Why Toning My Canvases Orange is the First Thing I Do

October 17th, 2019

If you’ve watched any of my painting time-lapse videos, you know I usually start with an orange base on my canvases. Why? It’s a fairly middle value, so it’s a good starting point. Plus, it warms up my painting, even if you never see the orange beneath.

Jump ahead to about the 57-second mark to see me tone the canvas orange.

This is called toning the canvas.

It establishes a base so sections of white gesso that smooths and protects the canvas don’t peek through. The tone can serve to unify colors somewhat. It’s generally a good idea to start with a middle value, so the artist can easily add darks and lights to build the composition. A lot of beginners start with stark white and can only make it darker. If you start with a middle tone, you can go darker or lighter.

Traditionally, painters start with a rich gray or brown tone, roughly halfway between the darkest and lightest colors. If I were painting more traditionally, I would begin my canvases with a wash of warm gray or burnt sienna. And what is brown but a dark orange?

I aim to create bright, vibrant canvases, so I use orange.

"Warmth," 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 8 x 8 inches

The warm tone creates excitement, energy, and warmth, regardless of the dominant color in the end. I think people sense that energy even if they never see the underpainting. Every now and then a little bit of the orange peeks through.

When I first started painting I used Cerulean Blue, which is a vibrant blue on the greener side of things. I’ve always liked toning my canvases with bright colors rather than neutrals. It makes the painting exciting for me. I think that carries over to my viewers.

I’m not the first person to tone with orange.

I actually picked up the orange technique from Robert Burridge. It’s how he was taught, actually. I wasn’t taught to tone the canvas any particular way. I discovered Bob a few years ago when I was trying to figure out how to bring more brightness and energy to my painting, and I think the orange underpainting does the job.

How One Painting Absolutely Devastated Me

October 8th, 2019

Kenneth Noland’s 1959 painting “Split” absolutely devastated me. When I saw it, it forever changed my life as an artist.

Nashville, Summer, 2001

In Summer, 2001, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (now called the Frist Art Museum) was new. My Granddaddy bought me an inaugural membership. One of the first exhibits was the Modernism and Abstraction exhibit, on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I saw so many incredible artworks by Georgia O’Keefe, Franz Klein, and more.

This exhibit made such a strong impression on me that I visited the show several times over the summer. I went so many times that if I had bought tickets, I would have paid more than the annual membership.

One painting stopped me dead in my tracks.

It was “Split” by Kenneth Noland.

Kenneth Noland, "Split." 1959. Acrylic on canvas, 94 x 94 inches.

Kenneth Noland, “Split.” 1959. Acrylic on canvas, 94 x 94 inches.

It is almost eight feet square. It has a purple, black, white, and red arrangement of a series of concentric circles, one square, and the outer circle has an irregular outer edge, on raw canvas. It was painted with acrylic, which was brand new at the time. See, oil paint, if applied directly to canvas, will slowly eat away at the fibers in a slow burn and destroy it. So it has to be protected with gesso before it gets painted. Acrylic paint doesn’t destroy raw canvas the way oil paint does. So Noland painted directly onto the canvas.

There was such immediacy, yet restraint, that it just knocked me over. It changed me.

I stood and stared at it for a long time.

What did it mean?

Why did it make me so uneasy?

Why does my eye keep going around it faster and faster?

I knew if a painting made me feel all these things, it had some sort of power behind it.

I think there’s something about the tangent where the right corner of the square/diamond shape almost touches the circle that encloses it. The colors almost harmonize, but there is just enough discord that it makes me uneasy. And of course, the circle is a powerful, profound symbol that touches something deep in our primal consciousness, a symbol of life, eternity, earth, the universe, time. The outer red edge is uneven and sloppy, like the circle is falling apart. The apparent order of the composition is at risk of imploding. The universe, for all its apparent order, is disintegrating.

That’s the power of (abstract) art. Something so deceptively simple can lead you to an existential crisis.

I went back and looked at the whole exhibit about five times over that summer.

That exhibit, and this painting in particular, showed me that abstraction was something worth paying attention to.

Since then, I have wanted to paint big all the time, with huge, powerful movements, on large canvases. And of course, my work has grown increasingly abstract over the years, yet still grounded in reality. I love painting big, and actually prefer it over the tiny canvases I have painted the past few years.

What’s an artwork that has had a profound effect on you?

What was your reaction to it? Sound off in the comments or drop me a note.

The Secret Techniques I Use to Paint That Hazy Mood

July 5th, 2018

Grab a good, flexible sable brush and some airbrush medium

The past few years I’ve developed a technique where my paintings have a hazy mood that creates a misty feel. It’s very much inspired by the #mistyfoggymoodymilky hashtag I discovered on Instagram a few years ago. I began taking my own Instagram shots with this sort of feel and eventually incorporated it into my abstract paintings.

Abstract landscape with pink and orange sky

Most of the time I make snapshots of foggy landscapes, taken in the car while taking the kids to school in the mornings. Nashville is pretty humid so there is always a little bit of mist in the air. I live between two lakes, and most mornings there is at least a touch of fog especially in the low-lying fields near my kids’ school. This is prime material for painting reference photos.

My usual painting process looks like this:

  1.  take moody snapshots with a little bit of fog and atmosphere
  2. juice the photos up on my phone, usually with a warm-to-cool tone (orange to turquoise works really well for me)
  3. tone the canvas with orange
  4. mass in the dark areas
  5. gradually build up layers of color, keeping grayer, cool colors in the distance and warm colors in the foreground

My first weapon is my brush

A flat brush will apply a long, smooth line.

The real secret to the haze is in my brushes. I prefer a sable brush with flexible bristles. If the bristles are too stiff, they will put down thick, fat layers of paint. Boar or hog bristle (and their synthetic counterparts) put down a thick, short stroke, regardless of the bristle length. I’ve found the long sable hairs to be better at putting down smooth strokes that I can then build up slowly to get that luminous effect. Then I gently brush the back and forth and allow it to blend.

