Discovering A Passion For Painting

Content via South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association
South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association

He probably never would have picked up a paintbrush had it not been for his spinal cord injury.  Before Blakely Martin sustained a C5 injury in his family swimming pool when he was 17, he “had never slowed down enough to try painting.”

What began as a way to combat boredom turned into a passion that flourished because of his disability.


quadriplegic man painting with a brush in his mouth

Martin’s creations ranges from silhouettes of majestic animals in the wild to serene gardens to an assortment of what he calls creepy villains. It all happens in a creative haven tucked away behind his home. Martin’s studio sits at the end of a quaint stone pathway. Inside the tools of his trade fill every available work surface in an organized clutter. Finished paintings and works in progress are propped up on easels around the room. A wide-eyed Yorkie peeks out from a canvas, awaiting completion on special order for a customer. Above his desk is a photo of the little dog, which he has reproduced with striking realism.

The images that Martin captures in paint are even more impressive when considering they are made with a brush in his mouth.

"My arms and hands weren’t steady enough and fatigued quickly. I just found it easier to hold [the brushes] in my mouth.”

Even though he eventually had surgery to restore some wrist function, he stayed with what worked for him. “It was slow at first, trying to find the best way to do things, but I found I could master a lot more finesse with my mouth.”

Martin also found a rather novel solution to another issue presented by his quadriplegia. Because he can’t reach the top of larger canvases, he has them secured to a special easel that swivels all the way around. With the easel rotated, he paints upside down as he adds rippling blue waters, stately mountain ranges, and towering tree tops.

His paintings are a celebration of color, from the subtle pastels in a European landscape to an explosion of bright flowers by a wrought iron gate. Yet the shades he so masterfully combines can only be appreciated by the people who view them.

Martin himself is color-blind, a fact that he addresses with surprisingly nonchalance.

“I know what the world is supposed to look like, and that’s how I paint it,” he says. The issue, Martin explains, lies in distinguishing between subtleties in  colors. “Take green for example. If it’s too light, I confuse it with yellow. If it’s too dark, it looks like red. I can only see certain shades of green truly as green.”  Always keeping his paint lined up in the same order allows him to choose the best hue, although at times he will ask for a second opinion.

Martin’s medium of choice is oil paint, which he prefers because, “it’s more forgiving when you make mistakes.”  While it may only take him 40 minutes to complete one project, he may spend a period of days on another.  Most finished pieces don’t stay around very long.  Some on are on display at local art galleries. Others sell, primarily through word of mouth, to businesses and individual buyers.

While he enjoys brisk sales of his work, Martin still remembers how it felt the very first time a painting sold. Years ago he donated a mountain scene, with a river running through a valley, to a local fundraiser. “There were several bidders and it was such a thrill that people actually wanted it and bid on it,” he said.

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