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San Clemente Journal

Tom Swimm: The Master is the Student

Nov 21, 2014 09:33AM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

Have you ever wondered why artists paint standing up with a canvas vertically placed on an easel in front of them? Tom Swimm, notable award winning Laguna Beach artist and San Clemente resident has the answer. “Because it’s always at eye level, which is where the painting is meant to be viewed from.” 
Sounds simple, but visualizing spatial and size relationships in drawing and painting is the hardest part of creating an art piece, and most artists use a grid to help them. Tom suggests beginners work from photographs whenever possible because it teaches new painters about shapes and sizes and their relativity.
Someone once said that creativity is always a leap of faith as one is faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage. Artist Tom Swimm has faced and conquered all three in his lifetime. Mostly self-taught, Tom is still learning, still expanding his personal journey.

When I grow up, I’m going to be…an artist?
Not many 12 year olds are definite about what they want to be when they grow up, and even fewer know that they are going to be a famous artist. Tom knew he needed to create. When he left his family’s home in Missouri after high school, with just a couple of art classes under his belt, he headed for the big city. He landed a job as a graphics designer in New York City, working for an advertising firm. 
“It was just like Madmen,” says Tom. “I learned my graphic artist craft with crazy on-the-job training. I learned about the business end from ‘the suits,’ the company marketing and sales executives. That’s a range that most artists don’t experience and it has helped me tremendously in managing the business of art.”
Painting is 90% seeing,
10% painting.
Tom has realized his dream of becoming a well-known artist in his own right. He has become a familiar name in the art world, known for his special gift of manipulation of light and shadow in his landscape paintings. His favorite light to work with is the afternoon light following a storm. 
“The shadows have light and color to them, too”, he says.  
His colorful landscapes reflect the love and influence he especially feels for the scenic beauty of Hawaii as he tells his stories on canvas. His personal goal is to have his audience experience a moment in time, letting his work draw the viewer into the painting.  

Author, Author…
For most people, fame in one area would be enough. But Tom is also a much sought after author and playwright. Many years, after Tom came to the West Coast from New York with his wife and son in 1982, he worked for the Walter Foster Company. Walter T.Foster was an artist, art instructor, writer, editor and publisher who realized that many of his Laguna Beach artist friends were interested in teaching art and writing how-to books about it. The Walter T. Foster Publishing Company’s line of art manuals were widely distributed to art stores. Tom was engaged in writing and designing self-teaching books on art for the company.
“That was a challenge,” says Tom. “I had to photograph and write about each stage of the painting I was illustrating for the books. Although it was a little frustrating to have to stop after each step, I learned a lot about my own process while I was doing it.” 
His books are still available and relevant popular guides for beginning artists. His advice to them is “just do it.” Tom believes that the most important thing an artist can learn is confidence. The worst enemy of a beginner is that they think their first painting must be perfect.
That process next carried over to his authoring of several plays, produced in LA and Seattle. After taking a few classes at South Coast Reparatory Theater here in Orange County, he decided that he could better understand the characters he was writing about if he took a few acting classes. That led to a lead role in “Other People’s Money” (playing Danny Divito’s role).

Next on the program…
Tom recently was elected to the helm of the San Clemente Art Association, an honor he is very excited about. As president, his first priority is to learn about all the member artists. Among his goals for the organization are: more visibility in the community; a voluble increase in membership; an awareness in the community that the artists are approachable; greater attendance at SCAA sponsored events; becoming more involved and active with the younger members of the community, such as the Boys and Girls Club.
“Kids are obviously our future. When it comes to art, I love seeing the kids creating their own artistic visions,” he says. 
Tom’s activity in the community has already increased appreciation for the artist’s generativity. He has donated paintings to other organizations to help them with fundraisers, including the Boys and Girls Club. His recent donation of an astounding work to the Watershed Task Force’s annual art auction event brought the highest bid on a painting in many years, allowing them to supplement the funding for their annual Earth-Day event. 

Still growing ...
Tom isn’t finished discovering his own creative gifts. He also enjoys the gift of music, playing guitar, piano, and New Orleans-style blues harmonica. In his “spare” time, Tom is exploring golf, cooking (especially stir-frying) and has discovered that he loves to bake. His favorite cake? No, it’s not chocolate, it’s a delicious, satisfying coconut cake recipe that he got from the Cedar Inn Grill in Long Beach.
Just coming off the summer’s Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts prestigious juried art show, one of the nation’s oldest and most highly acclaimed art shows, Tom’s newest work is currently on exhibit at the Pacific Edge Gallery, 540 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.
Tom Swimm is a master of the bold stroke. After having a brief conversation with this extraordinary San Clemente resident, it becomes very clear that he is “painting standing up” where the view of his goals for our artistic climate is meant to be seen.