Then I make sure I use the right medium

4 oz. bottle of Golden Airbrush Medium

Another important tool I use is airbrush medium. It gives the paint a lot of flow without diluting the pigment. You can make the acrylic paint thin and runny (which is great for drips) by adding water, but that breaks up the pigment and as it dries it leaves tiny pockets of pigment separated from each other. Maybe that’s what you’re going for, but it isn’t what I want to have happen on the canvas! So airbrush medium makes a thick acrylic paint into a liquid paint. It’s easier to glaze with it now.

Years ago I realized I had a tendency to blend the paint. I felt it was a flaw, because at the time, I wanted vibrant strokes next to each other. In my impatience I would blend them. Eventually I embraced the blending and my paintings became very smooth, and it was sort of a hallmark of my work. It’s my version of the classic glazing method, really.

Now I use that technique to create fog and haze by adding thin layers of transparent white (which is harder than it sounds because white is pretty opaque). Fog became an important metaphor for my work, since I believe that no matter how unclear things are, you can still find your way. Now I embrace that ambiguity of life and readily admit that I don’t have all the answers, and I’m okay with that.

So that’s how I get that hazy effect. I use flexible sable brushes and airbrush medium. Which reminds me, I need to make a run to the art supply store and restock.

How I Painted Yoda’s Swamp on Dagobah

April 5th, 2018

Growing up, I was not a huge fan of Star Wars. I guess I was kind of the oddball since a lot of people I grew up with were into the franchise. I’ve always liked sci-fi, but Star Wars exists in its own kind of category. It blends robots and advanced, yet ancient technology with mysticism and space travel, tying everything together with age-old monomyth storytelling.

I got into Star Wars gradually. I saw “Return of the Jedi” in theaters. I loved the Ewoks and hated that my mom covered my eyes when something blew up. I read the graphic novel version of “The Empire Strikes Back” as a kid. They re-released “A New Hope” when I was in high school. Then I re-watched the original trilogy multiple times in college and went to the opening night midnight showing of Episode I. (My buddies and I said two things: Queen Amidala is hot, and Jar Jar Binks is annoying.)

But as the franchise has expanded and my own kids have taken an interest in it, I’ve grown more fascinated with the overall story and mythology.

A few weeks before Christmas 2017, I decided to offer small painting commissions in time for the holiday

Right before Christmas, I advertised painting commissions for Christmas gifts, featuring the “Hoth” painting I did a few years ago. A girl I used to go to church with hired me to do something Star Wars themed for her husband.

I was pretty excited because after I painted “Hoth,” I got the idea for how to do something with Yoda’s swamp. When I painted “Hoth” I struggled with how to adapt it to my drippy, abstract style and wasn’t sure how to integrate that into an actual landscape.

I managed to form the drips and scrapes into an illustrative landscape. I wanted to to try something else in the Star Wars universe, and Dagobah was the first thing I thought of.

Trust the process

I knew first of all that Dagobah would be green. I felt the best way to create Yoda’s swamp was to layer lots of drips to create the impression of trees and vines in a swamp.

So I started with my usual overall orange tone on the canvas (you can see a little bit of it in places) and dripped thin, blackish paint from what would be the top of the canvas, flipping it around once I was satisfied.

I built up blue-gray layers to give it a misty haze. Some of the drips became thick tree trunks, and swoopy lines began to suggest vines hanging down. I sliced in some muddy, greenish water and surrounded it with mud to create the foreground.

The quickest, funnest part was sketching Yoda himself by the water. I dabbed in bright yellow dots to suggest light inside his little house in the bottom of the tree. It’s warm inside Yoda’s little hole, so a wisp of smoke snakes up from a tiny chimney at the base of the tree. Of course, Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing is stuck in the muck.

It’s a pivotal scene for Luke because he is on the cusp of becoming a Jedi, but so much doubt and fear holds him back. The murk of the swamp reflects his current state so well. He’s confused and uncertain of his own abilities as a Jedi. And Yoda is the one to help him get to that next level.

Brad Blackman, "Dagobah," 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches

“Dagobah,” 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches (Not for sale)

At any rate, it was cool to create that swampy, humid, misty atmosphere.

As I painted it, I thought surely they filmed it in Louisiana or Florida or someplace like that. I did some digging online, and apparently it was filmed on a sound stage. That had to be one cool set.

I’d like to try a bigger version of this to really capture the details, depth, and atmosphere of the swamp. I’ve found the secret to painting mist is to paint what you normally would, and then obscure it with lots of thin, gray layers.

You can have one, too

If you’re interested in getting your own commissioned Brad Blackman painting, just head over to the commissions page and shoot me a message. I mostly do abstract landscapes, but I’m open to more Star Wars themes. ?

Creating a Series of Abstract Landscapes (#AEDM2017 Recap)

March 29th, 2018

Every year I can point to Art Every Day Month (AEDM) as kind of a pivotal catalyst in my work, because every time I participate, I take on a new challenge in addition to painting every day.

Nine paintings created or otherwise finished during November 2017, aka Art Every Day Month (AEDM) 2017

There’s something freeing about that framework of a daily challenge plus the chance to try something different for just a month.

Looking back over the past few years of Art Every Day Month

For example, in 2014, the first year I really focused on painting every day for AEDM, I tried acrylic and abstracts just to change things up a little. I loved it so much I decided to shift my entire art practice in that direction.

After I wrapped up my 2015 AEDM set, which was inspired by British rock songs, I noticed my painting had gotten darker and darker (maybe from listening to too much Black Sabbath on repeat) so I made the effort to brighten up my work. It took a while, but I did successfully make things brighter.

So by AEDM 2016, I was painting bright, abstract landscapes after I threw out my back. At the end of the month, I tried the smaller format in an effort to sell pantings for the holidays, and stuck with it.

In early 2017, I developed a new technique of toning the canvases orange. So for #AEDM2017, I continued the small, abstract landscapes that began all orange.

I really like this size and technique

I love these little paintings because I can finish them relatively quickly, and price them at a place where it’s easy for collectors to purchase and easy for me to ship. So it’s a win for everybody.

