Tom Strom‘s art is weird, fun, and imaginative, featuring hybrid animals and grotesque creatures. He’s been tattooing for two decades now (currently at Kynst Tattoo in Deventer) and creating art for even longer than that. Perusing the range of creations in his portfolio, one can’t help but wonder about the creative mind that came up with such images. Tom has kindly shared a bit of his artist story with us:
I grew up as a self-taught artist in Western Massachusetts where there really wasn’t much to do for me. Art was a good outlet and a place for my mind to wander which helped develop my imagination. I spent a lot of time in the woods and being around nature which also was – and still is – very influential in my imagination. I didn’t have much exposure to art or its history. I mostly was inspired to draw from watching a lot of anime, Godzilla and monster movies, and Disney films. These were all things that were drawn or created from the imagination. These were the things that let me know that you could use your mind to create anything you wanted to with no limits. I loved the creature designs in Japanese monster films and anime, which is where I get a lot of my creature mashup creativity from. Disney’s backgrounds, narrative through imagery, and color play are something that I still strive for. Anime also offered the most skilled drawing and attention to detail that nothing else rivals. I mostly drew from these things growing up but still having my own way of doing it.
Drawing with pens, graphite, and colored pencils was it for me through most of my teens. Painting didn’t come to me until later on. Tattooing found me next; this is definitely where I found myself. It’s not like any other medium and those who do it usually fall in love with it. Tattooing offered me an art education that most schools can never offer. You are asked to perform art in so many styles and techniques in this medium that you eventually have an incredible mental library to pull from and use in whatever ways you want. Your mind knows it and your hands can perform it. The style I’ve developed over the years comes from everything I’ve had to draw and apply as a tattoo. I’ve now been tattooing for twenty years and I feel like I have a pretty good library built up.
I picked up painting in the middle of that somewhere. I mostly stuck to acrylics and watercolors for quite a while. I like the immediacy of both and they didn’t seem too serious for me so I just played with them for a while. I felt like I did when I started tattooing, but this time I had complete freedom and didn’t have to worry about healing, bad skin, or moving clients. It allowed me to start applying what I had learned artistically through tattooing and experiment with new ideas. This is where I completely found myself and started to develop a specific look to my work. It allowed me to pull from all the things I watched and drew as a kid and make them more dynamic and fully developed. The imagery and ideas in my work has been consistent since I was a kid and it’s what I feel natural doing so I just let it come out. It’s mostly for me anyway so I never think about who or how someone is going to perceive it. I’m letting you into my worlds so if you want to be here, you just have to enjoy it for what it is and not what you would like it to be.
These days I spend a lot of time reading different views on color theory and painting practices and techniques. I try to get to as many museums as I can to see paintings and their process in person. Recently my wife and I relocated to the Netherlands which allows us more time at some of the best museums. We have the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which is my favorite. It houses an intense collection of Dutch master painters and others as well. Rembrandt’s house is also in Amsterdam; it’s inspiring just stepping foot into that place.
I love going to see artists’ studios and homes. One of my favorites still was getting to visit the Frank Frazetta museum in Pennsylvania when he and his wife were alive. His wife ran the museum and took her time showing and telling us everything she knew. We were lucky enough to be there when Frank was around and he came down from his studio to speak with my friend and me. It was a mind-blowing experience. He talked with us for two hours about every piece he had in there and then let us ask as many stupid questions as we could think of. That was also one of those moments that helped change me as an artist. I was just starting to explore with oils at this point so it was great to get some insight from him. Getting to talk with an artist of his caliber and history was not only inspiring but helped me become more focused. What a day.
I’ve never had any type of agenda with my art or favor for any medium. For me it’s all just being creative. I have my moments with each. I love watercolor and the feel of painting on paper, and the smell of paper. Acrylics on an unprepared wood panel also has a unique feel that I love playing with. Also painting with oils or enamel, both with their smooth properties. I can’t get enough of sculpting either which I need to make some time for soon. Since moving to the Netherlands, I have more free time to learn and paint more. I’m working piece by piece at the moment with each one having its own story and feel. So I’m still exploring ideas. Ideas that I will be pulling together for a narrative collection of paintings in the close future.
We’re definitely looking forward to seeing more artwork from Tom in the near future! In the meantime, check out his portfolio for more fun and odd images and products: