Thomas William Jones is an artist of place: a Master artist who paints his impressions of the places where he has lived and what he has loved. The rural environment of his native OH first inspired his artistic gifts. And since 1967, the Pacific Northwest with its low light, long shadows, and rich hues has drawn them forth, like a conductor draws forth the musical gifts and passions of his orchestra.
Tom was born on August 13th, 1942 in Lakewood, Ohio. He was a kid when they first moved into their Bay Village home, located along the shoreline of Lake Erie. It was during those initial Bay Village days that he remembers discovering earlier paintings that his father had done. Finding those watercolor paintings was a real beginning for him. “I remember watching my dad set up his paints on an old card table, usually about every other weekend.” Although Tom’s father wasn’t an artist by profession, he painted all his life. When recalling his father working with his brushes, paper and Windsor Newton paints, Tom says, “I think I was born with the Windsor Newton gene! I developed a sense of watercolor watching my dad paint.”
Tom grew up painting at a table alongside his dad and listening to stories of life during earlier Bay Village days. And while he and his father painted, Tom was also observing. Those images and stories came together, transferred into Tom’s heart and soul. He learned how to develop paintings and how paintings can tell the story of a place. Watercolor became natural for Tom, and he developed the ability to transfer his impressions to a painting. From that point on, Tom has always loved watercolors. He “thinks in watercolor” and visualizes completed paintings in that medium.
As a kid, Tom remembers exploring the fields and woods with his dad and younger brother who also had a strong ability of painting in watercolors. Discovering other areas of Northern Ohio with its unique history, weather moods, and wildlife impacted his love of the landscape. All were deeply impressed upon his heart, giving him a sense of place. “Those beginnings were sort of my essence, my DNA, as far as watercolor goes,” he says.
Tom was also very fortunate to have Russ Larsen as his art teacher throughout junior and high school. Around 1956 or ’57, unbeknownst to Tom, Russ submitted one of his paintings for the National Scholastic Art Awards. Although Tom didn’t realize it at that time, the gold key award he won was a turning point. This kept him going and encouraged his latent artistic gifts. Russ continued following Tom’s career and became a life-long friend.
Amber’s Horse, Artists of America Exhibition,
Education and beginning career
After Tom graduated from Bay Village High School in 1960, he attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. Tom recalls, “Art school was the best thing for me and I was fortunate to go to the Cleveland Institute of Art. I had some great instructors, some who had been there up to forty years.”
Tom recalls at the time of not having a lot of patience for detailed studies, but instead wanted to ‘get to the brush’. Being able to visualize what he saw as a completed painting, he knew he could get things down faster with a brush.
During the summers of art school, Tom worked as a ‘line boy’ at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. He obtained his private, commercial, and instrument ratings by doing aircraft paintings and landscapes for corporate pilots. Like with painting, he was inspired in aviation by his dad. (Tom continued his interest in flying and today flies his restored 1950 Cessna 140.)
After graduation in 1964, Tom decided he didn’t want to go on for a fifth year to get a teaching degree. He just wanted to get going! Knowing he was a good artist, but not having a lot of direction at that point, he then joined the National Guard. After the six months of active duty, he worked for an aviation corporation near Cleveland doing artwork. After a couple years, he got his first big break, a commission that would bring him West in 1967!
General Telephone Company of the NW was adding a new addition to their headquarters in Everett. The company president wanted the public to experience the rural areas they served through an artist’s paintings.
At that time, General Telephone Company represented the outlying areas of the Northwest: From rural Washington to western Montanaand down the coast into northern California. So there was a wealth of places for Tom to explore. He was able to travel to those places and meet the heads of the different regions. They took him around and showed him what was of interest in those spots. Then he was free to roam around and discover what excited him about those places. Tom says, “I was fortunate being able to have free reign. It was pretty special. It was a real challenge too. I agreed to do twenty five paintings and thought I could do two a month. Then thought, “Wow! I sure hope I can do two a month!”
The Northwest was new territory for Tom. He had never been west of the Mississippi. This challenging year also turned out to be a wonderful one. And he DID finish up on time!
In the middle of that year his technique changed from a more opaque approach to a looser transparent one. A lot of that change was due to the Northwest light. The sun was lower in the horizon due to the latitude, especially during the Fall months when he first arrived. Tom recalls, “I was totally immersed in the new angle of light compared to the Midwest and was simplifying my compositions because of it. The light was enhancing only portions of landscape, one side of a subject, part of a face. With these deeper contrasts and organic hues of the Northwest, I was ‘freeing up’ in terms of light and dark.”
