Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Letter fm LA

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


I am in Los Angeles, having finally made my escape from Hawaii.

I don’t mean that quite like it sounds. It’s not about an escape from Hawaii. The “escape” has more to do with getting rid of possessions which had begun to possess me. The final days before I left were all about dealing with all that…STUFF. I was selling stuff, giving away stuff, throwing away stuff, and still keeping way too much stuff. There are boxes and boxes of it at my office.

But there’s a plan to get rid of it.

Each time I come back for a week-long check-in visit to Hawaii (the first one will be in September), I will sort through more of it and get rid of more of it. I’ve realized getting rid of stuff is a major theme for me these days.

So…going on this year-long journey is not so much about the travel as about the LETTING GO and LIGHTENING UP.

And even though I headed for the airport on Sunday with a huge suitcase weighing 60 lbs. and a very stuffed carry-on, it feels great to know this is all the stuff I need to have in my life right now. Plus I will lighten and refine the load during my travels, as it becomes clearer what’s really essential and what’s not.


GINA has been a significant part of my artistic life ever since that day in Honolulu in 1986 when the phone rang and I picked it up to hear a female voice saying, “Hi, you don’t know me but I’ve seen your art and my boyfriend would be a PERFECT MODEL for you!” The boyfriend was indeed a perfect model. He is long gone, but Gina and I are still friends 25 years later, and when I’m in LA she is the person I stay with.

One of our best and most memorable times together was in Brazil in 2004 when I did my first Brazilian male-nude photo shoot as a direct result of Gina’s finding a boy on the beach who became my Rio talent scout. My friend Ramses was also on that trip, and the three of us totally bonded as a result of our Brazilian adventure together.


This is us in Brazil in 2004: Luiz, Gina, Ramses, Douglas. (Luiz, also known as Gui, is the Brazilian boy Gina met by chance on the beach who became my Brazil talent scout and 'events coordinator'. He's an actor in Canada these days.)


Ramses and Gina on the beach at Ipanema during our Brazil trip.

As it turns out, Ramses is on the West Coast at the moment, and has altered his plans so he can come to LA and hang out with us. So it’s a big reunion and the three of us are having a great time hanging out, catching up, and having some new adventures!


This is us in LA in 2011. Gina, Gina's cousin AJ, Ramses, Douglas. (Fiesta Cantina on Santa Monica)



On the left, a pencil sketch of some palm trees I saw while walking to get groceries in Brentwood. On the right, a colored-pencil drawing of Nohea I've been working on that's about 60% finished.

It’s been a challenge finding time to draw, since I’m staying with two of my favorite people in the world to hang out with. But I’ve been managing. I’ve started a colored-pencil drawing of Nohea that I really like so far. I spend a few hours on it each day. Also did a little sketch of L.A. palm trees.


Being on the road means spending a lot more time in other people’s spaces.

I’ve been having a wonderful time hanging with Gina and Ramses but I’m realizing something. I am the kind of person who loves being with people, but I can’t do it for too long at a time. I gather energy and find myself by being alone. I get my best ideas, have my clearest reflections and am at my most creative when I’m by myself. Usually I have a LOT of alone time, and I like it. Now that I’m traveling I find I’m with people much of the time and I’m not used to that.


Even though I was having an emotional meltdown I still caught some nice images of our evening in Santa Monica on my iPhone.

Last night I had a kind of emotional meltdown because I went out (to the Santa Monica Pier and Promenade area)with Gina and Ramses even though I was already in need of alone time and hadn’t taken it. It was not pretty, but fortunately all was forgiven and we’re all still friends. I’m learning that it’s okay to say, “Guys, I need some alone time,” and go for a walk or to Starbucks or, if one’s available, just shut myself in a room for awhile.

Sometimes I just need to recharge my batteries!




I went to lunch with my friend Kurt Brown, a terrific photographer who lives here in LA and who also specializes in the male nude. We talked about everything, but especially models and shooting them and marketing ourselves. I told him all about my e-books, how much fun they are to create and how well they’re selling, and I may be working with him on producing an e-book of his photographs. We also shared lunch with Darius Dio, a stunning 26-year-old who models all over the world (see photos above). He’s a very down-to-earth, easy-going guy, and we talked about working together sometime soon.



I’m meeting with Steve Chen (shown above in a shot by David Smith), a bodybuilder who lives here in LA, on Monday, and if all goes well, we’ll do a shoot on Wednesday, probably in Malibu. Steve has worked with my friend Kurt Brown in LA and my friend David Smith in Hawaii. I’m looking forward to photographing his beautiful face and body in the California sun.


