Posts Tagged ‘painter’

Mexico studio header

February 23, 2015

I’m now about 4 months into my Mexico experience, and I can finally say the studio is firing on all cylinders. And so am I.

I went back to Nebraska at Christmas not only to spend the holidays with family but also to pick up some much-needed artists’ supplies. I mentioned in an earlier entry that Mexico does not seem to have something I consider essential to acrylic painting, disposable palettes. Well, they have them but the ones I’ve found here are like tissue paper and basically useless. So I brought back some good disposable palette pads in my suitcase. I also brought some other necessities, like my portable Bose speakers so I can have music playing while I paint—another essential. I also brought more blank canvas and some other things I needed.

Now my studio, while not as great as my Lincoln studio, is fully functional. I could use more space and I’d kill for a rolling metal cart like the one I have in Nebraska, but the bottom line is, I can paint, and I am painting.

PAINTING FAILS

Avery painting fail

This image of Avery from an early-morning Diamond Head photo shot has a lot of potential. I lost my nerve halfway through this one, but I think eventually I'll be able to pull it off and it's going to be great.

When I use a title like PAINTING FAILS, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek; I don’t really consider any painting a a failure. I’m always learning and I think I learn more from the so-called failures. Plus there’s such a thing as warm-up exercises, and that’s another good way to look at a painting that didn’t turn out the way I thought I wanted it to. There were several of these on the way to getting rolling in my new studio.

Khanh painting fail

I did a lot of preliminary sketches for this one but I never quite got the composition and forms the way I wanted them. I thought it would come together in the painting phase but it never did.

In case you’re wondering what happens to a ‘failed’ painting: I gesso over it and then it’s ready for another painting to go on top of it. I have some canvases three or four paintings thick. I’ve explained in previous blog entries that if you’re pushing yourself and growing as a painter, you’re going to have a lot of ‘failures.’ But I think it bears repeating. A lot of people, especially those who’ve never painted, think that a ‘successful’ artist like myself steps into the studio and starts painting and everything he touches is great. IT’S NOT TRUE. I have long stretches, sometimes many weeks, where nothing turns out. Then there are other periods where almost everything seems to flow and every painting turns out well. These ups and downs are part of an artist’s life, and the only exceptions I know of are formula painters who basically paint the same thing over and over again—and that’s not me.

Fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to not take it too seriously when nothing seems to work. I just keep painting.

PAINTING SUCCESSES

Vinicius in hawaii

Vinicius in Hawaii was a small, relatively straightforward painting that came together pretty easily.

The first painting that worked after I got back to Mexico after Christmas was a nude of Vinicius. I played it safe with this one, and that was what I needed to do. I needed a little confidence builder, so I chose an image I knew I could pull off without too much stretching. Dramatic lighting and a simple composition make things a lot easier. I was able to do this one in a few hours, and while it’s not great, it’s a nice little painting and it made me feel more ready to tackle whatever came next.

Ds w abstract1757 sm

Modern Times, an abstract grid painting done in a loose, gestural style.

The second successful painting I did in January was an abstract. This was an abstract grid painting, of a type I’ve done a lot over the years, but in keeping with my direction over the past couple of years, I painted it very loosely, with lots of broad strokes and drips. This one came together pretty easily and I had a good time painting it. I call it Modern Times.

The next painting I tried was a face. Again, something I’ve done many times before. I kept this one pretty straightforward, too, although I did experiment a bit with color. I kept the whole painting very muted, using only greys for most of it. The touches of red and orange you see in this one are actually very muted as well, but next to the greys they really pop out. Again, not a huge challenge, but a good effort, and one I like. I titled it “Limbo.”

Limbo

Limbo is an Expressionist portrait in muted tones.

My next painting was another nude, and this time I did push myself. The style I’ve been developing recently is very loose and gestural, with lots of drips. This is something I admired in other artists’ work for years but was never quite able to get to myself. Until recently. The big breakthrough for me happened last summer (see my entry called “Painting Blind” for more details).

The “Painting Blind” approach is simple—close your eyes and attack the canvas without seeing where your paint is going—but it’s really difficult. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope with your eyes closed. Scary! Getting myself into the frame of mind this kind of painting requires is the real challenge. The thing that works the most consistently for me is to find inspiring works by other painters and look at them intensely, letting the energy kind of soak into me. Then I get up, pick up my brush and load it with paint, and with eyes closed, let ‘er rip!

The other important part is to keep the paint really sloppy and wet so there’s lots of dripping. It may seem like a superficial effect, and maybe it is, but it helps keep me in the space where I need to be: committed to the painting but willing to keep it messy and imperfect.

Steve at nudebeach

I had to get into a very particular state of mind to manage the looseness and spontaneous energy of the painting Steve at the Nude Beach.

This was the approach I set for myself for this nude. I chose a photograph of Steve Chen from our Malibu photo shoot. Even with all the warming up I’d done over the previous weeks of painting, I was still a bit nervous about this one. But as it turned out, it went fine. I was able to stay loose and keep the painting messy and I was very pleased with the result.


PLANTS

Since I moved to Mexico a particular type of painting keeps popping into my head. This place is bringing out my love of vivid colors and heavy outlines, and I’ve been wanting to try something like that in my paintings, but wasn’t sure what subject matter I wanted to use.

When I bought my Waikiki apartment back in 2008, I immediately started buying potted plants and soon the place was a jungle. For some reason owning my own place made me want to fill it with plants! When I left Hawaii in 2012, I had to get rid of all my plants. I hated that. Living in Nebraska, I just didn’t feel the urge—I knew I wasn’t going to be there that long. But now, living in Mexico and having my own place again, I find I’m once again starting to fill my space with plants.

