Author: Charlotte Bearn

Q&A with Tom Lewis

Let's delve deeper into the magical world of Tom Lewis, whimsical Japanese inspired prints, a marriage proposal and a parachute!

What or who are the main inspirations behind your work? At the moment, it’s a mixture between old Japanese woodblock prints, invented stories and characters that are slowly developing a life of their own, and layers of information. Which I’m aware doesn’t make very much sense, but the long answer might be too boring for words!

How do you approach the actual making of a piece? Whether it’s a painting or a sculpture, I usually start off with a pencil sketch. This goes through a couple of versions, before deciding which way to go next. If it’s going to be a sculpture (which is quite new for me) I’ll start trying to make a small version out of clay, before then trying to work out what the hell people make sculptures out of and whether my brain will let me think in 3d enough to make something look like I want it to.

If it’s a painting I’ll either start straight onto a canvas and get on with it, or I’ll scan it into the computer and re sketch it digitally. I often do the backgrounds digitally and print them on like wallpaper, then work on these, sanding them down etc before drawing the characters back on top and then painting them with acrylics and spray paint and anything else I can reach.

What’s your medium? It changes, but usually involves – Acrylic, aerosol, pens, airbrush, charcoal, Photoshop and more recently sculpey and jesmonite.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Blue Staedler pencil leads.

What themes do you pursue? I like suggesting stories and narratives that are totally invented, but have enough texture and detail to suggest a whole world in which it exists. At the moment I’m continuing to explore these worlds and flesh them out. Not sure how far I want to go, as I like the viewer to have to supply a lot of it themselves, but we’ll see...

What are you currently working on? I’m about to start sketching for my next collection of paintings, and also working on some larger sculptures that I’m really excited about but are probably going to take years to finish.

Describe your work in 5 words. Nonsensical, beautiful, whimsical, Japanical, vivid.

Describe an average day for you. I should make something up that sounds inspirational and romantic, but if I’m not totally immersed in painting or making in the months leading up to a show, I’ll probably just be doing really boring ‘business’ stuff.

Does the impact of the viewer influence your work and if so how? I’m not sure I understand the question! I think it’s probably quite a complex circular thing...I make work for myself, but part of that process involves a desire to show it to people, and for them to like it enough to give me money for it, so that I can carry on making work for myself!

What memorable responses have you had to your work? “Well, it’s definitely not tasteful is it?” and “I don’t understand, am I missing something?” and then at the last show someone proposed in front of one of my paintings!

What led you to become an artist? The idea of applying paint to canvas makes a large part of my soul sing and has done for as long as I can remember.

What’s your strongest memory of your childhood? My dad winning a WW2 parachute at a raffle and my brother and I going home, cutting the parachute off, tying the harness up to the highest point of a tree in our garden and throwing ourselves out. Repeatedly.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist? Umm...Pizza delivery man (Genuinely loved this job), computer games tester (thought I’d love it but hated it) art shop assistant and worked in a call centre, at which I was laughably sh*t. I also worked in the BHS cafe when I was 15, for £2.18 an hour. £2.18 an hour!

When are you happiest? When I’ve finished varnishing a painting and I haven’t f**ked it up.

What superpower would you have and why? I’d settle for being able to say no in a friendly yet assertive manner.

What’s your favourite or most inspirational place? Went to Japan for the first time this year – that was pretty amazing.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? My old college tutor Colin Wright asking “What do you want to do?” I said paint, and he said “well just paint then”. I may have thought about that every day for 10 years.

In another life (if you weren’t an artist) what would you be doing? I would have liked to have a go at racing cars for a living, but I’d probably working in a BHS cafe somewhere!