Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska’

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PORTRAIT OF MY SISTER

July 10, 2014

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

This blog entry is about how I finally succeeded.

Kelly sourceimg

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

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

Kelly sourceimg tweaked

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

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

Kelly inprog1

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

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

Kelly inprog2

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

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

Kelly inprog3

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

Kelly inprog4

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

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

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The finished painting.

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

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

Paintingblind header

June 9, 2014

CONTENTS


• BACK IN THE STUDIO
• INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA
• THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP
• PAINTING BLIND
• LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK
• FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


BACK IN THE STUDIO


I got back to Nebraska from Puerto Vallarta in late March, and after having been gone for almost the whole winter, I was really happy to get back into my studio for some extended painting time. With painting, it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the groove when you’ve been away. And if I want to really grow and develop and make some breakthroughs, I need a period of not just weeks, but months where I’m painting almost every day. That’s when the magic really starts to happen.

I got back from Mexico on March 19th, and by the beginning of April I was getting back into full swing. With, of all things, ABSTRACTS!


INSPIRED BY FITZ HERRERA


Fitzherrera greengreengreen

Green Green by Fitz Herrera.

In the past I often painted abstracts as a way to get warmed up before I dive into “the real stuff”—the male figure. But over the past few years abstracts and landscapes have begun to assume greater importance for me. Now abstracts and landscapes are “the real stuff” for me, too. When I got back from Mexico, I found myself getting captivated all over again by the abstract paintings of a guy from the Philippines named Fitz Herrera. I discovered his art online a couple of years ago and went crazy for it. For some reason the shapes he uses, the colors he chooses, his compositions, and especially the way he uses paint, all really speak to me. He’s one of those painters whose work I look at and go, “I want to be able to do that!” That’s what I call inspiration. And that’s the kind of excitement that has always pushed me to new breakthroughs in my abilities as an artist.


Fitzherrera brownnation

Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

So I printed out some Fitz Herrera paintings I’d found online and tacked them up next to my easel and started painting.


Fitzherrera yellow

Brown Nation by Fitz Herrera.

I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first, but of course that was perfect…I was going to have to explore and find new ways of doing things, which is always the challenge with painting, or anything where you want to stay excited and exciting.

So I spent several days in the studio, painting abstracts that didn’t work out. I kept trying to find my way into his style. I noticed I really liked the shapes he used, and I sat down and drew a bunch of them with pencil to familiarize myself with them. These were ovals, U shapes, and long skinny triangles, among other things.

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Hidden Treasures, the first successful abstract I did after getting back from Mexico. I was starting to use some of Fitz Herrera's shapes, and I like the painting a lot, but it was still kind of contained and 'safe'----I wanted more sloppy, drippy, explosive things happening.

I also worked at using sloppier, wetter paint mixtures so I could get more spatters and drips, because that’s one of the things I love about his paintings, too. It’s like he’s showing us the process of the painting as part of the painting. Plus it’s wet and luscious and sensual, and I find it sexy and exciting.

I noticed, too, that there are layers and layers going on in his work. I realized I would have to change my approach somewhat. I usually like to work fast and finish a painting as quickly as I can, before I lose momentum. I saw that in order to get these layered effects, I would have to allow time for one layer to dry completely before I could go in and paint another layer on top of that.


THE PERFECT STUDIO SETUP


But I had a perfect solution for that issue: I would keep several paintings going simultaneously, so that there would always be a painting that was dry enough to move on to when the others were still wet.

And my studio setup (which you can read about here) was perfect for that. Some part of me sensed, as much as a year previously, that I would be working more and more in this way, and would be needing a space with several easels so that I could move from painting to painting as I worked.

So I had the perfect setup, and I continued working to see if I could find the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera’s paintings.

Then, after a few days of this, I started to break through. One of the hardest things for me was to get in the habit of using really wet, sloppy paint, and just letting it drip and run. I’ve done this occasionally in previous work but never stuck with it. This time I did. I started to get used to it—and I loved it. I loved the freedom of it, and the fact that I was letting go of control and still getting what I wanted.

The other thing, and the really big breakthrough here, also had to do with letting go of control: I started PAINTING BLIND.