So, given my love of plants. my fascination with plantforms, and the fact that I have several great live-in models, I decided painting some plants might be a good way to explore this vivid colors-heavy outlines thing that was forming in my mind.

Plantwarmup1

This is one of the 'plant warm-ups' I did.

I did quite a few warmups, and that helped. Then I decided to do a plant photo shoot. I have several pothos plants and I shot about 100 photos of one of these plants from lots of different angles, mostly pretty close-up. Then I started drawing from some of those photographs.

This turned out to be fun, and some of my sketches were getting interesting. I was enjoying the simple shapes and their complicated relationships. I didn’t yet know how it would translate into paint.

Pothos1 sources

Here's the source photo and the preparatory drawing I did to prepare for the first plant painting.




Pothos1 inprog1

I drew the image onto the canvas, painted thick black outlines, let that dry, and did a purple wash over the whole thing.

I used everything I’ve learned over the past couple of years in the first painting I did of my pothos plant. By that I mean that once I had put the basic shapes onto the canvas, I attacked and painted blind and wet. Lots of can’t-see-what-I’m-doing brushstrokes, which meant lots of energy and interesting textures, and lots of drips. Of course in between the blind painting, I’m standing back and deciding what area needs what colors, where it needs to be darker, where lighter, etc. It’s a dance between conscious control on the one hand, and blind passion and physical motion on the other.

Pothos1 inprog2

The painting in progress.

The result can be magic, and Pothos 1 definitely has some of that. I was very pleased with how it turned out. I’m beginning to feel like I can consistently do this messy, drippy energetic style, and that makes me happy because I love what happens when I get this approach to work.

Pothos1

Here's the finished work: Pothos 1.

I decided to do a series of three pothos paintings. For #2, I kept the process as much like the first one as possible. This one was a little trickier, but it still worked out well.

Ds pothos2 sm

Here I am with Pothos 2.

The final painting was the hardest, probably because I was starting to lose interest. I don’t usually do a series of several paintings focused on a single subject or theme because I am easily bored. Yeah, I’m sure there’s some ADD going on there. So it was a good challenge for me to see if I could stay focused long enough to do 3 paintings in the same vein. Plus I had in mind blue, yellow and red backgrounds for the 3 paintings, and I wanted to see what they looked like together.

Pothos3

Third and last in the series: Pothos 3.

I did stick with it, and I did finish the final one. I learned something, too. I can stay focused long enough to do something if I have a clear enough picture of the goal.

Pothos series 3up

Here are all three Pothos paintings. I like the way they look together.

(By the way, each of these paintings is approximately 24″x32″, or 60x81cm.)

I’m pretty excited about two things. One, I find I am able to consistently get myself into that brave, willing-to-risk-it-all space that my current painting approach requires. Two, I’m really happy to see myself getting more disciplined and focused with my painting.

Oh, one other thing I’m really happy about: I LOVE living in Puerto Vallarta!!

P.S. If you’re reading this blog before March 25, 2015, these paintings are not yet available for purchase and shipping, since they are here with me in Mexico. I’ll be taking them back to the U.S. March 25 and then they’ll go up on the website and become available for sale. If you’d like to reserve any of them, that’s possible; just e-mail me and I can let you know about availability.

Visit the Douglas Simonson website here.

Newstudio header

October 3, 2013

CONTENTS


• Changes, Surprises and Going with the Flow
• The New Studio: Physical Dynamics
• The New Studio: Space for Enlightenment



CHANGES, SURPRISES AND GOING WITH THE FLOW


Okay, I’m still in Nebraska. I keep thinking I’m doing something wrong because I said I was going to be living on the road, and except for 5 weeks in the Dominican Republic last winter, I’ve been stuck in Nebraska for a year and a half.

But then I think about it and realize nothing’s wrong. I am following my plan; it’s just unfolding in unexpected ways. Wow, what a surprise!

My plan was to have a homebase in Nebraska which would make it easier for me to travel and live most of my life on the road. And it’s getting there.

When I moved to Lincoln from Hawaii in April 2012, I rented a duplex on Dakota Street, a few blocks from my sister Kelly’s house. It was great because I had a full basement and I was able to turn that into my studio and office. Living in Lincoln was not exactly my dream but it turned out to be exactly the right thing for my painting. As in, no social life and no beach = lots of focus on painting and lots of art produced.

Dakota studio 1

Here's what my Dakota street studio looked like.

The Dakota Street duplex worked fine for awhile, but for some reason I knew I wouldn’t be there that long. I had a strong feeling that things would be changing drastically sometime in the fall of 2013. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. When you live your life like I do, watching the currents and adjusting to them and following them rather than trying to force things or plan too much, you start getting a sense for these things.

Another strong sense I had was that I wanted to be around other artists more. I had this vision, in fact, of a group of studios where I could go in and paint and be around other artists, also creating, every day. There’s a place in Lincoln called Parrish Studios which is kind of like that, and I started making regular inquiries there, hoping a studio space would open up.

Then in July, my sister Kelly decided that her live-in boyfriend had to go. Without going into details, let me just say that this was widely seen as a positive move. With Kelly’s extra bedroom becoming vacant, I began to think about moving my office there. Since she helps me with my business when I’m away traveling, it seemed like a good idea to both of us.

I knew that moving in with Kelly would mean I had to find studio space elsewhere. Nothing was happening with Parrish Studios, so one Saturday morning in early August I decided to look on Craigslist for artist’s studio spaces in Lincoln, Nebraska. Almost immediately—and against all odds—something very interesting popped up. It sounded so perfect that I called the number and within 45 minutes I was meeting with the owner to look at the space.

That’s how I found my ideal new studio.

