Sunday, February 18, 2018

Flathead Beacon


Filling the Frame By David Vale

Even if you haven’t met Tom Lewis, you’re probably familiar with his work. It hangs in several galleries and numerous homes around the Valley. Characterizing himself as a “Painter of Montana,” Tom specializes in impressionistic paintings of the Montana landscape, fishing, wildlife, and the western way of life. As he expresses it, “What I paint is the Montana Experience.” Devoting the majority of his efforts to art since moving to Montana in 2002, Tom is a prolific painter, producing 35-45 pieces a year. Of course, that’s just his most recent career.

I had coffee with Tom and his wife Sharon last week in their home, which doubles as Tom’s studio. Perched on a cliff over Bigfork Bay, the panoramic view of this sampling of Montana allows Tom to live immersed in the substance of his art.

I asked where he got his start. He responded simply with, “The West.” The son of a real cowboy and entrepreneur, Tom spent his youth in a variety of towns and states, common only in they were all in The West. These early life experiences account, at least in part, for his love of the natural character of the landscape and the working people of the region. Perusing the gallery that covers the walls of the Lewis home, the majority of the paintings represent lakes, mountains, and trees. These all capture the feel of Montana that the casual visitor to our state finds so captivating.

But then there are those “western way of life” paintings. OK, I like Tom’s landscapes: the color, the grandeur, the solitude. But the people: cowboys twirling their lariats, cowboys herding cattle, a housewife gathering laundry in the face of a storm. These show Montana as not just a land of spectacular lakes and mountains, but a land that epitomized the working West. A land where one might appreciate the beauty, but at the same time recognize that beauty doesn’t pay the bills or feed the kids. You don’t get tangled in the detail of an impressionist painting; you get the idea, the feel, and then let your mind and imagination take over.

Montana art isn’t Tom’s first career, or even his second. Educated in art at Arizona State University, he started out in advertising, becoming the art director for a couple major agencies in San Diego. But perhaps following in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps, he formed his own graphic design firm. And he followed that up with the creation of a publishing business that specialized in coffee table books. Tom led the firm in an unusual direction for a coffee-table book publisher, though. With his artistic background, the visual appeal of the books was assured. But he went a step further in attending to the writers and the content to ensure that the books were not only beautiful, but interesting and important, as well. The net result was that, in the ten years Tom ran the business, it published over six million copies of the books. That covers a lot of coffee tables.

But now Tom paints. And paints. And teaches others to paint. Although he does paint in his studio, he prefers the "Ala Prima" (at first effort) and Plein Aire approach to painting, which is painting in the natural surroundings, usually completing the piece in a single sitting. “You have to work fast,” he says, “because the light changes. It can be a challenge, but good technique makes it feasible.” And talent? “I’d say it’s more a matter of interest and discipline. I teach the basics of color, value, shape, and edge. From those basics, anyone can learn to paint. Ultimately it’s a matter of putting miles on the brush. The more you paint, the better you get.”

So, do you have interest and discipline? Tom conducts occasional four-day workshops in his painting technique. And if it doesn’t lead to a new career, well four days with the view from Tom’s studio is, in itself, worth the price of admission. In the meantime, enjoy some of Tom’s work on his website at



Upcoming Events

Shafers Restaurant

Shafers is one of Bigfork's newest resturants in Woods Bay and features an amazing chef. They also feature some twenty of my paintings—both Western Wildlands and Western Ranch Life. For a special treat find your way to Mountain Lake Lodge for a culinary and visual treat.  

Home Gallery and Studio

I spent nearly three months this winter painting every day from about 10am to 6pm at the Arizona Art Expo. I joined 100 other artist displaying work and painting each day. My motive was to explore a fresh "voice" in my painting style while concentratiing on pursuing an increased "Impressionistic" view. It was an invaluable experience and as a result I finished about 35 new works. These pieces can be viewed at our Home Gallery and Studio at 546 Grand Drive, in Bigfork. Give me a call and we'll make an appointment for you to come by. The works will also be hung on our deck overlooking Bigfork Bay the first weekend in August at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts. 

Stumptown Marketplace

Twenty of my paintings are featured in the Stumptown Marketplace in Whitefish throughout the summer.

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