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The Art of Tom Shepherd- part one

Tom’s studio!

Another interview- this time with Tom Shepherd, another fantastic artist who is taking part in the Warwickshire Open Studios. I met Tom at an event I helped to run, and so I was lucky enough to actually see him paint. I love his technique and I’ve been itching to find out more about his work, so here is the first half of my interview with him. Enjoy!

Morning Light by Tom Shepherd



Firstly, could you tell me about yourself and how you came to be an artist?

I’m homing in on 28 years old and currently make my living as an artist.

I grew up around Stratford-Upon-Avon and as most kids do, I absolutely loved to draw, create and make a mess.  As I grew up, the amount I did these things became less and less but the love of drawing and art always stayed with me, bubbling away under the surface; I was always doodling in the margins of my workbooks when I should have been writing essays and solving equations.

I stuck with Art through school but could never really ‘get into it’ and whilst I knew people made a living as an artist I had never even considered it as a possibility for myself.

Feathered Flight by Tom Shepherd

So in 2003 I moved to Swansea to study Geography for 3 years, after which I spent a 4 month stint living in a van and travelling down the coast of Europe and Morocco.  It was directly after I returned from this trip, with a head full of inspiration and a wide open road of possibilities ahead of me, that art decided it was time to stand up and make itself known……..purely by chance I had a guitar lying on the floor next to me and three different coloured POSCA paint pens.

Butterfly Effect by Tom Shepherd

The natural thing to do seemed to be to combine the two, and so I painted my first guitar with a big red and yellow octopus on it.  At this point I was a huge fan of a modern American Artist called Drew Brophy who specialized in using these paint pens.  This is why I had a set, although I’d never actually got round to trying them out.  This single minor event opened up the floodgates and I began to draw again every day.

Early Walkers by Tom Shepherd

I moved back to Swansea to be by the sea where I continued to draw, and even painted a few more guitars.  Eventually I decided to build a small website to show these drawings, paintings and guitars and I started to promote it a little bit.  I began buying in standard guitar bodies, painting them and then selling them on.  It was a steep learning curve with many failures and mistakes but I started to hone the skills and techniques of designing, painting and finishing guitar bodies.  Slowly but surely requests for commissioned work came in.  To this date I think I have painted well over 70 guitars, with many private commissions, as well as ongoing work for larger guitar companies and smaller guitar builders.

In Amongst It by Tom Shepherd

Whilst I was producing a great quality item and had a steady stream of work, I was catering to a very niche market and had to run a small one man gardening business alongside to help pay the bills.  After a couple of years of this I was beginning to get slightly frustrated at not knowing how to take things to the next level, and also slightly frustrated at not knowing where I wanted to take my art.

Around this time I was fortunate enough to meet a long time professional artist by the name of Trevor Waugh whose work I greatly admired.  He took me under his wing and I spent 6 months or so in his working studio as an apprentice where he taught me not only to paint in oils but even more importantly, many ideas and concepts of creativity, art history and the nature of the art business as he knew it….a fantastic and invaluable experience that also took my art in a direction I wouldn’t have seen it going, but a direction that feels like it always wanted to go and I just hadn’t quite realized yet, or that it wasn’t ready to go in previously.

The guitar painting, I think, laid some solid foundations for what was to come later and I’m lucky enough to currently paint full time, selling paintings, working to commission and painting a small number of guitars each year.

On your website you mention your approach of capturing the light that falls across a scene rather than focusing on the subject itself. Your way of viewing the world is intriguing- could you tell me more about this approach and how you came to use it?

Double Trouble by Tom Shepherd

When I think back over the years, even when I was much younger, I was always fascinated by lighting. It may just be the light streaming in through a window or doorway into a darker room and the atmosphere it creates; the way you get a suggestion of objects in unlit areas but you don’t necessarily get to see all of them, a sense of mystery that engages the viewer.

Or it might be the many different types of outdoor light from bright sunshine and high contrast to softer evening light and anything in between; or how different the light is in one area, country, or landscape to another. Artificial lighting is fascinating too, and something I’ve never really looked at myself.

Clopton Light by Tom Shepherd

I think the idea of capturing the light is something that many artists and photographers have always been chasing.  I think lighting sets the mood of place or scene, so in attempting to capture the light you’re going directly to capturing the mood rather than getting too caught up in making it look exactly as the scene or photo from which you’re working from.

So for me personally focusing on the light means simplifying the scene right down to its basic forms and helps me to ignore unnecessary detail.  When the light becomes the focus I can just approach a painting in very simple areas of light and dark and the subject will just appear out of this.

Hathaway Haze by Tom Shepherd

When I simplify a painting in this way I find there is much more room for experimentation with colour too (not always my strongest point).  This is always exciting as again colour begins to alter how the painting feels, not just how it looks.

Even with some of my more recent paintings of musicians, where the lighting is not so obviously the focus, I’m still using the same basic principles as above and still asking the question ‘what is the light doing?’

Sally Go Lightly by Tom Shepherd

You are skilled in acrylics, which I have seen first-hand. Which mediums of art do you feel the most comfortable working with and why?

At the moment I feel most comfortable with a brush and work almost entirely in oils, using acrylics to sketch.

Oil paints are great once you know a few basics on how to handle them.  They are hugely versatile and very forgiving.  They can be used thin and washy right through to thick and chunky.  They can be layered and glazed. They stay workable for a long time if needed.  You can blend and smooth them or paint more directly with single brushstrokes. They can be subtle and understated or give rich, vibrant colour.  I like to mix it up and try and use all of these approaches, if not in the same painting, then at least across a few.

Sussex Lights by Tom Shepherd

I generally work on canvases or canvas board, but have also worked on wood (panel and directly onto bare wooden guitar bodies.)  More recently I’ve been using really thick textured gesso on the canvas and I’ve been getting great results, so they’ll be plenty more of that!

I like using big brushes and trying to stay loose, moving to a smaller brush in select areas for any bits of detail if needed. Using a big brush helps me to keep things simple and again avoid unnecessary detail.

Hidden Depths by Tom Shepherd

I occasionally use acrylics which are great too.  They dry much faster than oils so are brilliant for under paintings, sketching, and working outside.  This is good for me as I have very little experience in using water colours which are the traditional medium for artists sketching and doing outdoor studies. I do like to take them through to a finished painting sometimes and due to quick drying times, they can be layered, glazed and used as washes very easily and are a refreshing change to oils.

A huge thank you to Tom for taking part in this interview. Part two of my interview will be posted shortly…

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