The owner of a building in Lincoln’s Haymarket area (trendy, popular part of downtown Lincoln with lots of clubs, restaurants and galleries) had an unfinished basement space which he wanted to turn into artist’s studios. I was the first artist to look at the space and it was still mostly unfinished. The price was right, the feeling was right, the location was right, and because I was the first and the studios were still being constructed, I even got to help design my own studio space!

815 O emptybasement

This is the empty space before construction of individual studios. All the way down at the end are the kitchen and bathrooms. I got to choose which part of the area would become my 250-sq-ft studio. I chose the spot at the far end, of course.

That construction was completed pretty quickly, and by early September, I had moved my office (and home) into Kelly’s extra bedroom, and everything else into my new downtown studio.

Newstudio earlystages

Here's a look into my newly constructed studio space. This was early on, when I was still moving stuff in. You can see my trusty easel and corkboard already set up, and my new steel rolling cart painting workstation next to it. Leaning on the wall in the corner is a 4x8 sheet of Homasote.

Lots of big changes had happened in a very short time, but nothing was forced and everything just fell into place with perfect timing. Again I saw how well it works to just pay attention to the currents and follow your instincts on when to jump in and when to just chill.

The only thing I really didn’t like about the new setup was the fact that I had no parking space downtown, and that meant every time I went in to paint I had to feed a parking meter. But I decided I could live with that until I was able to find reasonable long-term parking.


THE NEW STUDIO: PHYSICAL DYNAMICS


Let me tell you about the physical aspects of my new studio. It’s in a space adjacent to a full kitchen with plenty of sinks, which is great for someone who paints in acrylics. It’s 250 square feet, which is just right. Best of all, it has 5 easels instead of just one! I’ll explain:

I’d seen a photo of an artist’s studio some time ago where there were paintings-in-progress tacked up on every wall. That struck me. What a great idea! Walls made of some kind of bulletin-board-like material where you could just tack up your piece of canvas and start a painting. You could have 4 or 5 paintings in progress in different areas of your studio! I’ve never painted this way—but without my realizing it, a year of focused painting in my one-easel studio had gotten me ready for this next step.

But where to find those bulletin-board walls? Corkboard was pretty expensive–there must be something else. Some time and online research eventually led me to a material called Homasote. It’s used mostly for soundproofing, but it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I bought 4 panels (4 feet by 8 feet, 1/2-inch thick, about $25 each) and nailed them up on the walls of my studio. Now I had easels everywhere!

Newstudio toward door

Here's an interior shot of my studio showing two Homasote panels on the walls at right, and another on the far left. Each of these panels constitutes an easel and painting work area.

The other big innovation was a rolling workstation.

Rolling workstation

ROLLING PAINTING WORKSTATION: This stainless-steel rolling cart is 49 inches high, tall enough that I can easily stand and mix my paints. And with enough surface area to easily hold all my painting equipment.

Online, I found and purchased exactly what I was looking for: a stainless-steel rolling cart which was tall enough that I could mix my paints standing up. Plus, it had enough surface area for all my painting equipment—paints, palettes, palette knives, rags, brushes, everything. So now I could roll my painting workstation from easel to easel anytime I wanted to switch from one painting to another, with almost zero set-up required.


THE NEW STUDIO: SPACE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT


I was excited about this new studio set-up but didn’t really know how it would work in practice.

However, after a few days of painting in the new space and with some minor adjustments, I have to say, it’s brilliant! The new set-up works like a dream. What a joy it is to come to a stopping place on one painting and be able to simply roll your cart to the next one and continue painting with no setup required!

Newstudio cart between2spaces

Here you see the rolling painting workstation between two homasote-panel painting areas. Moving physically to a new painting area becomes quick and easy. However, the mental/emotional trip from one area to another can be more of a challenge…

I make it sound easy and smooth, and physical-equipment-wise, it was. But there is also a whole other dynamic going on, and that’s what I’m talking about when I call this section “Space for Enlightenment.”

I’ve often referred to my love-hate relationship with painting. That’s just a dramatic way of saying that it’s really easy to talk yourself out of actually doing some painting, because painting is HARD. Well, actually it’s not the painting that’s hard: it’s what your mind does with the painting that makes it hard! The mind tends to think that every painting will probably fail and then you’ll feel awful, so let’s go catch up on e-mail instead, okay? It’s easy to talk yourself out of dealing with all the stuff that goes with painting.

When your studio is in your home it’s REALLY easy to distract yourself this way.

But having a studio I have to drive to changes everything. Even the fact that I have to feed a parking meter constantly to use my studio turns out to be a helpful aid in focusing. Now, when I’m in my studio, it’s very clear I’m there to paint, and if I don’t paint, I’m wasting the quarters I just fed into the meter.

So now when I have a thought like, That painting is too hard, let’s update the website instead, I am much better at just saying, Thank you for sharing, Mind. Then I get up, move away from the computer, roll my workstation over to the painting that’s calling me at the moment, and start painting.

I make it sound easy. It’s not. It can be incredibly hard to just move over to the painting and pick up a brush and start applying paint. Once you’re doing it, you get into the flow and it’s fine. But wow, getting started can be a bitch.

I define enlightenment as finding that space within yourself where you feel completely at peace, and realizing (and FEELING) that you are much bigger than this body and mind. Believing your own thoughts is NOT the way to enlightenment. Allowing your thoughts to flow but not attaching to them is.

So my new studio really is helping me move toward enlightenment. Because it’s so obvious I’m there to paint, it becomes much easier to see those distracting, negative thoughts for what they are, and to just let them go. It’s time to paint NOW, not later. Not just because that parking meter is ticking, but because I need to produce a lot of paintings before I leave for the winter!

