Posts Tagged ‘sketch’

In early February, after concentrating on paintings for the past couple of months, I plunged into pencil drawing again. My process almost always begins by going through my photographs, looking for something that jumps out at me. (I use Photoshop CS3 on my Mac, and the program includes Bridge. I love Bridge—it’s a great way to look at huge masses of photo images quickly and efficiently. Except that it seems to be easily confused/overwhelmed and you have to quit the program and restart it every once in a while. But that’s a minor quibble.)


Bedsheets and Pillows

I found myself looking through images of Jeff, from September 2009, and even though I’ve already done one painting of Jeff sitting on my bed crosslegged (“Scorpio Rising“), I like the pose a lot and I think a drawing of almost the same pose would still be a fun thing to try. So I opened the image in Photoshop and started fooling around with it. My standard operating procedure these days is to heighten the contrast, take it to grayscale (if I’m going to do a pencil drawing), then Posterize it to about level 7. Posterizing it reduces the number of values showing in the image, which makes my job a lot easier—seeing where the shadows are darkest and lightest is not always easy in a conventional photographic image. It’s much easier in a posterized image, as you can see.


The finished drawing, 'Bedsheets and Pillows.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

So I print out both images (and often I’ll print out extreme closeups of the head and hands and other challenging areas as well) and tack them up by my drawing to use as reference. I use the posterized image as a guide, but I’m also always referring to the grayscale image so I can include the more subtle gradations of tone when and where I want to. This is an approach I’ve put together over many years of drawing from my own photographs.

I spent a couple of days on the Jeff drawing. That’s kind of fast for me for a full-on detailed large drawing like this. Occasionally I’ll be able to finish one in a single day, but more often it takes 3-4 days, working in 3- or 4-hour sessions at a time.

Pensive Marcelino


This is the photograph of Marcelino I decided to work from.

Again, I opened Bridge and started going through my catalog of model photos (I have about 40,000 images in this collection, and I have another 100,000 or more in my 35mm slide collection, from pre-digital days. I tend to use the most recent photographs more, of course, but occasionally I’ll dip back into images from many years ago). This time I found myself focusing on Marcelino, one of the models I shot in Los Angeles in October when I was there working with Kurt R. Brown. Marcelino is of Mexican descent and I think he was 20 when we shot these photographs at a wildlife refuge in the San Fernando Valley. I chose a quiet pose that feels to me like Marcelino’s sweet, graceful personality.

Here’s the finished drawing. This one took longer than the previous one of Jeff. The one of Jeff just flowed, which happens occasionally. This one of Marcelino was more the standard experience, with some areas going easily, others taking longer—so I probably spent about 4 days on this one. I like the final result. It doesn’t have the powerful presence of the previous drawing, but it has a quiet poetic quality that the other doesn’t.


The finished drawing, 'Pensive Marcelino.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Marcus Canta

For my third drawing in what was turning into a series, I chose Marcus. Anyone who’s been following my work over the past few years knows that Marcus is one of my favorite models. In fact he seems to be the favorite of a great many of my collectors, too.


I have a whole series of photographs I shot of him in Angra dos Reis (a resort area south of Rio) on a boat, in the late afternoon. He was spraying himself with water from a hose, and singing along with the music I had blaring from the boat’s speakers. Because one of the dials on the camera got moved without my realizing it, the whole series of photographs was overexposed. That’s a shame because I can’t show them as photographs in most cases—but they’re still fine for working from to create drawings and paintings. Despite the overexposure, they still capture the moment. And what a great moment! Because Marcus’ body is almost entirely in shadow I knew this would be a challenge to draw.


The finished drawing, 'Marcus Canta.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

That made the Posterization function even more useful. Because the light on his body is almost all subtle reflected light, it was very helpful to see the light and dark areas more clearly defined. The drawing was challenging but it went more smoothly than I’d expected and only took 3 days to complete. I’m especially pleased at the way it captures Marcus’ being lost in the moment. I titled it “Marcus Canta” (Marcus Sings).

