Brad Blackman "McGavock" 2003. Oil on canvas, 40 x 20 inches

Dangerous Inspiration: The Risky Thing I Do

I used to take pictures while driving. That dangerous photographic inspiration made its way into my paintings. But not anymore – it’s too dangerous and risky.

Before the hands-free Tennessee law was passed, I would take pictures of things as I passed them on the road. Yes, I knew it was dangerous. I’ve since quit doing it. I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t drive as much now due to the state of lockdown over the past two-and-a-half months or if it’s out of respect to the law — probably a combination of both. Also, my compositions are becoming less photography-based. But for years I would photograph things while driving and use those photos as reference for my paintings.

I was obsessed with overpasses, then fog

It all started not long after I got out of college and while driving to and from work, overpasses would catch my eye. I was fascinated with these triangles of light and shadow that emerged from the angled embankments beneath the overpasses and bridges. It was dangerous inspiration because I’d try to snap photos while the car was moving. At the time my paintings were fairly realistic but with exaggerated colors.

I scanned the prints and manipulated them in Photoshop. Then I painted the manipulations on canvas.

Brad Blackman "McGavock" 2003. Oil on canvas, 40 x 20 inches

McGavock, 2003. Oil on canvas, 40×20×2 inches 

Every now and then I would experiment with abstraction, flattening and simplifying everything, perhaps a sign of things to come. I wanted to focus on the dynamic shapes while keeping a sense of depth and drama.

Brad Blackman, Melrose II, 2004. Oil on canvas.

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

How dangerous is it to carry a camera in the car?

I had an SLR camera that a family friend from church purchased for me before I went off to spend a semester in Italy a few years before. This was before digital was really a worthwhile investment, and I would keep it handy.

After several years of hard use, the Canon Rebel was broken beyond repair — I could have gotten it repaired but it would have cost as much as getting a new one. So I saved up my money and got the first generation digital Rebel. I carried that DSLR in the car a lot, too. I remember going on excursions where I would walk for miles on a bright Saturday morning, capturing architectural details and then painting them later. Not quite the dangerous inspiration as shooting photos while driving. I got much safer.

Morning Fog, 2013. Oil on canvas board, 14×11 inches

Morning Fog, 2013. Oil on canvas board, 14×11 inches

I used to dream about “prosumer” level cameras with 17-megapixel capability so I could print out images in perfect clarity on a tabloid size sheet of paper.

As I moved into the abstract, photo quality ceased to be as important. I experienced a resurgence in photography about 9 years ago when I got my first iPhone, experimenting with abstract realist photos of the architectural details I saw in my lunchtime walks in downtown Nashville.

Not long after that, my paintings became more about capturing mood and atmosphere, not photographic details. Eventually, I quit printing my photos out, opting instead for viewing them on my iPad while painting, and even then I didn’t use them as reference very long as the canvas would take on a life of its own.

I don’t do this anymore, and I don’t recommend it

As I mentioned earlier, Tennessee passed the Hands-free Tennessee law last summer, which makes it illegal to use your device while driving. I’m happy to say I’m about 95% hands-free now (still need to get a mount to put my phone on the dashboard) and I don’t take photos of things while driving anymore.

I’m still inspired by the same things, such as fog in a field and light and shadow on overpasses. But now if I capture photos of it I do it when I’m a passenger or record it in my mind.