That’s the other part of all this. As soon as all the changes began to reveal themselves and fall into place, it became time to make my travel reservations. I’m off to spend a month in Brazil in November-December.

The rest of the winter remains to be seen. I’ll be back in Nebraska for short spurts of painting, then back to the tropics.

Newstudio newart 6up

Here are the first few paintings produced in my new studio. It's been a busy couple of weeks.

So I’ve got a lot of painting to do between now and early November when I leave. And I am in just the enlightened and enlightening space to do it.

Art takes balls header

May 24, 2013

• COURAGE AND STAMINA
• LET THE PAINT RUN!
• THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO
• MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID
• NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE
• NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT



COURAGE AND STAMINA


The title isn’t meant to imply anything about the gender of an artist. (Most female artists I know have cojones at least as big as the male ones.)

I’m talking about courage and stamina.

I used to say one of my goals with painting was to get looser and freer with my use of paint. A fellow painter pointed out that ‘looseness’ is not actually an end in itself, and I realized that’s true. So I restated my goal: I aim for boldness, authenticity and courage in my work. The tendency among most of us humans is to attempt to get it right, and get approval for having done it right. Being an artist requires one to give up the need for approval (as much as that’s possible while living in relationship with other beings) and to look instead to your own heart and instincts as the arbiter of what is good and satisfying in your work.

I don’t say that’s easy or that I’m always successful at it, but I have found that I’m most excited and happy with my art when I’m painting in bold, expansive strokes, rather than using a small brush to get some tiny detail just right.

Or, to put it another way, big and bold allows me to say what I want to say with more honesty and power than little and careful.

This is not easy. It takes, like I said, courage and stamina.

To complicate things, as an artist you’re fighting on two fronts. One is the battle at the easel, where you’re always aware of the risk that your next big, audacious brushstroke could destroy hours of work (but playing it safe is even worse!). The other is the battle to stay bold and courageous and keep painting, year in and year out, even when nobody is buying your work and it appears to you that nobody even likes it.

It takes courage and stamina. Or, more succinctly, balls.

It’s true. If you’re doing it right, Art Takes Balls.

I guess I’ve just announced that I do, indeed, have a pair. So with no further ado, allow me to share with you the latest examples of my, uh, ballsiness…



LET THE PAINT RUN!

Thanks not only to my growing boldness but also the encouragement of my friend John, an artist and gallery representative (who reminded me that big paintings look much better on gallery walls!), I paint a lot bigger than I used to. When I decided to do a painting of my old friend and 1990s-era model Ramses, I cut a BIG piece of canvas and tacked it up on my easel.

Waipio sourceimage

This pre-digital 1993 shot of Ramses was on a 35mm slide, so I had to scan it. Not the best image quality, but good enough for me to work from.

It takes a lot of determination for me to let go and just splash paint onto the canvas. Letting go of control has never been easy for me! So I prepare by looking at lots of artists whose work is full of expressive power. Not only does this inspire me and get me excited, it also gives me permission to let go of the need to do it right and the need to get approval. If they did it, I can do it.

Waipio inprog1

Waipio inprog2

As usual, I drew the outlines of the figure onto the canvas with pencil, then painted over it with a wash. Sometimes I do a single color over the whole painting; other times, as here, I start laying in some of the actual colors I’ll use in the painting.

Waipio inprog3

Here (above) is where I diverged from my usual routine: Taking inspiration from the works of other artists I’d been looking at to prepare for this painting, I used medium to thin my acrylic paint way down, so that when I applied it to the canvas, it would drip and run. I did this with some purple mixes along the top edge, so they would drip down across the entire canvas. I’ve seen this in lots of other artists’ work and always loved the energy of it, but never before had the balls to really commit to it in my own painting. As I stood back and watched the paint run, I felt triumphant. I also felt apprehensive because I’d never done this before. Could I really pull off a painting this loose and out of control?

Waipio inprog4

It turns out, yes, I could, but only by staying really conscious of what I was doing every step of the way. I did this by constantly referring back to the works of other artists I’m looking at while doing this painting. Their works are inspiring and guiding me through this process, and providing me with constant reminders to take chances and be willing to totally mess up the painting in return for a big, bold, energetic series of brushstrokes.

1564

Above is the finished painting. I’m pleased with it and proud of how much energy it has. I perhaps over-finished the figure a bit, but not too much. This painting was a definite step forward for me and I notice that I don’t get tired of looking at it…definitely a good sign.



THE ABSTRACT SHAPES OF EDUARDO

It’s not an easy thing to do, given the way the human eye and mind work, but it’s essential to creating good art. I’m talking about seeing the big shapes. We’re so used to looking at detail, focusing on the parts that interest us most, that seeing the big picture is a challenge. So I use technology to help me.

I like to tweak my source photo in Photoshop to help me see the big shapes and skip the details. I do this by using a filter called Median to blur the image in a way that I like. I can still see the big shapes but the details are mostly gone. Then I use another filter called Posterize to reduce the number of colors (or values, if you’re working in black and white) in the image. I’m left with a nice simplified bunch of basic abstract shapes.

Ip15 sourceimage 2up

Left side is the untweaked photo. On the right, the Median filter then Posterize have been applied.

My source image for this painting was a photograph I shot of Eduardo lying on a blanket on the lanai of the Ipanema Towers apartment in Rio. I liked the pose, the composition, the lighting, the colors of this image, and as I tweaked it in Photoshop, I liked it even better.

Ip15 inprog1

Above, you can see the pencil sketch on canvas. I’ve used the tweaked photograph to map out the basic areas of color. My goal is to keep to those simplified shapes all through the painting.

