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. 🙂

Inspiring Painters: Color

October 8th, 2016

While color is by default the domain of virtually all painters, there are a few artists whose work really pushes the boundaries of what can be done with color. Here are four painters whose application of color inspire me to use it better.

Inspiring Painters: Color

Two Approaches to Color

I’ve noticed there are two main ways of thinking about color (and all art, really). One is the analytical view, which deals with our perception of color and how colors work together. The other is the emotional impact of color, how exaggerating it can create something more “real.”

Analytical Color

Josef Albers

Josef Albers did a lot over his career, but what really stands out for me is his series "Homage to the Square" that explored color relationships within a simple standard framework.

Josef Albers did a lot over his career, but what really stands out for me is his series “Homage to the Square” that explored color relationships within a simple standard framework.
Albers initially taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar. After Hitler shut down the Bauhaus, Albers emigrated to the United States and taught at Black Mountain College and later Yale. He long had an interest in architecture and graphic design, which informed his work. Perhaps his most famous series of paintings is Homage to the Square, which use nested squares to explore how colors work together. In 1963 he published a book, Interaction of Color, that has now been adapted to an iOS app, which at the time of this writing, is free!

Several of Albers' paintings of nested squares that explored color relationships.

Several of Albers’ paintings of nested squares that explored color relationships.
My own college professors mimicked Albers' methods for teaching color theory. We did this exact exercise. The two little squares are the same color, but appear very different from each other due to the surrounding colors. The same for the gray box inside the mint green and aubergine rectangles.
My own college professors mimicked Albers’ methods for teaching color theory. We did this exact exercise. The two little squares are the same color, but appear very different from each other due to the surrounding colors. The same for the gray box inside the mint green and aubergine rectangles.

Claude Monet

Monet's Series of the Rouen Cathedral

I’ve mentioned this before. Monet painted more than 30 studies of the Rouen Cathedral in 1892 and 1893, exploring the effects of light, weather, and atmosphere on color. Monet essentially used the scientific method since he worked with a constant — the same building viewed from the same vantage point — and saw the effect of variable weather conditions to produce a different color outcome every time. I imagine this later inspired Andy Warhol’s screenprints of such stars as Marilyn Monroe.


Emotional Color

Vincent van Gogh

When I think of Vincent I think of yellow and blue, and sometimes blood red and garish green.

Color had immense emotional weight for Vincent van Gogh. When he uses blue, it’s calm, peaceful, and sometimes a terrifying void. His reds are hot and oppressive and muggy and dangerous. His yellows portend something ominous.

Mark Rothko

rothkoRothko painted in fields of color on an immense scale, using a technique where brushstrokes were not visible. He painted the inner reality of emotions by way of color. His abstract paintings were often six or eight feet tall.


I have yet to see a Rothko in person, but I have heard it is a truly transcendent experience to be in the presence of his paintings. Someday I hope to visit the Rothko Chapel.

Rothko in London

I’d also love to travel to London to see his Segrams Murals at the Tate.

Applying All This

There’s so much of color theory to learn from painters like Albers, and so much to learn of emotional impact from Rothko. I hope to someday be as masterful of color as the painters I mentioned above. In the meantime, I can study their work and apply what I’ve learned from them.

Who are your favorite artists in terms of color? Please share in the comments, or shoot me an email.

Where Do I Find Painting Inspiration Right Now?

September 23rd, 2016

What things get you inspired and eager to work on your art? Here are a couple of things that I’m inspired by right now. When I think about them, I really want to get in the studio.



The thing that has inspired me the most over the years is color. Even in my “gray” period, as it were, I’ve been inspired by color. My grays were often made by mixing blue and brown, which are essentially complementary colors since brown is really a dark orange. I’m fascinated by how complementary colors interact with each other.

I’ve always had something of an obsession with blue and orange.

Reaching She Ascended, Descended

Reaching She Ascended, Descended 2016 acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

This painting I worked in recently underscores my fascination with orange and blue. I’ve discovered it also looks really cool under a black light and with 3D glasses! Trippy!

Bridges, Overpasses, Architectural Structures

Comparing my painting from 2004 to 2016. The colors and details are different, but the overall forms are similar.

I’ve been fascinated by bridges and overpasses for the past few years. I felt I had maxed out on painting these realistically. I probably didn’t max out on that, but I certainly got bored with them. Now, however, I am looking for ways to reintroduce flyovers and such in an abstract manner.

That set of nine paintings I did all at once had swooping blue and orange arcs in the early stages. As the paintings evolved, those arcs disappeared behind colorful, hard-edged forms. Paintings can and will take on a life of their own. My job is to respect what the paintings want to become.



Perhaps in an unconscious spinoff of my fascination with architectural structures is concrete. Most specifically the way concrete stains and weathers over the years. And most recently I’ve “discovered” poorly pressure-washed concrete that has swirl patterns that are almost calligraphic.

This painting was inspired by the lazy pressure washing I’ve seen on the sidewalks during my lunchtime walks.

"Pressure" acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. 2016

Pressure, acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. 2016


Fog is a bit tricky to paint. I’ve not painted it in a while, but I enjoy the challenge, so look for it showing back up in my art soon. Don’t be surprised if I start mixing hazy forms and hard-edged forms in future paintings. Paintings don’t have to be crisp in all places at once. Blur some areas and sharpen the focus in others.

Morning Fog

Morning Fog, oil on canvas board. 14 x 11 inches. 2013


The Geometry of Art and Life, Matila GhykaWhen I saw the Salvador Dali exhibit at the High Museum a few years ago, I bought a book about ”sacred geometry,” titled The Geometry of Art and Life. While I don’t go overlaying lines on everything the way some people do, I am intrigued by how it works. What happens when you draw circles and rectangles and triangles and subdivide them? So I’m drawn to pure abstract shapes like triangles, circles, and the like.

Loose abstract expressionism/impressionism

This seems to be where my most current work has been, in a sort of general, loose abstract expressionism. I love making art that conveys a mood with abstract forms rather than trying to represent the physical world. I think of it as that inner landscape represented on canvas.


Muscadine, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

It’s a Journey

There are a lot of different things I want to explore in paint, and some days I’m not really sure how to put it on canvas. I keep sketching a lot of things. But when I paint it often turns into something very different. I have to remind myself to be open to that, but I’m learning that there is a certain amount of control I have that I can’t give up. But in the end I’m enjoying the journey and learning things along the way and sharing what I’ve learned and that’s what it’s all about.

Header photo via Unsplash

Gearing Up for the August Art Crawl

August 3rd, 2016

The August First Saturday Downtown Nashville Art Crawl is upon us! I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve spent the last couple of weekends working on the art I’m putting in the show.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before.

nine-canvasesWhat I’ve done differently about this set of paintings is I’ve created everything all at once. I usually work on one piece at a time. But this time, I laid out nine canvases on a big big drop cloth, and got to work on all of them at once.

Because they are being developed simultaneously, they all have a lot of the same colors and similar compositions that somewhat carry into each other from one canvas to another.

Part of that is because when I started, I made lines ran from canvas to canvas, but as I built them up, they took on their own compositions.

While the canvases are all being developed at the same time, I am developing each canvas individually. The result is really a small body of work where the pieces are all connected not necessarily by their adjoining areas but in terms of color and mood. Each piece will have something about it that stands out from the others. One color is be more dominant on one than another, but there is a common constant visual theme throughout. I am really excited about this project!

I think I like this technique: it’s fast.

It’s a very fast way to work. I’ve developed nine paintings all at once. Normally that would take a very long time. And in the process of developing this cohesive set of works I’ve come across a couple of new techniques that work really well for me, spreading paint with nontraditional tools. Painting on the floor is interesting because I usually work with the canvas on an easel.

And yes, there’s a downside.

The only downside to working on several paintings at once like this is, if one canvas is too wet to work on, the others probably are, too. But that forces me to sit back and look at everything to figure out what is next.

Slowing down is good, too.

So much of the process of making art is just staring and looking.

Stay tuned for the final result for this new work! If you can’t make it to Erabellum in the Arcade this Saturday night, to see the work in person, watch this space for the final work with some more time lapse goodness. (Feel free to subscribe to my emails so you can know when I get it posted.)

What I Learned from a Bad Painting

July 15th, 2016

I’ve written before about failure before. Recently I told you about why my art isn’t selling, and a while back I told you about a series that burned me out and ultimately set me back about 18 months.

Every Painting Looks Terrible at Some Point

Well, a few months ago, I painted something that was a total flop. I finished it and I hated it. But I pretty quickly knew exactly that went wrong with it.

Every painting – usually right before I finish it – feels like an utter disaster. I say To myself, “this is awful, this is terrible.” Most of the time I’m able to correct it or see it through to completion. But not this one. I did everything wrong.

Wrong Every Step of the Way

It was late one Friday night. The family had all gone to bed. I knew I wanted to get in the studio because I had the itch to paint something. I was exhausted, but I went in the studio anyway. I think I started about 11:30 at night. I got off to a late start because I had been goofing off on the internet instead.

I wanted to adapt a friend’s Instagram photo from his trip to Iceland. It was a beautiful, austere image of some rocky, snowy mountains in the far distance. Very minimal, very powerful! very Nordic in the best sense of the word. The sky was dark. If you weren’t careful, you’d miss the mountains and the field of snow. It was a scene of subtle power.

