoots, and occasionally I run across images that surprise me. By that I mean I see an image differently than I had before. I see some possibility that had not previously struck me. When that happens, I tag the photograph so I can come back to it later and maybe do something with it.


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This is the photo I started with. Left, the untweaked image; Right, I've lightened it and added some filters, including Posterize.

That’s what happened a recently when I was putting together a photoset of Israel and Wellington, the two models I photographed in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil a few years ago. There was a photograph of the two of them on the beach at Massarandupió that intrigued me. I especially liked the way Wellington was sprawled in the wet sand, looking out at the ocean. I thought it was very strong and a painting could be built around it. So a few days ago I went back to that photograph and started making sketches of it.

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I started by sketching the figures separately until I liked what I had. Then I scanned them both and put them up on the computer screen. I wasn’t sure about the composition of the original photograph and I wanted to experiment with moving the figures around in relation to each other, plus changing their relative sizes. I could have done this by sketching and re-sketching but it’s much faster and easier to do it on the computer.

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After trying out all sorts of combinations/compositions, I decided to reverse the positions of the figures. I actually kind of liked the original composition of the photograph, with its unconventional arrangement of the figures, one looking out of frame to the left, the other walking out of frame to the right—but it was a little too unconventional, I decided, and also said things about separation and isolation, and I didn’t really want to go there with this painting. So I rearranged things for a less edgy, more appealing composition.


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I used Photoshop to make a color digital sketch of the painting. It's much easier to try out color possibilities digitally because you can manipulate the colors and arrangements endlessly, experimenting without penalty to find the ideal solution.

For the next step I also used the computer. I wanted to do a color sketch and again, doing this sort of thing on the computer is much easier because you can change the colors easily and try out all sorts of possibilities without having to do sketch after sketch. After completing the above digital color sketch, I decided I was ready to tackle the actual painting.

The painting itself was kind of an anticlimax, which is both good and bad. When I’ve planned a painting this well, the final execution tends to be fairly straightforward, although there will always be some surprises. I like that. But I also like to take chances and work without a net sometimes, too. This time, though, I liked the fact that the painting played out pretty much as I’d planned it. I spent 3 days completing the actual painting process, so this entire painting took about a week. I call it “Surf Boys.”


My latest painting, entitled “Symmetry”, was a surprise.

By that I mean, I never expected this one to turn into a painting. I was sketching from a photograph of Rico lying on a beach towel. This was a photograph I had never tackled before because it’s kind of a weird angle and I thought it would be hard to draw. And it was—I was having some trouble with it. But then I thought, what if the point of view were directly above Rico, and not from an angle?


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This is the source photo I began with (Rico is the model)

I liked that idea, and I thought it would be cool to make it perfectly symmetrical. Or close to symmetrical, anyway. So I tried it. I did a rough sketch where I changed the angle and made the image more or less symmetrical, as if you were directly above and looking straight down on the figure.


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This is the rough sketch I began with.

I wasn’t expecting much—this was just a little sketch experiment. But I liked the drawing so much I decided to take it to the next step, which would be a drawing that was more detailed and more carefully symmetrical.


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Here's the final preparatory sketch before I transferred the design to canvas.

So I took my rough sketch and re-drew it using a ruler so that everything would be fairly close to equal on both sides. This worked out really well, and I began entertaining the idea of actually doing a painting of this. I hadn’t yet even visualized it or worked out color ideas in my head—which is unusual for me—but it seemed to want to be painted. So without much conscious thought, and a lot of just ‘surrendering to the flow,’ I grabbed a piece of canvas and tacked it up onto my easel.

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Next I scanned the symmetrical drawing and then used a digital projector to project the image onto the canvas so I could trace it with pencil (rather than having to re-measure and re-draw the entire thing to do it in a larger size). Then I laid a brownish-purple acrylic wash over the whole thing. I was still able to see the pencil lines, so once that dried, I painted all the lines in black. That’s the stage you see above, with a couple of daubs of yellow paint added to see how the color looked.


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Now I begin to lay in colors and get an idea of how they're going to work---or not.

Next I began mixing colors, and putting some of them onto the painting, to see how they worked together. What you see above is a result of some experimenting with the upper panels on the towel—trying a color here, a color there, and lightening or darkening or changing the color altogether until it starts to hang together. (As you can see, I wasn’t happy with the design on the towel in the photograph, and created my own design. Not sure why but I kept seeing this sinuous line on either side of the figure—so that’s what I created.)

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Now I’ve laid in most of the colors. At this stage it’s all kind of rough. I wanted to get the colors laid in to make sure it was all going to work. Now that I see that it does, I have two challenges. One is to work with the flat flesh tone of the figure to give it more life. The other is to go in with a small brush and do the fine work of painting carefully around all those black lines.