Ip15 inprog2

Ip15 inprog3

In photos 2 and 3 above, you can see my progress. I began with a purple wash, then after that dried I began painting in flat areas of color. As always with this approach, I’m staying aware that acrylic paints are lighter when wet than when dry, so sometimes I have to repaint an area that’s turned out to be too dark, or not dark enough, once it’s dried (5 to 10 minutes later, unless it’s very thick). In this painting I had the most issues with the blanket and had to repaint some areas a couple of times. But I’ve gotten a lot better than I used to be at gauging the amount of value change that’s going to happen after the paint dries.

Ip15 inprog4

In the above photo everything is in place, pretty much. What needs to be done now is balancing. Especially balancing the values (light vs. dark) and the colors (warm vs. cool). In a painting like this that’s a dance that can take a while, with lots of painting or repainting an area, then waiting for the paint to dry, then standing WAY back to see if it worked.

1569

Above, the final painting. As you can see, one of the big changes I made was to make the middle tones of the body warmer, both the reds and greens. It’s just a matter of trying stuff out, and keeping what works. I call this one “Ipanema Towers 15.”



MALE FIGURE PAINTING: GOING LIQUID

When I was in the Dominican Republic doing the Caribbean Boys Gone Wild shoot, my favorite model of the 4 turned out to be Leandro. There was just something about him that was my type: a sweet, shy, handsome boy, with a devilish exhibitionist lurking just underneath. I shot several images of him with a towel over his shoulder, leaning against a coconut palm, and they captured him in a way that I really liked. I chose one of these shots for my next painting.

1611 sourceimage

This image is not a great photograph (it’s not even in focus!), but I like the feeling of it, the way it captures Leandro and that moment in time, and that’s what I’m going for as I turn it into a painting.

1611

No in-progress shots on this one, since it happened in one feverish burst of creativity. One of my new artistic tools is acrylic colors that are not in a tube but in a squeeze bottle . The dripping I accomplished in the Ramses painting above was done by adding lots of medium to tube paints. But I’ve since begun using these very liquid acrylic paints. They’re formulated to be runny and drippy and just messy as hell…which is exactly what I need. That’s the type of paint I began using in this painting, and I love what happened. In the past when I’ve painted with tube colors (which are a lot thicker and not at all runny), I like the buildup of paint, the impasto possibilities, but what I don’t like is the way the paint kind of fights you as you’re applying it. Discovering these new more-liquid paints has been wonderful! I love the ease with which I can apply a big, runny splash of paint. There’s one fewer barrier between me and just PAINTING. Which worked out very well for me in the above work, which I entitled “Dominican Boy with Towel.”



NOW FOR A LANDSCAPE

The painting that followed Leandro on a Dominican beach was a painting of a Dominican beach itself. I shot lots of pictures of beautiful young men in the D.R., but I also got a lot of wonderful photographs of the place itself. So many, in fact, that it was hard to choose one for a landscape painting. I picked one almost at random, since there were so many good ones. The one I chose is of a place called Playa Bonita, near the town of Las Terrenas. It’s late afternoon so the shadows of the coconut palms are long, and there’s a purpling of the distant sky—great ingredients for a rich, atmospheric painting.

1612 sourceimage

Here's the original photograph of Playa Bonita in the late afternoon.

>

1612 sourceimage twkd

Here's the photo prepared for painting. As usual I've blurred it with median to remove detail, then posterized it to narrow down the range of colors and values.

1612 sourceimage BW

Here's a greyscale (de-saturated) version of the tweaked photo. This version is very useful for reference while I'm painting. Removing the color makes it that much easier to see the big shapes and nothing else.

As I’ve said many times in many blog entries, tweaking the image in the way I’ve done above makes it simpler and removes details, which makes it easier for me to see the BIG SHAPES. If you can get the big shapes right, and get the values (lights and darks) right in relationship to each other, you’ve pretty much got it made, painting-wise.

Playabonita inprog1

To my surprise, after laying in the basic shapes and colors rather quickly, I stood back and everything had kind of fallen into place. This is what happens when you get the big shapes and the values right---everything falls into place.

When you’re painting big shapes and painting energetically, a painting can come together pretty quickly. Of course it can also completely collapse pretty quickly, and that happens to me too (I just don’t usually put those in a blog!). This was one of those that came together pretty quickly. A lot of that was because I was pretty disciplined about painting only the big shapes, almost no small details—maybe a palm frond sticking up here and there just to suggest what kind of trees you’re seeing, but everything else is big, broad brushstrokes. Another help is the black-and-white version of the image. Sometimes color gets in the way of seeing the big shapes, and a greyscale image can clarify things.

1612

Above is the final painting, “Playa Bonita.” As you can see, I didn’t have to do too much after the basic block-in. When a painting comes together this quickly and almost efforlessly, it’s like magic. It makes you forget (almost) all those times when everything just falls apart and you don’t have a clue why the painting didn’t work!



NOT ACCURATE BUT TOTALLY RIGHT

I’ve done quite a few paintings and drawings of Kaimana, but every time I go back to my photographs of him, I discover great images that I haven’t painted yet. Below is one of them.

1615 sourceimage

I approached this painting in the same way I’ve been approaching all my paintings lately: as an abstract work that just happens to have some recognizable realistic elements. Of course when I’m finished it usually looks pretty realistic, but what’s important is that while I’m painting, I’m paying more attention to how the colors and shapes and paintstrokes are feeling and interacting than how close the painting is to the source photo. This is another great advantage of paying attention only to the big shapes: there are no details to cramp your style. Or very few, anyway. As I keep saying, when you get the big shapes right, the details fall into place. Or put another way, the details end up getting filled in by the viewer.

