Creative Inspiration: 4 Painters Who Create Immersive Worlds

December 27th, 2016

There are some painters whose work takes me to an alternate reality. This other world is populated by a certain landscape features or characters, an alternate universe that may or may not be like ours. Because it is similar to our own world yet it seems to obey its own laws, it might seem dreamlike or surrealist even though it might not technically be surrealism.

Here are four artists whose work appears to be a glimpse into another world. I want to visit each world and see what goes on there.

Roger Dean

Perhaps best known for his progressive rock album covers for the bands Yes and Asia, his otherworldly landscapes seem to obey a different kind of gravity. Boulders float in the air and strange creatures and plants hint at a pre- or post-human world.

Roger Dean - The Flights of Icarus - 1976

Roger Dean - Floating Islands - 1993

Roger Dean - Arrival in Cloud - 2014

Tara McPherson

Tara’s work is populated by pink-or-teal-skinned alien girls, vampires, and mermaids with heart-shaped holes in their chests. The colors and linework are so smooth they look like they are made of delicious candy … candy that makes your heart ache.

Tara McPherson - The Crystal Waterfall (detail) Tara McPherson I Just Want a Hug Tara McPherson - Follow Me

Bob Ross

Yes, Bob Ross, everyone’s favorite T.V. painter with the soft-spoken voice. No, his work isn’t surreal, but his landscapes seem to emerge from an alternative world where humans are actually responsible for the environment. This reflects Ross’s worldview and desire for a peaceful, harmonious life. I’m only showing this promo image because there have been so many copycats that I can’t really tell what is his. What I like about him is not so much the art itself as the spirit in which it is made.

Bob Ross painting happy little trees

Salvador Dalí

And if you want surrealism, the work of Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Púbol is arguably the definition of Surrealism. Dalí’s work came from a very strange inner world populated by all kinds of personal symbols.

Salvador Dalí - The Burning Giraffe - 1937

Salvador Dalí - Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon - 1941

Salvador Dalí The Temptation of Saint Anthony - 1946

Whose world would you want to visit?

Or is there another artist whose work transports you to a place you want to get lost in?

4 Amazing Artists Who Create Stunning, Moody Atmosphere

October 28th, 2016

I’ve said before that I’m inspired by haze and fog. I think it’s the power of the mysterious that makes it so compelling. I look at it and try to figure out what else is there that I’m not seeing. But I know what I am seeing is the most important thing for me to look at right now.

There are several painters who do a really good job of creating this moody, foggy, hazy ambience in their paintings. Here are four. Well, three. The fourth one creates a mood, but not through atmosphere.

J. M. W. Turner

JMW Turner - Eruption of Vesuvius - 1817 JMW Turner - Eruption of Vesuvius - 1817
James McNeill Whistler - Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1875Smog was already a problem in London in Turner’s day (1775-1851), and his hazy work inspired Monet and Whisler, most notably Turner’s “Nocturne in Blue and Gold: the Falling Rocket” (1875) which resulted in Whisler’s libel suit with art critic John Ruskin.

Maurice Sapiro

Maurice Sapiro "Mauve And Gold" oil on canvas 20"x20"

Maurice Sapiro “Mauve And Gold” oil on canvas 20 × 20 in

Maurice Sapiro "Sunset, Reflected" 38 x 32 in

Maurice Sapiro “Sunset, Reflected” 38 × 32 in

I discovered Maurice Sapiro on Pinterest a few years ago and have been just blown away by this prolific painter. His landscapes (waterscapes?) are an explosion of reds and oranges accented with tiny bursts of turquoise.

Shane Miller

Shane Miller is a friend of mine. He lives and works in the Nashville area, and lately has been covering his paintings with beeswax, which further increases the misty, milky feel. I plan on visiting his studio soon. He paints from his imagination.

Edward Hopper




Now this is a different kind of mood. Hopper’s paintings don’t have the hazy, atmospheric quality of the others mentioned above. There’s something rather lonely about them. His paintings often convey a palpable tension that makes me wonder what Steinbeck would have created if he had been a painter from the east coast instead of a writer from California. It would probably be a lot like Hopper’s work.

Where Do I Fall?