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The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

Above is the final painting, “Symmetry.” To bring the fleshtones to life, I used some of the oranges, pinks and yellows from the colors in and around the towel and worked them into the colors on the figure. Also, rather than leaving the colors flat, I made the figure more three-dimensional by varying the light and shadow a bit—not much, just enough to make the figure seem more rounded. I also saw that the black lines for the abdominal muscles was just too heavy-handed, and I got rid of those and instead used some fairly subtle highlights to delineate the abs. Then I spent a couple of hours doing the fine work of filling in all the little edges around the black lines, both on the figure and on the beachtowel—the ‘finishing’ touches—and I was done!

This painting was an interesting experience because it kind of just happened, rather than being something I purposefully created. And now that it’s done I’m looking at it and I’m not quite sure what I’ve got. It’s a painting of a boy lying on a beach towel, but because of the way I painted it, it almost seems like a symbol or an icon. The way I painted the beach towel looks almost like a stained-glass window, and the symmetry of the figure adds to the iconic feeling. As I’ve said many times, I don’t always know what I’m painting, or what I have painted. I sometimes see or understand things I didn’t see or understand before about my art when others tell me what they see. So if you have an impression of this painting that you’d like to share, please comment on it here. Thanks.


I’ve come to the conclusion that many people—most people who don’t paint, actually—have a really skewed picture of what it’s like to be a painter.

They have this romanticized idea that a painter strolls into his studio for an hour or two, when he’s ‘inspired,’ and just picks up a brush and dabs some paint onto a canvas and a painting kind of magically ‘appears.’

If you’ve ever tried to make a painting, you know how far that is from the truth.

In fact, painting is such hard work that I resisted becoming a painter for the first 30 years of my life. Yes, I always had ‘talent’–which means that I could take a pencil and draw some lines that were relatively close to the actual visual appearance of something, and people were impressed. But that’s a long way from being a successful painter.

I started studying painting when I was 15, and then only because my mom (who also has a love-hate thing going on with painting) talked me into coming to her oil-painting class one evening. Misery loves company, I guess.

This was in Thedford, Nebraska (population 300 at the time–now it’s even smaller), and a guy named Tom Talbot, a successful landscape painter from a nearby town, taught a painting class one night a week. I went that night, and I had fun, and I started attending regularly. Only gradually did I realize I had gotten hooked on something that would taunt and torture me for the rest of my life.

The problem with painting is there’s so much that can go wrong! Take mixing colors. This alone is a discipline that takes years to learn properly. Even today I still have trouble with it. And then there’s light and shadow, perspective, composition, anatomy. All easy when they’re working and impossible when they’re not. Not to mention the most vital prerequisite for a good painting: a good drawing.

I’ve been drawing my whole life and I still freeze up a bit when I face a blank sheet of paper. I know that’s probably hard for you to believe, but I think it’s true for almost every artist. Just because I’ve created thousands of successful drawings in my life doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten for a second the tens of thousands that WEREN’T successful.

This is what non-artists forget, or don’t think about. For every successful work of art that comes out of a studio, there are probably 5 or 10 (maybe many more) that never made it to completion. Those are the ones that had the artist feeling like a failure. I’m 60 now and I’ve been drawing for at least 55 of those years. And yet this morning when I sat down to sketch, my first few drawings were so bad I tore them up and threw them away. It’s almost always like that.

As intimidating as drawing is, painting is 20 times worse. This is why I say I love and hate painting. You can have a wonderful drawing and it looks like it’s going to make a great painting—and for any one of a million reasons it can fall flat. When a painting is not working, it’s the worst feeling in the world. You feel heavy, and hopeless, and worthless, and you just want the damn thing to be over with. Yet you have to stand there for hour after hour, day after day, trying to bring it to life. This, not the ‘a dab here, a dab there, voilà!’ model, is the reality of painting.

So why am I still torturing myself by being a painter?

Simple.

When a painting is working, when the magic is happening… the sun comes out, birds sing. My heart opens. I smile. I feel like I could float. For a brief moment I’m actually embodying the world’s romantic vision of the creative artist.

It’s wonderful.

And it happens 3, maybe 4 times a year, if I’m lucky.

Most of the time I’m in the trenches, doing the work, hoping for another of those moments of grace when everything falls into place and I feel touched by angels.

Obviously it’s worth it, or I wouldn’t still be doing it. But it’s worth it in the same way it’s worth it to fall in love even though your heart gets broken. The occasional ecstasy is worth all the pain.

What all this is leading up to is a report on my newest source of inspiration. Because if it weren’t for the inspiration I find from time to time, I wouldn’t still be painting. However: every once in a while I come across the work of another artist who so inspires me that I forget the pain and self-doubt and once again, I take the plunge.

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A sample Ashley Wood painting

That happened recently when I discovered the work of Ashley Wood.

