Entries in usa (3)


q&a with artist Brad Blackman


It is a great pleasure to welcome the incredibly talented artist Brad Blackman to the Salt and Sparkle q&a.  Brad is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and has shown his work across the USA and in Europe. Most recently, he exhibited with Quidley & Company Fine Art in Boston.  His work is fine art and filled with clever representations of light that draw the viewer into the work, and he explores themes of man’s mortality and search for peace via urban landscapes and abstract-realist compositions. Brad and I connected via Twitter when he recommended the book Do Over,for me to read (it was a great read).  Then I spent a really pleasant afternoon getting lost on his website, looking at his paintings.  You can follow Brad on Twitter, Facebook, as well as his website, and you can commission one of his beautiful paintings. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Art Shows.


Who are you, what’s it like being you ...

I'm Brad Blackman. I'm a fine artist who makes a living as a graphic designer. I'm also a dad and a husband.

On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator I'm classified as INFJ, which apparently is one of the rarest types. I guess that means I'm a contradiction. The person most like me that you might have seen on TV is Ted from How I Met Your Mother. I'm the kind of person who loves to stay up all night drinking coffee and talking about life, the universe, and everything.
I have severe-to-profound hearing loss. For the longest time I thought of this as a non-issue. An inconvenience, maybe. Most people don't think about it after first meeting me since I get alone fine with hearing-aids, or they don't notice them until they've known me for a while, but the ever-present silence has actually had a profound effect on my work. 
I didn't realize how much my deafness meant to me until a few years ago, and even more so now that I have small (noisy) children.

Where are you from, where are you based ...

I'm from Nashville, Tennessee. I'm one of the few that actually grew up here. I moved away for a few years for college, but I came back and stayed. I fell in love with a girl here, married her, and now we are raising our children here.

Talk about your work ...
I started making art when I was about two. I have always thought of myself as an artist. I drew anytime I could get my hands on a crayon, pencil, pen.
But in college I fell in love with painting. I actually had no interest in it until I took Painting I for my graphic design major. 
There was something mesmerizing about putting paint on canvas. The way oil paint feels on my fingers. The way the colors blend together with a brush. I've been hooked ever since.
I experimented with exaggerated colors in portraits, and landscapes. Blue skies would be orange, gray shadows would turn purple, my friends would be green or blue or red.
After a while I felt like it was a hack, and began to paint "normal" colors, but I always got a bit of extra color in somewhere.
Then a few years ago I tried to paint every single day, making little urban landscapes on small canvases. I got burned out and gave up painting for about eighteen months. 
Not long after that I got an iPhone and discovered how much fun it was to shoot things with Instagram. I began to experiment with not just urban landscapes but abstraction. About two years ago I began to dabble in painting abstractly. 
At the same time I began thinking about silence and the role it has had in my life. Now, rather than fighting it and resenting it, I actually embrace it. 
Last November, I tried the Art Every Day Month Challenge and decided to explore abstraction in painting. I also tried acrylic instead of oil, since I could work quickly. I got up early every morning and worked on smallish abstracts before going to my day job.
Since then, my work is almost all abstract. I use hazy, foggy imagery to underscore the idea of quiet and as a metaphor for not having all the answers in life, and being okay with that.
My abstract painting tends two different directions: quiet and hazy, or sharp and graphic.
What are your future plans ...
Figure out how to make a living as a fine artist! When you look at the really successful artists, you notice that they have a specific product and a specific market. They produce(d) work that appeals to a certain audience. I think right now my job is to figure out what it is I make and who wants it.
How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...  
My children. They are six, five, and three. They amaze me every day. They're so funny, and inventive.
Describe your space ... 
I have a corner in the bonus room over the garage. It's not much, but it's my space. I have a bulletin board with all sorts of things pinned to it, usually reference material for whatever I'm working on at the moment. I have tools like rulers and a color wheel hanging off it.
How are you feeling today ... 
The weather is changing here in Nashville, and I've got allergies, so I'm a little stopped up. Not as bad as I was last week, having to take NyQuil at 3 in the afternoon and sleeping until morning.
A non-negotiable in your life is ...
Dinner with my wife and children. I'm blessed to be able to do this 99% of the time. If I can't, either I'm on a deadline, or major changes have to take place.
Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...
My friend Mitch told me in college that I have a good eye for color. That's always stayed with me, especially as I've noticed he has a good eye for color.
Your work life philosophy is ...
Make time for family and put time for them on the calendar. I may not be available all the time, but when I'm available, I'm all there. Put the phone away at dinner time.
What is your favourite smell ...  
Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...
I listen to a lot of podcasts or 90s ambient on Pandora inspired by the film The Matrix.
Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...
My mom makes a really good chicken vegetable soup. She would always make it for me when I came home from college.
But I can't think of much of any single ingredient I love more than coffee. :)
That said, I like simple meals that consist of something like grilled chicken, flaky bread.