Brad Blackman, 2014. Percy Priest Sunrise, Oil on panelGood question. I have done a painting that I feel looks like a bad copy of Sapiro’s sunset piece shown above. One thing I can say is that painting haze of thing is a lot harder than it looks. Although you try watching a Bob Ross video on Netflix or YouTube to see how to lightly drag a fan brush over wet paint to smooth it out a bit. 🙂

Heroes: Edward Hopper

April 29th, 2014

hopper_sp For years, I’ve loved the art of Edward Hopper. I’m sure you’ve seen his famous “Nighthawks” painting. It’s one of the more famous pieces of 20th century American art, and has been spoofed and copied many times, influencing other visual artists and many filmmakers. Wim Wenders said that Hopper’s paintings appeal to filmmakers because “You can always tell where the camera is.” Evidently it was a huge influence on the look and feel of Blade Runner.

Film Noir Influence and Parodies





Urban Loneliness

One of his biggest themes was urban loneliness. I can relate: sometimes I feel most alone in the biggest crowd.






Light and Shadow

But I think the thing I love most about Hopper’s work is the light and the shadows. The light is sublime. The shadows are foreboding.






“What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

Pin this post: What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house. -- Edward Hopper

Heroes: Salvador Dali

April 15th, 2014

I think Salvador Dali was the first fine artist I really got into. Before Dali, I followed comic book artists and anything by Walt Disney. (Interestingly enough, Dali and Disney talked a few times about collaborating on an animated feature. Unfortunately it never saw the light of day. The two giant egos couldn’t work together.)

“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” — Salvador Dali
I think a lot of why I liked him when I was a teenager was how recognizable and strange his work is. That and the fact that I could pick out the “hidden” themes, most of them sexual. How many 17-year-olds know what a phallic symbol is? (Turns out I was just as juvenile as my classmates, only slightly more sophisticated.)

Early work: symbolism

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” — Salvador Dali
His early work, strange and imaginative as it is, is really not that good from a technical perspective. Dali’s craft just wasn’t up to the same level as his imagination, but he made up for it later.



Late “Classicism”

As Dali got older, he polished his technique a great deal, refining the finish and structure of his compositions. His technique caught up to his vision. His late works fused Classicism with his own brand of surrealism plus “atomic” explosions. He employed complicated geometry in his compositions, which I saw a few years ago at the Dali exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta.



“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure - that of being Salvador Dali.”


Personal Influence

In college I applied a variation on Dali’s “spoon nap” idea-generation technique when I drew “Night on the Plains of Loneliness”: I dozed off listening to Pink Floyd and drew what I saw:

Influence of Salvador Dali on my work


The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” — Salvador Dali

Pin this post: The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad. -- Salvador Dali

Art Heroes: Chuck Close

April 8th, 2014

Chuck Close has made a career out of painting enormous, photorealist heads. He works hard, and has had a very successful career despite a severe injury that has left him partially paralyzed.

It impresses me how he has put giant faces on a grid for decades and it is still fresh. Close uses a grid, filling the squares with painted hot dog shapes, lint, charcoal, or any number of image-making techniques such as spit-bite etching.

Showing Up

What I love most about Chuck Close is his work ethic:

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work.” — Chuck Close
Chuck Close. Kate, 2007. jacquard tapestry, 103" x 79" (261.6 cm x 200.7 cm).

Chuck Close. Kate, 2007. jacquard tapestry, 103” x 79” (261.6 cm x 200.7 cm).

Chuck Close. Self-Portrait, 1997. oil on canvas, 102 x 84" (259.1 x 213.4 cm).

Chuck Close. Self-Portrait, 1997. oil on canvas, 102 x 84” (259.1 x 213.4 cm).

Chuck Close. Big Self-Portrait, 1967-1968. acrylic on canvas, 107-1/2" x 83-1/2" (273 cm x 212.1 cm).

Chuck Close. Big Self-Portrait, 1967-1968. acrylic on canvas, 107-1/2” x 83-1/2” (273 cm x 212.1 cm).

Chuck Close. President Bill Clinton, 2006. oil on canvas, 108-1/2" x 84" (275.6 cm x 213.4 cm).

Chuck Close. President Bill Clinton, 2006. oil on canvas, 108-1/2” x 84” (275.6 cm x 213.4 cm).

Image source: Pace Gallery

Pin this post: Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work. -- Chuck Close