1615 inprog1

You can see by the above in-progress shot of the painting that I’m not focusing on any one area; I’m working all over the painting. This used to be something I had trouble remembering to do. Nowadays I do it without even thinking about it. This is great progress for me, and more evidence that I’m looking at the big shapes, the entire composition, almost constantly. Which is great because there’s much less chance it’ll get out of balance.

An interesting thing that happened in the course of this painting was what I did with the water. When I looked at the photograph, the water looked kind of uninteresting and I thought, uh-oh, what am I gonna do with that water? But as I was painting, I was thinking abstractly, and I knew the area needed some visual interest, so I found myself breaking up the water area with bold brushstrokes and strong darks and strong lights. Not accurate but turned out to be totally right for the composition.

1615

Above is the finished painting. (Difference in colors between in-progress shot and finished painting is due to the difference between shooting something with a camera and scanning it. The finished work, which was scanned, is much closer to the true colors.) I call this one “Hawaiian Nude with Surfboard.”

Painting buzios header

March 21, 2012

• BARRA
• A VISIT TO BUZIOS
• DRAWING HOUSES
• TAKING THE PLUNGE



BARRA


I did a Brazilian beach painting and cityscape back in 1995 called Barra.

Barra is the name of my favorite beach in the Bahian city of Salvador. I liked the painting a lot at the time, and over the years I’ve grown to like it even more. Many times I’ve thought, I wish I could do one of those again.

Meaning, another tropical cityscape with that kind of strength and visual interest and just the right amount of whimsy.

667salvador

Looking back at my own work for inspiration: Barra, a 1995 painting I did of a beach in the Bahian city of Salvador.

But painting doesn’t work that way. At least it doesn’t for me. Capturing the magic that happened with Barra again was something that would happen when it was time for it to happen.

As you know, I’ve recently been living through a Nebraska winter for the first time in 41 years. And as you also know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, it’s been a blessing in disguise, both forcing and allowing me to focus on my art in a way I haven’t for over 20 years.

I’ve been painting or drawing every day for many months now, and to say I’m warmed up and in the groove would be an understatement. I’m hot. I’m cooking. But wait! That doesn’t mean everything I try works out. What it means is, I take bigger chances, and more often. Consequently I’m growing like crazy.

So painting ideas that would have scared me or put me off in the past, I now look at and go, okay, WTF, let’s try it. That’s how I came to do a painting of Búzios.



A VISIT TO BUZIOS

I’d visited Brazil lots of times, but it wasn’t until my 2008 trip there with my friend Steph that I visited Búzios (if you want, you can read about that trip—Búzios is just a small part of it—here).

Búzios was a little fishing village in the 1950s when French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered it and soon the rest of the world did, too. Now it’s a bit different, with Gucci and Prada stores instead of little fishing shacks. But it still has charm and a lot of natural beauty. Steph and I enjoyed our time there a lot, and I shot quite a few photographs.

I was looking at some of those photographs a couple of weeks ago when the idea struck. Looking at the way the houses climbed up the hill, with palm trees peeking out, I started to see something that excited me. I could picture the kind of painting I wanted to do, and it was definitely the same flavor as I’d found when I painted Barra back in 1995. But the photograph was lacking something. There was no beach in it.

Buzios top

This was the photograph that first triggered the idea of a Búzios painting. But it needed something.

So I found a second photograph taken at about the same time which did have the beach in it. Then, using one of my favorite creative tools, Photoshop, I cut and pasted the 2 photographs together.

Buzios beachbottomhalf

This photograph of the actual beach gave me the rest of the visual elements I needed.

Buzios combopic

I put the houses on the hill and the beach together into one image.

The result was not strictly realistic, of course, but it did capture the image of Búzios I’d had in my mind since my visit there. It gave me a starting point for my painting. Below is the first rough sketch I did of my idea for the composition.

Buzios sm 01 border



DRAWING HOUSES

I’ve never been much good at drawing buildings. They’ve just never excited me. But I knew that in order to make this painting work, I needed to improve my house-drawing abilities. I didn’t need to learn to make an architectural drawing, but I did need some practice in capturing the personality of a house, and of a group of houses on a hill. I had a picture in my mind of the kind of whimsical, crazy-angled houses I wanted to put on that hill, but I didn’t yet know how to draw them. So I dived in and began sketching.

Buzios sm 05

The first sketches I did were fairly realistic, since I needed to get a feeling for which details should be left in and which could be left out and still keep the feeling of the building.

Buzios sm 03

Buzios sm 04 border

Buzios sm 06

As I continued, the buildings got less detailed and more fanciful. And I gradually got more confident. I did another compositional study:

Buzios sm 02 border

This time I indicated some boats in the foreground.

Then, as I got closer to actually tackling the painting, I decided to do a color acrylic sketch.

Buzios sm colorprepsketch01

With this acrylic sketch I got to try out some of the sketch ideas in painting form.

I wasn’t that happy with the acrylic sketch, but it helped me by showing me where I didn’t want to go with the painting. I wanted less detail and less 3-dimensionality. I wanted the painting to be flatter, more about line and color, and less about realism.

Despite that, I still felt the need to do a house painting that showed what I’d learned over the past few days of sketching, so I took a piece of Strathmore bristol stock and tacked it up on my easel and did a little painting of a tropical house (below). It was kind of fun, but it was pretty intense, too…lots of precision and detail—the exact opposite of what I was intending for the painting I was about to do.

1581house1

If you take another look at the pencil sketches above, you'll find the inspiration for this little tropical house.

For some reason I still feel like I have to ‘pay my dues’ from time to time by doing something detailed and precise, thereby earning the right to do something light, fluid and whimsical. Silly, I know. But I still do it.



