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Tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from originally?
I now live in Florence, Alabama, but I grew up on a farm in Mississippi. My days were filled with walks through the woods, hills, and hollows with my father and uncle. These experiences have undoubtedly influenced my attraction to pastoral landscape painting today. I grew up watching my former Merchant Marine father paint ships and landscapes using colored pencils.
You have been illustrating for over 30+ years.
Why do you prefer painting over drawing? And why landscapes and portraits in particular?
Drawing is the basis of landscape and portrait painting; developing drawing skills is extremely helpful when painting landscapes or portraits. Drawing is beneficial to achieve correct placement and proportion in your paintings. Carrying drawing to the next level by adding color and texture adds excitement and interest. In painting, artists can add the passion or emotion aspect that shows creativity and imagination. I enjoy landscapes, first of all, because I enjoy “plein air” painting due to the closeness to nature that I encounter outside, trying to capture a scene on canvas before the light changes. On site, I am affected by the light, shadows, atmosphere, weather, the sights, sounds, smells – all of my senses are affected by the experience of painting outside. If you can paint light, you can paint anything. Plein air painting has opened up a whole new world for me and my wife. We have traveled to Canada, Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming to paint, in addition to painting in Alabama. In May, we will be traveling to the Southwest to paint in New Mexico and Arizona.
As for portraits, I have always been a “people” person. I am fascinated with faces. Even when I watch television with my wife, I am analyzing different features of a person’s face whereas she is concentrating on the dialogue. I enjoy sketching the “talking heads” on television talk shows, trying to capture the likeness of several at a time as the show moves from one participant to another. A portrait is the most difficult type of painting to do. You must not only capture the likeness of a model but attempt to portray the personality and mannerisms, as well.
Your paintings use a vast array of colors. How did your painting style develop?
How do you select a feature, such as a face, setting or animal, to focus on within your paintings?
My painting style has developed by painting almost every day over the past 5 years. When I started out, I put far too little paint on my palette and then painted too thinly because of the fear of making mistakes. After painting hundreds of 6×8 and 8×10 panels on location, most of which I discarded, my self confidence improved and I was able to paint thicker and more loosely and to keep and sell more of the works. I have also taken numerous workshops with master painters like Kevin Macpherson, Ken Auster, Kenn Backhaus, Roger Dale Brown, John Budicin, Scott Christensen, Paula Frizbe, Ned Mueller, Michael Shane Neal, Jason Saunders, and Dawn Whitelaw.
Today, all of my paintings are done using a limited palette of cadmium red light, cadmium yellow light, ultramarine blue, transparent oxide red, alizarin crimson, and titanium white. By using a limited palette I can achieve harmony in a painting almost automatically because all of my colors are produced by mixing the primary colors. I can mix almost any color that I want with these few colors. Remember your color printer has only three colors of ink plus black to obtain all of the colors that you print on your printer.
I determine the object (or focal point) based on what will make the best composition for the painting. I look for light effects on objects. I am also looking for something that inspires me; otherwise I am wasting my time – there will be no creativity or passion involved if I am not inspired.
What materials do you use to produce your work?
As I mentioned above, I use a limited palette of the primary oil colors. Using a palette knife and an assortment of sizes in flats, brights, and filbert bristle brushes, I paint wet-into-wet. I have also found that a variety of sizes of Langnickel 5590 Royal Sable brushes are useful for architectural work and blending. I prefer to paint on canvas panels for my plein air work, but in the studio, I use stretched canvas. I prefer to use odorless Gamblin Gamsol and tissues to clean my brushes as I paint. At the end of the day I wash my brushes using Marvelous Marianne’s Savvy Hand and Brush organic cleaner. To avoid cracking of the paint, I coat my paintings with Dammar varnish either within one month of completing my paintings or one year later (as recommended on page 22 of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson). For my plein air painting, I use an Open Box M as my easel. In the studio, I use a large easel that I adapted using my sturdy professional photography tripod. My studio palette is one that I manufactured using ideas gathered from Richard Schmid’s video.
Take us through the process of one of your ‘favorite’ paintings. (From idea, sketches, etc.)
What inspires you and how do you title each piece?
The key for my inspiration has to be the effects of light on objects, animals, or people. To create the studio painting, “Horses of the Tetons,” I searched through my personal digital photos on my computer to locate an appropriate mountain scene from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (In my former life I attended Kodak’s Professional Photography School in Winona, Indiana). After I had selected the overall scene, I found a photo that I had taken of some horses in that area. Using PhotoShop I placed the horses in the mountain scene at an appropriate angle and location. I always determine the direction of the light first; this is very important. Using PhotoShop I enhanced the light on the “focal point” horse to agree with the direction of the light on the trees. This composite photo became my “motif” to translate into oil. I believe the best titles of paintings are those that I arrive at spontaneously. Usually as I paint, the title will suddenly become apparent to me.
How do you keep yourself motivated and interested in painting?
Do most, if not all, of your artworks reflect your mood at the time of creation?
I have numerous videos by Richard Schmid, Kevin Macpherson, Scott Christensen, and others that spark my interest and motivate me to press on. I also gain much inspiration from talking with other artists, attending their exhibitions, and visiting art museums on all of our travels around the country.
Yes, my mood affects my paintings. As Kevin Macpherson says, “Sometimes you may as well just go to a movie if you are not inspired to paint that day.” If it happens to be a very gray day, I cannot paint outside; I must have light to be inspired.
Is there any advice you’d give to those aspiring to be artists?
Paint every day. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Don’t worry about failed paintings; they happen to the best of us.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; art is knowing which ones to keep.”
– Sam Scott
For more information about Tommy Thompson and to view more of his work visit: