The One Thing That Made My Painting Studio More Effective

April 20th, 2017

Have you ever cleaned something up to make it more efficient and later discovered that you actually made it worse? Well that’s what I did a year ago in my studio. I tried to rearrange it so there was more open space, but I actually made things more difficult for myself. Here’s how.

For years I’ve had my easel in the corner.

Easel in the Corner To the left, I had finished canvases as well as stretched canvases that hadn’t been touched. To the right of my easel was my work table, with all my paints, brushes, mediums, small canvases, and various tools. The tripod base for my easel allows for the back leg to fit in the corner easily.

However, I had a hard time painting on anything taller than about 32 inches due to the sloped ceiling. Everything I painted on would rub against the angled ceiling and I’d end up getting paint on the ceiling.

Before we moved to this house I tended to paint on larger canvases. 36 inches was actually kind of a small size for me back then. I missed painting larger, and my space needed to accomodate larger canvases. So I collapsed the back leg of the easel, leaned entire thing against the wall at a very slight angle and put the work table on the left, in front of those stacks of finished and untouched canvases.Studio Before Reorganizing

That worked for a little while.

It opened up the room a bit. However, in the middle of last summer I decided to several canvases on the floor and paint them all at once as sort of a large polyptych.

Nine Canvases on the Floor

Having the table out of the way worked well for this. For a little while.

I quickly came to the realization that while I had opened up the room, I had put my paints and water bucket and brushes and all my other tools on the wrong side.

I’m right-handed, so putting my table on the left made no sense. I was reaching across myself to reload my brushes!

So recently I moved the art table back over to the right side of my easel.

We got rid of the sleeper sofa that we never used and put the kids’ IKEA easels there. Now the bonus room is an art room for the whole family! The kids love it.

I guess the one thing was really two things: I moved the easel to the right since I’m right-handed, and we got rid of the couch that just held un-folded laundry.

IKEA easels in the studio

Brad Blackman's studio after rearrangement

The only problem now is that the kids like to sneak in there unattended and get into the paints. And they forget to put the caps back on!

How to Make 2017 a Killer Year as an Artist

December 20th, 2016

I’m writing this in the middle of December, 2016. At this time of year it’s only natural to look at the calendar and take stock of the previous 12 months and begin making plans for the upcoming year.

But art is such a subjective thing. How does an artist set goals, anyway?

If you want to lose weight, it’s good to determine how much weight you want to lose and when you want to have lost it. Or if you want to run a marathon, you set a plan for achieving a certain running pace by a particular date. In other words, make it smart.

What are SMART goals?

As with any goal-setting it helps to make it S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

What that boils down to is setting goals that you can be sure you achieve, by a particular date, in a way that pushes your limits without overdoing it.

Flimsy goals

Some goals just aren’t written very well. Sure, it’s better than no goals at all, or a vague sense of doing “better”, but there’s no real way to know you’ve achieved it.

  • Get better at a particular technique. I’d argue that this is a poor goal since “better” isn’t measurable. But you can enroll in a class that might help you improve. Maybe go outside your comfort zone and learn an art form that is not your normal mode of working. Working with pottery might spark new ideas for fashion design.

  • Sell more art. This isn’t really a measurable goal. What does “more” mean, anyway? You can learn how to start selling art online, for example. (I have no affiliation with Cory, by the way.)

Set concrete goals

Here are some examples, plus questions you can ask yourself to figure out how to get there.

  • Produce XX pieces this year. What does this look like broken down into quarterly and/or monthly quotas? Personally, I can’t expect myself to go-go-go constantly every single day in the studio because I have a day job and a family. What do you do when the creative well runs dry? Schedule time to recharge with artist dates or something like that.

  • Get in a particular show. What are the requirements and deadlines? If it is too late to apply to the 2017 show, how can I get ready for 2018?

  • Make $X from art in the upcoming year. Be realistic, but stretch yourself. How do you get your work in front of a particular audience? How do you market/advertise your work? Also, take into consideration your sales cycle. Some people make most of their yearly income right before Christmas.

