Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Memento Mori

Detail from The Hermit

I tend to place a lot of tiny skulls within the borders of my art. Skulls fascinated me as a little kid, and continue to do so--even more as modern culture preposterously tries to refute aging and death.


Detail crops from Sir Baffle and the Dragon

But in the past, images of death in art--memento mori--served to calm the frenzied life. They were reminders that existence on earth is finite, and motivations to spend lives honorably and in meaningful pursuits that had little to do with the acquisition of money or power.


"Memento mori is Latin for “Remember death.” The phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear:Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!”--“Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”

Now more than ever, it seems that political "leaders" and the super-wealthy could use this kind of reminder.  Maybe a lack of any spiritual belief--or inheritance laws allowing their swollen bank accounts to live on for their families--somehow allows them to forget The End?

Hard to know. But nonetheless, many of them live as though their earthly life is infinite. Rather than seeking liberty and justice for all; revenge, money-grubbing, and ego-stoking are their top considerations. That's pretty bizarre for anyone, but especially for people nearing the end of their lives.

It's not my business to teach anyone anything about the mysteries of death, or an afterlife. But the philosophy and art tradition of the memento mori is much appreciated. And as stated above, I like drawing skulls.

Plus, there's something exhilarating about facing the fact of the death we all will share. It frees one up to work at leaving the world a better place for others.

While many images of Death are warnings, I'll leave you with something different...

Saint Francis of Assisi reflected often on the mystery of death, and referred to its personification as "Sister Death". She is the one who comes to deliver us from life's suffering. In this sculpture (artist unknown to me) the placard she holds reads:
"To die with the sacred joy of not having done harm to oneself nor to a single soul.”

Thanks for the visit!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Voyage of the Aeolus: A Process

The Voyage of the Aeolus, detail

I really like pen and ink, crosshatching, costumed characters, and theater sets (the look of toy theaters in particular). And I like looking at other artist's processes. This post shows all of that, and my own methods for this type of colored ink artwork.

For this piece, my interest centered around a voyage. The first thumbnail sketch was a rudimentary one featuring a top-hatted figure who quickly evolved into a pirate with his bird-buddy. I like to start these types of works with a red Verithin pencil, and then use a Pentel Brushpen for the varying width outline. My favorite paper is Kona Classic because its tough surface takes many layers of hatching without shredding, and is a great surface for water-media too.

In this case, a Pilot High-Tec C pen was used for the crosshatching, and I'm never without a Uni-Ball Signo white pen for highlights.

Sorry, this is the only photo I have of the initial pencil drawing (had to yank it off of a Facebook post).

Obviously I changed the look of the pirate--a younger face better-suited the fantasy-like atmosphere, and for this final piece I used Acryla white gouache for the highlights.
Once the highlights and values are finished, I give the piece a coating of UV blocking acrylic gloss spray. Then the color is added with watered-down, transparent acrylic inks. And that's about it!

It's a fun process--feel free to comment or email me with any questions you might have.

Thanks for checking this out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


 A little fellow--a tiny detail from The Wizard.
Helikon Gallery's director and fellow illustrator Cayce Goldberg suggested we produce a book to go along with my exhibition, and I was blown away by his creative approach to book design. Filled with full color paintings, the book features many close-ups and details!

 Bringing the reader's attention to the details within the artworks was only one of his ideas--and it was a lot of fun! As we worked on the book, Cayce searched the paintings for small, interesting components, which he then added to individual pages.

Here's a shot of one of the interior pages. The skull is a detail from the painting, The Hermit.

This is the back cover of Innate Tapestries: The Endless Stage, with cut-out details from The Hermit, and other complete paintings within the book.

 Detail crop of The Owl and the Pussycat.

For me, a great deal of the enjoyment came from revisiting my own paintings in a new way. Studying the details close-up is not what I'm used to--often, painting is a process that's sort of unconscious working, so I'm not always totally aware of what's going into the artwork. That sounds strange, but it's true.
Detail from The Voyage of the Aeolus.
Combing the works for details led to some pleasant surprises about how my hand works with the media, too.
Here is a blown-up detail of the cricket from the painting, Pinocchio...
 ...and the complete painting in the book.
I hope you found checking out the details enjoyable--thank you for visiting and supporting my art!
 The signed, 96 page, limited edition book is available here:

Thanks again!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Two Big Nose Breaks (from painting)!

 Preliminary sketches for The Man in the Moon sculpture (below).

 After making all the pictures for Innate Tapestries, I needed a break from painting. Had a chance to be in a "Munny" show at a neat little shop/gallery called Cooper and Dash in Downtown Denver. They provided the blank white Munny doll (upper left).


I really like the Commedia del Arte masks with their giant noses, so approached the Munny as a mask built out of Sculpey. Into the oven it went (top center). Had some glass eyes I didn't have use for, and then painted the fellow using acrylic washes and matte black acrylic to sort of hide the body (I'm not very fond of the way Munnys look).

The show featured 12 other sweet Munnys that were painted and sculpted by local artists and illustrators, and the reception was a lot of fun!


The Man in the Moon 

A fellow artist at Helikon decided to decorate his studio by building a giant sculpture of a face using cardboard. It is amazing! Then he challenged me to do the same. Upper left shows my rudimentary armature. On top of that went instant papier mache, which I built up in layers. 


I ordered more glass eyes and used Sculpey for the teeth; painted the whole thing with a greenish, acrylic wash, and then used successive acrylic washes (thinned with matte medium) for the color. Lower middle shows the moon-head paint prior to the final wash of sienna brown.

