Posts Tagged ‘Oahu’


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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.
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!

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.

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.”


Here's the photograph I began with.

I got the idea for my first painting of Jeff as I sometimes do, by accident, while playing around with Photoshop. There were several photos of Jeff sitting crosslegged on my bed that I liked, and I liked the plants behind him, but for some reason I thought, why not see what it would look like without the plants, and in fact without any definite background at all? So using Photoshop’s selection tools, I selected everything but the figure and the bed and the pillows, and then inverted the selection and hit the delete button. This effectively erased the background.

When you “erase” something in Photoshop, that area changes to whatever the Background color is at the time. Default for the Background color is white, so usually that’s what you “erase” to. However, this time the background went to an interesting red tone. This is probably because I was using that color the last time I was working in Photoshop.


Some interesting accidents happened on the computer...(image on right tilted and Posterized)

When this happened I could easily have hit “Undo” and changed the Background color to white, or anything, and repeated the action—but instead, I looked at what had happened and said, “Whoa. Cool!” Because the color really worked. Not a color I would have consciously chosen…but there are no accidents, right? On top of that, because of the way I had made the selections in the first step of tweaking the photo, there was a nice little halo effect around Jeff’s head and shoulders. The overall result was so striking I thought, hey, this would really work as a painting. So I tilted the whole thing a bit clockwise (so that the edge of the bed was more level) and applied a Posterize filter, and thought, hey, I’m ready to go on this.


Beginning the painting on canvas.

Next step was to transfer the image to canvas, via a pencil line drawing, then lay down a reddish-brown wash over the drawing. While that was drying I mixed colors. I began with the red background and the blue pillows. You should keep in mind that at this stage I have no idea if the painting will work. But as I continued with this one, I started to get a good feeling: a feeling of hesitant exultation, a feeling that says, “Hey…this might just work out!”

(I am telling you guys all this because I think there is a misapprehension among non-artists that we so-called “successful artists” just go into the studio and start painting and magic happens. I’m here to tell you, NO, that’s not how it works. Maybe 1 in 20 times it works that way. But 95% of the time it’s like the process I’m describing now. You have an idea, you think it might work, but you’re afraid to start. No matter how many successful paintings you’ve done, there is still that leap of faith you hae to take to get going. Then once you start, most of the time you are still deep in doubt. You wouldn’t believe how often I start working on something and it just looks like shit—and I’m thinking, oh god, give me faith in myself. Because this does NOT look good…probably the hardest part of being an artist is having that faith in yourself that you will produce something decent, despite all the indications at the moment. So please don’t think that every time I start painting it’s this effortless magical thing–or that everything I attempt actually works out.)


Things are looking like they might work out.

Anyway, things are going well. The red and the fleshtones are working well together—which is a huge relief, because there are about 43 million ways to mix fleshtones and I never do them exactly the same way twice. So the fleshtones were working with the red, and the blues I chose for the sheets and pillows were working too! This is great. At this stage all I have to do is stay out of my own way and not f**k it up!


The final painting: Scorpio Rising (click on image to see it on my website)

After about a day and a half of further work, I’ve finished. And it turned out well! This painting was one happy accident after another. Though I don’t mean to be falsely modest and imply that I didn’t have something to do with its turning out okay. I see my task as an artist to get as technically proficient as I can so that when those happy accidents strike, I’m alert enough and technically skilled enough to take advantage of them.

(About the title: Jeff is a Scorpio and there’s that Scorpio tattoo on his chest, so even though Scorpio is his sun sign and not his rising sign, I decided to call the painting “Scorpio Rising” just because it’s such a great title.)

This is the rough sketch of Nohea that I liked enough to develop further.

This is the rough sketch of Nohea that I liked enough to develop further.

My latest painting began as a sketch that I particularly liked. This is often how it happens. I was sketching from some shots from my photo session with Nohea and one of the sketches turned out so well I thought, maybe this could be a painting.