  • Get X followers on a particular social media platform, or X subscribers to my newsletter. While this is specific and measurable, make sure it has a good return on investment and that you’re spending time on the right platform to convert into more sales, leads, signups, whatever it is you’re driving people to.

Put your goals in front of you

Michael Hyatt is a fan of reviewing his goals every day. It doesn’t have to be something drawn-out, just a two minute glance at them and a quick evaluation if he is doing something to “move the needle forward” on that goal. Put your goals somewhere that you’ll see them. It might be a list on your computer, or taped to your mirror, or on a mood board in your studio. Just put it where you’ll notice it. Burn it into your mind each day.

I know one artist who created a mood board of all these paintings that inspired her. They were the type of things she wanted to create, herself. By focusing her energy on creating those things, she eventually began to attract commissions to make exactly those type of paintings.

What are your goals?

Personally, I’m keeping my goals private. But feel free to share your own artist goals for the upcoming year. Or, maybe it’s best to share such things only with a select few who will cheer you on and keep you accountable.

The real question is, do you have art goals for the coming year? Share in the comments!

How to Prepare for an Amazing Art Every Day Month

October 21st, 2016

Confession time.

I haven’t been in the studio since July.

Yeah. I know. It’s driving me crazy.

I threw out my back the last week that I was preparing those paintings to hang in Erabellum for the August Art Crawl. I was able to finish them up and hang them in the gallery, but I never got back to the studio after that.

Then, the kids started school. My freelance design work and day job got really busy. Next, we took the kids to the beach for fall break.

Art Every Day MonthSuddenly it is almost November, which means Art Every Day Month is upon us. The prospect of working on art every day for a month is a welcome one for me.

I’m so ready to get back in the studio.

This will be my fourth year to participate in Art Every Day Month.

In 2009, I gave the concept a shot, but I had no strategy for Art Every Day Month. I just photographed stuff and doodled and said, “I did several things today so that counts for the next few days.”

Nope, that’s not how it works.

You don’t work out three times as long one day and say that workout counts for the next three days. The same goes for your art. You’re only going to see change when you put in the work regularly. (I’m preaching to myself, here.)

I discovered abstraction in 2014

So in 2014, I understood I had to have a plan. I had learned that trying to crank out a single painting in a day was a recipe for burnout for me. So I just painted as many days as I could, even if it was just for 20 minutes before work.

That formula worked.

I discovered how much I love abstraction and how freeing it is to let the paint do what it wants.

AEDM14 Day18 Progress

Rock-and-Roll in 2015

In 2015, I explored painting rock songs, and everything turned really dark. I think a lot of that had to do with my emotional state. So much was uncertain. I had gotten laid off. We left a church we liked when some things happened that made us feel unsafe. The kids were starting a new school year. I had some freelance coming in, but not enough to get us through the end of the year. I didn’t know what my job future would look like. My wife started cleaning houses so we could make ends meet.

And all that bleakness showed up in my painting.

Days 27-30 of Art Every Day Month

A concerted effort to bring back the color in 2016

Reaching She Ascended, DescendedThat brings us to 2016. What will I do for Art Every Day Month this year? I’ve been working hard to bring color back to my paintings, and I think I’ve succeeded. I’m happy with where it is going, but there is still a lot to be done to shape it into something I am really happy with and excited to share with everyone.

I’ve had a lot of ideas knocking around in my head lately. Recently I wrote about how I’m inspired by several things right now. Do I paint fog/haze? Pure abstraction? Expressive forms? Flyovers? Bright colors or a limited/analogous palette? Use sacred geometry? Something inspired by lazy pressure-washing on the sidewalks?

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

I wonder if there is a way to combine all of those things. Would all of those things make the art confusing? Fog and bright colors don’t really go together. Or do they? That’s the beauty of art. The beauty of beauty itself. Contradiction and paradox are wonderful things, because they tease and stimulate the mind.