I am always amazed at how COLD it is in LA. It seems the whole world has this idea that LA is a hot, sunny place where you can run around in a swimsuit all the time. That sure hasn’t ever been my experience. I always pack a jacket and/or a sweater when I’m coming to LA. It’s July and I just went out to get some groceries and even in the middle of a sunny day I got chilly as soon as I stepped into the shade. And at night, forget it. You will need to bundle up.

I’m not like most people, I guess. I actually enjoy 85-90 degrees and high humidity and no breeze.

With Albuquerque in July being my next stop, I will probably get to find out what it’s like at 100 degrees and NO humidity. Bring it!

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Access all blog entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series here:

Chapter 1
    June 9, 2011   On Chucking It All and Going On the Road

Chapter 2
    June 21, 2011   Prepping to Go on the Road

Chapter 3
    June 29, 2011   Before I Take Off

Chapter 4
    July 18, 2011   Letter from Los Angeles

Chapter 5
    July 28, 2011   Malibu Photo Shoot with Steve Chen

Chapter 6
    August 20, 2011   Letter from Lincoln

Chapter 7
    September 15, 2011   Letter from Baltimore

Chapter 8
    October 27, 2011   Letter from Honolulu

Chapter 9
    December 10, 2011   Letter from Brazil

Chapter 10
    February 3, 2012   Leaving Home…Going Home!

Chapter 11
    July 7, 2012   Letter from Dakota Street

Chapter 12
    October 27, 2012   Letter from Banff

Chapter 13
    November 18, 2012   Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 1

Chapter 14
    November 25, 2012   Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 2

Chapter 15
    November 25, 2012   Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 3

Chapter 16
    December 3, 2012   Letter from Santo Domingo, Part 4

Before i take off


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



Okay, it’s June 28th. This was my projected date for flying to LA and beginning “the adventure.”

Well, two things. One, this kind of thing usually takes longer than expected, so I’m fine with that. Two, I have a funny feeling “the adventure” has already begun.


Sold my car and the money’s in the bank. It went to really nice people who love my Honda Element as much as I did, and are very happy to have it. I’m happy to be that much lighter. I got a nondescript little rental today and I’m zipping around in that, perfectly happy. Driving a rented car always makes me feel like I’m on vacation.

The apartment has not yet found a tenant. I’m not concerned. The right person always comes along at the right time. I’m a little concerned about how many plants remain in the apartment…but they really add a lot and I like having them there when the apartment is being shown. I’m hoping the new tenant will be a plants person and will be happy to have them.

Now that almost everything is in place, things aren’t so crazy rushed and I have a little bit more time…so maybe I can get a little drawing and painting done before I take off. In fact I may delay my takeoff a bit just so that I can do some painting in my “new” in-office studio. And I’m working on ideas for a new e-book (or two).

There’s also a July 4 pool party at my friends Chris and Will’s which is always one of the best parties of the year (they live in the old Lana Turner estate on Diamond Head and have a huge pool and one of the best party venues of anyone I know, plus they’re good friends and the vibes are always really great there)–and I may stay around so I can go to that. Let’s see, party July 4, recover July 5, fly to LA on July 6? Mmm, maybe.

I said the adventure has already begun, and it has. I really like the looseness and liberty I’m feeling, like being able to leave when I feel like it rather than having to match up to some external schedule…and having only a vague idea of where I’m going and when, and having it be okay that it’s not written in stone, and might change at a moment’s notice. And having some extra money from the sale of the car removes any money pressure I was feeling. Ah, freedom!

That feeling of lightness and freedom makes creating art a lot easier too. We’ll see what I can create before I fly away…


NEXT CHAPTER: Letter from L.A.

Prepping for road blkborder

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

Three weeks after the momentous decision talked about in my “On Chucking It All and Going On the Road” entry, things have moved along dramatically, and the shape of my life is changing before my eyes.

My studio has now been moved into my office and I’m still unpacking boxes and setting things up. It’ll be a few more days before I can actually start drawing and painting again, but things are moving along.


A few days ago this was my studio.

I’ve also been selling a lot of stuff—books, CDs, DVDs, luggage, kitchenware, odds and ends. Feels good to be “lightening up.”