Three things or products that have changed your life...

1. coffee
2. oil paint
3. hearing aids that connect to Bluetooth devices
How do you relax ...
I wind down by watching old sci-fi shows on Netflix after everyone else has gone to bed. Right now, I'm working my way through The X-Files.
What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ...
Places where time stands still and everything grows quiet. It might be in the woods, on the water, or on a mountain. Where all you feel is the sun and all you hear is the wind or water. Natural places that are very high or very low.
You'd think it would be in the studio. But I can't relax there. That's a place where work gets done.
What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...  
In college I spent a semester in Italy, and I would love to return. I would especially love to take an extended visit to Ireland as that's where my wife's ancestors are from and she's never been. 
I really want to visit the UK again, especially Wales, since that's where my ancestors came from prior to the American Revolution. 
But one place I really want to see is Iceland. I've seen such amazing footage of it in films and on television that I feel like I have to go. The sky. The land. The mountains. It looks harsh and comforting all at once.
What do you most value in your friends ...  
Loyalty. Reserving judgement until all has been heard. Seeing the good in everything.
What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ...
Right now the word "haze" has been a sort of mantra and inspiration. It's the opposite of clarity, yet I think a lot of clarity can be found in the mist.
I'm not reading anything at the moment, but I recently finished up Do Over by Jon Acuff. It's a great book about how to think about your career.
Share some words of wisdom ...
I'll quote the Beatles: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
It was a pleasure to interview you Brad, thank you for taking part.
That's it for now ...
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable



Five days in New York City 


Maybe it's the pulsating energy of the several million people that live there, or the unending variety and availability that leaves me with the feeling, anything really is possible.  

New York City there really is something kinda wonderful about you.  

You can catch up on some of my other adventures in NYC eating burgers at the Shake Shack, signs of life, sweet shots,  a top of the rock engagement, freedom and liberty, and one of my favourite restaurants in the city ABC Kitchen.  

New York City is a place from the moment my feet touched the ground at JFK in 2000, I knew I would visit again and again.  

Until next time sweet city, here are some of the adventures you shared with me this year, when I visited earlier this summer as Belfast Community Gospel Choir's tour to NYC.  


1.Visiting First Corthinian Baptist Church in Harlem so much happened there, I am going to spread this number out a little -  so another post is likely!

But. Oh. My. Word.  being in FCBC was lifechanging.  As well as really interesting to see how they do church in Harlem - 7.30am service anyone?  We where up at 4.30am to get ready to perform.

Firstly there was the opportunity to sing as a member of Belfast Community Gospel Choir in Harlem in a primarily black church, with the spine tingling incredible First Corthinian Baptist Church Choir who moved and sang with such passion and unison.  Even in their rehearsal the hairs rose up on the back of my neck.



Then there was the message preached by Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr. Love Lifted Me one of the greatest sermon's I have ever. Ever. Period!

Key message it all stems from love.  

Pastor Walrond Jr's words were empowering to the listener and I implore you to listen to it.  His use of scripture, story, cultural references, and the cadence of his speech made it a pleasure to listen to.  

These are just a few quotations from it that continually inspire me ...

'I don't know about you but knowing that God loves me, allows me to endure some things in my life that at other times would have seemed unendurable.  Knowing that God loves me allows me to withstand some things in my life that at other times would have broken me down.  

Knowing God loves me allows me to handle even ridicule from irrelevant people because I realise the significance in my life that God plays.  And at the end of the day it is hard to get caught up in other peoples# analysis, critque or judgement when I am convinced that the love of God overshadows everything else that could come my way.  

That is the great hope.  That I am loved by God.  It is a thing that will deepen your awareness of who you are and your own significance.  And every now and again when you find yourself under assault from negative thoughts that rebel from with in, I dare you to resist the internal wrestling in your spirit and remind yourself, you know what 'God Loves Me.