Actually I made some changes to the photo before I even began drawing from it. In the photograph Nohea is just letting his hands hang at his sides. It wasn’t very interesting, so I had the idea of having him hold a bottle of water. I went looking for a shot I could borrow from, and I finally found what I was looking for in my photos from the Salvador, Bahia, Brazil trip, April 2007. Among those images I found some shots of Wellington at the beach holding a bottle of water, and I was able to grab that from the original photo and drop it into the photo of Nohea. With a little scaling and tilting, I was able to get it looking fairly natural – certainly workable for my purposes. I also wanted him to be holding his towel in his

This is the source photo of Nohea. You can see where I've added the new arm and the reference photo of the hand holding the towel.

This is the source photo of Nohea. You can see where I've added the new arm and the photo of the hand holding the towel.

left hand, not his right, so I had to borrow a hand and towel from another shot of Nohea, and I just dropped that into the upper left-hand corner of the photo so I’d have a reference when I started painting. This is the kind of flexibility you have with digital photos, and it makes my job much easier.

As you can see from looking at the source photo, the original background was not too exciting. I wanted something that would lend itself to a tropical fantasy – the ocean, some tropical greenery, that sort of thing. So I went looking through my scenic shots for some tropical plants I could use. I have a fairly large library of digital photos I’ve shot over the years in and around Honolulu, shots of palm trees, tropical plants, anything I happen to spot that looks like it might come in handy for a future painting. I found what I was looking for from a series of shots I took one day while walking around Kahala, a neighborhood just over the hill from where I live. These leaves had just the shape and feeling I wanted for the painting.

    I found source material for the tropical greenery among my files of reference photos I've shot over the years in and around Honolulu. This is on a side street in Kahala.

I found source material for the tropical greenery among my files of reference photos I've shot over the years in and around Honolulu. This is on a side street in Kahala.

The color acrylic sketch I used as a reference for the final painting.

The color acrylic sketch I used as a reference for the final painting.

My next step was to draw another sketch and add the sea and the foliage from the reference photo. As you can see, I didn’t copy the foliage exactly. Rather, I tailored it to the composition. It’s a matter of taking different leaves that have the angle and feeling you want, and mixing them with other leaves until you get what you want. The trick is making it look natural. That took awhile, but I finally got the plants to look more or less like I wanted them to; I will most likely totally rework them when I do the final painting, but I have a good beginning. Then I took the whole thing a step further by mixing up some colors and using acrylics to paint the sketch I’d done. This gave me a good solid color study I could use as a reference for the larger painting on canvas.

But there was another element I needed, something in the upper part of the image. I wanted some palm-tree fronds, but I didn’t know exactly what angle they should be, or how many, or what size…I could have done another sketch, or painted on top of the acrylic sketch I’d just done, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted and I wanted to be able to try different things, so I decided to do it on the computer, using Photoshop. I scanned the sketch and opened it in Photoshop, and using my digital tablet, started drawing palm fronds on the image. As I’d expected, it took several tries before I got close to what I wanted. In a case like this, it’s wonderful being able to hit undo on the computer and

I was able to try out different palm fronds digitally before deciding this was about what I wanted.

I was able to try out different palm fronds digitally before deciding this was about what I wanted.

try something else. In this way I was able to approximate the look I wanted for the palm fronds.They weren’t exactly what I wanted, but they were close enough I was pretty sure I’d be able to make them work in the final painting.

