Artist Spotlights Series:
Tom Small, Sculptor

Welcome to the Artist Spotlights Series, a collection of interviews with local artists. I am pleased to introduce you to Tom Small, an artist currently living and working on San Juan Island Washington. Read on to learn about Tom's thoughts on making artwork, creativity, and artists he admires. Thanks for visiting!

If you like this page, read more interviews at Artist Spotlights.

Tom Small Sculpture, bench. I started making things with my hands as soon as I could hold onto tools. I got into woodcarving in high school and it was natural to pursue art in college where I learned a range of sculpture techniques including bronze casting, welding and more woodcarving. I discovered stone carving while living alongside the Dosewallips River in the Olympic Mountains. I moved to the San Juans to live on top of Cady Mountain and set up a studio.

Tom Small Sculpture, Green River Gift.
How much time do you spend doing your work every week?
I am a 'professional' artist, more by need than a plan. In order to be a sculptor, I must also be a mechanic, a tinker, a bookkeeper, marketer, carpenter, photographer and communicator. It takes seven days a week.

Tom Small Sculpture, Secret Language.What motivates you to begin new projects?
I love exploring new ideas. I love to ask: what if? In fact, I am in danger of never finishing anything because once I understand where a piece is going, I'm tempted to put it down and move on. There are so many questions to ask!

Many pieces are progressions of themes or a way of approaching a material. Some concepts have a sense of endless variation and evolution. When you find a concept like that it might be like striking a vein of gold and following it. Every artist must define for themselves what their work or responsibility as an artist is. For some reason, I've always felt a need to create work that feels new and alive. The newest work feels like it has fallen out of the Cosmos and still has space dust on it. Once you taste that, it's hard to go back.

Tom Small Sculpture, Starseat.Tom Small Sculpture, Into the Orange.

What is creativity?
Creativity is a form of energy. For me it is a bouncing, moving ball or a star or fire or a flower. Creativity is the need to ask the question: What if? Creativity is walking on a path you've never walked on before and then coming to a corner and sensing that something powerful is coming up, but you don't know what it is. Creativity is the courage and need to turn that corner.

Tom Small Sculpture, Big Red.How is the process of art affected by time and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The process of art is a process of constant discovery. It is like the proverbial onion with it's infinite layers. Peel a layer. At first it's fresh and alive, then it ages and hardens. Peel that layer ad go on to the next layer. Is there a magic place at the center? Are we getting closer to it? Ideas and themes evolve and recirculate. They come to the foreground, then fade away.

I hope to become a master of my art, meaning not only t be a better craftsman, but to go more directly and honestly to the heart of my vision. I am becoming more intrigued by the ability of art to tell stories. We will see more of that in the future.

Tom Small Sculpture, Riverbench.What role, if any, does the artist play in society?
Artists pull energy out of the universe of human consciousness and unconsciousness and points beyond and turn that energy into art objects. The art objects are seeds of imagination that grow and reproduce in multiple forms in society. Could we survive without art? Yes, we could still eat, sleep and make babies, but art must have started 50,000 years ago when the first homosapiens felt a sense of awe at something beautiful like a sunset or the moon or their lover's smile. When they remembered the moon the next day and by chance scratched the first circle in the sand and recognized it and learned to do it again, art was born. There was no turning back.

Tom Small Sculpture, Om. If there was no chance of ever being paid, would you still do your work?
I will always be a creative being - money or not. In art school they warned us of the dangers of selling art for money. The dangers are real. However, I love making art too much to do it any less than full time. Sculpture, especially stone sculpture, where a lot of labor goes into one of a kind pieces, requires a full time relationship. So the implication is: some must sell. Tom Small Sculpture, Ram.

What artist would you most like to be compared to?
I wouldn't like to be compared to other artists, but I am inspired by many artists. There are artists like Picasso whose work is courageous. He followed his vision and persisted. There are artists like Van Gogh who are inspiring in the way they pushed the limits of their art  but had hard lives. I guess I wouldn't mind being compared to an artist that lived a long life with some health and some happiness and created a body of work that could be looked upon with satisfaction. I would want that body of work to add new language to the vocabulary of art. Isamu Noguchi was an artist who did this.

Tom Small Sculpture, Big Seat.Tom Small Sculpture, shop at night.

Any advice for aspiring artists?
Persist, experiment and keep asking questions. Look for your personal vision or voice and honor that. Get to know what's going on in the art world. Art school can be great and art books too, but visiting good contemporary museums and galleries can be truly eye opening.

Do art because you love to do it or are compelled to do it, not to earn money or gain fame. I find that the art I have the most fun making is often my best art. I'm sure it will be the art I'll feel best about over time.

This interview with Tom Small for the Artist Spotlights Series was completed on March 9, 2012. For more information about Tom and his work, please visit Tom Small Sculpture.

Read more Artist Spotlights:
Robin Atkins, Patti Barker, Yvonne Buijs-Mancuso, Cinda Sue Dow, Beth Hetrick, Peggy Sue McRae, Jan Murphy, Kevin Roth, Lewis Spaulding, Nancy Spaulding, Margaret Thorson, Virginia Van Camp, Paula West

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