THREE PAINTINGS AT ONCE
My default painting routine is to work on one thing at a time.
A painting has always been, for me, a big commitment, and for a long time I thought one at a time was all I could handle. But over the past few years that’s begun changing gradually. I’ve gotten more confident–and I’ve found advantages to keeping several paintings going at the same time.
One is that while the paint is drying on one painting, I can move to the next one. An even bigger advantage is that changing focus from one painting to another gives me more perspective. I’ve found that working on a single painting for days or even weeks at a time starts to burn me out. I get sick of the painting, and in a way I can’t even see it anymore.
But going from one painting to another gives me a break. When I move from one painting to another instead of staying focused on just one, I can see each one with fresher eyes.
Here’s what happened recently when I got three paintings going at once.
PAINTING NUMBER ONE: BALLCAP BEACH
A couple of weeks ago I found a photograph I shot of Brian on a Hawaii beach and thought it would be fun to paint it. I did change it a bit though, by adding some palm trees from another painting. They not only give the image more of a tropical feeling, they improve the composition. One of the things I liked and kept from the photo was the sandal in front of the figure; I like that there’s only one.
I started sketching in pencil and pretty quickly came up with something I liked (above right). The next step was to transfer that sketch to canvas.
I first re-drew the sketch on canvas. Once I had the pencil drawing in place, I used a black-acrylic marker to outline everything. When that had dried, I went over everything with an acrylic wash. (A wash is simply very watered-down paint, to cover the underdrawing with a transparent layer of color.) I usually use a single more-or-less neutral tone, but lately I’ve been using several colors which suggest the colors I expect to use in the actual painting.
My usual next step would be to begin applying the actual paint. But something told me no, wait, let’s not go directly ahead on this painting–let’s start another one. I don’t usually do this, but I trust my gut instincts, so I went looking for another image to paint.
PAINTING NUMBER TWO: NOHEA
For my second painting, I found inspiration in a photo shoot I did of Nohea a few years ago in the lush tropical backyard of my Honolulu friends Kei and Dick. The image that excited me was actually an image I’ve already painted a couple of times, but both of those were pretty realistic. I thought I’d like to try an Expressionist approach this time.
So I began sketching. When I had sketched enough to figure out what went where, I started transferring the image to canvas. Then I did a multicolor acrylic wash to prepare for the actual painting. And, just as with the previous painting, I decided not to start painting on this one just yet.
PAINTING NUMBER THREE: KHANH
Something told me, let’s get one more painting going before we dive into the next step on any of them. So I went looking one more time for inspiration.
And found it in a relatively recent photo session. I met Vietnamese bodybuilder Khanh at the gym during the short time I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska with family a couple of years ago. I’ve focused on nudes of Khanh in the past but I decided I wanted to do a G-rated image this time. I found some great shots from the very first images I shot of him, in my Lincoln backyard on a summer afternoon.
By now I was so warmed up it only took one sketch to see what I wanted to do with the painting. I went right to putting it onto canvas. The transfer went smoothly, and I followed the same procedure as with the previous two paintings. Now I had THREE paintings prepped and ready to go!
I don’t know if I’ve made it clear how unusual it is for me to have three paintings going at once–especially major male-figure paintings with detail and backgrounds and everything. But it is unusual! Nevertheless, as I looked at what I had going and got ready to dive in and start actually painting, it all felt really good and right, like I was ready for this.
I think the big difference is confidence. When I was younger and less experienced, approaching a painting, especially a fairly complex one, was intimidating as hell. I needed everything I could bring to bear to feel like I could deal with it.
But now I’m older and I’ve been painting for a long time, and I’m a lot more confident. I’ve done a lot of paintings and there was nothing in any of these three that I didn’t think I could pull off. In some ways I love being older, and this is one of them.
So, to put it simply, I was ready to dive in.
I started with the Brian painting—Ballcap Beach—and it was pretty straightforward. What I mean is, I’ve got a basic set of color mixes I use in a painting like this, and I didn’t see any need to re-invent the wheel. One real challenge in this painting was the way I was planning to paint the sand of the beach itself. You may have noticed in the earlier versions that I invented lines radiating across the foreground to give the composition more energy and interest. My plan was to have the pattern of footprints etc. in the beach sand more or less match those lines. I didn’t know exactly how that was going to work but I trusted I’d figure it out as I went.
I worked for a couple of hours on Ballcap Beach until I started to burn out on it, and then switched to the next painting. As I begin applying paint to this one (I’m calling it Khanh in Lincoln) I realize this painting is going to be a lot about light. It’s a summertime backyard scene and although I keep most of the lines I started with, the painting is becoming less about flat line and more about three-dimensional light and shadow. That’s fine with me; I just want to keep going and see where this takes me.
I worked on Khanh the rest of that day and a lot of the next one, before I burned out on that one and decided to move on to the next one: Nohea.
Starting to paint the third one (I’m calling it Nohea at Noon) is a bit different than the other two. This one is more of a challenge because of all the lush greenery. There’s a lot going on in this type of subject matter and I don’t want to just copy it. I want to capture a sense of the patterns of a lush jungle without going into a lot of detail. This is not easy, and it’s something I’ve been working on it for quite a few years. It’s a challenge that keeps coming up for me because I love painting the male figure in a lush tropical jungle setting. It’s also a challenge I enjoy. I worked on Nohea at Noon over a couple of days—feeling like I’m doing pretty well at suggesting the jungle foliage without being overly literal—before jumping over to the next painting.
WRAPPING IT UP
Now I had all three paintings at a place where each one required only about one more day of work—in other words, almost ready to wrap them all up. The first one I completed was Khanh in Lincoln. My biggest challenge with this painting was color. I wasn’t happy with the colors of the figure for quite a while. I kept adding and subtracting, playing with color, alternating with working on the background, until I got a set of colors that seemed to work well together. Not a hundred percent happy with the painting–but then I never am. I do like the feeling of summer-afternoon light I got. Khanh in Lincoln is finished. Now on to Ballcap Beach!
Ballcap Beach came together pretty quickly. It was pretty straightforward, except for the beach, with those radiating composition lines happening underneath. But that approach worked out pretty well. I like the way it feels like a beach, yet it’s still clearly a set of lines that make the composition stronger and more interesting. I also like the expression on Brian’s face. That edgy look he’s giving us was present in the first rough sketch and one of the reasons I liked it so well, so I wanted to keep it in the final painting, and I think I did. This painting was probably the easiest of the three, but still challenging. I really like the way it turned out. Now onto the next one!
The last of the three is Nohea at Noon. As I said earlier, this one was the biggest challenge because of the complexity of the greenery. Getting the lighting and colors right on the face and figure was also not easy. It took me a couple of days of work to bring this completion. In the end, I like it, although I wish I’d been able to keep it looser. Still, I think it’s a good painting, if a bit sentimental. I actually like the romantic-fantasy aspect of it.
And so I’m done with all three. It took me about 10 days of working almost every day for about 3-4 hours per day. Not bad, and I think I ended up with three pretty okay paintings. I really like the three-paintings-at-once approach. Not something I’ve always got the energy and intention to undertake, but I definitely want to do it more often.
In the end my only real complaint about this trio of paintings is the usual one: I wish I’d been able to keep that loose, excited, take-a-chance energy of the initial stages right up to the end. But this is always the challenge, and it’s an almost impossible one. It keeps me going and it keeps me excited. I always think when I’m finishing a painting, Damn! I’ll do better on the next one.