The property manager I found has begun advertising the apartment for rent and dealing with prospective tenants. I’m dealing with the limbo state of living between my steadily-less-homelike apartment and my in-office studio, and although I’m impatient to actually get all this preparation out of the way and be on the road, there’s so much to do every day I’m far from bored.

There are long lists of things to do every day, but it’s all getting done. I’ve finally learned, when faced with huge piles of to-do’s between myself and the goal, to not think about the enormity of the task, but just remind myself, sometimes forcefully, “I don’t have to know how everything will get done. I just need to do this one thing I’m doing now.” Amazing how well this works.

One item got taken care of in an unexpected way when the beautiful 21-year-old dancer who had agreed to model for me before I left messaged me on Facebook saying “I don’t feel comfortable modeling nude”. This is after an in-person interview where we talked about every aspect of the gig including my being absolutely clear that it was full-frontal nudity and making sure that he was fine with it.

Oh well. When I was 21 I didn’t always know what I wanted either. (I sometimes don’t now!)

Although I do know, with more clarity than I’ve had about a lot of things, that what I’m doing right now is absolutely what I want. As the day for my departure nears, it all still feels totally right. (Not that I don’t also get nervous and frightened at moments…like sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat…but I just breathe deeply and remind myself that if it wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be exciting.)

Anyway, a few days from now, when all this minutiae is tidied up, I’ll get on the plane for Los Angeles, where I’ll spend a couple of weeks with my friend Gina. Once I’m there and finally away from Hawaii and my previous life, I hope I’ll be able to decompress and see more clearly what’s next. Although I do have the first couple of months roughly laid out. After L.A. is Albuquerque, where I’ll visit my brother and his wife, then I’ll head up to Nebraska where the rest of the family lives. While I’m doing this California-New Mexico-Nebraska triangle, my passport will be in California getting its Brazil visa renewed so I can head there 2 or 3 months from now. A friend has volunteered his couch in São Paulo.

I also might end up in Australia in October, meeting some Hawaii friends there.

And Puerto Vallarta is calling me again, too…

About travel and living in Hawaii: There are a lot of destinations I’ve fantasized about over the years but was too often stopped by the extra time and money required to get there from these isolated islands. I’m looking forward to being in places that are adjacent to my next exciting adventure spot, rather than always having to deal with the 5-hour flight just to get to a starting point for your journey. I love Hawaii and I’ll always come home to it, but I sure like the idea of already being in New York, for example, when I decide to go to Europe.


I've already sold quite a few of my plants, but I had to move all the ones I still have off the floor so the carpets can be shampooed today.

I’m writing this in the midst of chaos, by the way. The carpet-cleaning people are coming an hour from now and as soon as I finish this, I have to drag all the furniture onto the non-carpeted areas of the apartment so they can do their shampoo thing. Meanwhile I’ll be taking my Honda Element to the carwash to get it spiffed up so I can photograph it and sell it on Craigslist. That’s the last big thing to take care of before I leave.

Still haven’t bought my ticket but that will happen in the next few days. My next post, barring unforeseen happenings, will be either just before I’ve left, or just after arriving in LA. Or maybe it’ll get written on the plane…

Ontheroad1 chucking it all

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

I made a huge change in my life when I was 19 and I left Nebraska to move to Hawaii.

It was the best decision of my life.

Now, over 40 years later, I’m about to make a change that is almost that big.

I’m chucking it all and going on the road.


The view from my Waikiki living room.

I’ve spent over 40 years in Hawaii and I have loved living here. I’ve loved making a career here as an artist of the male nude, being able to live in Hawaii and still have collectors all over the world. I especially loved the change I made 3 years ago, when I bought an apartment (my first time as a homeowner) in Waikiki. I loved the apartment, and I loved living in Waikiki! I absolutely loved waking up in the morning and looking out at the ocean, Diamond Head, and the Ala Wai canal, seeing the palm trees sway in the breeze, and knowing that I lived in the most beautiful and comfortable place in the world.

It was perfect!

Yeah, PERFECT…for a while.

But paying a big mortgage every month, not being able to travel much because of that mortgage, and living in a place that feels like my PERMANENT home in a way a rental never does, has had an effect on me. As much as I’ve loved living in this apartment, over the past year or so I’ve begun to feel a bit like a prisoner.


The living room of my oh-so-comfortable Waikiki apartment.

I felt like I was chained to this apartment and its comforts (not to mention Hawaii and its comforts) and I kept hearing this very reasonable-sounding voice saying, okay, now it’s time to just accept it, you’re over 60 now, you’re slowing down, settling down, you’re going to grow old here in this place. Relax and enjoy it…it’s a beautiful place to let your life wind down.