To prepare, I’ve done sketches over the past few months. They don’t look like much right now, but for me, that’s enough to get something started. I’ve found it is best to simply start with the kernel of an idea. Trying to control the outcome of a canvas is counterproductive. A single idea like a shape or a color or something like that is enough for me.

Black-and-White Sketches for Upcoming Paintings

I’ve also been adding to several Pinterest boards. Pinterest is visual candy for me. I love how it recommends things based on what I’ve pinned before. It keeps showing me more abstract expressionist paintings, and images of fog, people working on giant canvases, and the like. And when Timehop shows me old Instagrams and I decide I still like them, I will throw them into a private board as fodder for painting ideas.

Pinterest Board "Haze" Pinterest Board "Scratch" Pinterest Board "Stuff I Should Paint"

So, what will I paint in November?

Since it has been a while since I’ve spent any time in the studio I don’t want to sustain a creative injury from doing too much at once. So I’m going to start small, and go bigger from there.

I’ll post weekly progress reports here on the blog, but if you want daily email updates during Art Every Day Month 2016, sign up here. (If you already get my email newsletter, this is a separate email that I’ll send out.)

And of course I’ll update my Instagram and Snapchat accounts as often as I think to.

Are you participating in AEDM16?

If you are participating, leave a comment to let everybody know where we can follow your work!

How to Create a Studio Space

September 27th, 2016

My first studio was a little (child-sized) table in a corner of my room. I was about 10 years old, and I wanted to draw cartoon characters.

A few years later, I graduated to a small drafting table, complete with an adjustable angle. I kept my drawing tools in a caddy on top of a file cabinet. I drew comics.

I don’t have any of that stuff now, but it was great to have my own little spot to draw in. It was my own little world.

Photo by Khara Woods

A Dedicated Space

What was great about it was it was a dedicated spot for making my art. I think that’s important for anyone pursuing anything creative. Just like arriving at the office puts you in a frame of mind to get work done, or even putting on your gym clothes can mentally prepare you to work out. Settling in to your work space can get you ready to do your work.

Your workspace might be in the living room, and you set up your easel after everyone else in the family has gone to bed. Maybe you draw at the kitchen table. Or set up an easel in your apartment’s kitchen and turn on the exhaust fan while you paint with oils and hope the landlord doesn’t find out. If you’re lucky, you might have a spare room to turn into your studio. Or a backyard shed!


a dream studio space!

Sure, I’d love to have a huge studio with gorgeous lighting like the things I find on Pinterest. (Yes, I have a whole Pinterest board that is just pictures of amazing art studios. I know. It might be a problem.)

Even if you have to set up and tear it down every day, carve out your space and make it yours. Because having a dedicated space will help you get in the zone and stay there. Put up quotes and photos of things that inspire you and make you want to do your best work. If you’re right-handed put your brushes, pens, paints, whatever on the right side so you’re not reaching across to get to things.

The idea is to make it a place you are comfortable and ready to activate the creative side of your brain.

What Not To Do

It’s entirely up to you to go around lighting candles and putting on great music and all that. Personally, I think that would be more of a distraction and, if we’re honest, really another way of procrastinating. Remember that time on The Simpsons when Lisa decided to write a book? (The Book Job)

Lisa Simpson Decides to Write a Book

Yeah, she got sidetracked trying to make everything just right. Meanwhile, her dad and brother and a bunch of other people managed to write a best-seller in shorter time. But that’s beside the point. The point is to not get distracted trying to make your work area “perfect” but to just go ahead and do the work.

All right, so what can you do right now?

Without going into a lot of detail, the first few things that come to mind are things like the following:

  • Find a corner and set up a table or easel there. It doesn’t have to be fancy!
  • Convert a spare room into your studio
  • Use part of the guest bedroom
  • Your former “dump zone” (you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
  • Convert the dining room and eat in the kitchen instead
  • Take over the garage (make sure you have proper heating, cooling, and ventilation)
  • Get a nifty table that can fold up and store things
  • Use a cart to store your supplies on, which can easily be moved around
My point is that there are a lot of ways you can set up a studio. And if you are on the move, carefully set up your bag, pouch, box, whatever you carry around, so you have just what you need and no more, so that you can make your art anywhere.

