Inside Art with Tom Greenwood
Tom first came to LARA as a student in 2010, after working as an analyst in investment research. He studied for four years and is now working as a privately commissioned portrait painter and tutor.
We asked him about his style, technique and inspiration.
Can you explain your style?
I wouldn't say I have fully defined my style yet but I think of it as impressionistic. I try to paint the essentials accurately and leave out anything not essential. After drawing, the most important element of the painting for me is atmosphere, so I guess that makes me more of an impressionist than a classicist.
How did you get into art?
My mother got me into drawing when I was very young. She is a very good, self-taught painter and that got me into the subject. During the ten years or so that I didn't make any art those early lessons meant that I still had a habit of looking at the world as if it was a series of pictures. However, it wasn't until after being a LARA for a year or so that I really started to develop strong ideas of my own about what art I did and didn't like.
What message are you trying to convey with your art?
Up until now I've only really made one painting that had a strong message, and that was about social justice. In starting to paint landscapes, I've been trying to figure out a way to convey my feelings about human interactions with nature but I haven't yet started to build that theme into the works yet. That said, I think if you can develop a simple appreciation of nature first, that's a good starting point for thinking about more sustainable societies, and landscape painting is one way to do that.
Why do you paint the way you do?
To me, choosing how to paint is all about your priorities. Because I care about atmosphere in my paintings I choose to sacrifice some detail and even some form, sometimes. When I look at a painting with great atmosphere it makes me feel something physical, in a way that a detailed but dead painting can't do. I think art should create an emotive response. A contemporary of Levitan's once said of him that recreation of light effect became his master (my emphasis). I sometimes feel like that, it's more of an obsession that an rational decision.
Who are your inspirations?
Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn, Levitan, Shishkin, Kroyer, Mancini, Edelfelt, Repin, Kramskoi, Velasquez, Friant. There are too many to mention really, and a lot of contemporary painter too, like Richard Schmidt, Hollis Dunlap, Clyde Aspevig.
'Ice has Passed' by Abram Efimovich Arkhipov
What techniques have you learned at LARA?
The two most important techniques I learnt at LARA were sight-size drawing and impressionist seeing. Sight-size, although a very simple technique, once you know it, is one of those fall-back techniques that you can always turn to when the drawing is getting on top of you. I don't use it all the time but I definitely do whenever possible. Seeing like an impressionist is different. Changing the way you see is not something that you learn overnight, it's a gradual process of evolution. I learnt a lot of technical elements as well, like canvas stretching, how to use mediums, pigment properties. Those things won't make you a great painter, but you can't be a great painter without them.
How you do you feel about LARA's teaching methods?
To me, LARA's greatest strength is that it remains rigorous about the fundamentals of drawing and painting, without becoming prescriptive about style or finish. I do think individuality is important in art. If everyone painted the same way we'd all be poorer for it. That said, discipline and rigour are important in teaching a subject which is very exacting and LARA doesn't give students an easy ride, which is important too.