…let my life WIND DOWN??



So here’s what happened.

I was cleaning out a kitchen cupboard one afternoon and I was about to wad up and throw away a months-old issue of the Honolulu Weekly when an article caught my eye.

The story was about a British woman in her mid-40s who is rowing her way around the world. Yes, ROWING. Roz Savage had a mid-life crisis when she realized she had lots of material things and a comfortable relationship and a cushy job, but something was missing. At that point she did something really interesting: she wrote two versions of her own obituary.

In the first obituary she imagined continuing her life as it was going. In the second version, she imagined herself doing something adventurous and living life by her own rules. It was quite an epiphany for her. She wound up deciding to end her marriage and her career and give up all the material things she thought were important. That’s when she came up with the crazy idea of rowing across the Atlantic. (Read the article at the bottom of this page if you like.)

I’m not going to row across the Atlantic. (It’s painful enough flying across it in Coach.) But I have taken her message very much to heart.

Okay, it’s not quite the same. I’ve been living an adventurous life by my own rules for practically my whole life, and I’ve loved it, and I love my career and I will be keeping it. But that story really struck a nerve. I was standing there at my kitchen counter reading the article, thunderstruck. I realized what I HAD to do.


In a matter of about 30 seconds I not only knew I had to go traveling, I knew how I would do it. I would rent out my apartment (let someone ELSE pay my mortgage for awhile!), move my studio into my current office (which actually has plenty of space for it), sell my car and get rid of everything I didn’t need, and take my drawing, painting and photography (and blogging!) on the road. And I would travel for at least one year!

The fact that it took under a minute for me to know exactly how this would be done tells me that on some unconscious level I’d been planning this for awhile. But I hadn’t known it until I read that article.

What struck me with great force was how RIGHT this felt. As soon as the idea of doing this occurred to me, I knew it was already a done deal. It felt so right on so many levels, there was absolutely no question it was my path. I didn’t realize how unhappy and conflicted I’d been feeling until I finally saw my next step, and saw it with crystal clarity. I got so excited I could hardly contain myself, and I’m still feeling that way!

That was a little over two weeks ago. Since then I have contracted with a property management company to handle renting and management of my apartment for at least 1 year; I’ve put my car up for sale; I’m putting together a garage sale to get rid of everything; i’ve cancelled the cable, car insurance, and a dozen other things I had taken for granted and now feel lighter for having cut off; and the movers are coming day after tomorrow to move my studio into my office.

I’ll be flying to Los Angeles around June 30 (give or take a few days either way) to move in with my friend Gina for a few days while I decompress and start planning the next year (or more) of globetrotting.

Although I’m not going to plan TOO much. I’m excited by the prospect of making it up as I go along.

I love the fact that I’ll be free to travel the world yet I get to keep my gorgeous Waikiki apartment…kind of putting it on reserve until some future time when I’m ready to move back in. This is a mix of liberation and stability that really appeals to me.

I’ll have my studio all set up in my office so that whenever I’m in Hawaii (I plan to come back and check in every 2 or 3 months—where I’ll stay I don’t know yet but that will fall into place) I’ll be able to spend some time painting in a fully equipped studio. But most of the time I’ll be drawing, and photographing, wherever in the world I happen to be.

And I’m inviting you along for the ride, in a way. I’ll be updating you regularly on my adventures via this blog. And of course you’ll continue to see my new art popping up on my fine-art website,, and new models and photo shoots appearing in new entries right here on this blog.

Don’t hesitate to comment on any of this as we go. I’ve always enjoyed your comments on this Artist’s Diary blog, and appreciated them. Now I’ll appreciate them even more as you give me your feedback on where I’m going and what I’m doing and your suggestions on where I should go next, and what I should do when I’m there! I love the fact that I’ll be traveling on my own, but I’ll never be alone.

As Buzz Lightyear would say, “To infinity…and beyond!”

[back to top]

I’ve just returned from Brazil, the first trip I’ve taken there since early last year when I found and photographed Wellington and Israel in Salvador. This time I traveled with my good friend Steph, and I must say we made a great team. She’s a bit like Gina in that she’s beautiful and fun and attracts lots of attention! We stopped over in Miami for a couple of days, then flew to Rio.


Steph and myself in Miami at the Palace Bar, before catching an evening flight to Rio.

This was Steph’s first time in Brazil so we saw the sights of Rio for a couple of days before heading by bus to Búzios (a 3-1/2 hour ride). I’d never been to Búzios but had heard lots about it. It turned out to be a beautiful, sophisticated yet rustic little town, and we stayed in a charming, simple-but-beautiful room in a pousada called Passeio das Palmeiras (I recommend it, and the proprietor, Lucas, is pretty charming and beautiful himself).


The morning lifeguard workout in the streets of Búzios---another good reason to visit this little beach town

Our original plan had been to rent a car and drive up the coast from Rio to Salvador, but for various reasons that didn’t work out. Traveling by bus up the coast began to look like a long, hard trek as well—so we wound up going back to Rio by bus so we could fly up to Salvador. From Salvador we would go back south, again by bus, to Itacaré, a place we both wanted to explore.

During our one-night stay in Salvador, I took Steph to one of my favorite restaurants, Caranguejo, and introduced her to Moqueca de Camarão, which is a Bahian seafood bouillabaisse made with coconut milk and dende and shrimp and god knows what else, and is a little bit of heaven. It required just one spoonful to convert Steph. (May I also mention here that, as an inveterate beer drinker, one of the things I love about Brazil is that they are religious about only serving really REALLY cold beer. I love that!)


Steph's first Moqueca de Camarão in Salvador

We didn’t really know what we were in for when we got on the bus from Salvador to Itacaré. Well, actually, you can’t get a bus from Salvador to Itacaré. You have to get a bus for Itabuna or Ilhéus, and then catch ANOTHER bus to Itacaré. So we blithely got on the bus (which I must admit was very comfortable) and settled in for a six-hour journey. Actually it might have been seven—the time zone kept changing and nobody told us, which meant we kept thinking we were either way ahead of schedule or we were about to miss our next bus, which didn’t add to our peace of mind. Anyway, after six or seven hours on the nice bus, we then had to spend two and a half more hours on the not-so-nice bus, and by then it was late at night, so by the time we rolled into Itacaré, we were pretty exhausted.


Views from the bus ride, Salvador-Itabuna

But the next morning when we got up and saw in the full light of day where we’d landed, we were happy. Itacaré is a very cool little hippie-surfer town, with great beaches, great waves, and a lot of charm and atmosphere. we stayed in a pousada called Hanalei (yes, like the beach on Kauai) which was like a Swiss-Family-Robinson treehouse, only not in a tree. Charming and well-managed—and the breakfast itself was worth the price of admission. GREAT food! Another pousada I can heartily recommend, if you ever want to make the trek to Itacaré.


Some views of Itacaré's scenery

—Which you might want to do, because this is one of those places everybody falls in love with. It’s friendly and rustic and has lots of cool places to hang out—and beautiful, with 7 or 8 or 10 beaches, I don’t know how many, all close together and all gorgeous. Some gorgeous people too. We met quite a few of them, and on our second day there, we met a boy named Baiano. I had not been planning to work on this trip, but when I met this boy, I changed my mind. Here was a raw sexiness I felt I had to capture! Everything fell into place very quickly. I met him around noon, and by 3pm we had hiked to a deserted hilltop overlooking a beautiful beach, where Baiano got naked and I made him climb up and down the trails for the next 2 hours.


Left: Baiano with surfboard. Right: Following Baiano up the hill on the way to our photo session.

Just as exciting as the model was the setting. This is the kind of backdrop I just can’t find in Hawaii, because it’s so populated. Itacaré is a small town in the middle of nowhere with a surplus of beaches, so you can shoot a nude model in places like this without worrying about lots of people wandering through your photo shoot. Like most of my models, Baiano is a sexy boy with charm, charisma and an oversupply of testosterone. It’s a combination that works for me. As is usually the case, Baiano was a bit surprised at how much fun it was to model for me, and at the conclusion of the shoot, we were good buddies.


Some shots of Baiano in Itacaré

Steph and I left Itacaré with some reluctance, but it was time to go home. This time we skipped the bus and flew from Ilhéus to Salvador (45 minutes instead of 9 hours). We spent one last day in Salvador, most of it on the beach in Barra, where we ran into Wellington, my model from last year. We took him out for dinner and drinks that night, then went home because we had to get up early for our flight home.

Wellington and Steph on our last day in Bahia

What a wonderful trip, but so great to be home again. I hated to leave Brazil but was overjoyed to get back because I’d been missing painting so much. I’m now happily ensconced in my studio painting and drawing like mad!