In spite of the clear fashion faux pas in the left hand image, well actually both images...... the mural I stand in front of is a garage door in Lake-Shore Toronto, the painting of which played an important part in rekindling my passion to paint - thanks largely to the wonderful family who commissioned the work. Canada has a special place in my heart and crops up often in my forest paintings.
I have a degree in Illustration from Portsmouth University, I got a good degree but only because my tutors managed to talk me into putting my painting ambitions on hold until I graduated. It was a 2-week trip to Canada at the end of the second year and some unexpected commissions for paintings that arose from it, that ignited a need to paint and a direction for my slightly chaotic existence. Upon graduating, I returned to Canada for 6 months and completed numerous commissions; this allowed me to visit family in California.
Unfortunately the Canadian work visa does not have a box to tick next to the heading 'Artist'. Come on Canada. Upon returning home to the UK after several successful and enjoyable months away I had an unrealistic idea of how easy it is to make a living as a painter. " Well in Canada I just painted some pictures and then sold them" was what I told myself.
In the UK it has been a slower and more realistic curve, more like 10 years rather than 4 months, but painting is still my passion and I thank Canada and my great friends and contacts there for helping me to realise that.
Preceding all this I was a bit of a loner as a child, in summer in the late 80's and early 90's I would spend hours on the Brent Knoll in somerset - below which my grandparents farmed - with only their German Shepherd Katy for company. There was a thicket with a badger sett, fossils in the steep field, kestrels on the hump field, rabbit skulls everywhere, newts in the livestock troughs, all kinds of bugs to be found under logs and in the air and buzzards up in the sky. This and my dad dragging me on rainy hiking trips to North Wales - cemented my love for the outdoors and particularly an interest in birds.
After gaining my teaching qualification from Brighton University in 2011 I took a job teaching ceramics in Leicestershire and loved it. My own art work went onto the back burner for a while, teaching is great and rewarding but pretty all consuming, it is a good job we get the holidays to recover.
It was a life-changing event in 2014 that made me realise I had to make my own art again regularly. Late in that year after completing a summer cycling trip from London to Italy to mark my 30th year, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn's disease* after 4 years of unexplained stomach pains. A very difficult Sept and Oct, followed by major surgery in November, then complications and Christmas and New Year in hospital, feeling sinfully sorry for myself all the while. All this certainly gave me time to reflect and also go slightly mad (sometimes helpful in art) I recovered in time for early spring and the birth of our first Child.
Life seemed so incredibly full and meaningful in early 2015, still medically very challenging as I now had a ileostomy bag (that takes some getting used to believe me) which would be reversed 18 months later. I would go up to my loft studio when our daughter was asleep in the room below, and paint, trying to put all the frantic ideas that had come to me in hospital into the work. Some spiritual, a lot about family, most about the natural world and all probably medication induced. The artwork 'Quercus' came out of all this, I poured everything into it, into that painting of an old tree.
"300 years it grows and 300 more it stays, supreme in state, and in 300 more, decays."
After the birth of our second child in Dec 2017, 2018 was a busy and challenging year, which included the construction of an art studio at our new home. Studio up and running 2019 was a prolific year with over 50 original oils completed. I still paint ancient trees and birds but have also taken to overgrown thickets and old tangled orchards, hedges and bramble patches, places where humans don't seem to have been for a while. These are my favourite places, pockets of beauty in the otherwise seemingly industrial countryside.
My children have also started to appear in my artwork, I suppose this was an inevitable outcome as I have always painted things I love.
I am head of Art and Design at the Croft School in Stratford-upon-Avon. croftschool.co.uk where I have the immense privilege of being paid to teach fun and creative projects to lovely children.
I also garden, since 2015 I have taught part time and stepped into the family business for the remainder. I am hooked and you can see pictures of my handy work from time to time on my Instagram feed alongside other art. I particularly love old traditional techniques like hedge laying and willow weaving and am lucky enough to have some wonderful clients who allow me to indulge. Gardening has to be the highest form of Art, right up there with chamber music.
I am always interested to hear about ancient trees, some of the best I've seen have been from word of mouth recommendations and most of them end up in a painting at some point. If you know any good ones please get in touch.
I paint with oils, mixed media and when I want a challenge - watercolours. I love to draw with charcoal, pen, graphite and mess about with clay. Thanks for reading, a bit wordy I know but I hope it was an artist's bio like no other... I also hope you enjoy the artwork.
Tom (March 2020)
*If you ever want to ask me questions about Crohn's disease or conditions I am always happy to chat. I am in no way a doctor, but I know how hard it is. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone who knows a bit of what you are going through. My email is on the contact page.