This was right after I announced I wanted to get away from all the dark tones, but they crept back anyway. Plus, I wanted to make the work my own. So instead of aping the gray tones of the original photo, it somehow turned blood red.

For some reason I decided to broadcast it on Blab.im. I was spending more time dealing with trolls than painting. Somebody was trying to be a troll about my name, asking me why I was white, because my name is Blackman.

I was too tired to even deal with it. I just thought, ‘dude go away, you’re bothering me, leave me alone.” It’s hard to talk and paint when you’re not used to it, or not doing a demo that doesn’t require a lot of thought. I was too tired to realize I was being trolled until later.

The final result:


It’s okay, but I don’t feel like it’s my best work, either. It’s certainly not what I was going for.

A day or two later, I made some observations and realized what I had done wrong, and thus had some new tools for doing it better the next time.

Lessons learned:

  1. You can’t waste time on the Internet and expect to do great work.
  2. Don’t get started when you’re really tired. Some ppl work best at 11:30 at night. Well, I don’t. I’m not sure what my best time to work is. But I can tell you it’s not late at night.
  3. Have some idea of what you’re going to do before you get started. You don’t have to know everything, and I’d advise against knowing everything because that doesn’t allow for improvisation, but at least have an inkling of what you want to do. I hadn’t planned very well.

I went to bed feeling like a failure that night. But I shouldn’t have.

The reality is I should have recognized my own low energy level and just gone to bed. There are times when you push through your blocks. At other times you just say, “this is not the right time for that.”

That wasn’t a block. That was exhaustion. I probably could’ve done better if I had gone to sleep and thought more carefully about what I was going to paint.

Failure is a Better Teacher than Success.

Every failure has a lesson, and you can learn a lot that way. What are some things you’ve failed at and learned from?

My Painting was Drab and Dark, So I Did Something About It

June 15th, 2016

My Drab Wall of Paintings at Erabellum for the January 2016 Art Crawl Back in January 2016, I participated in the First Saturday Art Crawl by hanging some work in Erabellum Gallery in the Arcade. When I saw all my work together on the wall, I was stunned at how dark everything was.

This was about the time I resolved to get more color and life into my work.

By the time the April 2016 Art Crawl rolled around, I had my chance to show some new pieces I had created that were colorful and broke away from the “dark horizons” I had been doing the past couple of years. I don’t know if I just get bored easily, but I do think it was time to experiment with color again.

I had to carve out some time to get in the studio and explore some new ideas to supplement last year’s work. I was pretty happy with the result. You can see how it looked on the wall here.

New work up at @erabellum in the arcade! Come say hey if you’re at the #FirstSaturdayArtCrawl

A photo posted by Brad Blackman (@bradblackman) on

"Pressure" acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. 2016

Pressure, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 20x20 inches

"Bend" acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. 2016

Bend, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches

"Scattered" acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20 inches. 2016

Scattered, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches

I wound up donating two of these to the Music City Derby Day silent auction.

As of right now I’m planning on participating in the August Art Crawl. I’d love to participate in the July Art Crawl, but don’t have the time or the space to work on the pieces I have in mind to have new work ready in time, so I’m shooting for August. I have some ideas I can’t wait to try out. I’m thinking even larger next time, with a more cohesive set of works.

Music City Derby Day 2016: Champing at the Bit for Bridges in Nashville

May 14th, 2016

Nearly 20 years ago, the EAR Foundation granted me a scholarship that helped me attend Harding University. Some years back, EAR Foundation merged with the League for the Hearing Impaired to form Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to join their board, and I have always felt it was a chance for me to help others since others have helped me.

Welcome to #MusicCityDerbyDay 2016!

Last weekend we had our third annual Music City Derby Day event, and we raised $55,000, an agency record. I’m happy to say that I contributed two paintings to the silent auction. Sure, it’s fun to get all dressed up, sip mint juleps, watch a horse race, particpate in a silly version of croquet, but it’s even more fun to do it all for a good cause.

I put in some recent pieces that I painted a few months ago:

"Bend" acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. 2016

“Bend” acrylic on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. 2016

I was excited to put something this colorful and lively in the silent auction. For me this piece is about embracing life and building connections.

"Pressure" acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. 2016

“Pressure” acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. 2016

These gold swirls on a neutral background with a teal undertone were actually inspired by some lazy pressure-washing I saw on the sidewalk one day. I love reinterpreting ordinary things as something unusual and exciting and even glamorous.

It was great to be part of this awesome cause again. Plus I got to meet some really cool people. Former boy-band singer Evan Farmer was a hilarious emcee, Lucia Folk’s Russian jockey getup was a hoot, and TSU men’s basketball coach Dana Ford and his wife were as nice as ever.

We all had a great time and I can’t wait for next year.