From the Phone to the Canvas: How I Make a Painting

February 12th, 2019

As you may know, I gather most of my painting reference material by taking shapshots with my smartphone. I then edit the photos on my phone directly. Here’s how I paint from phone photos.

(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Start with the phone

My phone is always in my pocket, so it’s the most convenient camera. Plus, I can edit from the phone. I tend to take photos of fog and sunrises. Bonus points if I can get them both in the same shot! I’ll then edit with something like Mextures or Snapseed right on the phone. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do with the color. Usually I start with the composition, and then give it color in Mextures. It’s always about the mood. In this case, I wanted to create warmth.

Once I’ve edited the photo, I send it to my first generation iPad mini. It sits on my painting table next to my easel. It beats printing it out because I can get started much faster and zoom in on details if I need to. The zoom feature isn’t often necessary since by the time I’m at the detail stage, the painting doesn’t look that much like the source photo. The photo is simply a guide until the canvas takes on a life of its own.

To the canvas!

On a canvas I’ve toned orange I’ll establish the overall shapes by massing in the dark areas. I create texture with lots of drips.

Now I start building up the color. I try to work quickly and not get stuck in one area. I want to establish a full range of values as soon as possible. I allow the orange bleed through in some places.

Wrap it up.

From here it’s mostly just building up layers of paint. Once I’m finished, I sign it, varnish it, and paint the edges charcoal gray.

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:

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.

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

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

(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!

Time-Lapse: Blue & Orange Abstract (Day 22 of #AEDM14)

November 22nd, 2014

Today, day 22 of AEDM (Art Every Day Month) I started a new canvas and gave it a blue and orange wash, along with a little bit of green. It kind of turned into mud a little bit, so tomorrow I think I will brighten it up a little. I’ve long been a fan of this color combination. I used it a lot in college, which eventually evolved into blue and yellow, and then blue and brown, which of course led to gray. But it is good to use bright colors again!

And of course, here’s a video:

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube!

Blue and orange (and green!) abstract canvas for #arteverydaymonth day 22!

A post shared by Brad Blackman (@bradblackman) on