It all adds up
An art teacher, illustrator and math whiz Thom Thomas finds strength in numbers.
“69th Self-Portrait” 11” x 17” photo and digital manipulation with Adobe PhotoShop, 2022.
Artist Thom Herman Thomas is an insatiably curious soul who calls himself mentally “ambidextrous.”
Along with graduating from the Academy of Art in San Francisco and sketching just about everything under the sun as a lifelong illustrator, Thomas has toiled as a fine art painter, an accountant, a culinary-trained chef and a statistical analyst.
Art instructor is the latest addition to his resume.
“I had no idea what it really meant to be me,” the artist said about growing up in the Washington, D.C., area and later setting out for California.
“My walls were covered with drawings,” he reminisced. “I would draw life-sized models.”
His first art job was as a fashion illustrator.
“I had 18 pieces published before I even had the opportunity or money to even go to art school,” Thomas shared.
Life wasn’t easy growing up. His mother died when he was 10. His father, a skilled autobody mechanic, worked for General Motors and imparted to him a love of craft. His mother, he credits, taught him perseverance.
Before she died, Thomas’ mother asked her sister to raise him with the caveat that he was “different,” something he found out years later.
“I had some medical issues as a child that did not allow me to be physically active,” Thomas said, adding that his large family called him by his middle name Herman, and the kids in school teased him with the nickname “Herman Monster.”
Through all the ugliness he experienced, Thomas, now 70, cultivated a love of aesthetics. A deliberate eloquence underscores his speech, intimating that he gives every task his full attention.
“If I make you a dinner, it’s a seven-course meal,” Thomas professed with pride, adding that he grows his own vegetables, too.
The father of seven moved to Ocala in 2004 to be near family, and these days you’ll find him teaching aspiring artists of all skill levels at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place.
He also has helped shape future illustrators at the College of Central Florida and, just last month, he taught a painting class to Ocala Police Department officers and their partners to help them decompress from the stresses that come with law enforcement.
“It was like a paint and sip, but we just had coffee,” Thomas said with a laugh, adding that one officer said he was sure he would have done a better job if served something stronger.
Thomas admitted to “having the jitters” at first, but said he found his footing talking about what he loves most: drawing.
“I’m always a nervous wreck until I start to talk about my passion, which is drawing,” Thomas admitted. “I forget about being nervous and anything else because I know my process; I know my skill sets, and that’s what I share with people. This is how I work. The techniques of drawing are based on principles and elements of design. So, if you understand how to use a pencil in terms of developing line quality, thick line, or a thin line, then the rest is just all your style.”
He calls himself a “self-teaching artist,” an expression that often comes up, and said he continues to try to learn new techniques himself.
“I need to be willing to challenge myself with the new mediums also,” he emphasized.
Charcoal, he said, is the latest medium in his toolkit.
“At first, I thought it was so messy. I didn’t really like it, but now I’m really good with charcoal. … I do glazing in acrylics, which I can apply directly over it,” he explained.
As a drawing instructor, Thomas starts with the basics at the beginning of every class, exploring elements of design using line, shape, form, texture and value.
“I just give students information because no one can teach us to draw,” he said. “We have to put that pencil to the paper and brush to the canvas and teach ourselves because that brushstroke, that pencil stroke is uniquely their distinction.”
A calling to acquaint others with their muse keeps Thomas going, and he loves all things numerical and geometric.
He put his mathematical prowess to work as a statistical analyst for Marion County for around eight years, up until 2018, but had to resign for health reasons. As the director of operations for the county’s Homeless Management Information System database, he collected, compiled, sorted through data and reported the demographics or statistics to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I absolutely loved it,” he effused. “As a secondary role, I provided training to the social service agency that collected the data. Because I’m truly right-brained and left-brained, it was probably one of the best jobs for me. I also discovered that I had a thing about teaching. When I took over, there were three agencies participating, and when I left there were 47.”
In his younger years, Thomas crunched numbers for major law firms, and he claims to see shapes and algorithms all around him.
“As a child, I did numerology, and I still have dreams about mathematical equations,” he shared.
Indeed, numbers aren’t the cold, sterile abstractions drilled into us as children when viewed through Thomas’ lens.
One can only imagine how many engineers and programmers the U.S. would have if more teachers conveyed the magic in numbers that Thomas derives.
“In fact, I’m a part of the Rosicrucian community,” he professed of the spiritually based and philosophical fraternal organization.
“Having a mathematical kind of mindset has served me well, but again, it’s because I’m cognitively ambidextrous and I love working with numbers and shapes. Everything in nature has a mathematical equivalence that basically explains its structure and its makeup. When I walk outside, I can draw nature easily because it seems to arrange itself for me so that I can see the basic shapes.”
Thomas also sees patterns: “I believe in synchronicities because I believe that there is only one divine consciousness. When we talk about God, not necessarily in terms of religion, as omnipotent and omnipresent in all things all the time, then that says to me that everyone basically is connected somehow to everything in life. … Whatever happens to one person happens to all of us, and while it may not affect us personally, that energy is still a part of the makeup of life, period.”
To learn more about Thomas, visit thomthomas.com.
Thom Thomas’ free drawing classes convene at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. His 16-week acrylic and color theory class meets at the center from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The cost for that class is $30 a week, or you can pay $100 for one entire month in advance. Call (352) 401-6980 to register for classes.