TAKING THE PLUNGE

Now that I had paid my dues I finally felt ready to begin the painting. I got up knowing that today was the day. It was with great trepidation that I began sketching onto a big piece of canvas that morning. I felt like I was biting off a lot with this one. But I knew I had to take the plunge.

And magic began to happen. The drawing almost did itself. I was thrilled that all the preparatory work I’d done seemed to be paying off. I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep things so bold, simple and clean if I hadn’t done all those sketches of buildings that weren’t bold, simple and clean.

When I finished drawing the trees and buildings and began on the beach, I ‘saw’ a guy working on his boat and another tourist-type guy standing watching him, and it was as if I’d always known I would put those figures in. Except I hadn’t known it consciously. But there they were, and they fit perfectly.

The next step was to ‘ink’ it, using black acrylic paint to go over the lines of the drawing.

Inprog1 buzios

The next step, as usual, was to paint a wash of purplish-brown over the inked drawing, and wait for that to dry. While it dried I began mixing colors.

Often in these step-by-step recountings of my studio process, I talk about the difficulties I encountered in a particular painting and how I overcame them. But sometimes, everything just falls into place. This was one of those (magical) times.

Inprog2 buzios

Not that I wasn’t making decisions all the time as I went along. For instance, I knew that I wanted to reserve the whitest white of the houses on the hill for the lower center, because I knew that white would draw the eye. So I consciously chose which group of houses would be the focal point on the hill. Another thing that happened in the course of the drawing was realizing I needed one of the palm trees to be another focal point, so I made the lower right palm tree the biggest, closest tree and made it stand out slightly in front of the background. There’s always gotta be this dance between the foreground and the background, or between the focal point and the stuff around it that makes it the focal point.

Of course all those subdominant focal points are there to make an interesting path for the eye to end up at the dominant focal point, which is the guy in the hat standing on the beach. Which I didn’t even put in until I was actually laying in the final drawing on the canvas. This is why I sometimes say, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I do know what I’m doing, but it’s like my body knows, not my conscious mind, and somehow, more often than not, I end up doing what works.

There were little adjustments that needed to be made as I finished the painting, but the big stuff had already been worked out. Just about 1 week after I first started doing rough sketches, I completed the painting I call “Búzios.”

1582

The finished painting: Búzios.

LINK: Douglas Simonson Gallery: Paintings

Findingtheedge

February 8, 2012

• DOING THE WORK
• FAILING WITHOUT FALLING
• WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT
• DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE
• FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER



DOING THE WORK


Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a good friend a few days ago:

hey john

saw your message on FB. glad you like the new one. in my opinion, it’s okay, but i missed what i was aiming for. the battle is still to keep myself from over-finishing! the painting was actually better at an earlier stage, but i just had to keep going. i am getting better, though. i’ve been painting like a madman for the past several weeks, sometimes several a day, but most of them get gessoed over, to become the blank canvas for my next attempt. some of my canvases have 3 or 4 or more layers on them by now. not a bad thing at all. just a  period of intense study and i am growing at a mad rate! dreamed for years of getting to this point with my painting, where i was actually doing the bold, exciting things i always pictured, and it’s finally happening. i just never consciously realized the degree of focus and amount of time that would be required to get to this intensity. now, of course, it seems obvious, now that i’m in it. consciously i dislike being in nebraska in winter, but from a broader perspective i’m able to see that i had to isolate myself to this degree to get to this level of absorption in my work.

As I suggest in the above, I’ve been painting pretty much every day for the past several weeks. I’ve been working as an artist and painting professionally for over 30 years, but I’ve never gotten to this level before. I look back and realize that I THOUGHT I was a serious painter, but I really wasn’t. I hadn’t gotten close to the level of intensity and commitment I’m experiencing right now.

I always knew it was all about going into the studio and DOING THE WORK. But I guess I never realized how much work it requires. Or to be more specific, how much concentrated work. Stopping and starting a lot doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as being able to focus for long periods, like months, at a time. I’ve finally put myself into a position where I’m willing and able to do that.

One way I know I’m really committed (other than the amount of time I’m spending in the studio) is how many paintings I’m gessoing over. (For you non-painters, gesso is the white stuff we put on a canvas to prepare it for painting.) Lately I try to approach every painting as an exercise, as an experiment where I try something out to see what happens. If it turns out well enough to keep, great! If not, great—and time for the next exercise.

But I still have lapses. Like the big “statement” painting I wanted to do of Manuel.



FAILING WITHOUT FALLING


I was feeling kind of confident at this stage—this is a few weeks ago—and I decided what I was going to do was a big “statement” painting. I wanted to do something that would pop off a gallery wall, that would WOW people.

This is not a bad goal in itself, by the way. But when it’s the ONLY goal, you’re in trouble.

Anyway.

I chose a photograph of Manuel to work from, and cut myself a BIG piece of canvas, and got out my sponges.

Manuelbytree bigfailed

The photograph of Manuel I chose to work from.

Manuelbytree bigfailed1

Progress at the end of the first day.

Manuelbytree bigfailed2

At the end of the third day.

Manuelbytree bigfailed3

Oops.

Everything went really well—for a while. I was using sponges, I was loving the size of the painting and the freedom it gave me to move, and I was accomplishing interesting things both with “brushwork” and use of color. And I was excited about the energy and presence in the face. But—I went too far. Of the 4 images you see above, the next-to-last one is where I SHOULD have stopped. It was going so well, I just had to “finish” the face. The result looks like bad plastic surgery. The life and authenticity in the face went away and it got “pretty” and lost its oomph. So after several days of work, I had to gesso over this one.

But that was fine. I wasn’t even that upset. All I had to do was let go of my expectations that this would be the big WOW painting that would blow people away. And I was able to do that, because I realized that was a bogus goal anyway. Plus I knew how much I’d learned in the 3 or 4 days I spent on the painting.