Here’s a short video compilation of #AEDM2017 efforts:

Behind the Scenes: Painting 4 Canvases at Once (Time-Lapse Video)

September 22nd, 2017

On Labor Day Weekend 2017, I challenged myself to put 4 canvases together and paint them all at once.

The Call to Adventure, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches

The Call to Adventure, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. $45
What emerged was not so much a specific scene or a quadriptych in the true sense of the word, a four-part painting, but rather four parts of a larger cycle. I think this is going to be part of a series.

They Look Like Each Other

Crossing the Threshold, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches
Crossing the Threshold, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. $45
It took a long time to see where these were going. I started out with a vague sense of a horizon going across all four canvases, loosely connected to each other. Then I built up the canvases with color, and each one had a slightly different color scheme. Yet there are colors and textures that tie everything together. They all have a horizon line and have a warm color palette with flecks of gold throughout, with rough dabs of color around the edges of the canvas.

Part of Something Bigger

Belly of the Beast, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches
Belly of the Beast, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. $45
It wasn’t until several days after I finished that I realized they were part of a much bigger set that I haven’t painted yet: The Hero’s Journey.

All great stories follow the Hero’s Journey pattern: the protagonist is called to an adventure, or to do something out of the norm, and resists, but is met with someone who helps him/her. They go through a series of trials, and ultimately confront “the Big Bad” and claim the ultimate reward, then return to their old world a changed person.

Summit, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches

Summit, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. $45
If you’re interested in purchasing one of these paintings, you can contact me directly and I can set up a PayPal invoice or a Square purchase link for you.

How something gross became a metaphor for finding peace

September 7th, 2017

A couple of years ago, I was cleaning the tub, and the inspiration for this piece came to me.

Yes, the tub.

I know. It’s gross. I had to clean out some hair that had accumulated around the drain stopper in our bathtub. The end of the stopper was discolored from some harmless oxidization, and it created an interesting brown and turquoise pattern.

I wanted to replicate that pattern in brighter colors, so I swapped the brown for orange and shifted the turquoise to blue.

As usual, the painting took on a life of its own

Toward the end of painting this, the canvas started looking like a landscape. I flipped it upside-down to find earth and sky.

For some reason, this horizon motif keeps turning up in nearly every painting I do these days. I think there is something powerful and primal about the way the human eye looks for horizons.

I have to trust the process. “Trust the Soup,” as Steven Pressfield says in Do the Work.

The name

I asked my wife what I should call this, and she gave it the name “After the Storm.” I think it underscores a deep desire to move on past the current storms of life and get to the next stage that will hopefully be more peaceful.

And peace is what I pray for. Not so much a lack of storms, but the ability to remain at peace in the middle of the storm. The calm is the reward.

"After the Storm," Brad Blackman, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. “After the Storm,” 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please visit the page for it in my shop.

In the middle of a difficult year, she said my painting was breathtaking

September 1st, 2017

My friend Kim has had quite a year: in just a few months she had a baby, then a stroke, then broke her knee — twice. I admit that I haven’t been keeping up that well but I had some idea what was going on. We were in the same circle of friends in college, after all.

So I was surprised and humbled that when she saw a work-in-progress of mine on Instagram, it spoke to her in such a way that it summed up her life right now.

I had posted on Instagram a shot of a piece I had just signed and was debating whether to add anything else to it. Kim said to leave it alone:

Wow! That might be my favorite painting you’ve done. Breathtaking! Don’t touch it! It’s perfect!

She contacted me privately and asked about purchasing it. I gave her the price and she told me it was good, so I set up the Square link for her to purchase the painting.

As soon as the transaction completed, I took the painting to FedEx and set up shipping. She lives a few hours away so the painting was at her house the next afternoon!

She immediately posted a picture of the painting in her home, attaching John 1:5 to it. I love that passage, because it resonates with the side of me that sees the world as emblematic of something deeper and bigger going on than what we simply see. I always tell my children to be a light in the world.

This is when making art becomes tremendously rewarding.

When somebody sees your art and it means more to them than it could ever mean to you.

When you know it has touched someone’s heart.

When you’ve made something that resonates with a person’s soul.

It’s amazing and humbling and you want to do it again and again.

It’s always an honor for something I make to grace someone’s space. I hold that to be something sacred and special.

Beauty in the Dirt: Unlikely Inspiration

July 27th, 2017

Nashville has a nickname: Music City. There’s live music at every turn: buskers on Broadway, honky-tonks, huge arena and amphitheater concerts, temporary stages in the streets for festivals, and even on barges in the river set up as floating stages for riverfront events.

Where there are performances, there is gaffer’s tape, used to mark where sound equipment goes or where singers stand on stage or just to keep power cables in place.

It ends up on everything.

I find gaffer’s tape everywhere, from sidewalks to light posts to the bottom of your shoe. And when that tape gets exposed to the weather it takes on some interesting textures that inspire me as a painter.

It warps and weathers and wears in a way you wouldn’t expect.

I first noticed the gaffer’s tape on one of my morning walks through downtown Nashville when I found it on the sidewalk in Riverfront park. It was pretty unremarkable at first. But when I saw it again later, there was something interesting in the shape, the texture, the way it stuck to the ground and became part of the ground. I don’t think it’s ever coming off, since it’s been about six months since I first saw it, and that area has flooded a couple of times since it is right next to (actually over) the river.

And about a foot away, there was another piece.

Tape on the sidewalk (1)

Tape on the sidewalk (2) Tape on the sidewalk (3)

A few days later on the same walk, about a quarter mile away, I noticed a light post that had been wrapped in duct tape or electrical tape. I realized this tape is ubiquitous — more so than duct tape.

The sloppiness of it appeals to me. We are quick to accept an “it’ll do” application when we are in a hurry. It may not be the prettiest or most seamless approach, but usually, it gets the job done – for a long time, too.

"Detritus" photo album on iPhoneI’ve been collecting so many photos of such things that I’ve made an album on my iPhone and called it “Detritus.” It’s got worn tape, badly pressure-washed places, and generally “gunky” places around town that have this weird, dirty beauty to them.

This has made its way into my paintings.

