For Tom Newsom, one of about six Santa painters across the United States, inspiration comes from the foothills of the Rockies.
“Living in the mountains in Colorado is pretty inspiring,” Newsom said.
For those who have ever completed a Santa puzzle, or seen ASPCA Christmas cards, Newsom’s art might seem familiar. Chances are, it’s his name on those illustrations.
As well, he completed the artwork for the books Indian in the Cupboard, the Wizard of Oz, The Night Before Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and more. Some were for the original copies and some were reprints.
A Texas native, he moved to Colorado in 1981 and resides in Evergreen with his wife, Carol.
Since he was a boy, Newsom has always been drawn to creating artwork. In college, he started off as an engineering major with hopes to work in the space program, which heightened his interest during the 1960s. However, he quickly switched to his passion. In 1971, he graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California as an illustration major.
He gravitated away from astronomy to pursue painting, but the two spheres came together. Newsom was hired to watch a space shuttle launch at Cape Kennedy and create several pieces of art for the Manned Space Flight Art Collection.
His career started off while he was in college, creating illustrations for cash. During the summers in between semesters, he drew portraits at an amusement park to afford tuition. Then, he graduated from art school and his salary ever since comes from his artwork.
“There aren’t very many people who actually make a living at art. I mean, a lot of people go to art school and they wind up doing something else. But I’ve managed to make a career for a long, long time doing artwork,” he said.
Although painting remains as his passion, he does not encourage others to join in.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody,” he said. “It’s a pretty tricky profession. I’ve worked exclusively on commissions, piece by piece. My total income is just dependent on artwork. And so it’s, you know, it’s a chancy thing to work on your own life.”
That discouragement did not come off to his family, as artistry must run in Newsom blood. His wife, Carol, also creates illustrations. His two sons, Andy and Phillip, graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design. Andy, 46, is a graphic designer and Phillip, 42, paints landscapes and animals.
Now, Newsom focuses on painting Santa through the Gouache medium. Gouache is water-based, opaque watercolor style of painting and allows for very fine details. Bright colors come out very bright and dark colors come out very dark, and he uses very small brushes to extract the utmost detail. Over the years, Newsom has created over 150 total Santa paintings.
His process of painting starts out with a commission. A buyer will give him verbal directions, “Santa with puppies,” for example, and then he creates sketches. The sketches are sent back and after receiving confirmation, he will begin his paintings.
All paintings start out with research. Some pieces consist of merely a photograph of a model, but others need more digging. He explained how a commission hired him to paint St. Nick on a motorcycle, and he needed to visit a motorcycle museum. There, he took many photographs of a model next to a 1940s Harley because he knew the motorcycle community needed to see the exact details of their beloved steeds.
For Newsom, hiring models in Evergreen is no big deal.
“They’re pretty easy to find up here in the mountains, old guys with white beards,” he said.
After taking photos of the models, he then starts the process of painting. A typical painting usually takes between a week and ten days, if he works about six hours a day. Once the piece is finished, he sends a digital copy over to the buyer.
For current projects, Newsom remains busy working with two self-publishing children’s books authors to create illustrations, a portrait of a political commentator and a cover of Texas Magazine.
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