(Big change from the days when a ‘failed’ painting would depress me for days!)

What happened next, though, was not a painting. I decided to do some rough sketches, not out of creative fervor but because I took a look at my bank account!


WHEN WRONG IS ALL RIGHT

Rough sketches are an important source of income for me. Small, affordable sketches are a lot more accessible to most collectors than big expensive paintings, so my sketches sell pretty fast. When money starts looking like it might be an issue, one of the first things I do is sit down and do some rough sketches. This makes it sound like I do it just for the money, but the fact is, it’s great exercise, and no matter what prompts me to sit down and do it, once I begin, I lose myself in the drawing, and sometimes amazing things happen.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog for awhile, you’re aware of a recurring theme: my quest for MORE BOLDNESS! MORE COURAGE! LOOSER, MORE ENERGETIC BRUSHWORK!

Which wouldn’t be a recurring theme at all if it weren’t so damn hard to accomplish!

It’s hard because of FEAR. Fear that the artwork won’t turn out well, whether it’s a blank canvas staring you in the face with its threat of failure, or a painting that’s well on its way and you’re suddenly afraid to take a chance of ruining it by being too daring.

So as I sat down and sharpened my pencils and began to sketch, I had a revelation. I thought, what if I did it wrong from the start? What if I FAILED before I even began? Then there would be nothing to fear!

1130108 and 09

Here are a couple of the first drawings I did by 'doing it wrong.'

So I began drawing a nude, but instead of trying to do it right, I just started making random marks all over the paper. Once I had quite a few of these WRONG marks, I started making some that were maybe not so wrong, marks that were sort of heading in the direction of the image I was working from. Then I started making marks that were very close to the source image, but I kept making wrong marks, too, at random, just to remind me that there was nothing precious here, nothing to fear ruining.

This had an amazing effect. I felt free! I started enjoying the act of drawing so much I found myself wondering why I’d never let myself have this much fun before. Sure, drawing had been fun sometimes, but mostly it was work. All of a sudden it wasn’t work anymore! I’d always known that letting myself “do it wrong” was a key to creative freedom, but I’d never before found such an effective way to trick my mind into letting me do that.

1130116 and 17

Here are 2 of my favorite drawings of all I've done in the past couple of years--and they happened by letting myself do it wrong.

This unleashed a whole series of exciting new drawings, drawings that were filled with energy, movement and life—and gave me some insight as to what I needed to do in my painting to get to that place I was aiming for.

Over the next few days, trying to apply this new insight I’d gotten from drawing to my paintings, I had some ups and downs…

IMG 5641

This one I liked well enough to keep.

IMG 5645

This one I didn't.

IMG 5652

Interesting, but not interesting enough.

IMG 5656

Promising, but not promising enough.

My turning point happened with a landscape.


DON’T FINISH IT, LET IT LIVE

I chose a photograph I’d taken recently in Santo Domingo, a sunset shot of the waterfront.

IMG 3912santodomingo twk1

This one started out well. I liked the pencil drawing because it had a lot of energy. Then I began painting. After an hour or so, I stood back and…

Santodomingo inprog firstone

OMG. It sucks.

OMG. It totally sucked. How did that happen?

It took a bit for me to realize that, while I had begun with the intention of ‘doing it wrong to set myself free’, I hadn’t done that at all! My old habits had kicked in so strongly I hadn’t even realized what I was doing until I stood back and saw what a boring painting I’d created.

Santodomingo inprog no2

I took another piece of canvas and totally started over.

As soon as I realized what had happened, I tore the painting down and tacked up another piece of canvas, and began again.

With total concentration and a very strong intention, I focused on doing it wrong, on painting and enjoying moving the paint around, on playing, with absolutely no worries about whether the painting ‘worked’ or not. It was working just because I was enjoying myself!

You can guess what happened. An interesting, lively painting happened!

1561

Santo Domingo 1

And when I stood back from that painting, and realized it was good, it was fun, it was alive…I almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I almost went back in and ‘finished’ it.

Which would have been a HUGE mistake.

Along with the quest for boldness comes this companion challenge: learning when to stop. Part of it is the fear that others will call your work ‘unfinished’, and the rest is just enjoying the painting so much that you forget to watch for that magic moment when everything is in perfect, breathtaking balance. Not a perfectly even, stable, symmetrical kind of balance. No, the kind of balance where everything is poised to fall to earth but somehow is holding together. A balance that takes your breath away because you feel like you’ve been allowed to enter that timeless moment, that instant before everything collapses. That’s what I want in my paintings.

I began to approach it with this painting. I got even closer with the next one…



FINDING THE EDGE—AND NOT GOING OVER


I wanted to take the dangerous balance idea even further. I chose a photograph of Eduardo as the taking-off point.

Eduardo source

Not sure why, but Eduardo is my go-to model when I want to try something edgy. He's like a blank canvas for my creative urges…not exactly my muse, but close.

I stayed very awake through this painting. I kept my awareness always on the whole painting, not on making it look like the photograph, but on that precarious balance I was aiming for…because I knew if I took my eye off the tightrope for even a second, there was a chance I’d fall to earth.

Eduardo 2up

And it worked.

I painted and painted…but I also left a lot of it alone. And when I heard myself say, I love it but it’s not finished—

1563

Ipanema Towers 12

—I stopped!

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.


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


Latestfromstudio posterizedgraphic


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


August 28, 2012

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

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

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

Om tattoo source1

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

Om tattoo source2

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

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

Om tattoo inprog

Above is the painting at about the halfway point.

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

Om Tattoo painting

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


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


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