PAINTING BLIND


1679 eightyfootdrop

My first 'Painting Blind' abstract, and the first time I really started to feel I was getting the magic I saw in Fitz Herrera's paintings. It's called 80-Foot Drop because making it happen really was like jumping off a cliff.

I was painting in the way I always paint, which is: I stand back from the painting, look for an area that doesn’t work yet, and ask myself, what does this area need? Lighter, darker, warmer, cooler—a big broad stroke, a long narrow stroke, a little spot of color—what? When I think I know, I load the brush with paint, move in and lay down a stroke, or two or three or more, where I think it’s needed. This is pretty much my approach whether I’m painting an abstract or a realistic figure. It’s always about asking myself what the painting needs next.

1680martialart

My second successful experience 'painting blind': Martial Art.

Except this time it wasn’t working so well. I would look the painting over, see a problem area, decide what it needed, and add a stroke or two or three. And it kind of worked, but there was too much calculation going on. The strokes looked planned and boring. I thought, what can I do to introduce a bit less predictability here? And I thought, I’ll close my eyes.

Believe me when I tell you that was not easy to do. I’m a control freak, and I was going to paint with my eyes closed?? But I did it anyway…

I looked at the painting, decided it needed a bit of white in a certain area, then I loaded up my brush with white, and looked at the painting again, poised for action. When I had everything in mind and knew my intention, I CLOSED MY EYES AND ATTACKED.

After the first time I did that, I opened my eyes and went, WOW. It totally worked. I had just put down a series of brushstrokes that were exactly what the painting needed…and they had not come from conscious control, but from setting an intention, then letting go.

I didn’t do this all the time, just when the painting seemed to need it. But it worked almost every time.

Abstracts 4up

Four paintings that happened as I was starting to get into the swing of this new approach: Clockwise from upper left, Rolling the big Wheel, Lazy Susan, Surprise Garden, Little Lulu at the Circus.

I was not getting Fitz Herrera abstracts, but I didn’t really want to replicate his work anyway—I just wanted to see if I could get a bit of his magic. And I was finding my way into it.


LETTING THE PAINTINGS SPEAK


This continued for a couple of weeks and I experienced a whole new way of painting. Having several paintings going at once and letting some of them “rest” while I moved on to others is very different for me. But I found I’m able to see what each painting needs more easily that way than the usual way for me, which is where I focus totally on a single painting for the whole time I’m working on it. This new approach lets the paintings breathe a bit, and I end up allowing each painting to speak to me, rather than forcing it to tell me what it wants—if you know what I mean.

Horizabstracts 2up

A couple of horizontal abstracts from this period: top, Where the Flowers Were; bottom, Summer in My Mind.

The abstract paintings that resulted have gotten an enthusiastic response from my local audience here in Lincoln. The First Friday Art Walk which happens on the first Friday of each month, sends throngs of art appreciators into the hallways of Parrish Studios where my studio is located. This is a new experience for me, since I’ve been selling my art online for all these years and seldom interacting with collectors in person. The May 2, 2014 First Friday was the first time I’d ever done a showing of just abstract works, and it was a big success. People loved the new work and especially enjoyed finding out more about how it was painted.

The abstract paintings themselves have been a great reward, but an even bigger one is seeing how what I’ve learned with them has translated into my other work.


FLYING STARTS WITH JUMPING OFF THE EDGE

Monochromenudes 3up

Three monochrome nudes greatly influenced by what I learned doing abstracts: left, Asian Male Nude in Greyscale (model: Khanh); middle, Hiking with Manuel; right, Joyful Black Male Nude (model: Victor).

After about 10 days of painting abstracts in this new way, I decided to try some male nudes. I chose to paint monochrome (single-color) works so I could focus on the form and the way the paint is applied without having to concern myself with color. I produced 3 striking pieces, all of which benefited greatly from what I’d been learning with abstracts.

Landscapes 2up

Landscapes influenced by my latest breakthroughs: top, Windward Stormclouds; bottom, Ho'omaluhia Path.

Then I went back to abstracts for another three weeks before trying something else: landscapes. I did two landscapes in mid-May where I used the Painting Blind approach much of the time, and I was more than pleased with the results. With everything I’m painting these days, the abstracts, the male figures, the landscapes, I’m finding the same thing always applies: to grow and change and keep the work exciting, you’ve got to push the boundaries and take chances. You can’t fly without jumping off the edge.