The finished acrylic painting: "Tropical Adventure"

The finished acrylic painting: "Tropical Adventure"

Finally I was able to begin the final stage of this adventure. I used my digital projector to transfer my final color study to canvas, then began painting. I won’t say it proceeded without a hitch, but all the preparation I’d done paid off, and it was mostly just a matter of doing the actual painting. This took about 3 days and many, many hours, but it would have taken much longer if I hadn’t done all the preparation I did! I won’t go into all the details of this final stage, but if you look carefully you’ll see lots of little touches have been added to bring the painting to life – things like highlights in the hair, a subtle lightening along the top edges of the palm fronds as if the sun is striking them from above, reflected bluish light along some edges of the body, the gradation of the sea from dark blue at the horizon to turquoise in the lower areas – and many more details you can spot if you look closely. Of course, for me the thing that makes this painting work more than any other single element is the face. There’s a presence there. When I look into his eyes, he looks back at me. Without that, the painting wouldn’t work. With it, there’s a bit of magic there. I worked hard on this painting, but I also got lucky that the total is more than the sum of the parts, and there is a person there. I got what I was aiming for – a gorgeous tropical fantasy!


Friday, January 16 was the day of the big storm. At least that’s what all the media here in Honolulu said: The island of Oahu will sustain gale-force winds and heavy rains, they said, and they closed the schools and lots of businesses in anticipation of the tempest. Meanwhile, I had scheduled a photo shoot with my new friend Antonio, who was vacationing from California and had exactly one day available to model for me, the last day of his stay here—Friday, January 16.

I awoke at 6am and called Antonio, who was staying at a hotel just a block away. It was still dark out, but was starting to rain, and chances for a decent photo shoot looked slim. But at 630 I picked him up at his hotel and we decided to take our chances. We headed for Diamond Head with our fingers crossed. When we hiked down the trail to the beach, it was looking pretty grey and cloudy. Antonio was sucking down coffee like he really needed it—only after the photo shoot was over did he tell me that he’d gotten less than an hour of sleep the night before…

As we walked down the beach to the spot where I usually like to set up, I surveyed the morning sky. Pretty cloudy, but surprisingly, not that bad. It certainly didn’t look like a huge storm was about to hit. But you never know, and these things can happen fast, so I hurried Antonio along so we could get started shooting before the weather went to hell.


I started shooting Antonio in the grey light of dawn and while not ideal, I was getting some useable shots. Then, suddenly, while Antonio was running naked down the beach, the clouds parted, and the light of an intense sunrise shone through. I couldn’t believe our good luck.

Now Antonio and I really sprang into action. We didn’t know how long we would have this fabulous light–it could disappear at any moment—so I had Antonio running, jumping, somersaulting, diving into the ocean and running out again, basically wearing himself out—while I tried to keep up by snapping photos as fast as the camera would let me.

The light was a gift that could be taken away at any moment, so we took full advantage...

Looking good in that great morning light!

Amazingly, we continued shooting in this wonderful dawn light for two and a half hours, and no storm hit. I guess I must be living right, because the gods were really watching out for me that morning. I shot almost 2000 images of Antonio, and not only was the light great, Antonio was an exceptionally good model. He was relaxed and fun and had great energy right from the beginning, and as the photo shoot continued, he got even better.

There’s a certain kind of straight-boy street-kid attitude that I find really sexy (and I’ll bet I’m not the only one), and at one point in the shoot I asked Antonio if he could do that, and he fell right into it. He started walking toward me with his shorts falling down, sometimes even falling OFF, and giving me that Latin-boy I’m-gonna-fuck-you-up, or maybe it was I’m-gonna-fuck-you, attitude, but whatever you wanna call it, he totally nailed it. And me too! I had to take a few deep breaths to compose myself…!

This is one of those straight-boy attitude things that really stirs up my fantasies.

As I said, we were able to shoot for 2 and a half hours and the light stayed great. Partly because the weather was such a pleasant surprise, and partly because Antonio was so much fun and did such a great job, this was one of the best and most fun photo shoots I’ve done in a long time.  I now have a wealth of beautiful images of Antonio and my plan is to release some of them as photographs before I even begin drawing from them. They’re so great I want to start sharing them immediately.

It was a fun morning!

Update to this Entry:

In May 2012 I published an e-book called “Antonio” which contains over 60 uncensored photographs from the photo shoot discussed above. You can purchase it for instant download here.