As far as I can tell, Ashley Wood is an Australian who has been instrumental in creating several comic-book series with names like World War Robot and Zombies vs. Robots. He has quite a following but I had never heard of him until I ran across him online. He is one of the few artists I’ve ever run across who is as accomplished a painter as he is a cartoonist.

(A brief-but-vital aside here: cartooning is like painting but more so. People think it’s easy and fun because it looks easy and fun. It’s actually every bit as difficult as painting. Maybe more. I don’t expect you to believe me unless you’re an artist who has tried both.)

When I first saw Ashley Wood’s paintings online, I fell over. Who would have thought I would get so excited over not-very-colorful paintings of battle scenes and robots?

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Another of Ashley Wood's paintings. (Click on image to go to Ashley Wood websites)

But it’s not about the subject matter. This guy can PAINT. And by that I mean his paintings are loose and chaotic and yet totally capture what he’s painting. I aspire to that. I love what’s called ‘painterly’ painting. This is painting that’s rich in texture, with energetic brushstrokes, and is clearly a painting, not a photograph. It’s all about using paint energetically. When I saw these paintings I almost levitated over to my easel. I HAD to paint something!

So I did. I started by doing a little copy of one of Ashley Wood’s paintings. How does he stay so loose? I asked myself. Copying his work was a good exercise. It loosened me up.

For a few days I did paintings that didn’t work out—maybe 4 of 5 of them. But that’s typical. It’s about warming up, getting loose, building your self-confidence.

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Then I came across one of my photographs—an image of Brian walking across a rocky beach—that excited me visually. Normally an image with this much complexity (notice all those rocks!) is one I would be wary of. But a painter like Ashley Wood can take all that complexity and reduce it to a few brushstrokes and still convince you you’re looking at a rocky beach. I wanted to see if I could rise to the occasion.

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Here you can see the progression. As I worked, I kept some printouts of Ashley Wood paintings tacked onto the easel to remind me to STAY LOOSE! It definitely made a difference. See the final product below.

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The final painting, 'Koko Crater Day' (click on image to see this item on my website)

After the success of ‘Koko Crater Day,’ I had a lot of energy so I kept going. There were a couple of ‘fails’ before I succeeded again, but I felt so inspired I didn’t let them slow me down.

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I finally struck gold again with a very simple shot of Mike T. wading into the surf. One of the things the original photo had going for it was the dramatic lighting. A tip: dramatic lighting is always easier to pull off than subtle, multi-source lighting. The other positive: few colors. All I needed was some blues, some blue-greens, and fleshtones.

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The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

So I mixed the colors and jumped right in and because I was feeling so fearless, I was able to put the whole painting together in just a couple of hours! Hallelujah! It was fun and everything just flowed. I love the energy and ‘painterliness’ of the end result, which I titled ‘Into the Surf.’

I want to show you one more piece I did during this several-day period of fevered creation. I wanted to try a landscape, and I found this photograph I’d taken at Sandy Beach. The photograph is not that interesting or exciting in itself. I chose it because the composition is pretty workable, and there’s not too much complexity in the landforms. Also because it’s a spot where I’ve spent a lot of time over the years so I have an emotional attachment.

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This painting just flowed, like the ones before it, because I was in a period where I was painting every day, and I was inspired, and felt very confident. It was less like working to create something than like just getting out of the way and allowing the creation to flow through me. That’s a wonderful sensation.

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The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I call this one “At Sandy Beach.” Looking at this painting with some time separating me from its creation, I see things I didn’t see when I was in the process. There’s a softness to it I really like, and a feeling of space and lightness. These are things you can’t really do consciously, or at least I can’t—they either happen or they don’t. But as I keep saying, when you’re able to get out of the way and just allow things to come through you, magic happens.

But life is change. This wonderful creative cycle wouldn’t be a creative cycle if it didn’t have a beginning and an end. So a few days after completing ‘At Sandy Beach’ I felt that inspiration waning and although I tried a few more paintings, nothing really worked. I’m back in the trenches now, sitting down to draw every day and just working, working, working. I’m doing good work, just not feeling that magical energy of divine inspiration. But I know that if I just keep creating, the magic will come around again…


My new painting of Jeff, entitled “Presence”, grew out of a sketch that turned out particularly well.

One of the ways I stay in shape, drawing-wise, is by doing a lot of rough sketches. My drawing board is next to my iMac, with its gorgeous 24-inch screen, and I begin by pulling up some random photographs of my various models. Then I start drawing, just flipping through photographic images one by one and drawing whatever comes up. Whenever I don’t have a specific idea for a painting, I’ll just do rough sketches until something interesting happens.

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Sometimes I’ll draw rough sketches day after day for a week before something really strikes me. But a few days ago, I was drawing from some photographs of Jeff (from my first photo session with him, where he was sitting on my bed), and got lucky.