As usual, when I see something that inspires me and it comes up in my painting, it gets so transformed and distorted that it looks nothing like the source material. And that’s fine with me. I don’t necessarily want to paint the tape. What I want to paint is that overlap, that line, that corrosion.

"Wrapped," Brad Blackman, Acrylic on canvas board. 4x6 inches, 2017.

Wrapped, Acrylic on canvas board. 4×6 inches, 2017. (Sold to the Molly Olly’s Wishes Twitter Art Exhibit fundraiser)

"Drawbridge," acrylic on canvas. 8x8 inches, 2017.

Drawbridge, acrylic on canvas. 8×8 inches, 2017. (Sold via Instagram/Facebook)

But why tape?

Why does anything else inspire me? It just does. Open your eyes, because inspiration and beauty are everywhere.

Being creative is simply living with your eyes open.


Time Lapse: Lakeside Sunrise

July 20th, 2017

Since I live between two lakes, I am often treated to some glorious sunrises and sunsets along the water.

Brad Blackman, _Lakeside Sunrise_, 2016-2017. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches

When the sun rises and hits the fog, everything is perfectly illuminated. The sky comes alive.

I built this painting in stages, mainly by color.

The colors are fruity and fragrant. I started with lemon yellow and tangerine orange, establishing the sky and the horizon. You get a sense of the rising sun from the juxtaposition of deep yellow and fresh orange. It’s almost as if it smells like a citrus grove.

I followed the yellow and orange with a lovely cranberry color, dripping in dark corners and solidifying the ground to give it weight and mass amid all the light streaming over the horizon.

Bright pink accentuates the cranberry, which is offset by rich, deep muscadine purple and warm reddish-brown tones to further solidify and anchor the ground, which is warm despite the early morning.

This painting is a fresh blast of warm air, the surging of a brand-new day.

Painting “Rebirth” (Time Lapse Video)

June 29th, 2017

As I grow and mature I realize how there is a little bit of all of us in each of us.

This really shows in this painting time lapse video of “Rebirth.” On the surface, it is an abstract sunrise (or sunset). But when you dig deeper you see how all the colors are connected to each other. Likewise, we are all connected to each other.

Texture and Depth

One of the things I find most interesting when I paint is the development of texture and luminosity by layering paint. This literally gives the canvas depth.

Originally this painting was going to start with a purple base, but I decided to go with a light orange. I built on that to develop a sort of sunrise/sunset mood, playing up a blue-and-orange color contrast. These seem to be common themes for me lately.

Getting Bold

The more I paint, the more I find myself getting bolder. For a long time I avoided colors like black and green. Now I embrace them and allow them to shape the canvas. I tend to put down black (or very dark gray) and then build the colors on top of that.

I suppose in a way it is a throwback to the Renaissance grisaille method, where colors are glazed on top of a gray painting. This ensures strong values and tight composition before color even goes on the canvas.

Back Up

I had already added my signature when I realized it needed something to tie the entire canvas together. So I added splatters in white, green, and orange. That way there is a little bit of those colors throughout, and not confined to one area.

It reminds me that there is a little bit of all of us in each of us.

Everything is connected.

Brad Blackman - Rebirth, 2017. acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 inches

Rebirth, 2017 Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 inches

Painting Heaven Meets Earth (Time-Lapse Video)

June 22nd, 2017

For the past year or so I’ve experimented with painting in a gold, white, and brown palette. Metallic gold is really different for me, so it certainly adds a new dimension to my work.

Starting the Gold Swoop Painting

I wanted to do something with swooping, semi-circular forms, so I started with an all-brown canvas and blocked in some white swoops. Once that dried I painted over all that with gold.

The gold was too much!

I was reminded of Henri Matisse who said that “a thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful.”

In other words, a little bit of color can be far more effective than flooding the whole thing. Restraint is powerful.

(Don’t see the video? Click here.)

So I scaled back the gold and wound up with something that made me think of a landscape seen through a fisheye lens. As the painting progressed, the top part felt like sky and the bottom felt like ground. The sky and earth were meeting at this curved horizon and something special was happening here.

It brought to my mind the line “so heaven meets earth in a sloppy wet kiss” from “How He Loves” (the Jesus Culture version.)

This painting taught me to be open to change and to not be afraid to put everything out there and then scale back. There’s always a sense of surging and retreating when I paint.

Life is no different.

BradBlackman - "Heaven Meets Earth" 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 inches

Heaven Meets Earth 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 inches

How I made a drab painting delightful

May 4th, 2017

It’s no secret that I’ve long been fascinated by manmade structures like overpasses and the way they react to the elements. Sometimes they compete with the landscape and at other times they complement it.

This is a theme that’s been showing up in my paintings the past dozen years or so.

This time, I started out by covering the entire canvas in light yellow, and sketched in the forms with a dark gray and let it drip all over the place. At that point I let it sit for a few weeks as I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

After letting it marinate I took a snapshot of it on my phone and threw it into Mextures or Snapseed (or both, probably) and played with it until I came up with a concept that I thought might work.

It turns out this orange-blue-green color scheme works really well. The composition was already strong but it needed something else. I didn’t know what. Using a couple of apps on my phone helped me figure out a color scheme that would make it all come together. This is when just playing around or making a lateral move can solve problems. This change in perspective helped me see it better.

So I added blue-green and orange in the sky to create a nice color contrast. I saw deep reds in the ground so I pulled those out. Push the darks and lights back and forth here and there.

My signature drips eventually disappeared but I am happy with the end result. It’s such a celebration of color and form!

It was a lot of fun playing with this one. I’m selling it for $40 on Instagram.

So head over to Instagram, click the heart if you like it and let me know if you’re interested by typing “SOLD!” in the comments. I’ll send you a direct message so we can work out PayPal and shipping arrangements.

UPDATE: This painting has sold!
Artists: if you get stuck on something, it might be a good ida to let it sit on the back burner for a while, like I did with this one. Let it marinate, and maybe try taking a photo of the canvas and manipulating that in a photo editing app to see it a different way.

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.

What 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 Does My Past Say About My Future?

July 1st, 2016

They say to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.

