One of my favorite parts of my photo session with Camilo in February 2017 was the series shot in my guest bedroom. There were a lot of really wonderful reclining poses (similar to some of the reclining poses from my 2009 photo shoot with Jeff, and specifically 1001 Ohualani) in the way they inspire me. One of the poses (below) was so terrific I didn’t want to just paint it in a straightforward way—I wanted to do something more creative.
My next step was to print out a copy of the photograph and start sketching it. Drawing the same pose of the same model over and over again may sound boring, but it’s far from it. In fact, it’s a journey of discovery. I never know what will happen, since no matter how many times I draw a particular image, it’s never quite the same (even if I want it to be!) . When I set out to find the essence of a pose that really grabs me, sometimes amazing things can happen. I first have to draw the pose quite a few times before I really own it—I mean get to the point where I understand it well enough that I can start to distort and twist and pull it and see what I can do with it. Here are some of the sketches that happened along the way to give you an idea:
In situations where the source photo already has an interesting setting/background, I will also play around with how I can skew and distort that. In this case, I decided to create a new setting. I had in the back of my head the phrase “tropical vacation” and that was the starting point. I added a window behind the figure with a view of tropical mountains, palms and the ocean, and the image began to come to life for me.
The sketch shown below was the point I reached after probably 10 or 12 drawings, and I had finally found the look and feel I was looking for.
If you’re not an artist yourself, you may wonder about the progression—from relatively detailed to simpler and simpler. A lot of non-artists think that a more realistic, detailed image is more difficult than a simplified one. Actually it’s the opposite: rendering a fairly realistic, detailed image doesn’t take a lot of thought or inventiveness—it’s more about the technical skills of observation you learn from a lot of practice. But taking that detailed, realistic image and finding its essence and reducing it to as few lines as possible is another level of difficulty, one that usually comes only after you learn the skills it takes to do a realistic rendering. So, believe it or not, the final of the four images above, the most simplified and crude-looking one, was actually a lot more difficult to get to than the first ones.
And that simplified, somewhat distorted version of the image had the energy I’d been aiming for. Now I was ready to start painting.
As usual with this type of line-heavy image, after drawing the image onto the canvas, I paint the lines with black paint. That’s the beginning stage followed by putting a neutral-colored wash over the whole canvas. Above you can see me in studio with the first stage of the painting.
Here’s the painting with the wash laid atop the black-line drawing, and the first bits of color applied. Notice I made one big change from the pencil drawing: I added a bowl of fruit in the center foreground, falling out of the picture plane à la Cézanne or Matisse. This happened while I was drawing the image onto the canvas. I felt like something was needed in the foreground, and a bowl of fruit seemed to have just the right mix of formality and sensuality.
Above you see in-progress stages 3 and 4. The painting is almost finished in a single 6-hour session, which doesn’t usually happen, but could be partly the result of several days of working on preparatory drawings until I was really satisfied with what I had. At any rate, the colors I had in mind for the bedspread, mostly lavenders and blues, are working. The tropical view is alluring, as is the fruit in the bowl, and the figure is coming to life.
There are a couple of things I’m not happy with yet: the treatment of the clouds in the sky, and the rendering of Camilo’s hand in the left foreground. After 6 hours I’m wiped, and decide to wait until the next day to address these and a few other minor issues. But I’m really pleased with what I’ve done today.
THE NEXT DAY: As it turned out, it was 2 days before I got back up to the studio to put the finishing touches on the painting. When I did, it was fast work to fix the sky and the hand.
A few other very minor touches, and it was done and ready to sign. It took a while for this one to come together, with all the preparatory sketches and planning, but it was worth it. I’m very happy with Tropical Vacation.