I think it’s fitting to end this blog entry entitled PAINTING BLIND with a quote from Helen Keller:

“Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”

Walkingthetightrope header

February 28, 2014

CONTENTS


• A QUICK RE-CAP
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1
• BEING THERE FOR FAMILY
• PAINTING
• THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2

(Note: the above titles are clickable)


A QUICK RE-CAP



Back in June 2011 when I made the decision to leave Hawaii and go traveling for at least a year,
I knew I was making a big decision, and changing my whole way of life. But I didn’t know how wide-ranging and complete the change would be.

I’m now nearly 3 years into my “On the Road” lifestyle and I’ve spent less than half that time actually on the road. But it turns out On the Road has meanings that didn’t even occur to me when I began this journey.

PV beachshot01

I took this shot of Puerto Vallarta just a few minutes before sitting down to write this blog entry. This is about 2 blocks from the hostel where I'm staying, the Vallarta Sun (I recommend it!).

I’m writing this from a hostel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I’ve been for a couple of weeks. As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I moved my home and studio to Nebraska in April 2012 for a variety of reasons, primarily ease of travel and to take advantage of the great support system that is my sister Kelly.

Moving from Hawaii to Nebraska was not something I ever thought I would do, but it turned out to be the perfect next step for me. For one thing, I needed to reconnect with family, even more than I consciously realized. For another, moving to a quiet place like Lincoln, Nebraska where I don’t have a social network or a beach or a favorite bar meant much more time spent in the studio. And that has led to quantum leaps in my painting, both in terms of productivity and creative growth.

As I realized what a surprisingly great place Lincoln, Nebraska was for me painting-wise, and as I fell in love with my new studio there, a new plan evolved: I would stay in Lincoln and paint from April through October or so, then when it started getting cold, I would travel in warm places throughout the winter.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 1


Winter 2012 was my first try at doing this. I went to the Dominican Republic for 5 weeks in November and December, and as you know from this blog, had a great time and photographed lots of new models. It was my intention to keep traveling until spring, but I went back to Nebraska for Christmas–and lost my momentum.

Las terrenas tweak

One of my photographs from the Dominican Republic. I spent 5 weeks here in Nov-Dec. 2012.

I’ve learned, especially recently, that traveling is all about just going ahead and doing it, trusting that somehow the money to pay for it will appear. It always does work out, often in amazing, miraculous ways. It’s about trust. But last winter, I lost that trust, lost my nerve, and out of financial fear, ended up staying in Nebraska through the miserable months of January, February and March. By the time spring finally arrived, I was clear that whatever it took, I was not going to spend another winter in Nebraska!

Snowy backyard

This is what my backyard looked like in January 2012.

I should mention here that despite the discomfort of that period, it was a happy and productive time for me in terms of painting because I was in my studio working most of the time. It also turned to have been a good thing that I had stayed in Lincoln for the winter because I was able to see my mother more often.


BEING THERE FOR FAMILY


I had been visiting my mother (known to everyone in the family as PJ) frequently during this period. She had dementia and was in a memory-care nursing home in Lincoln. I realized again how valuable and life-changing my Quantum-Touch training was during this time. Where most people’s experience of watching the progress of dementia or Alzheimer’s in a loved one is painful, even devastating, my experience was entirely different.

Ds runs energy PJ

Here I am running energy on PJ in early 2013.

Usually when I visited PJ I would sit down on the bed and place my hands on her body and “run energy” into her for 30 to 45 minutes. She would always become very calm and relaxed when I did this, and often she would fall asleep. The connection I felt with her during these times was probably the strongest, most loving and most intimate I’d experienced with her since I was a baby.

PJ fell and broke her hip in June, and we think she had a stroke simultaneously with this. She died 3 days later. This was a difficult period where she was in intensive care and had her family around her, but she couldn’t communicate. I was able to do energy work on her during this time and experience her body shutting down while I was connected to her. I strongly believe I was able to ease her pain and discomfort during this time, and when she made her final transition out of the body, I felt no sorrow, only a sense of rightness and completion.