One of the test shots I took of Tommy when we first met.

One of the test shots I took of Tommy when we first met.

A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I was introduced to Tommy by my friend Kawai. Tommy (who works as a dancer in Waikiki under the name Christian) is originally from Arizona, and has only lived in Hawaii a few months. I had seen him dancing on the dais at Hula’s from time to time and was definitely interested in meeting him. When he walked into my apartment for a preliminary meeting, I was struck by how tall and beautifully proportioned he is. Plus he has beautiful eyes, among other things. I knew I wanted to work with him but had to put it off until after Christmas because of my usual visit-the-family trip to Nebraska. Finally in mid-January 2009 I managed to find a time that worked for both Tommy and me.

On a weekday morning at sunrise (the better to avoid a populous beach), Tommy and I drove to an area near Diamond Head and hiked down a surfer trail to the beach. We were lucky; it was a nice sunrise and a nice morning. A few clouds, but still some great light.

Tommy getting ready for the shoot to begin.

Tommy getting ready for the shoot to begin.

Quiet, static poses to begin...

Quiet, static poses to begin...

I began with some calm, static poses, since both photographer and model needed to warm up. I was also stalling a bit, waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon so I would have that magic light.

As soon as the sunlight began to strike the beach, I had Tommy begin moving. The first thing I had him do was run up and down the beach. (One of the things I’ve realized about myself as a photographer recently is how much I like action shots. I mean, I knew this for a long time but only recently did I realize that not every photographer does this. I’m not much for carefully posed shots with an orchestrated backdrop. I’d rather just put the model into a situation and turn him loose and see what happens.)

The action began with Tommy running up and down the beach.

The action began with Tommy running up and down the beach.

After Tommy had done some running and gotten warmed up (and with his long, graceful legs and body, that made for some great shots) , I had him jump into the surf and get wet.  (Jumping into the ocean naked in the chilly air of dawn is a bit of a shock for a model, but not that much of a hardship when you compare Hawaii to much of the rest of the world…the water here is pretty warm even in January!)

Then, once he’d gotten wet, I had him come out of the water and begin rolling around on the beach while the surf alternately rolled in over him, creating beautiful splashing patterns, and receded, leaving him lying in the wet sand. (Seriously, one of my favorite things to photograph is a beautiful naked man rolling around in the surf in the golden light of dawn. I mean, how can you go wrong??)

tommy5791tommy5745tommy5762One of my favorite things to do with a model, especially an inexperienced model who is a bit unsure, is tell them to act like they’re totally drunk and stagger around for a bit before falling down, as drunkenly and awkwardly as possible. This often results in unusual, provocative images that somehow manage to be awkward and beautiful at the same time. These can be a total delight, and a real challenge, to draw. And every once in a while, you do get a magical image that works as a photograph as well as a potential drawing or painting. Just as importantly, though, it relaxes the model and that’s always a good thing.


As beautiful as the setting and the light were, Tommy’s body was their equal. He reminds me of a thoroughbred racehorse, with those long beautiful legs, and an elegance and grace that comes through no matter what.

tommy5942Of course the natural next set of poses after rolling around in the surf is grabbing a towel and drying off. I must have shot forty or fifty thousand shots of this in my career, but it’s always beautiful, and one reason for that is it’s such a natural thing. And in my book, there are fewer things sexier than a beautiful man drying off…

I shot Tommy in many other poses and settings in the area, and finally when the light started getting a bit flat and I was tired, I told him, Okay, we’re done! And of course as soon as I said that, he relaxed in a way he hadn’t been able to for the previous couple of hours. This almost always happens, especially with a less-experienced model. As soon as I tell him the shoot is over and you can dry off and get dressed, he stops trying to pose and look beautiful and just becomes himself. This is what happened with Tommy. At that moment I start shooting like crazy, before the model catches on that he’s still being photographed. In those few moments I often capture a side of the model that was not available up to that point.

tommy6222.jpgIt was a great photo shoot, but I think I only scratched the surface. Tommy has such a beautiful, elegant body, I think I only began to capture all that he has to offer visually. So I may have to do another shoot with him. Plus he will be more relaxed a second time, and that will make a big difference. In the meantime, though, I have a lot of beautiful images of him to work from. And the photographs themselves are so nice I may release some of them before I even begin drawing and painting from them.