To look back is a chance to predict where your trajectory goes. Maybe you like where you’re going. On the other hand, if you don’t like that path, you can change course.

Building Bridges

Back around 2002 or 2003 I was working in my first full-time graphic design job out of school. I was doing a lot of driving from one side of town to the other. I was making a lot of road trips, too.I became fascinated with the patterns of light and shadow created around overpasses when the sunlight hits them.

Overpass, 2003. Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches

I began recreating those on canvas in exaggerated color, eventually highlighting the textures and decay in the concrete texture.

I also used exaggerated colors in portraits of my friends.

Jennabeth, 2003. oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches

I would make reference photos with my Canon SLR, get the film developed, scan the prints into Photoshop, manipulate the colors, and print them on the big color printer at work. Often I would make a grid on my printout to more easily transfer the image onto canvas. That was my process.

Dorm Room Conversations Expressed on Canvas

The urban imagery got me thinking about the impermanent nature of our lives here on earth. I believe God made us to be eternal, but due to our brokenness our bodies are mortal. (God created a way out for us, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

In our hubris, we keep building monuments to ourselves, but nature erodes them. Our grand buildings and structures inevitably fall apart.

It sounds like the stuff of dorm room conversations, and since I was right out of school, that’s about right. (I miss those late-night philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. Those were the best conversations ever.)

Melrose II, 2004. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

Eventually, I felt like I maxed out on bridges. I had made somewhat of a name for myself painting bridges, but I got tired of it and I don’t like painting the same thing over and over, so I felt like I had said everything I could say about it. I got bored.

I wanted to pursue a sort of abstract realism, but never quite got the hang of it. The idea was to make a drawing based on real structures, but flattened them with simple colors in paint.

And the Inevitable Burnout

Nashville365 Series, Number 3: Meade, 2011. Oil on canvas, 5 x 7 inches

I gradually transitioned from bridges to downtown facades and urban scenes, but I got bored with that, too. I got tired of the small scale and high level of detail. Yet in the back of my mind I kept coming back to abstraction, but didn’t know how to make that transition in a way that made sense in respect to my previous work. Why would somebody who paints urban landscapes suddenly switch to abstracts? It didn’t make sense in the grand scheme of my work.

It Took a One-Month Challenge to Get Me to Change

But after not really doing anything for about 18 months, I finally made that jump into abstraction with a month-long challenge. I needed a challenge and trying something new and different was just the thing to get me back into the studio after burning out.

I noticed that my new abstracts look like close-ups of the very concrete on those bridges and overpasses.

In fact, I now will go and take pictures of concrete and plaster and stuff like that that’s all weathered and veined. Only now I take those photos on my smartphone and manipulate them with an app like Mextures and not Photoshop. I don’t draw on the canvas, either. I just start with the paint and get going based on a loose concept in my head. And right now the concept usually centers around color and a mood more than anything.

What’s really wild is those loopy lines from those flyovers are starting to come back. I like the big, long curves of flyovers. It makes for such an interesting abstract form when flattened onto canvas.

What’s Old is New Again

Interchange, 2004. oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

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

So I have started incorporating bridge-like structures back into my paintings. It’s been fun bringing this back into my paintings after all these years.

Even though I went kind of “gray” for a while, I’m excited to bring back the colors and forms that got me so fired up about painting some 14 years ago. Fortunately I think this is something I can keep doing a lot longer.

Will I still be doing that 14 years from now? I have no idea. But if the past is any indication, there will at least be some part of that concept in my work.

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

June 15th, 2016

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 post shared by Brad Blackman (@bradblackman) on

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

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

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.

Taking Things a New Direction

March 15th, 2016

You may have noticed my paintings have grown progressively darker over the years. It was a surprise to me, but boy did I notice at the end of 2015.

So this year, it’s my goal to paint lighter. I might have to paint dark for a while or from time to time to deal with some things lurking beneath the surface, but my plan overall is to bring back more light and peace into my artwork.

I’ll most likely continue the abstract landscapes I’ve been doing, but with a lighter approach.

It will be a change for me, but I welcome the challenge.

In addition to painting lighter, I want to experiment with video this year. I think video is a great way to look at art and talk about it since it is multi-sensory. You can watch a painting emerge and get a sense of the artist from the way he or she talks about the work.

I’m excited. I hope you are, too. Thanks for being here.

Looking Back at #ArtEveryDayMonth2015: 3 Things I Learned

January 26th, 2016

In case you missed it, I participated in Art Every Day Month 2015.

AEDM is a fun way to challenge yourself to make some art every day for a month. Doing it online builds in accountability. It keeps you motivated, and you see what other people are doing, so you know you aren’t doing it alone. That makes it more fun. You get better at doing art just from the practice.

And focusing my efforts in such a way that I wanted to achieve very specific things allowed me to actually accomplish something. So I set 3 goals. I also learned 3 things.

3 Goals I had for AEDM15:

1. Stay focused on a theme: abstracts inspired by British rock songs Sometimes limitations are an artist’s best friend. I love British rock, and there are a few songs I have wanted to translate to paint for some time. There are a few I didn’t get to. Maybe I will later.

2. Don’t try to paint a new piece every day. Do try to paint daily. It’s just like Like Jerry Seinfeld’s “break the chain” idea. But this isn’t always practical. That said, I did my best to avoid missing two consecutive days. Sometimes that meant I spent only five or ten minutes gessoing or toning a canvas. That was enough for me. Slow progress is still progress. Tweet that.

3. Experiment with painting live on Blab.im. Blab is a new-ish site that allows live video conversations that anyone can join or watch. It’s like Google Hangout without the complexity. It shows you in a Brady-bunch like setup. It created some interesting challenges. More on this in a minute.

3 Things I Learned:

1. I still love doing abstracts. It’s fun to hear what people see in them. Everyone sees something different.

2. British rock is rather dark. Even the “cheerful” stuff. Maybe it’s the stuff I’m drawn to. Or maybe this is characteristic of all rock-and-roll. After all, most rock concerts are held at night, in dark rooms. In my mind, music is almost always performed in the dark, with a piercing spotlight on the musician. Colors emanating from darkness.