I was and am deeply grateful for the fateful decisions I’ve made which allowed me to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right training, to have this experience of my mother’s death.

Ds kelly breckenridge

With my sister Kelly during a short trip to Breckenridge to celebrate her entering a new and expanded phase in her life.

A couple of months later I had another experience of being in the right place at the right time to give my sister Kelly the support she needed to end a relationship that no longer served her. I have to admit this was also a transition that served me–I moved into the bedroom her ex-boyfriend vacated!


PAINTING


At around this time I rented what I thought was the perfect painting studio in downtown Lincoln, only to move again a couple of months later into a studio that turned out to be even more perfect. (Read about that studio, and the studio design that allowed me to be more productive and efficient than ever before, here.) (Read about the move into the new studio at Parrish here.)

Studios 1 and 2

TOP: Studio 1, which lasted only 2 months. BOTTOM: Studio 2, in Lincoln's Parrish Studios, where I'm very happy and hope to stay for a while.

My painting continued to grow by leaps and bounds. In the last few years I’ve noticed my painting tends to jump between two threads: the Expressionist thread (lots of outlines, flat areas of color, distorted shapes), and the Loose Brushwork thread (loose brushwork, obviously, but a naturalistic approach that’s all about light and shadow). In July the Expressionist thread took off in kind of a new direction: Faces. I got inspired to paint big expressionist faces and had such a good time doing it I kept doing it for several months and eventually did about 25 of them.

I was additionally inspired by the fact that my collectors really liked them and they began selling immediately. (Unlike a lot of painters who feel every painting is their ‘child’ and they hate to let go of it, I tend to get energy from a painting’s being sold, and to be inspired to do more like it.)

Faces 6up

Some paintings from my FACES Series. The phase shown here lasted from about August through October 2013.

Along about late September, with cold weather approaching, I started putting my winter travel plan into action. Without paying too much attention to how much (or how little) money appeared to be available for it, I made reservations for a flight to Rio de Janeiro. In the days before I left, I had another burst of painting inspiration, this time in the Loose Brushwork thread.

Loosebrushwork 3up

In November 2013, just before taking off for the winter, I did a series of excitingly loose, energetic paintings in what I call the Loose Brushwork thread.


THE WINTER ESCAPE PLAN, PART 2


I left for Brazil on November 12th for a 5-week stay. I was nervous about how things would unfold financially, but decided not to worry about it, to just trust instead. As usual that was a good decision and everything went fine.

Slacklining photomalenude ebook

Two of the many wonderful things that happened during my late 2013 5-week stay in Rio de Janeiro: 1, slacklining with Oliver, and 2, completing a 2-year project, the e-book Finding and Photographing the Male Nude.

I had a great time in Brazil, completing a long-term project that I had actually begun 2 years previous on a visit to Brazil, an e-book titled Finding and Photographing the Male Nude. During my time in Rio, I also discovering an exciting and challenging new sport, slacklining.

I flew back to Nebraska to spend Christmas with my family before heading to Hawaii the day before New Year’s.

Ds hawaii jan2014 2up

Simonson in Hawaii January 2014: Top, hanging out with old friends and new friends; Bottom, at my old stomping grounds, Queen's Surf in Waikiki.

My good friend Allen Hanaike graciously offered me a place to stay, which allowed me to spend a month in Hawaii–my first time back in almost 2 years. I left for Hawaii on January 30, not really knowing how I would pay my ongoing bills while there, but trusting. Within days after arriving for my stay at Allen’s house, out of the blue, I received a $2000 illustration commission from a fellow houseguest who is the Art Director for a California magazine. Trust rewarded, again.

Psmag portraits 6up

Some of the illustrations I did as part of a commission I got while in Hawaii (I did this entire commission digitally, drawing on the computer using a Wacom tablet).

While I was in Hawaii I pondered the next leg of my escape from winter. I chose Puerto Vallarta, and flew here for a month-long stay on February 15. I’ve now been here for 10 days and every day has been sunny and 85 degrees. I am loving it. Staying in a hostel has its challenges as always, but more than makes up for it with the people I meet and the great connections that happen.

PVscenes 3up

Scenes from my Puerto Vallarta stay in February-March 2014.

