My name is Tom, I’ve been a professional Artist in some form for around 15 years or so.
I started off creating custom artwork on musical instruments using spray paint and pens. I
then changed direction completely and moved to alla prima oils, painting more classical subjects. My other great love growing up was wildlife, in particular birds. I was a pretty geeky kid when it came to this actually. Funnily though it took a while for my painting and wildlife to meet, but when I started painting birds, that was it, a huge turning point in my career for many reasons.
Through teaching private groups I discovered acrylics and fell in love with this medium for some years, but over the last 5 years I have turned to watercolour, and it is here where I feel I have really found my artistic voice. I have just completely fallen in love with it as a medium. Whilst it can have a reputation of
being a very gentle and potentially a bit wishy washy, in reality it is a completely wild beast of a medium!! I often feel I am trying to tame it just long enough to make some sort of sense on the paper. It can be so unpredictable which leaves so much room for happy accidents and it has a very “of the moment” and improvisational nature to it...which I love! It also is made for capturing light and mood. All of these qualities are why I love it so much. I do paint a wide range of subjects, but wildlife is very much a core subject which is always there.
How do you support wildlife conservation and why do you choose to do so?
I enter paintings into various art conservation exhibitions and competitions, the David
Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year being probably the most well known, but there are
many others too. A portion of all sales go towards conservation.
I am also involved in a couple of artist collectives which have at least one exhibition a year,
purely aimed at raising funds, and awareness, for various conservation efforts and organisations. Artists for Painted Dogs being one of these.
I have at various time also created my own exhibitions or had studio sales where a percentage of all sales go to conservation.
I try to share as much as possible, alongside my art, about issues close to my heart; trying to use art as a platform and tool to raise awareness of certain issues. As a result I have found myself surrounded by like minded artists and there always seems to be some sort of event, exhibition, podcast, live zoom, webinar etc etc on the horizon that is involving art and conservation in some way....being part of these things as an artist is hugely rewarding!
I do host a podcast, Creative Perspectives. Many of the guests on this have been wildlife
artist, so the topic of conservation and the role of art is always an interesting point of
discussion. It does feel like I am able to give back in at least some small way to the natural world from which I draw so much pleasure, and which provides me so much inspiration as an artist.
At the very least I feel we have a responsibility to look after this world and lessen our
footprint as much as possible. On a deeper level, try to find our lost connection with nature
and get back to working with her, rather than taking from her. I am far from perfect but am
always trying to push my personal choices, and the way I operate my business and my
artistic practice, to be in closer alignment with this ideal.
It is not always clear exactly what the role of art is in this idea and process, but I do feel it
is big part of it for me, and I have seen the power of art to engage others and do good.
What has been your biggest learning curve as an artist?
Oh wow...that’s a great question! As an artist I would say the need to let go of the end result and focus more on the process. Watercolour has taught me to be far less attached to the outcome and to learn to ride process of the painting. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. I feel I have got a place where I am fine with that (99% of the time at least), and this is hugely liberating. I have found it has opened up my creativity much more, I am having a lot more fun with my painting, and it has made me far more relaxed when I paint. Ironically all leading to a much higher number of successful paintings...
A lesson that I have found translates well into most other areas of my life too.
What is your favourite/ most enjoyable part of being a wildlife artist? Very simply, combining two of my greatest passions - wildlife and painting!
On a deeper level I am fascinated by honing my craft, learning my medium and constantly
pushing to better capture the character and nature of the subjects I love to paint.
It is deeply satisfying and fulfilling, and truly feels like I am doing what I was put here to do!
To then be able to add to this using my paintings to help raise awareness and funds for
conservation is a huge bonus, and feels like it ties in so well.
I must also add that as a community, wildlife artists (and actually on the whole, artists in
general), are just the most wonderful and supportive group of people! I don’t feel there is
any sense of competition. It is nothing but appreciation, support, kindness, collaboration,
and lots of artist united by the same love.
Lost Connection. Watercolour on paper. 22” x 30”
A lone orangutan desperately seeks connection to a single flower through human technology.
This is actually a very different piece for me. It is the first time I ever really tried to create a piece that had a very clear message. A fairly obvious one at that. On top of that I just really like the way it came out as a finished piece, as well as getting a great response from people. I think the message is fairly obvious, but also open for interpretation. It was really just a simple comment on our loss of connection with nature (as a whole), something which I believe is the underlying root cause of so many different conservation issues. The orangutan I feel is relatable, because of their closeness to us in so many ways, but they also represent a wilder version of us, one that is, “closer to nature”. It touches on destruction of habitat, one last remaining flower a symbol of that.
The use of the headphones was a slightly tongue in cheek comment on a few different adverts involving wildlife and human technology, and posing the question; as humans do we really represent the pinnacle of intelligence? As well as just a nod to the idea that technology is not always the answer, in fact often it is often the problem (don’t get me wrong, technology can be great, and I love it!), and maybe we are sometimes seeking connection in the wrong places or in the wrong ways.
Which species are you most involved or interested in supporting through conservation projects?
The Artist for Painted Dogs collective has been a wonderful project, and whilst the clue is
in the name; they actually support a wide range of conservation projects.
On my own I tend to focus on UK based projects, in particular the Wildlife and Wetlands
Moving forward I plan to focus my attention and efforts on projects closest to my heart and
home. This being not only WWT but also UK Marine Wildlife and Environmental Projects,
Water and Plastic Pollution, and the Coastal National Park here where I live in Pembrokeshire, Wales (famous for Skomer Island, puffins, gannets, marine mammals and so much more!)
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
Hmmm...It would either be a bird, something big that can soar effortlessly. Might sound quite random, but I have always had a special affinity with Frigate birds! One was also the logo for my very first art website 15 years ago.
Or, an almost cliché obvious choice, a dolphin, because they are excellent surfers (ha!) and to me represent fun and freedom....but let's go Frigate Bird!
What is the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring wildlife artist? Paint what you love!
Always focus on the getting to know your medium, honing your craft, and really learning
the foundations of good painting. This will stand you in such good stead moving forward
and will solidly lay the platform for you to really improve, get creative, and find your voice
as an artist.
Initially as a wildlife artist interested in conservation and art, do not put pressure on
yourself to be helping conservation immediately through your art. You may well find your
self frustrated and feeling down that you are not “doing more”! Especially if it is something
you feel very passionately about....it will most likely have a negative affect on your art!
I would recommend focus on your painting and loving your wildlife. Just take little steps in
the conservation direction. More involvement and more opportunities will come with time!
Yes, have goals in mind, but there’s no pressure. Enjoy it!