Chadwick’s Back


Now I was warmed up and decided to tackle something with a lot of detail. I chose a photograph of Chadwick, another of the models I worked with in Los Angeles in October. This photo was taken in an unpopulated part of Simi Valley. As you can see, Chadwick has an amazing body, very muscular and well defined. I was excited about what kind of pencil drawing I could create using this image.


The finished drawing, 'Chadwick's Back.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

I used to do my drawings just using one hardness of pencil, a medium-soft…then for some time I was using two pencils, one hard and one soft. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve been using three pencils, an F, an HB and a B. Sometimes I’ll vary the exact pencils I use, but I’ve found one hard pencil (an F or even an H), one medium (HB seems to work well, and it’s very close to a regular #2, so that works, too) and one soft (B, or 2B or 3B or even softer) gives me all the range I need for almost every type of drawing I do. With just 1 or 2 pencil hardnesses I can create a terrific drawing—but with 3, I can get very subtle, beautiful effects that would be almost impossible with just 2 pencils. This drawing, which I titled “Chadwick’s Back,” is a good example of that. Although you really need to see it in person to see all the subtlety. I was surprised at how quickly this one went—it only took me 3 days. Of course those were long days!



My final drawing in the group of 5 began with a photograph of Rogério, one of the 2 models I shot on my very first Brazil photo shoot back in March 2004. This was a flash photograph taken after a full day of shooting, on the boat and on an island in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). We were on our way back to the marina and night was falling. It’s a photograph I’ve looked at dozens of times and never paid much attention to. For some reason, this time it jumped out at me. It’s hard for me to put into words the impression it made on me, but there was a moment there that really struck me, that had never struck me before, and I wondered if I could come close to capturing it in pencil. I cropped the image to concentrate on Rogério’s head and upper torso only. I decided that would be all I would put in the drawing. Then I started drawing.


The finished drawing, 'Unbuttoned.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Even though it may appear there’s less detail here, and less to draw than in some of the others I’d just finished, there were still challenges. Capturing the exact expression on the face was one of them. Another was getting the close-cropped hair on Rogério’s temple to look right. In the end this drawing took 4 days to complete. But when I finished it, I felt good. I felt I’d come pretty close to capturing the feeling I’d gotten from the photograph. I call this one “Unbuttoned.” This was the fifth in the series, and I’d spent about 3 weeks doing these drawings. I put them up on my website and announced them just a day after finishing this final work.

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!

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

Sam and Kawai wrestling, and the sketch ("Temporary Victory") that came from it

For Valentine’s Day this year I decided to do a whole new series of rough sketches of couples. One reason for that is that I have so many great shots of Kawai and Sam that I haven’t drawn yet. Another reason is, I knew it would be a challenge. Drawing couples is more than twice as hard as drawing a single figure…

…because of the relationships. Drawing is all about relationships, you know. I’m talking about how different parts of the image fit together. Everything depends on the relative position of the line you’re drawing. When you’re drawing a single figure, you get used to knowing where the hands are going to fall relative to the arm and the rest of the body, for instance. You get used to drawing a body in many different positions. All you have to concern yourself with is one body and you know about where everything is going to end up.


Here's a sketch where it's vital to get relative positions of hands, arms, legs, etc. absolutely accurate.

But when you have two figures, things suddenly get a lot more complicated. First of all, you have twice as many figures to concern yourself with. That’s not so bad, because you still know basically where each figure’s hands, feet, head, etc. are going to go. But wait a minute! Where are Sam’s hands relative to Kawai? Is Kawai’s shoulder higher up than Sam’s shoulder? Is Sam’s left foot really that far away from Kawai’s right foot? If you’re not careful, you can begin a nice drawing of two boys standing and holding hands, and then halfway through realize that those hands can’t reach each other! Soon after I began working on this couples series, something interesting started to happen. Let me see if I can explain this. It has to do with the difference between how I hold a pencil and how I hold a brush. When I draw, I usually grasp the pencil fairly low, close to its point, and rest the heel of my hand on the paper for support (this is how most of us use a pen or pencil for writing). This gives one a great deal of control over one’s line. When I paint, I tend to hold the brush farther up, and with a grip more like I would use if I picked up a stick and wanted to whack something with it. You have less control over your line this way, but if you want big, loose movements, this is a much better technique.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

Here's a good example of the rawer, more 'honest' line I'm talking about. Probably a subtle difference to anybody but me--but it's there.