When I’m not taking excursions and shooting photographs, I’m working on my next e-book and some digital paintings. Oh, and going out with new friends in the evenings.

I’ll return to Nebraska in late March. It will still be cold, but most of the winter will be past. I’m loving being in the tropics but there is a very strong pull to get back into the studio and paint again.

A lot has changed since I began my “On the Road” journey. What I’m realizing is that when I let go of most of my possessions and took off for a year on the road, all that was just a metaphor for the real journey going on inside me. Choosing constant change and adventure meant choosing a different kind of inner life, where I had to rise to a new level of adaptability and staying in the moment. By opening up in this way, I made myself available to take whatever path presented itself, whether it was staying in a hostel in Mexico, finding new models in the Dominican Republic, learning slacklining in Rio, or assisting a loved one in transitioning from one phase of existence to another.

I was practicing slacklining in Hawaii a few weeks ago and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to it is because it’s the perfect metaphor for my life. I call this blog On the Road, but it could just as easily be called Walking the Tightrope.

Winter2013 everythingchanges

December 11, 2013

CHANGE continues to be the main theme in my life and career. In my October 3 blog entry, I shared about my wonderful new studio. Now, a couple of months later, everything has changed—again!

Just when I had gotten everything set up the way I liked it in the new studio, I got a call from the landlord. He had some bad news, he said. Plans had changed. No more artist’s studios—now they were going to rent out the entire space to a church. (A church??)

So I had 30 days to move out.

This was quite a surprise. But I was renting month-to-month, so I knew this kind of thing might happen. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

I was really unhappy—for about an hour. That’s how long it took me to find a positive approach and adapt to the situation. My original goal had been to get a studio in Parrish Studios, an old building in downtown Lincoln that is filled with artists and craftspeople and their studios and shops. I’d given up on that because they had no space. But just 2 days before my landlord called with the bad news, I’d gotten a voicemail from the guy at Parrish Studios telling me a space was opening up, and was I interested?

Well, I was now! I called him, it was still available, I went and saw the space the next day, and decided it would be just fine. Within one week of the call from my landlord, I had moved my studio into the new space.

It’s a bit smaller, but it’s still a very workable space. And the rent is less than half what I was paying in the previous place. And now I really am in the midst of a community of artists, which was what I wanted in the first place.

Parrish interior 3up C

Views of my new space at Parrish Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska. My rolling-workstation-with-homasote-panels system transferred nicely!

It was nice to discover that the setup I’d worked so hard to create in the first studio (with the homasote panels and the rolling workstation) was totally portable. Things were so well organized that by the second day in the new space, I was already painting and producing.

Which was a good thing, because I was now down to less than 3 weeks of painting time before leaving for Brazil!

First friday parrish DS

An added benefit to the new studio is the fact that the studio gets a lot of traffic each month on the First Friday Art Walk. Here I'm prepping for my first First Friday in Lincoln.

As the Nebraska air got colder, my eagerness for my approaching trip to South America grew. But I also found I was loving my new studio so much, I was hating the idea of leaving it. Not enough to change my plans, of course. But that’s the balance I’m trying to work out these days. I like having my studio in a place like Nebraska where it’s easy to focus on my work. But I need to have the stimulation of the tropics regularly as well.

I accomplished a lot in the days before leaving. Then, on November 12, I hopped on a plane and flew to Rio de Janeiro. As soon as I arrived I slipped into a different pace, a different way of life.

Ds w localtalent ipanema

Myself with some of the local talent at Ipanema Beach.

I’m writing this just a few days before my 5-week stay in Brazil ends. It’s been just what I needed. I do miss being able to paint, but it’s been good to focus on other things for awhile, like e-books, digital art, and writing.

It’s also good to be a social animal again. Nebraska is good for focusing on my art, but when I’m there I’m pretty solitary. In Brazil I stay in a hostel and I’m meeting tons of new people every day. I’m going to the beach, going out at night, hanging out with new friends, etc. The difference between my Nebraska life and this life is total. And I find I thrive on the difference.

Ds slacklining

At Ipanema, learning a new sport from new Swedish friend Oliver: Slacklining.

