The Paramedic Painter
Brandon Douglas has a passion for life—and it shows
By Evan Senn
Fighting fires and saving lives is all in a day’s work for Brandon Douglas. But this courageous and strapping 31-year-old Tennessee native is also becoming a popular name in fine art circles. Playing with futurism and realism together in layers upon layers of oil paint, Douglas finds the beauty and fragility of humanity in everyday objects, lighting, nature and people. Douglas is able to express a full-bodied moment with multiple angles, varying degrees of rendering and richness. His paintings reflect a kindness and appreciation for life that is rare and difficult to imitate. With each stroke of his brush, Douglas imprints the passion and fervor he has for life into his artwork, trying to recreate the exquisite beauty he sees all around him. Spending most of his time on call with the fire department in Knoxville, Tennessee, Douglas makes sure to find time wherever he can to explore the world through his paintings, spend time with his wife, and remember to be grateful.
Q: What, or who, got you interested in art?
A: My interest in art started early on in life. I was first influenced to art by cartoons and comic books. I taught myself to draw by copying pictures of Wolverine and Ninja Turtles. I found myself really into heavy music and tattoos by my teenage years, so I was copying Pushead illustrations and all sorts of tattoo designs. My interest in fine arts and oil painting specifically surged in my early 20s with my discovery of Shawn Barber’s work. From there, my inspirations have snowballed to include everything old masters to contemporary fine artists and tattoo artists.
Q: Are you self-taught or did you attend a trade school? Tell us about your artistic journey.
A: I started oil painting about eight years ago, and was predominantly self-taught up until the summer of 2013. I had the pleasure of meeting Seth Haverkamp at a local show we both had pieces in. About two months later, I started painting with him—not so much structured lessons, but more like guided painting. I feel that he taught me enough to consider myself no longer fully self-taught. It’s a huge honor to not only call him a teacher and inspiration, but also a friend. I’ve made huge leaps and bounds over the last year having Seth there to critique my work and answer questions.
Q: Tell me about your art. How would you describe it?
A: I consider myself to be a contemporary realist painter. I’m really interested in and drawn to realism in art, but I don’t strive for photo-realism. I want my paintings to suggest reality and enhance it. I want the colors to sing and the brush strokes to shine. I love to show my audience how I see the world and the people around me.
Q: Do you have an overall message behind your artwork? When you create a piece do you set out to paint something with a certain message behind it?
A: The only message I strive to convey is how much beauty is in the world around us—not only physical beauty, but beauty in-process. My favorite paintings are ones where I can feel the love the artist has for their craft. That’s what I want to people to feel when they view my work.
Q: Has the tattoo culture inspired your artwork at all? If so, please explain.
A: Absolutely. I’ve been interested in tattoos and tattoo art since I was 12-years-old. I learned a lot about drawing by working with my tattoo artist to come up with the designs for my tattoos and watching him as he worked. There’s so much to be learned about composition, line work, and color theory from great tattoo artists. Whether I ever pick up a machine or not, tattooing will influence me and my work for a long time to come.
Q: What’s the typical setting in which you create a piece?
A: I’ve recently completed my studio space in my garage. It’s not a huge space, but its set up just the way I want it, which is pretty cool. I’m a morning person, so I typically paint early morning and early afternoon, though I take just about any chance I get to spend time on a piece. I’m set up with 5600k fluorescent lights for consistent, low-glare lighting. I have my computer monitor mounted at eye level to allow me to paint standing up without a distortion in perception. Some of my current favorite bands to paint to are Baroness, Royal Thunder, Pelican, and Jex Thoth. Or I’ll turn on the X-Files on Netflix or some old movie I’ve seen a few times.
Q: If we walked into your home or studio, whose art would we find on your walls?
A: Seth Haverkamp, John Dyer Baizley, and my own.
Q: What are your favorite mediums and why? Is there a medium you enjoy over the other?
A: I work almost exclusively in oil. I’ll do preliminary sketching in pencil and charcoal, and some sketching with watercolor, but almost all of my finished work is done in oils. I really took to oils very quickly, finding it a very intuitive medium for some reason. One of my favorite traits about oil paint is regardless of how opaque a color is it’s still translucent to a point. Layering in oils creates an effect like no other medium can, in my experience. The shimmer and glow you can get with the light hitting the surface and bouncing through the different layers of paint is amazing.
Q: What are some of your favorite art tools and why?
A: I always try to use the best materials I can afford as I find it really does make a difference. As far as brushes, I love my Rosemary & Co. Series 279 Master’s Choice as well as their Ivory brush line. I’ve also Trekell brushes for a long time, I really enjoy their bristle brushes and brush restorer. I use a mix of Rembrandt, Gamblin, and Winsor & Newton paints but am also starting to make my own with dry pigments from Natural Pigments.
Q: Discuss the process you go through to create a piece.
A: My process starts with a vague idea. I’ll start off doing some small sketches just to work out a little bit of what I’m thinking. From there, I’ll do a photo shoot if it’s a portrait, or set up my props if it’s a still life. If my goal is to do a large finished painting I’ll usually start with a small color study to work out my composition, find problem areas, etc. I’ll then prepare my surface starting with a piece of pressboard or MDF. I’ll cut that down to size, apply an initial coat of PVA glue and then 2-4 layers of acrylic ground, sanding between coats. Once the surface is ready to go I get down to business. My paintings take anywhere from 10-80 hours depending on the size and complexity of the piece.
Q: Tell us about your tattoo collection. Whose work adorns your body?
A: I have ¾ sleeves on both arms, my full chest, and my right leg tattooed from the knee down. Matt Burns at Saint Tattoo in Knoxville, TN has done all of my work. I tend to lean towards lots of color and intricate designs in my work. I’m a huge fan of Japanese tattoos and have filled my tattoos with finger waves and flower blossoms intermixed with tentacles, paint brushes, and skulls.
Q: Do you have any plans for future ink for yourself?
A: I definitely have plans for more work, just not sure what. The hardest part is figuring out what I want. Then the fun begins as I start sketching out ideas and collaborating with my tattoo artist.
Q: Tell us about your current projects or anything else you’d like to promote.
A: I’m starting a series dedicated to the people and things in my life that inspire me the most. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to photograph one of my favorite visual and musical artists, John Dyer Baizley from Baroness, for a painting. I’m still in the preparatory phases of that piece but I am very excited for it. There are plenty of other artists and musicians I hope to reach out to in creating this body of work. I’m also working towards a better understanding of the science behind art including experimenting with making my own paint.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for an up-and-coming artist?
A: Be humble. Be kind. Be your own worst critic. Always use the best materials you can afford. No matter how well my paintings turn out, after a week or two I can hardly stand the sight of them. Eventually, all I can see are the mistakes and things I could have done better. While this sucks a little, I think it is very important in progressing in one’s art. Find a teacher. Being self-taught is great, but you can only take yourself so far without someone to guide you. Having a trusted teacher point out not only the successes but also the flaws in your painting, then take the time to help you correct them is priceless.