'God loves me, so simple, yet saying that to yourself can unleash joy that is unspeakable.

'God loves me can undermine every attempt to weigh you down with things that do not matter.

God loves me.  It can beat back every attempt from every enemy who tries to tell you that there is nothing in your or about you that has any kind of significance.  God Loves me.

When you get up in the morning before you say a word, before you do anything, before you begin your day, begin to work, begin to cook, begin to do anything, say God Loves Me.  And just in case it doesn't reach the depths of your spirit switch up the words a little bit, God is in love with me.'

I urge you to listen to this podcast now Love Lifted Me.

Asking the FCBC Artist in Residence Patrice Turner to sing for us.  After some Belfast persuasion she sang, 'How Great is Thy Faithfulness', there were tears in everybodies eyes when she finished.  

Patrice sang and played piano with such power and control, mixing jazz, gospel and classical styles with ease her passion rose into the air and filled the auditorium, every hair on my neck stood up.

2. Who knew hostels can be spotlessly clean, with strong hot showers 24/7, a great coffee bar, lovely garden, wifi, crisp white sheets and a conceirge as good as any five star hotel - we stayed at Hostelling International New York, on the Upper West Side and I highly recommend it.  There are even double rooms with aircon and flat screen tvs, not something you normally associate with the word hostel or budget.  I would stay here again in an instant.  

3. Walking around Harlem after a long flight, seeing men play chess on the sidewalk and listening to the Abyssinian Baptist Choir sing heartfelt gospel music lifted any jetfog that might have descended.  Feeling inspired by the front of the Harlem Hospital I stood for ages just looking at then, then glancing downtown towards the Empire State which was approximately five miles away or twenty blocks, it's a walk I'd like to take on another trip.


4. Walking Having one of those heartfelt conversations with a stranger, that's only possible because we'll never meet again.  Obviously be mindful, be aware, but not all conversations with strangers = danger.

5. The sales assistant in Loft who came up to me only minutes after I'd entered to say, 'Girl you have fantastic energy, I have watched you since you came in, and you are full of light.'  I left with a new spring in my step.

6. Visiting Strala in Soho for an early morning strong class. Suzy was our guide; she was inspiring, encouraging and welcoming.  I loved the class and can't wait to go back again.  I felt energised and ready for anything afterwards.  Strala please come to Belfast!

7. Wandering around Greenwich, Soho and Chinatown at night, turning left or right on impulse with no real idea were we where going.  Our conversation went a little like this ...

'What way do you want to go?'

'I don't know'

'Okay well let's go right and you chose next.'

We wandered randomly going up and down this street and that.  Randomly walking and each choosing a way to go is a great way to explore a city or go for a walk when your on a date.

Eating this out of the world Guacamole (smoky, spicey, smooth and cool) and the most flavoursome trio of salsas - tomatillo-serrano, roasted tomato chile de arbol and habanero diablo salsas and drinking one of the best Margaritas I've ever had at Dos Caminos, where our waitress Amy bent over backwards to serve us.  Tasting different Blanco Tequila's - my favourite was ArteNom Seleccion de 1414 Tequila Reposado

8. Heading downtown on a subway train to Soho for a spot of shopping with my pals Pauline and Heather.  Shops have never been hit so hard or so quickly.  Hanging out with these girls was one of the highlights of my trip.


Then walking to Chinatown, where I bought an American Flag scarf in Chinatown, in between bargaining.  Hoping I'll be able to work the American Flag scarf style like Connie Britton as Rayna Jaymes in my favourite tv show Nashville.  Then there was a taxi ride back along the Hudson with an Egyptian driver, who'd lived in NYC for 20 years or more.  A thing to note Taxis go fast in NYC, so buckle your seatbelts.


9. Loading up on new workout kit from Old Navy - I am in love with their Hot To It Neon capri training tights and wishing I'd bought several more pairs.  Old Navy please start delivering to Europe.

10. Eating one of the best burgers EVER - sweet juicy meat, a soft firm bun, saltysweet slices of pickle and chillis, at PJ O'Clarkes at Lincoln Centre.  After singing at the New Belfast New York Conference lunch session, fellow choir members - Carol, Amy and Rebecca we experienced the sublime service only readily available in America.  

PJ Clarke's is a bit of an iconic New York establishment full of history, fame and nostalgia, now a chain the locations have black-and-white tiled floors, red and white checked tablet cloths and dark wood galore. The menu offers food that is classic American Steakhouse -  shrimp cocktail, bluecheese iceberg wedge, T-bone for two, crab cakes, creamed spinach, cheesecake, mixed with American Diner, burgers, meatloaf, mac and cheese, ceasar salad and club sandwiches, there's an oyster bar, all of these are well prepared and presented, and if you like cheeseburgers, there are none better.  Thea's English Tea Green Honey, came in a rectangular bottle, with a disctinctive white top, with no added sugar, and served ice cold it was very refreshing.

Charred Green Chilies Cheeseburger with Grilled Poblanos, Ancho and jalapenos  

11. Bath and Body works - this shop makes me happy.  I was wandering around Mid-town after lunch with Sandy, and found my way here, quite by accident but perhaps by destiny, because I had wanted to visit.  

My question to the assistant went something like this

'So I was staying in a hotel in Charleston South Carolina, a few years back and they had this sublime smelling body lotion, but I have no idea what its called, just that it came from here, can you help?' '

Of course,' she replied smiling and already leading me to a section of the store, 'you want our Enegry, Orange Ginger.  Doesn't it just smell divine?'  

USA - your retail service is on the whole incredible.  Stocking up on handsanitsers, lipgloss and a whole array of beautifully scented products not available on our side of the pond.

12. FitFlops are there any better shoes for sightseeing, walking and being comfortable, whilst working our legs. I bought two pairs of sandals, one in red and one in black.

13. Loading up on teashirts at American Eagle

14. Having lunch with Sandy - there's something kinda wonderful about having friends in cities across the world.  It is a blessing and a privilege, and it is just lovely to touch base and find the connect still as strong unaffected by time, or distance.

15. Singing in Central Park with BCGC where the words 'Music is proof of heaven' where chalked onto the sidewalk

16. M&Ms. Do I have to say anymore - Pretzel, Mint, Dark Chocolate, Coconut - I loaded up on all the flavours not available before heading back across the Irish Sea.

17. Drinking Arnold Palmer - this is 1/2 iced tea and 1/2 lemonade - utterly refreshing and delicious.  And it inspired me to create Whiskey Lemonade.

18. Visiting the Brandy Library and tasting Brooklyn Whiskey brewed by the Breuckenlen Distillery in Brooklyn

The Brandy Libary like many places that ooze cool, wasn't the easiest place to find, but a quick call into a brightly light nearby bristo, and we discovered we were just across the street from it.  Amber lit, with buttery tobacco leather chairs and banquettes, smooth varnished wooden shelves accessed by ladder contain bottles of whiskey, brandy, schnapps and calvados.  It is a cozy line up and a romantic place, the sort you see in movies, where the guy and the girl, well they you know, talk, sip a drink, look into each others eyes and the rest is history.  It is occupied by fashionable locals, late night dealmaking businessmen.

 The 77 Whiskey is distilled from 100% wheat, and aged in new American Oak.  The nose is full of caramel sweetness and light, with an apple vanilla character, it doesn't overpower and is not overly sweet.  Whle the taste moves through from caramel to cinnamon, with nutmeg and wood, it is enjoyable, a drink to last the evening, and one that will linger with your conversation.  This finish has a hint of pepper on a soft vanilla, with further woody spiced notes.

19. Hanging out with BCGC in New York City - a truly once in a lifetime experience to travel, in this year, with this specific group of people, was special.  We came we sang, we travelled, we laughed, we cried, and then cried some more. We got lost in Central Park, and rode in Yellow Taxis. We met incredible people, we had access to some oldest Baptist churches in the city, and the privilege of singing there.  We took bus rides, and we made history.

20. In our hectic schedule I spent some time just walking, drinking iced tea and being in the city that never sleeps, and this made me very happy.

Have you been to New York City lately, what did you get up too?

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable




Charleston - Sweet Shot Tuesday

Lots of you have been asking to see more pictures from my trip to America, so I thought I would share some of my favourite photos from my time in Charleston for this week's Sweet Shot Tuesday.  I can't wait to see what you have been shooting, head over to Darcy's website to tag along.

Spanish Moss at the Charleston Landing

Fort Saunter where the first shot of the American Civil War was shot in 1861

Pecan Pie laced with Bourbon from Magnolia's on East Bay Street

A Holy City Spire

Mint Julep

Dawn from my hotel room


That's it for now ...



Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable