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.

I dedicated this painting to my amazing wife

October 25th, 2018

A few months ago, I was working from home one day when one of the kids was sick. I was sitting at my wife’s desk in her office while said kid was snoozing on the couch in the next room.

A bolt of inspiration

I looked up at the wall above the desk. It was just crying for something to go in that spot. I knew I had a canvas that would fit perfectly. I knew I had to paint something for that space. But what? 

The office is a neutral gray, so I decided to work with more gray colors and add a pop of metallic gold by using gold leaf. This was my first time using gold leaf. It’s tricky to use! You have to hold your breath so it doesn’t blow away. It’s very delicate.

Of course, I filmed the whole thing.

You can see the video below:

This was the first time in a long while that I had painted anything this large, so it was a little intimidating at first, but I was thrilled to be working this big again.

My wife’s name is Hope, so I named this painting after her.

The painting turned out so stormy. Yet there’s a lot of light to it. I feel like it conveys the concept of hope in the middle of turbulent times. Raising a young family, we go through a lot of turbulent times with bills, kids getting sick (like when I got the inspiration to paint this), and things breaking (it seems like everything breaks down all at once).

I know from experience that turbulent times are not the end, and that hope will prevail eventually. And my wife is such a rock for our family even when things get crazy. She really is the best.

What do you think?

How do you think the gold leaf turned out?

I can’t wait to get it sealed and hung on the wall in Hope’s office!

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:

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.

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.

(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!

What is Art, Anyway? (Video from Art & Christianity Class Week 1)

February 17th, 2015

The past few weeks I have been teaching a Sunday School class at Donelson Church of Christ about Art & Christianity. We talk about what art and Christianity have to do with each other, if anything at all. (Spoiler: I think they overlap a great deal, and Christians have much to learn from the arts, and artists have a lot to teach Christians.)

So here is a rough video from the first week from a few weeks back. The audio quality is poor since I don’t have a lapel or lavalier mic, which is something I hope to remedy sometime soon. (It’s not in my budget at the moment.) Also I’m shooting on an iPad and not a professional camera, and you can tell.

But I think the message gets across. I’ll be posting additional weeks as I can get these edited and cleaned up. I hope to get the slides actually integrated with the video but I haven’t had the time to get that done.

Here’s the video. If you can’t see it because you’re reading this in an email, click here.

Here are the slides but they may not make a lot of sense without watching the video:

You can also check out this related blog post: What Is Art, Anyway?

Let me know what you think!

Paint it Big

October 18th, 2013

I like to paint big.

And when I say big, I mean over three feet.

For some reason I’m more confident when I work large. It’s not as scary as you’d think. I’m more afraid of messing up on a small canvas, because there, the mistakes are more obvious.

When I did the Nashville365 series, I tried to crank out small pieces, mostly under seven inches. I was miserable, because I like to move around when I paint. I sort of dance. I never sit still. I’m a kinesthetic learner. In college I would pace the room as I studied my class notes.

I want to move my whole body. Paint from my shoulder, pivot from my waist. No tiny, pansy movements from my wrist.

Can’t see the video? Go here:
Painting on a five-foot canvas in front of a group is thrilling. It doesn’t give me stage fright. The only thing that scares me is that the audience won’t understand what I’m doing, that my message is unclear. I want to move people. Five feet seems too small sometimes! I want a canvas taller than I am.

Large art is bold by default.

With tiny art, you might remember a high level of detail, but it is probably less likely to be iconic.

Think of Picasso’s Guernica or Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic. They’re huge. Monumental. Iconic. Unforgettable.

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, Easter Day, 1971. Acrylic with graphite and charcoal on canvas, 82 × 114 inches (208.3 × 289.6 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Agnes Gund, 1984, 84.3223. Robert Motherwell © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
There are exceptions… Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. So is Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.

I guess for me, small is boring. I’d rather paint or draw something big, monumental and hopefully iconic. I can still hear my freshman drawing and comp teacher Paul Pitt (aka Coyote Clay) telling us to “Draw from your deltoid!”

Give me room to move, to make art that is literally dynamic in its creation.

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!