Here's the photo of Kawai and Sam I began with.

A lot of the work I do as an artist involves making rough sketches. What I usually do is sit down at my drawing table, which is next to the computer,and bring up the photos from a recent photo shoot. I have a nice big screen so it’s pleasant to sit there and draw from the image on the screen. And I can zoom in or out for details, etc. This is how I maintain my skills, and expand them. It’s also one of the ways I generate ideas for new paintings. So the other day I was drawing from the pool shots of Kawai and Sam, and came across an image I really liked, of the two of them lying next to each other on beach towels.


Above is the first color sketch for the proposed painting (click on the image to see this item on my website). I liked everything about the image except the background, so in the first sketch I did I exchanged the rock wall and the pavement for a simple patch of grass and some blue sky. As you can see, I also began simplifying and stylizing the faces and bodies of the figures.


Above is the second sketch (click on image to see item on my website), this time just in black-and-white, where I refined the faces and bodies somewhat, and tried a similar background, but this time with a few palm trees at the right. By now I was deciding this would make an interesting painting.


Here’s the third and final preparatory sketch for the painting. In this one I took things a step further. I continued to refine the figures, experimented some more with the background, and added color. By now I felt ready to begin the painting.


To enlarge the rough sketch and transfer it to canvas, I first scanned it, then opened it in Photoshop, and using my digital projector, projected it onto a piece of canvas I’d tacked up on my workboard. Then I traced it with pencil, except for the background. As you can see from this photograph, I found some old photos I’d taken of Queen’s Surf (a beach in Honolulu near where I live) and decided to use those as reference for the background. I drew the background freehand. Then, now that I’d completed the pencil drawing on canvas, I took some black acrylic paint and a #2 Round acrylic-painting brush and painted all the lines. After letting that dry, I painted a thin earth-brown wash over the whole painting.


Then the fun began! I say it’s fun, but it’s also one of the scariest parts of making a painting. I can usually tell pretty quickly, once I begin laying in the colors, whether or not a painting is going to work. If there’s no magic in the first half-hour of adding color to painting, the prognosis is not good. Fortunately in this case, I started having a good time right away. Putting a big splash of sky blue on Kawai’s shoulder was just the bold, ballsy move I needed to get things going.


Here the colors are beginning to define themselves. I continued painting, using pretty naturalistic colors—well, maybe a bit more vivid than real life!—and letting the colors wander. By that I mean I did something you learn not to do when you’re a kid coloring in a coloring book—I made sure NOT to stay in the lines. I don’t know why I enjoy this approach so much, but for me it gives a painting a certain energy, and even a sense of humor, that it just wouldn’t have if the colors were all nicely contained. Maybe it has something to do with what I have learned (and also sense intuitively) about the physics of the world we live in: edges and separations are illusions we project to give us a sense of order. But in reality there are no separations, it’s all connected and it’s all one. So of course the color from the palm trees would bleed into the sky, and vice versa! And of course your body would pick up the color of the sky and the sand around you. Then again, maybe I am just such a rebellious type that I like not staying in the lines.


Then it was just a matter of finishing it. Which meant completing the still-unpainted areas. I don’t want you to think it’s just a matter of splashing some paint on and standing back, though. Because I began by painting all those black lines and getting them just the way I want them, I have to be careful when I’m filling in the colors to not cover up the black lines. Or cover them in a way that enhances them without destroying them. So it’s a bit tedious and labor-intensive. But worth it. I’m very pleased with the final result, which you see above (click on the image to see it on my website: I’ve titled it “Gay Nude Beach.”