Thanks for checking it out!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Exhibit Preview and an Artist Interview!

Humpty Dumpty, one of many pieces created for The Endless Stage

Cayce Goldberg, Helikon Gallery Director, created this nice artist interview with me for my upcoming solo Exhibit, The Endless Stage:

Thank you Cayce Goldberg

Hope you can join me at Helikon for the opening reception this Wednesday, June 14th from 6-10 pm!

See a preview of the show here:

Thanks for checking this out!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My Solo Show and Book Release at Helikon Gallery

My first ever Solo Exhibition is coming up soon--on June 14th!--and I'm excited to be showing a variety of works! Plus the gallery has published a limited edition, 96 page book filled with my paintings, sketches, process works, and a few of my thoughts.

 Here's the link to the book (and you can pre-order!):

 From the book:

The theater’s stage begins and ends at the imagination in this 96 page treasury of paintings, drawings, sketches, and process work spanning 3 years. Tom’s distinct style of art casts a suite of lively characters from the familiar to the fantastic, inhabiting lusciously illustrated settings with a unique, humorous magic. This unprecedented collection of artwork represents the first major retrospective of Sarmo’s beloved artwork.


Here's a detail crop of one of the nearly 40 original works in the show...

...and there are some original landscape-y ones too!
Included in the exhibition are many of my sketches and preliminary drawings with insights into my techniques and processes.

From the gallery:
Helikon Gallery is pleased to present two exhibitions opening June 14: 'A Modern Baroque' in the main gallery and 'The Endless Stage: The Art of Tom Sarmo' in Gallery 101. Along with the two gallery shows, our retail shop will feature a new Shop Showcase with new art by Kayla Edgar. All shows will open with a free reception, with complementary food and drink as well as open artist studios.

Here's the link to the exhibition:
The Endless Stage

I've seen preview work from A Modern Baroque , and it's an exciting show--plus I love the fresh work of
 Kayla Edgar !

In addition, Helikon's Studio Artists will be there with open studios and much art to enjoy.
 If you are in Denver--even anywhere near--you won't want to miss this event! 

Here are the particulars:

Helikon Gallery
3675 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80216
Opening is Wednesday June 14th from 6 - 10 pm
First Friday is July 7 from 6 - 10 pm
If you can't make it to the opening, the show runs from June 14th to July 22nd.
For hours:

I would love for you to join me and Helikon Gallery for this event; free and open to everyone!


Hope to see you there--your support of my work and the work of all artists is much appreciated!

and thank you for reading!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Thoughts from 2015

Had an interview a couple years back with Annie Aqua at Helikon Gallery. 
I recently read it over and still agree with my thoughts on question 3 :) 
What do you think?
Here's the link:
Anyway, thanks for checking it out!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Workshops at Art Makers Denver 2017!

I'm returning again to Art Makers Denver, and this year's urban retreat is going to be even better than the last three! I'll be teaching two workshops over the three days.

My Designing and Drawing Costumes Workshop:
"This step-by-step workshop will have you designing and drawing costumes and clothing styles from the past—or wherever your imagination takes you! Draw costumes for fun, fashion design, children’s books, paper dolls, whatever! It’s easy once you discover these illustration secrets."

My Painting Amusing Animals and Mischievous Monsters Workshop:
"You’ll learn great new techniques for acrylic painting, techniques for creating whimsical and funny creatures (with luminous eyes!) and techniques for painting an abundance of textures. And you’ll leave with stunning paintings plus the knowledge to paint just about anything with acrylics. Even those familiar with acrylics will learn unique techniques for livening up artworks and creating more imaginative paintings."

As an experienced illustrator, I've used all these methods in character design for the film industry, children's books, poster designs, and gallery work. And I've over thirty years experience teaching both beginning and experienced artists these amazing techniques with great success. None of them are difficult and all of them are rewarding.
Here's the Art Makers Denver video from 2015 (I'm at 5:03 if you want to skip ahead):

 If you want to learn some solid, useful, and really fun art methods, you won't want to miss my workshops--and I hope you'll join me at Art Makers Denver 2017!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Harmonie at Helikon Gallery & Studios

New show!

From the Helikon site: "Two highly notable artists of illustration and the figurative arts come together in Harmonie, an exhibit featuring the intersection of styles and sensibilities between the figurative paintings of George Pratt and Felipe Echevarria."

George Pratt

Felipe Echevarria

"Ranging from watercolor, oil, pastel, and other traditional media, this body of work examines the beauty and mystery of the human figure. On the whole, ‘Harmonie’ is composed of aesthetic reflections on figurative expression, exploring the evocative power of color, texture, design, and style as harmonious parts of a single emotional and visual vocabulary."
George Pratt

There are two full galleries of these evocative works, plus hallways full of art to view, plus works in each of the Open Studios upstairs. This is a one-stop First Friday where you can spend the whole evening looking at amazing art! 

Felipe Echevarria

 Here are information links:
The show runs from May 3 - June 3, and the First Friday event is May 5 from 6 - 10 pm.
You don't want to miss it--See you there!

Friday, April 14, 2017

DINK 2017

Had the chance to show work at DINK this year! It took quite a bit of prep work, but was worth it. It was a good time, and I met a ton of great folks who stopped by the booth I shared with Ryan Morse and Clay Brooks.

Here's the only shot I got of part of our set-up.

First day sketch. 

I forgot my sketchbook on the second day, but had a manila envelope to draw on.

And the sketch page with the finally-completed big-mouth.

Be sure to check out both Ryan's site and Clay's site too.

Thanks for the visit!

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