Tom Palmore, the Per Contra Interview with Miriam N. Kotzin



Baby Billy

54" x 84"

Acrylic and Oil on canvas


MK:  I read on the descriptions of your paintings that you use both oil and acrylic, e.g., High Desert. How do you use the two? Do you often use both in the same work? 


TP: Itís a method I developed, blending old master techniques with modern technology. In all the under painting, I mix tone into gesso so itís not straight white. I mix colors with jars with acrylic.


For example, if Iím painting a leopard, I start with a simple drawing, which would show where the spots are, etc. I do the under painting with acrylic, showing the direction of hair, sort of transparent. After everything is blocked in, I do the detail work with oils, several layers. Oil is more flexible and forgiving than acrylic, but acrylic speeds up the process because acrylic is so quick drying. Colors and values are indicated right away, quickly, and then ďreal work beginsĒ with all the hair, etc. You have to go from acrylic to oil; you canít reverse it. 


I started using both in the mid-eighties.  The first one was kind of an experiment when I wanted to get the paint quality of old masters.  I used to paint with acrylic; in the early 70ís I used an airbrush sixty percent of the time. My paintings then were much more simple. I had different approach in those days. Iíve become more and more interested in the detail aspects of the painting, and I was trying to make the acrylics look like oils.  Then realized I could do it with oils. 


My friend Bill Shepard, whoís a skilled technician in oil, was teasing me and said, ďUse the other end of brush.Ē He gave me a number of tips in using glazes, and he was a big influence, in my switching over. I use an airbrush now five to ten percent of the time. Now I can use an airbrush with oils. Oils can get a look that you canít get with anything else.


I use a little bit of Japan drier. To get them to dry quicker, at night I put the paintings nearóbut not too close toóthe heater.


MK:  Because youíve said that you treat the animals in your paintings as though they had commissioned a portrait, Iíll call them ďsubjectĒ in this question. Sometimes in your work the subject is in front of what might be a painted backdrop as in a photographerís studioóand the shadow cast is as it might be on such a backdrop, e.g., Fern Valley, and Penguins and Their Favorite Paintings, while sometimes the shadow falls as in Baby Billy with Roses and Sea Otter with Ducks.  What goes into making the decision?


TP:  From the very beginning I have distinct and detailed images in my head.  But the painting will evolve, moving from the original idea as I envisioned it. 


Before I do a show, I do a notebook with ideas, for example, the bluebird on shoulder.  When I make notations, I have a visual image in my head of what I see. Other examples would be the jackrabbit in front of bucking cowboy wallpaper and the white pelican with rainbow trout wallpaper.  I want my paintings to look very staged, posed.


Itís always exciting to start a painting. Some are straight lines; some are detoursóIíll have to repaint, sand stuff off, though you know youĎll get to the end at some point.  Sometimes itís so straight forward that you feel like youíre stealing! That feels so good. 


MK:  What about your studio workspace?  Does that have any influence on your work? Iím thinking that our readers might be especially interested in this question because you were followed in your Spruce Street Studio by Tom Chimes who was interviewed by Per Contra in our Fall 2007 and Winter 2007-08 issues.


TP:  Yes, one of the owners of Artemis owned the building, Harold Brown owned building [at 1722 Spruce in Philadelphia]. He let me have a six-year lease for the fourth and fifth floors, with the understanding that Iíd be responsible for clearing out everything that the previous tenant had left.


The top floor had a super high ceiling with a skylight, and there was a tongue and groove oak floor.  One unexpected feature was that there was a handball court.  I took down the walls from the court, which gave me 30 by 60 feet of space.  That top floor became my studio. When I moved to Santa Fe, I was getting ready to have Quaker Moving and Storage take my things, and I looked at a large canvas Iíd stretched but hadnít yet used, and decided not to take it. Tom Chimes was going to be living and working there, so I figured he wouldnít mind. 


My studio space does influence how I work, both in good ways and in limitations.  My last studio had windows and skylights.  Now in Edmund, OK, my studio is about 25 yards from the house, with a wall of northern windows. I have only two acres of land here instead of the larger ranch.  Iíll be here for a while so Iíll have to enjoy being in it.


I start at a certain time in the morning, five to seven days a week. I shouldnít be feeling that I have to go to work. I should be excited about what Iím working on. Itís a cycle to creativity.  Itís important that the lighting is right.  I use as much natural light as I can.


The studios Iíve enjoyed most have had beautiful natural scenery outside the windows, woods on both sides of property.  Thatís important to me. It has not only a physical but also a psychological effect


The studio also affects the size of what I paint.  I stand and walk back and forth. If Iím working on a painting thatís four foot tall, I have to be able to raise it up to where I can work on it, which means having a high ceiling. So if my studio is small, itís hard to work in any scale.  Some studios are claustrophobic.


The only time I have any accumulation of paintings in my studio is if Iíve been extremely prolific or if I donít sell them. I ship them out to the dealer in waves as I paint them.


MK: What artists do you particularly admire or find interesting?


TP: Ingres is a fabulous painter. Magritte has wit and humor, direct painting, almost primitive, contradictions and things like that, and unusual images.  Iím not so much a fan of the later Dali, though I like his work of the thirties and forties. And Mel Ramos, a pop artist, whoís not without controversy in relation to womenís lib, because of his girls on hamburgers, girls on Velveeta. Thereís a surreal quality to his work with strong colors.


Among the writers with a distinct voice is Peter Dexter from Philly, who wrote Paris Trout.


And, of course, Havard, Dessner, Lynch, Bill Shepard. Everybody has these. Put them through your own computer and make it your own work.


MK:  Besides making the work your own, doing whatís important to you and being true to your unique vision, what advice do you offer?


TP: As far as the business of painting goes, thereíe a hierarchy in every gallery based on how well you sell.  But that goes the other way, too:  how quick the gallery is to pay.


Stay open to learning. You pick up techniques [for painting, elements of craft] over the years.  Just because what youíre doing now works, you still can do something else that might work better: be open to it. 


Also, itís very important to associate yourself with artists who are not so competitive that theyíre secretive. Itís better sharing what you know.


Associate with those who want you to do well and succeed. The more successful artists are those who are most open, not as competitive or petty as the less successful.


MK: What direction are you headed in now?


TP: Besides my painting, Iím about to start working with Michael Duty, who writes about Western art.  Heís doing a book about me that Tom Quaid and the University of Oklahoma Press will publish.  Iím excited about it.


When I look back at my work, I see progression, but when I look at the future, I donít know what itís going to be: itís unknown so thereís insecurity. You have to realize there are no guarantees in life. You have to know whatís important to you and do it. 


To be both good teacher and painter, you have to be incredibly disciplined. Itís easy to lose perspective of the art world.






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Tom Palmore

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© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
Click on any thumbnail below to view a larger photo of the painting:


   Elegant Portrait




   Fern Valley




   Sea Otter with Ducks



   Sweet Dreams

Image Courtesy of Lew Allen Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM -

Lew Allen Contemporary will host a solo exhibition of Tom Palmore's work from August 1 - August 24, 2008




All Images © Tom Palmore and are used with permission.