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The initial sketch (click on image to see this item on my website)

I really liked the feeling and energy of this rough sketch, enough so that I did a second version of it. In the second version I taped an additional sheet of paper onto the left because the hand was getting cut off and the composition was looking like it needed to be more square.

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The second sketch, with additional paper taped onto the left (click on image to see this item on my website)

I liked the energy of the first sketch, but I really loved what happened in the second sketch. Some magic happened with that one. One of my favorite things about both sketches is that funky one-eye-way-too-big thing…I don’t know why I like it so much, but I do.

Below is a shot of the finished painting on my easel. I didn’t take any in-progress shots of the actual painting process because it happened so fast! At this point I’d been painting nonstop for several days—I think I did 3 paintings in the space of a week—so I was warmed up. The more warmed up I am, the more in the painting groove, the more likely wonderful things will happen. Taking even a couple of days off from painting usually means another several-day warmup period before things get flowing again. I think this is pretty standard for most painters.

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Anyway, before I began, I mentally saw the colors I wanted to use—the red background, the green of the comforter—and as I began covering the canvas with color, I saw that it was going to work. That’s always a huge relief! I did have to do a lot of repainting of various parts of the body to get the right mix of flesh tones. I ended up using a lot of oranges and pinks, and used the rich earth-yellow tones of raw sienna to bring it all together.

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The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I’ve always had a tendency toward crowded compositions, so I was really happy that I was able to give the figure room to breathe in this one. Notice how much space there is above Jeff’s head in this painting. In the past I’d have probably have brought the top edge down much closer to the top of his head—and probably brought the bottom up closer to his foot as well. I don’t know why it’s been a challenge for me to give a composition breathing space. It’s almost like I have a fear of wasting space in the painting by not filling it up with something. Sounds silly, I know. But for me, painting is always about going through my fears, and this is just another one I’m beginning to master. There’s a quote I read, attributed to Aristotle Onassis, that I’ve always loved: when asked the secret of his success, he reportedly said, “Three things. Boldness, boldness, and more boldness.”


As you’ll remember, if you’ve been reading this blog, my second photo shoot with Jeff took place at a gorgeous location—my friend Doug Smith’s beautifully landscaped tropical pool and garden. (If you don’t remember, read that entry HERE.)

I was thrilled at how many really amazing and beautiful photographs I captured that day. But I found that when I started looking through them for images to paint or draw, I was intimidated! The photographs were so great as photographs that I wasn’t sure that I shouldn’t just leave them alone.

But as I thought about it, I realized I was limiting myself unnecessarily. I was thinking I had a duty to do something realistic before taking off into more stylized, inventive directions. I’ve always had this idea that I have to justify my less realistic work by balancing it with more realistic works. And with all these gorgeous images, I was really feeling that.

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No, this is not one of my paintings. It's a famous work by Matisse called Bathers by a River.

So to give myself strength, I opened a book about Henri Matisse. It takes courage to paint the way he painted, especially back then. I took courage from his story and his paintings. One of my favorite paintings of all time is “Bathers by a River” by Matisse. I decided that would be my inspiration for my first Jeff-at-the-pool painting.

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The photograph I chose to work from is one of Jeff standing by one of the many fountains that adorn the pool. As I said, I could’ve chosen any one of several hundred great shots from that day. But there was something aboout this one that felt a bit like Matisse to me—not sure why. Anyway, that’s the one I chose.

I began sketching. My job was to begin simplifying the forms and shapes—looking for the essence of the image. You can see my progress in the four preparatory sketches shown below. One of the major changes I made was to add a second, invented figure in the pool at the lower right. Another invention was to give the standing figure a vertical staff to hold. These changes were all instinctive. That’s what the sketching process is about for me with a painting like this. I think of stuff, and try it, and see how it looks. If I like the way it looks, and it feels right and fits, I keep it. I don’t necessarily know why I added the second figure, and the staff, I just know they looked right and felt right. I must admit, I like having a bit of mystery in the painting. What’s that staff about? What’s the relationship between the two figures? I don’t know that I could put it into words, but I have a feeling about what is going on.

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The 4th sketch shown was my final sketch. I’d taken it as far as I wanted to go with pencil. It was time to put it on canvas and see what happened.

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The final painting: 'Boys at the Fountain' (click on image to see this item on my website)

I kept the tones muted and somber except for the greens of the foliage and the water streaming down (or up?) above the fountain. The idea of putting white behind the standing figure came to me as I was painting, and it worked. I had a bit of trouble with the water in the pool. I had to repaint it several times before I got it the way I wanted it.

I like the final result. It’s more realistic and less stylized than I intended—not as bold and uncompromising as Matisse’s Bathers painting, certainly, but I like the feeling of it and I like the hint of mystery and intrigue it contains. I call it “Boys at the Fountain.”