3. Painting live online is the same thing as doing a live demo in front of an audience. I have to be able to complete something quickly and talk while painting. I need to work on my lighting and sound for painting live on the Internet

What’s Next?

1. I’m ready to paint something bright. The darkness is so bleak. I want some bright colors and light and hope in my art. There’s a place for the darkness, but I don’t want to live there.

2. I want to experiment with different surfaces. I’m thinking about trying wood and masonite.

3. I need to invest in some sort of simple video setup for doing better painting videos. I also need to come up with some demonstration ideas, things I can whip out in 30 minutes. I’ll probably be studying a lot of Bob Ross videos and other painters who are great at doing demonstrations.

Finally, next year I will probably refrain from blogging about it every day, but stick to just using the hashtag and posting to social media, with a blog post summing up the week or each finished piece. Blogging daily is a lot of work, especially when it is as image-heavy as this.

Did You Participate?

Did you participate in AEDM15 back in November? Or at least follow it online? I hope you did. If you didn’t, I hope you take on a similar challenge at some point. We’ll all be here to cheer you on.

Has He Thoughts Within His Head? Days 27-30 of #ArtEveryDayMonth

January 19th, 2016

On days 27-30 of #ArtEveryDayMonth, to finish out the British-rock theme I created this piece inspired by Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Iron Man.”

I must confess I never heard the Ozzy version until now. I heard the version by The Cardigans around the same time I was listening to Oasis, which would have been the mid-to-late 90s. Both versions are awesome.

It’s a great tune that makes you wonder about vengeance and who has a right to it.

Since iron is usually black but rusts to a reddish-orange color, those were the primary colors I used, with various blues for contrast. The overall image is nonobjective, but you can almost make out a landscape or even a face. My goal was to translate the song “Iron Man” into a visual.

I think I’ve done that.

Video below. (And no, it doesn’t have the actual song because of copyright stuff, even though it is a tribute.)

After all these dark paintings this month, I’m ready to do something bright now.

Painting Video: The Battle of Hoth (Star Wars)

June 16th, 2015

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

A man in the snowy suburbs of Chicago reached out to an artist in Nashville. He had a space on his walls that desperately needed some art. This man asked our brave artist to create a painting based on something from Star Wars. The artist chose to depict the famous battle scene on the snow planet Hoth, seen in Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.

A battle between Snow Speeders and AT-ATs.

Our brave artist created a video while he worked. Now you can see it too!

(Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube.)

Order a print

Prints are available in my Square Shop

Do You Want to Get Better at Painting? Master These 3 Skills

June 10th, 2015

If you want to get better at painting (and you might not; there is a market for “bad” art) I have found 3 important factors that will do a lot to sharpen your painting. If you learn the basic skills of drawing, composition, and using color, you will go a long way to getting better.


This is where you parse what you see or think and make it come out of your hand. Even if you work in an abstract or non-representational mode, you still have to be able to draw. It is how you translate what you see, think, and feel onto a two-dimensional surface. Or to prepare to create a three-dimensional object.

Drawing is the basic means of visual expression. You learn to divide things up by line, texture, volume, shading. You understand the weightiness of things or the wetness of water. You grasp how to form and reuse symbols. You learn to see things as they actually are, and to question what you actually see. What are you actually seeing?

In this way, drawing becomes a metaphysical exercise.


In college I took Drawing and Composition I and II, so my drawing skills and composition skills grew stronger at the same time. The two go hand in hand. Composition is arranging things within the picture plane so they harmonize with each other.

It is also editing. Unless you edit what goes on in your picture, your sculpture, your film, your song, you will have more information than the audience knows what to do with. You have to be able to edit what you see or what you are visually expressing in such a way that it accomplishes your goals. The way you arrange things lets you tell a story or express something. If something is right in the center of your picture it will naturally be more prominent. If something is partially hidden, it might be part of a slow reveal.

All art is editing.

A post shared by Brad Blackman (@bradblackman) on

Ultimately, all art is editing. (Tweet that)

If you don’t edit, you just have raw sensory data. That data has to be filtered in some way. In order for it to be anything, to express anything. Otherwise if it isn’t filtered, it is just noise.

Maybe you want your viewer to decide what they make of it, but when you do that, you open the floor for interpretation. Nobody knows what it’s about.

So when we encounter something we are unfamiliar with, we apply whatever the closest thing there is in our own internal narrative. What you experience right at this moment is influenced by what you have experienced before. It is only babies who have no previous experience.

(And I wonder how much of an impact things that happen in utero carry over after birth. I am convinced that certain songs resonate with my children because I sang them before they were born. I would put my face next to my wife’s belly and sing.)

What composition does is it gives everything a place in the world, certain clues to the viewer about what they are supposed to take away from the piece.


This is one of my favorite aspects of painting, despite a ten-year period where so much of my work has been pretty gray and brown. But those works are of urban spaces and highways, and well, those things are pretty much gray and brown. (It’s amazing how many things are almost no color at all, so many of dull shades of non-color.)

Color gives spice to life. It gives paintings an energy that would not otherwise be there.

There are a lot of ways of seeing and teaching color, ways to look at color schemes. Unless you have a good sense of how colors work together, how colors work… You have to understand that colors are influenced by other colors. They don’t exist in isolation. Even the canvas itself is influenced by what ever else is in the room. You have to understand the nature of colors and how colors interact with each other. Not just one color, but how to combine them and mix them.

Learn the Rules, then Break Them

I hope by now you can see how mastery of these important skills will go a long way to improving your paintings. Master them, then figure out how to break them. That’s why sometimes the “bad” art isn’t so “bad” after all. Picasso, for example, was an excellent draftsman. He mastered drawing and rendering. Then, he decided to explore the nature of how we see, fracturing the world into a million tiny pieces, thus contributing to the development of Cubism and the rest of Modern Art.

Which of these skills are you going to develop?

Pin this post:

Images from New Old Stock  Brushes from my own studio.

5 Painters You Should Watch

April 6th, 2015

From time to time I like to do a roundup of painters I’m interested in for one reason or another. Well, all of these artists are people I have either met in person or via some online channel, and have had some really great conversations with them. And they’re all doing something different. Despite all the differences I think I have something in common with each one.

