Let there be light
VAIL – There’s something about Tom Lockhart’s paintings that makes you want to jump inside of them.Whether it’s an old farmhouse captured on a snowy morning in January that somehow feels warm or a sunset above Cimarron Valley that puts you at ease only the way evening light can, his whimsical use of illumination and color capture nature at its best.Lockhart prefers plein-air painting, when light appears in its natural form.”First of all, painting from life helps me see it clearer. When I look back in history, we always seem to gravitate to artists like the American impressionists and the French impressionists. The thing that made their paintings so strong is they painted from life. They didn’t sit in the studio thinking, ‘What would this look like.’ They saw it,” he said. “I’m developing a much deeper understanding of nature and light and how light affects things. That’s what painting is anyway, it’s conveying light. A landscape painter has to see it in life to understand it.”When constructing a painting, Lockhart said understanding design and understanding value is what makes good art. He divides the composition in thirds; one-third sky and two-thirds ground or two third sky and one-third ground. He uses value, or the scale color from white to black, to create character. He pays careful attention to the way light hits a mountain top and the colors and shadows that result. He fades cool colors off into the distance, while warm colors come forward. When Lockhart brings the elements together in his skilled drawings, he said, it translates into three dimensions. Then he can paint.
The native Coloradan taught himself to paint by reading countless books. He cites painters such as John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn and Isaac Levitan as inspiration. “The way I work is reminiscent of the way they work: their use of color, use of design and their expressive paint quality, the way light falls on an object. That’s the school of thought I’m in,” he said. “I want to convey a realistic scene in paint so at that point I can enhance the color or play with the design to invite the viewer to enjoy my work.”Born and raised in the San Luis Valley Colorado, Lockhart loves to paint the mountains. He also takes on rural scenery, architecture, rivers and streams, trees, cattle, as well as images of the Southwest. Multi-mediaLockhart works in oil, pastels and watercolors. His approach is very similar in all of the mediums, he said, because he paints representationally.”Oil has so many facets, so many moods, that it’s very challenging,” he said.
Oil is also accommodating when he’s trying to paint outdoors. “When it’s snowy and cold and icy in Colorado, which is a good time of the year, watercolor gets a little tricky and pastel is no different. Pastel is fine in the winter as long as there’s no humidity in the air, but if it’s snowing then you have a problem. Oil can withstand any of those conditions whether it’s cold, wet or snowing,” the artist said. “If I go and paint a plein-air piece in oil, I can come back to the studio and paint it in pastels or watercolor.”He loves pastels for their ability to create colors, and watercolors help keep him on his toes. “There’s just something about watercolors that’s extremely challenging,” he said. “When I’m working in watercolor, I really have to get in my groove and really have no interruptions. It’s so spontaneous. With pastels, being a dry medium, the paint pretty much goes where you tell it. With watercolor you have six applications, dry paper, semi dry paper, depending on the wetness of the brush and the paper. You’re never really in control of watercolor.”The challenge and metamorphosis Lockhart faces when attempting to master three mediums keeps his work fresh.”If you don’t set your goals high enough you could become complacent and bored. I don’t get that way. I light a fire under myself if I decide I’m getting too comfortable. I’ll try something new in pastel or watercolor.” Whichever medium he is working with at the time seems to be his favorite. Right now, it happens to be oil paints, which inspired him as a young boy.
An early impressionLockhart remembers walking into a room in his grandfather’s home as a child, seeing the easel set up, smelling the rich oil paint.”I suppose for me the seed was planted because my granddad, who bought oil paintings from the old Montgomery wards years ago, taught himself to paint,” Lockhart said. “That’s what first attracted me to oil paint. I was intrigued by it.”Until 1986, Lockhart ran the 80-year-old family furniture business. For 10 years he had been working at the store during the day and teaching himself to paint in the evening, just like his grandfather did. “The thing that pushed me beyond was when my father and I decided to split the way in the business. It was kind of a tough time for me. I wanted to paint and he said. ‘You’ll never know until you try.’ I decided to show my paintings at the store, and opening night I sold everything I had. We thought it was a fluke. I did it again the next year and I virtually sold everything again. At that point my father gave me my last paycheck. I had a wife and daughter, and I really had no choice but to pursue this seriously.” Now in his 19th year of painting as a professional artist, Lockhart can’t imagine a career in anything else.
“It’s been an interesting journey. It’s an on-going process as I still feel I’m a student and I’ll be a student of this craft till I die. I feel very very blessed. To do this and be able to support a family is a tough road to hoe,” he said. “I think the thing I come back to a lot is it’s always rewarding to have somebody come to you and offer to buy a painting that’s like your child. A painting is so personal and so much a part of me. Each one has its special meaning.” Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado