Desmond Blair Paints With Heart and Hands Despite Lack of Fingers
One local artist lives with the classic left brain/right brain constant challenge for dominance, but he likes it that way.
By day, Desmond Blair is an IT infrastructure project manager at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children, operating in a precise, technical world. By night and weekends, he’s a painter tackling the unlimited execution of depicting people’s portraits from scratch on a blank canvass. It’s a balancing act he relishes.
“I think my two sides play off of each other. In fact, when I relax while painting, it helps me come up with solutions for what I need to do at work,” explains Desmond.
Undoubtedly, this 33-year-old artist knows quite a bit about solutions. When he was born with a condition called bilateral hand absence, he was encouraged by his mother and grandmother to keep learning how to do what any other toddler would do. He says it was the resources and support he received as a Scottish Rite Hospital patient that helped him persevere.
“My beginnings with art started with learning how to write. My grandmother first got me coloring, always encouraging me to stay in the lines. She got me scribbling with both hands and made me practice all summer until I built the dexterity to write. From there, I traced pictures until one day I drew Bugs Bunny. That was it. I was in love with cartoons and how comic books were designed,” he recalls.
Desmond says he’s been drawing since he was 5 years old, and got formal artistic training in middle school. He says he tried prosthesises, but oftentimes figured out other ways to get jobs done. For example, he got his first computer while in sixth grade and “took a snapshot of the keyboard in his mind,” which resulted in him rolling across the keyboard without thinking about it.
“By the time I was in college, I was typing 80 to 90 words a minute,” he says.
He pursued 3-D animation during college, and ended up combining arts and technology through computer science. He then did web and graphic design, even teaching computer graphics courses for three years.
“But I missed painting, getting dirty, and using my brushes. In computer graphics, there are less tangibles when completing a major project. In painting, there’s no back button to push, and it’s very inspiring because the challenge is to get the emotions of other people to come through with your brush strokes, and not just have art be a copy of people,” says Desmond.
During 2020, he plans to experiment with nonobjective art.
On average, he’s produced 20 oil portraits per year since 2011, with some displayed at the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.
“But I still love using markers, pens and pencils because those are like artists leaving their fingerprints in their rawest form,” Desmond admits.