You’ve heard of a man crush or a bromance or a girl crush. Consider these five fantastic artists to be artist crushes!

David Sandum

Source: David Sandum’s Instagram Feed

When you look at David’s work, a couple of famous artists come to mind. The Vincent Van Gogh influence is unmistakable, as well as the influence of another Post-Impressionist, Paul Gauguin. David’s brushwork and vivid colors tell such a powerful story regardless of subject matter. He paints a lot of landscapes with and without figures. He occasionally does cityscapes.

Not only does he paint, he does really nice etchings that carry over the same style very well. His #twitterartexhibit has been going for several years now and has raised thousands of dollars for education in various places around the world.

I’m really looking forward to his memoir on art & depression, I’ll Run Till the Sun Goes Down, where recounts his struggles with depression and how he chose art instead of self-destructive behavior. You can pre-order the book here and save 20% off between now and the end of April. It’s sure to be a great book. What David does is courageous and inspiring.

Mandy Thompson

My friend Mandy is married to a pastor. And as someone who grew up in a family with a lot of ministers I can safely say that one’s faith journey in that sort of situation is a little different from that of others. Mandy documents her faith journey in her art, making it uniquely personal yet relatable. She tends to paint smallish abstracts, though lately she’s been obsessed with drawing pears in ink on postcards, doing colorful washes over them.

Adam Hall

I actually discovered Adam’s art on Pinterest a few months ago. I fell in love with his landscapes with moody weather. His paintings are rather abstract when viewed far away but show a lot of polished realism up close. His scenes are of right before or after the weather has gotten really dangerous. And it was fun to discover that he is also based in Nashville!

Jeff Bertrand

Also based in Nashville, Jeff loves to paint pop-culture references both obscure and well-known. His work is often macabre and twisted. He rides the line between pop culture parody and an obsession with death. He admits it is weird to collect bird skulls and things like that. For his day job he’s a barber. From what I can tell, he’s fantastic. If anything happens to my barber I’m going to Jeff.

Nicholas Wilton

Source: NicholasWilton.com and Instagram

Nicholas paints large, graphic abstracts. I discovered him when Mandy (mentioned above) shared one of his videos on Facebook. He had put a GoPro on his head and filmed himself in the studio. It was exciting watching him squirt colors onto his palette, mix them up just so, and make marks on a 60-inch canvas. I think he comes from a graphic design or illustration background, since his work has a particular characteristic that seems informed by a specific, bold color palette and series of shapes.

Who is inspiring your work these days? I want to know!

What I learned from painting with my autistic son

March 24th, 2015

A few months ago, an old friend reached out to me on Facebook. I interned in her office many years ago but we’ve managed to keep in touch. My friend wanted to know if there was any chance I could donate a painting to a fundraiser for her son’s school, Benton Hall Academy.

Benton Hall’s mission is to “educate children who learn differently.” My friend’s son is autistic. This is important to me because my son Greg is also on the autism spectrum. Greg is high-functioning, but being a little different does create some challenges for him (and us). He’s a determined little guy who works hard and I think he’ll turn out all right. He’s getting a fantastic education in Wilson County. He’s a great kid.

So for the Benton Hall auction I decided I wouldn’t pick through paintings I’ve already done. I thought it would be a great opportunity to collaborate with my son. It might teach him to help other children who face similar challenges.

Except it didn’t turn out that way.

I don’t guess I really explained it very well because he thought we were just doing a painting together. This became apparent when he got really upset when we delivered the painting to my friend.

I had to promise him we’d do another one. (We should probably follow up on that very soon. I know he’ll start reminding me. Parental guilt is the worst.)

But he certainly had a blast!

However, there was no real plan when it came to the canvas we collaborated on. Initially I was just painting something I wanted to paint, primary-colored abstract that just wasn’t quite coming together like the image I had in my mind.


I was working at my easel. The boys were playing at their IKEA MÅLA easels, combining all their paints into one color  to make it blackish mud. That mud was cheerfully smeared onto the roll of paper.

Then the phone rang. It was my mom on FaceTime.

I had to step away for a minute so I could hear Mom over the little boy giggles. I looked over.

Greg had proudly put a blob on my canvas.

My heart stopped.

You painted on my canvas! You can’t do that! You messed up what I was doing!
But I caught my tongue.

And then I noticed…

It actually kind of worked. The blob looked like a black submarine.

Greg gleefully said it was as submarine and he started singing “We all live in a black submarine.” (If you can’t see the video, click here.)

(The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Songtrack CD stays in the changer in my wife’s minivan. So it’s on heavy rotation on the way to and from school, church, Chick-fil-A, the grandparents’, anywhere else we might go. The kids love it and listen to it all the time.)

So I decided to keep it, and turn this into the collaboration piece for the auction. It wound up being a lot of fun.

Time-lapse video of him painting. (Can’t see it? Go here.)

The piece turned out to have two more black submarines on it, and Greg added the ocean below.

Three Submarines, Greg and Brad Blackman, February 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12 inches.

I think it’s one of the more memorable father-son moments we’ve had together.

While I was trying to teach him something about helping other people, I think I got the most out of it.

I am incredibly blessed.

(Video) Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with A Green Painting

March 17th, 2015

Saint Patrick is the primary patron saint of Ireland, who was a missionary there in the second half of the fifth century. There is a lot of legend and lore surrounding him, most notably that he drove snakes out of Ireland and that he used the Shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Trinity to Irish pagans. As a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and forced to work as a shepherd but he eventually escaped back to Britain. Later he went back to Ireland as a missionary, and that turned out to be his life’s work.

St. Patrick’s Day

From what I can tell about the March 17 celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is it is an excuse to drink beer during the Lenten period. The consumption of alcohol and meat is typically forbidden during this time of fasting. So in the middle of Lent, there’s a feast to enjoy some meat and booze. (Anybody want to verify that for me? I’ve done a little checking around, and so far I think I’m pretty much on track.)