I’ve now been in Rio for a month and it’s been wonderful—but I find I’m starting to wear out a bit from all the social stuff. I’m ready to head back to my studio for a few weeks of painting (and solitude) to recharge my batteries.

I’ll stay in Nebraska for Christmas, then just before New Year’s I head for Honolulu. It will be my first visit in over a year and a half—the longest I’ve been away from Hawaii since the early 1970s. I’ll stay there for a month, catching up with friends and seeing what it’s like to be back home after so long away. February and March remain unplanned.

So the process of reinventing my life continues. The hardest part is finding a way to travel as much as I want to, and still produce art consistently. I like being in the tropics a lot of the time, but I don’t like being away from my studio. Yet recreating a painting studio wherever I am is a logistical challenge that still seems too daunting. At the moment I’m just allowing things to unfold, and I know sooner or later the next phase will reveal itself. I don’t know what it will look like. I only know it’ll be perfect.

Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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

September 10, 2012

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

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

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

4up inspiringartists

By looking at these artists’ work, and sometimes at YouTube videos of the artists actually painting which they’ve been kind enough to share with us, I get ideas about ways I can open up my work and make it more lively and exciting. Something I had considered but hadn’t really understood the huge significance of, is the nature of the PHYSICAL ACT of painting.

I was watching a YouTube video of one of those artists who performs on a stage (Garibaldi, I think it was) with a huge canvas and thrills the audience with his big, flashy moves and the way he splashes the paint onto the surface and gradually we see a recognizable face appear. I don’t necessarily want to perform on a stage like that, but I was impressed by the showmanship. And I realized something: it wasn’t just about showmanship. Those BIG MOVEMENTS create a certain kind of brushstroke and a certain kind of energy in the resulting art. Those dancelike moves don’t just entertain the audience, they infuse the work with excitement!

So I resolved to use more of my body while painting. Instead of just moving my wrist and hand to paint, I would use my whole arm, my shoulder, my whole body! I went looking for subject matter.

I found a photograph of Mike T. I liked. The lighting and Mike’s muscularity seemed like good raw material for the approach I wanted to try.

Billabong source2

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

Mikesource twk 2up

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

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

1120861

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

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

Billabong inprog1

I went into this painting with a different intention than usual. In line with the observations I mentioned above, I made it my purpose to use my whole body to paint, and I decided that meant I should be careful and thoughtful BEFORE rather than DURING the act of painting.

Let me clarify that. What I decided to do was stop and consider where I wanted to place my next stroke. Once I had decided, I would fly into motion, painting with no thought, just action. Intention and consideration was one thing: the actual ACT of putting paint on canvas was separate.

I found that this worked well! I was able to paint each stroke with a lot of energy and abandon, because I wasn’t trying to think and paint at the same time. Compare the rough sketch with the beginning of the actual painting above and you’ll see there’s a different feel to the brushstrokes.

Billabong inprog2

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

Below is the finished work.

1545

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.

Om tattoo source1

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

Om tattoo source2

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

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

Om tattoo inprog

Above is the painting at about the halfway point.

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

Om Tattoo painting

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


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.

Jaime jones copy1 sm

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

Kim english copy1 sm

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

Kim english copy2 sm

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

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

Robt lemler copy1

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

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

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

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

Aloha
Douglas


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Ds instudio w subtitle2

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• FRUSTRATION
• REAWAKENING
• NEVER WHAT YOU EXPECTED, BUT ALWAYS PERFECT
• PAINTING WITHOUT FEAR


July 7, 2012

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

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

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

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



FRUSTRATION!

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

You can imagine the frustration I’ve been feeling.

But WAIT.

Something unexpected has begun to happen.



REAWAKENING

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

So I’ve got a great studio.

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

Wait, did I say “unfortunately”?

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

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

PAINT!

Wherethemagichappens



NEVER WHAT YOU EXPECTED,
BUT ALWAYS PERFECT

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

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

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

DS 1986 studio small

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

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

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

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

I AM A PAINTER.

Whether I like it or not!

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



PAINTING WITHOUT FEAR

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

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

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

SERIOUS Painter Mode.

In the month of June I completed FOURTEEN PAINTINGS.

And I had an amazing time doing it.


Recent art comp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m too busy PAINTING!




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