The commission brought Tom to the Northwest and he’s lived here ever since. But roots go deep. Tom still loves that part of the country where he grew up. It is a part of him, as the Northwest has become a part of him too.
Another big change for Tom happened when he met a special person named Carrie in 1968 and they tied the knot in 1973. Tom says of Carrie, “Although not an artist, she’s developed an ‘eye’ for art and is a tremendous sounding board for understanding the ups and downs of painting. In Carrie I have the biggest fan when encouragement is needed. With her, I have another right arm!”
Painting the White House
Tom had a second big break. Here is how it came about. He was part of the invitational Artists of America exhibition in Denver for twenty years; from 1980-2000. During one of those exhibits, he met a gentleman who at the time was on the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities. He thought Tom’s art would make a wonderful Presidential White House Christmas card, so made a presentation to Mrs. Reagan’s social staff. Mrs. Reagan liked Tom’s work and chose him to paint the Blue Room for their 1985 card.
Tom spent several days in the Blue Room creating preliminary drawings, but did the actual painting in his studio. Mrs. Reagan loved his art so much that she asked him to create the cards for the next three years (1986-1988). Those subjects were East Room, State Dining Room and North Entry Hall and he was free to choose any composition he wanted. As before, studies were done at the White House, but the paintings were created back in Tom’s studio. The artists are not compensated, but they keep their original art. He kept one and the others are in private collections. Tom was honored to have some of his studies included in the White House Historical Collection.
A Moment Alone, 1st place, Rocky Mountain National
In addition to his dad & Russ Larsen, there are others who have influenced him as an artist.
Tom recalls as a child having latched onto watercolor artists featured in hunting and fishing magazines. Most notably, the New England artist, Ogden Pleissner. Years later, Tom and Ogden were both included in one of Artists of America exhibitions and their paintings were hung in the same room. “It was a special time to express to him how much I had admired his work and the inspiration I received from it,” Tom remarks.
“I also recall in the early 1960s flipping through an issue of American Artist and on the watercolor page was Donald Teague’s Gold Medal winner from AWS, The Façade, and it was absolutely beautiful! Many years later I had an opportunity to tell him so at an exhibition we were both in.”
Tom continues: “The Northwest has been fertile ground for developing friendships with great people, many of whom happened to be artists. Among those are Mike Burns, William F. Reese, Perry Acker and the Dorseys. Carrie and I have been blessed to have lasting friendships with many collectors whose support and encouragement are like adrenaline to an artist. All have influenced our lives in so many ways.”
For Tom, the beauty of watercolor is having an impression of what you want to create on that white sheet of paper and then to see that magic happen…to see it come alive! It is having everything unified where one cannot tell where it started or ended. Tom sums it up, “To have that happen on watercolor paper is one of the joys of painting for me.”
When it comes to watercolor, it is the light coming through his pigment that delights Tom the most. “Actually I like the paper light more than the pigment itself”, he says. “That feeling is very elusive in describing. But for me, it’s that beautiful light that comes through the paint that gives it that vibrancy.
Sioux Moccasins, AWS Bronze medal
When asked about lessons for the next generation of artists, Tom jokes, “Don’t do it! Don’t ever do it!”
Tom points out that artistic life is a journey. “The lessons and experiences are going to be different for everybody due to the nature of art itself. There are no set paths, but there are certain ‘givens’ that I try to follow. Find an artistic route that’s comfortable for you. Keep walking and building confidence in your abilities. Maintain high standards while believing in your talents. Show your art wherever and whenever you can. And if there are rejections, know that we all have had them. Accept those as positives and keep going with encouraging people surrounding you.”
Tom believes that at a certain point in time there is a need for a little bit of selfishness, so you have to paint for yourself first.
Tom hopes that others have connected with what he has created over the years and in doing so, they will remember images or conversations about his art. He would like to think that others will ‘live’ in his art, as he has done. And it seems they have. Over the years, Tom has received recognition for his artistic gifts, winning many awards. His paintings are sought after by collectors nationwide.
Tom’s gift is to have deep impressions of places he has lived and loved and to be able to put those on the white of watercolor paper to bring you to those places with him.