The interesting thing that started to happen is this: I found myself holding the pencil as if it were a brush, and drawing almost as if I were painting. I was no longer resting the heel of my hand on the paper, which meant I had less control. But I had more freedom. This was scary and exhilarating. I don’t know why it occurred to me to do this; it happened spontaneously. But with staying loose and being more free one of the major themes of my life, and with my always aiming at loosening up more and more, it’s not too surprising when this kind of thing happens. But it was still exciting! And the quality of my line changed. It became more raw, less controlled and less calculated. For some reason I found this new, rougher line more beautiful. Perhaps because it was less controlled, it seemed to me more honest.

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

I call this 'Rock Lobsters.'

This was a breakthrough drawing for me. The more I experimented with this new approach, the more fun I started having. I got bolder (always a good thing!). I decided to see what would happen if I also used this approach with colored pencils. The sketch you see here is the first one where I really let go with this approach. You can see the overall look is quite different. Up close the lines look crazy and out of control; but when you pull back, you can see everything works together to create an image. And because of the agitated, energetic quality of the line, it has more energy and life than a very careful, controlled series of lines would have. I like a controlled line sometimes–it can be very beautiful–but for me, now, at this point in my life, if I can be a channel for beauty that is less controlled and more influenced by ‘chance,’ that makes me feel more alive, and much happier.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

Another example of the new spontaneity I'm able to get sometimes with my sketches.

For the remainder of the time I spent working on the couples series (I completed 34 sketches in a period of a couple of weeks!), I used the technique I’ve described, approaching drawing more as if it were painting. If you look at the series as a whole (S1090115 through S1090227), you can see I went back and forth between the more controlled and the more spontaneous approaches, but overall I stayed much looser, and I’m very happy with the results. From the response once the Valentine’s Day Showing went online, it seems you guys are, too!


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.”


Soon after my early August photo session with Mike T., I got a chance to start creating some drawings of him. For my first drawing I chose a shot of Mike which happened this way: I had him wearing white briefs and getting wet in a tidepool. I wanted to see him in soaking-wet briefs. So I got those shots, and they weren’t all that great. So I had him take off the briefs. As soon as he took them off he started wringing them out, and that made for some nice shots. Then I got an idea. I told him to start wiping the briefs across his chest, then his stomach, and in effect using it as a washcloth. This made for a whole series of great shots, and the one you see here is one of the best.


This started out as a pretty straightforward pencil drawing. However, I’ve recently begun varying my pencil leads more. What I mean is, where I used to customarily use a single pencil for an entire drawing, I’ve begun using different hardnesses for different purposes in the drawing. So for the darkest darks I’m using a very soft lead, and for the lightest areas (well, actually the second-lightest areas since leaving the paper untouched supplies the lightest lights) I use a very hard lead. For those of you who are draughtsmen and are interested in specifics, here’s what I’ve been using: For the darkest darks, I use a 2B or a 3B, occasionally even a 4B. For less-dark darks, I use a B (more or less equivalent to a number 1 pencil). For darker middle tones, I use an HB, and for lighter middle tones, an F. For the lightest shadow areas, I’ll use an H, and occasionally for even lighter tones, a 2H or a 3H. You can get by using just a couple of different hardnesses and you’ll still have plenty of range for most drawings, since just varying the pressure already gives you so much range with pencils. But if you want really subtle, fine variations in tone, use 4 or 5 variations in hardness. That’s what I wanted in this drawing, and it definitely made a difference. One challenge was the tattoo. This is where the different pencils really helped. There’s an overall subtlety and power to this drawing that I wouldn’t have been able to get with just 1 or 2 pencils. I call it “Polished” not just because it looks a bit as if Mike is polishing himself, but also because I feel like it’s one of the most polished drawings I’ve done to date.


I began a second drawing soon after. I wanted to keep this one a bit looser—doing two very meticulous, detailed drawings in a row is just a bit too much for me. I need variation. So I decided to do this one in a looser style. For my source image I chose a shot of Mike sitting on a towel and looking at something in the distance. I love the way his body looks in this photo, and his profile is really lovely.

Since I chose to do this drawing more loosely, I didn’t use so many variations of pencil lead. I mostly used a really soft pencil, and instead of careful crosshatching, did more of a scribble. Keeping the scribbles somewhat consistent, of course! Then, in places, I’d go in and smear the pencil lead to get softer variations in tone. That would then sometimes require going in again with a gneaded eraser to lift out highlights in the smeared areas. This approach gives the drawing a very different look than what you see in “Polished,” but it’s one I like just as much. It just has a different energy. I chose to leave the background out on this drawing, for two reasons—one, I’m lazy and didn’t want to draw all that, and two, the positive-negative spatial interplay I got by just putting the body against white space really worked. Or put more simply, the figure actually worked better and was stronger without the background. I called this one “Near Sandy’s” (“Sandy’s” is the local nickname for Sandy Beach, which is very near the location where we did our photo shoot).



A few days later, I decided I wanted to do a simple acrylic painting of Mike. I chose an image where Mike is just beginning to remove his boardshorts. I found the gesture beautiful and intriguing. The original image was a little dark and low-contrast so I tweaked it in Photoshop before beginning to do preparatory sketches. I did several sketches in pencil, then did a light-and-shadow study in colored pencil. I was still not sure what I was going to do color-scheme-wise, but with just a single figure on a colored background, I wasn’t too worried that I’d be able to make it work.

Painting the figure turned out to be a pretty straightforward task, using standard light-and-shadow techniques and naturalistic color.

Then, however, I added black outlines and an electric purple background (with a glow just behind the figure to make it ‘pop’). That gave the piece a cartoon-y, action-figure feeling, while the naturalistic rendering of the figure allows us to still appreciate the beauty and sexuality of the figure. I’m calling this one “Supermike.”

Update to this Entry:

In March 2013 I published an e-book called “Muse: Drawings and Paintings Inspired by Mike T.” You can purchase it for instant download here.

First acrylic sketch I did after getting back from Sydney, entitled 'Red Shorts Yellow Sky'

First acrylic sketch I did after getting back from Sydney, entitled 'Red Shorts Yellow Sky'

I’ve been painting every morning. Jimmy or Kurt call to see if I’m going to come surfing with them, and I have to say, “No, this morning I have to paint!” I do manage to surf some afternoons. But painting has to come first. Especially in the morning hours, because that’s when I’m freshest and most in command of all my faculties, and painting, more than almost anything else I do, requires COMPLETE focus.

Because I’m just starting to paint again after some time off, I’m doing warm-ups. These are acrylic “sketches” on fairly lightweight paper. I like painting on paper. For one thing I like the lack of texture—the smooth surface—but I also like the fact that because it’s not on canvas, I can take it less seriously and be more free, bold and spontaneous. I know it’s just a mind trip but it works for me.

Acrylic sketch on paper, done with limited palette, entitled 'Shawn Standing Nude on Beach'

Acrylic sketch on paper, done with limited palette, entitled 'Shawn Standing Nude on Beach'

I’ve been painting with a limited palette on these acrylic sketches. For instance, on the one I did today (a frontal nude of Shawn standing in wet sand at the beach), I limited my palette to four colors and white: cadmium red, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, and ultramarine blue. And I’m really pleased with the results—I think I successfully captured the light conditions of the scene, and thus the feeling of it.

I want to keep experimenting with a limited palette. It’s a nice challenge, plus with fewer colors you can be more sure the whole thing will hang together color-balance-wise. (And it doesn’t take 2 hours to mix all the colors before you get to start painting!)