My question to you:

What are you doing to make a space to work?

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

How to Make Art with a Day Job

September 15th, 2016

Most of the artists I know have a day job since their art doesn’t pay the bills, or not all of them, at least. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to the point where your art career is your primary source of income, but it is doable. I’m on that same journey myself: I have a day job as a graphic designer. That’s what pays the bills.

The problem is, having a full-time job makes it difficult to find the time and energy to make art. In addition to spending time in the studio, you have to promote your work and show your work and deal with the business side of things.

But how do you work around your day job?

Well, what it really comes down to is making time and being disciplined about the time you have available.

Something I’ve done in the past is create an ideal week schedule. My friend Dave Delaney has a version of this that he calls the #KillerCalendar. Mine is similar.

What you do is create a new calendar in Google Calendar with events that recur every week (or whatever frequency works best for you). When you add new events or commitments, turn your ideal calendar on or off in Google Calendar and you can see whether your appointments line up wth it or not.

But first…

Before you do that, you have to make a fair assessment of what time you do have and what you need to do without in order to do your art. This is where it gets tricky, because you’ll find yourself having to cut out something you enjoy so that you can work on your art. For me, it’s staying up watching stuff on Netflix.

It really comes down to 2 things: discipline and a schedule. Know what is worth sacrificing so you can make gains as an artist, and be willing to live with those sacrifices. If you tie these things together you’ll find the result very rewarding.

Let’s say you want to devote your Saturdays to working in the studio. But Friday night your friends want to go out. So you do… and don’t get home until really late. Next thing you know, you sleep until noon, and you don’t get started in the studio until 3 in the afternoon, and then your friends call wanting to go out again.

Maybe you should have told your friends on Friday, “hey how about tomorrow night instead,” gone to bed early, put in a full day’s work in the studio Saturday and then celebrated your hard work by hanging out with your friends.

What are you committed to?

Since I’m a father of small children who don’t get to see a lot of me during the work week, I have to block out time to get in the studio. I tell my family, “okay, I’m going to work on these paintings on Saturday from noon to five, and then we’ll do pizza-and-a-movie-night.” They’re fine with that, because we’ve made a deal with each other. But I have to hold my end of the deal. They’re counting on me to do so. After that studio period is over, I go back to my family.

Forgoing sleep to make art?

A lot of people choose to stay up late to work on their side gig, but it’s probably better to get up early. You can do a lot more in an hour when you’re fresh than in two hours when you’re tired.

Not getting enough rest will only make you less productive. Some people see their lack of sleep as a badge of honor. “I’m more dedicated to my job/craft/whatever because I got fewer hours of sleep than you did.”

That’s insane.

There are better things to give up. As I said earlier, giving up Netflix is something I can deal with. For you it might be going out for drinks with your friends.

I don’t think sleep is one of the things you should give up since that is sacrificing your health. It’s not a very good trade-off. Yes, you are gonna have to sacrifice something at some point, but consider what are you getting in return.

(And if your friends complain that you’re not fun anymore because you’re spending time in the studio instead of spending time with them, maybe you need better friends who support what you are doing!)

Try something. See what works.

Try something for a season. A month is good. You can do anything for a month.

For one month, try getting up an hour earlier (and going to bed an hour earlier) and work on your craft before going to your day job.

You might have to change mediums to something that works better with your time constraints. If you paint in oils, you might need to switch to acrylics for a while. (That’s what I did.)

If you write, try haiku or 300-word blog posts.

The trick is to commit to regular practice that works with your time constraints.

Over to you

What’s something you can do for a season to do your art around your day job?

Header photo via Unsplash

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 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?