Since shamrocks are green, and Ireland itself is remarkably green, people traditionally wear green clothing on St. Patrick’s Day.

So with all that in mind, I set out to make a green painting just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve put together a time-lapse video. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a Tweet or a Facebook post. Thanks!

Step-by-Step: How I Painted This

  1. I started with an all-pink canvas inspired by a dream I had. I know that sounds weird, since pink isn’t a color I typically use (and neither is green). But it looked all right in my dream so I figured I’d give it a try.
  2. Then I added yellow masses, dripping them onto the canvas the way I’ve been doing lately.
  3. Once the yellow dried, I spread emerald green on the canvas with a painting knife. I used a large, wet brush to spread it further, wiping up excess paint so the pink and yellow can “bleed” through. The pink takes on a purplish tone in some spots.
  4. Once that was dry, I gave it a horizon line with dark green and built it up into a mass. I love painting light colors on top of dark colors since it gives it a certain luminosity. Light seems brighter in the midst of darkness.
  5. Next, I lightened up the portion on the smaller side of the “horizon.”
  6. The horizon is too high on the canvas, and the whole thing feels flat, so I took the painting knife and added a bright red-and-orange band between the light and dark areas.
  7. Now it is clear the orange needs to be more prominent. The pink is virtually nonexistent now, and that’s okay. As it turns out, is a story about green and orange. A little dark purple gives it some depth.
  8. Finally, I just kept pushing the light and dark areas and the bright and dull areas until I got it where I wanted it. My goal was to make it green. Accenting that with a complementary red-orange brings it to a new level

This is one of those pieces I could probably keep pushing for a long time, experimenting to see where it “wants” to go. It was fun pushing myself to use a completely different color scheme and painting technique than I’m used to!

Quiet Morning Fog

September 27th, 2013

This one is something of a sketch here, painted in July. I’m going for something looser and more “blended” than I’ve done in the past. I suppose I’m going for more mystery with the fog in this small piece.

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

Fog and snow are two things nature provides that give us a sense of mystery and wonder. They transform our ordinary environments into something else entirely. Everyday landscapes are suddenly part of a fairy tale.

It gives us hope for what we go through every day, to realize that our life may also be part of a grand fairy tale.

Empty (Never Forget)

September 11th, 2013

I painted this October or November 2001. I was so devastated by the 9/11 attacks that I had nightmares for weeks afterward and struggled with any sort of creative output.

It’s the Twin Towers, voided and burning. Empty.

It’s how I felt for quite a while after 9/11.

The day my generation realized childhood was definitely over.

Why I love painting

July 11th, 2013

I didn’t start painting until I was about 20 years old. I had drawn since I was 2, and played around with watercolors and acrylics a time or two, but it didn’t really “take” for me.

My sophomore year of college, however, I was required to take Painting I for my graphic design major.

That’s when everything changed. I was hooked.

I fell in love with the buttery texture of oil paint, the give and take between the brush and stretched canvas. Pigment on top of pigment. There’s something honest and beautiful about the art of painting. It feels organic and true. Dirty. Earthy. Visceral.

I spend a lot of time in front of a computer for my day job, so pushing pigment around on a stretched canvas makes me feel alive.

These days, painting is a bit out of fashion, as the avant-garde art world seems to favor installations, assemblages, and performance art. But I don’t think you’ll see me quit painting anytime soon.

Melrose Interchange Video

March 26th, 2013

I managed to ghetto-rig a Flip UltraHD video camera to the ceiling, and with iMovie, I sped up the video so that many hours of painting clocks in at a hair over nine minutes.

It’s almost like those ever-popular time-lapse movies of clouds moving across the sky or flowers opening, only it is me painting “Melrose Interchange” at high speed. Watch it go from a blocked-in under-painting to the fully-detailed finished piece!

This project was a failure: Nashville365

March 20th, 2013

© 2011 Brad Blackman West Park Oil on canvas, 6 x 9 inches Number 16 in the Nashville 365 seriesTwo years ago, I set out on an ambitious project. I was going to do a small, five-by-seven-inch or six-by-nine-inch painting a day, depicting scenes from my hometown of Nashville.

Sounds good, fun, and interesting, right? It should create buzz for my art and my hometown, right?

It was a failure.

And it’s my fault.

It failed on 3 levels:

  1. I didn’t do it daily as intended. I only did about 30 paintings.
  2. I ran out of steam and gave up at the end of March.
  3. I never sold any prints or originals.
And that’s not the worst part. The worst part was that I wound up not painting for about a year and a half. I got so burned out I nearly gave up on painting altogether!

And while that really sucked, I learned some important things about myself in the process.

  1. I don’t like painting on such a small scale. It bothers me. I like to paint big. By big I mean no smaller than two or three feet on a side. Four feet is kind of my comfort zone. I like to move my whole body when I paint. To not move around stifles me.
  2. I got bored with the subject matter. I love Nashville. Don’t get me wrong. But painting buildings all the time just got old.
  3. I did it for money. I thought if I sold the originals for $100 each, I could make a decent income that I could supplement with freelance projects and other paintings. Sure, it’s possible. Steven Magsig does it and makes a decent living off that alone. Why can’t I?
I hope you can see where I went wrong. I think the first problem is that I wasn’t doing what I love, which is big paintings that excite me. A close second, perhaps even more important than the first, is I was thinking in terms of money more than anything.


Sure, it would be nice to make $36,500 a year on just little paintings that can be done each morning. Magsig comes close, obviously, but he’s been doing it for decades. He paid his dues already. Long before eBay came around. It was something he’d already been doing and he found a way to make money off it. I guess that’s like Hugh McCloud figuring out a way to make money off his habit of drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards. To think I’d sell 100% of what I painted was probably a faulty assumption, anyway.

But my heart wasn’t in it, and I did it for the wrong reason.


I suppose the lesson is to paint what I love, but be mindful of the market at the same time. In other words, painting shouldn’t be a chore, and I need to find the people who want to buy my art. They’re out there. Painting should never be a chore. (That said, a true professional shows up even when he doesn’t feel like it.)

Have you failed at something you thought couldn’t fail? If so, what did you learn from it?