Introducing Tom Maxwell, painter and photographer who likes travelling light, and author of Art Club in this very magazine. With a sketchpad and a few pencils in a scenic spot, he enjoys life drawing of historic architecture, which he describes as a ‘delicacy’.
He’s particularly interested in ‘light versus darkness’: how the light bounces on cobblestone, masonry, stone, wood, steel and glass, in the variety of styles and colours Gibraltar is blessed with.
“The light shining on any building brings it to life uniquely. I try to paint it plein air as often as I can, everyday commitments permitting, despite the practical setbacks sometimes, rather than in my studio copying from a photo, because those, no matter how artistic they are in their own right, they don’t always make justice to the genuine lighting, and how it evolves,” he explains.
“When I set up to sketch on site, I can mix the right shades comparing paint to real life, and copy detail and proportions,” Tom continues. “Of course, preliminary photography is helpful when studying how to lay out the prospective lines, and for making a building look three-dimensional on a flat surface. If you can master how to reproduce light realistically on a painting, you will be able to paint anything you can see, in my opinion.”
Also, artistry owes a lot to practice, so he advises to draw often and leisurely, picking subject matters one is naturally interested in: “I am into my history and ornithology, that’s why I sketch landscapes and old buildings, and I dabble in studying birds’ plumage.” When selecting a subject, ask yourself, he advises: “What can I realistically paint in detail, and be satisfied with the outcome? Pick something that will turn out a confidence booster, before moving on to something more complex, or you’ll risk being disheartened and drop the quest.”
He first was drawn to drawing (excuse the pun!) while commuting to London from his native village of Stokenchurch, enjoying views on rolling hills and forests: “I watched it go by day in day out and thought: one day, I shall paint it! I did take many photos of my future subject matters, and those photos are artistically valid in themselves, but I am confident one day I will develop them into a big project in oils.”
Lockdown was the spark that set ablaze his passion.
Tom used to work for an art gallery and printed high-ranking painters’ artwork for a Contemporary Art Exhibition, so he rubbed elbows with big names and drew a trick or two out of them. After moving to Gibraltar with his partner following the first lockdown, Tom found himself with extra time on his hands, having shed the burden of a two-hour each way daily commute, and suddenly was empowered with a new hobby with a purpose: “I started going out at sunset in summer, and sketched buildings and views.”
Lockdown was in fact the spark that set ablaze his passion: “One day to the next, we were told we were ‘grounded’ for ten weeks, so I found myself stuck at home in my village, remotely working, plenty of spare time, and with an art supplies shop remaining open just across the road!”
So, Tom channelled the emergency constructively and brushed upon his back-burner projects: he followed online tutorials and started practising, with acrylics at first, moving to oils shortly after.
“Acrylics are the beginner’s go-to medium, because they dry quickly and you can complete any artwork accordingly, plus you can hide mistakes. Oils, besides being more expensive, have longer drying times, and leave little room for mistakes. Some mistakes are quite obvious in oils, and there’s little the beginner artist can do to rectify or hide those, On the other hand, oils have the sleek finish that I cherish, and allow for texturing, layering and the look I pursue as an admirer of Renaissance and Dutch realism.”
Tom usually paints three different versions of the same subject matter: two on thick paper as ‘dry runs’, the first just by blocking, i.e., painting in the general colours and feels, like an abstract, the second with detail added, and finally he resorts to proper canvas for the final product.
Sketching is key to progress in one’s prowess, as well as learning the science behind art: “To understand portraiture, you need to understand human anatomy, so I do sketch skulls once in a while, as the base for any portrait, and the proportions that any face commands. And to reproduce lighting realistically, you must learn about the physics of light and its hues. In addition, it is paramount to master prospective first, to give depth to your composition, blocking, to colour it in meaningfully, and finally brushwork, which can make or break the overall effect and style.”
He’s musing about setting up an open-air art club for like-minded people to meet somewhere weekly next summer and sketch, while brainstorming for artistic developments. Pieces needn’t be perfect, they’d just have to reflect what one enjoys painting, to communicate an emotion to the onlooker.
A photojournalist by academic formation, Tom is also working on a mammoth project in that branch of figurative arts, where he’s expanding into abstract photography: “It’s a long term task that allows me to think out of the box.” Watch this space.
Keep up to date with Thomas on Instagram @thomasomaxwell or visit www.thomasomaxwell.com.