Sources of Inspiration

Every artist has that defining moment in their life when for whatever reason they feel a need to express themselves, and most have a lingering memory of how it all started. For me, it all began with a lighthouse. 

“Point Loma Lighthouse” by Tom Swimm
Oil on canvas – 40” x 32″

I have very clear memories of drawing in my childhood. My mother would give me large sheets of paper that she brought home from her workplace and I would sit on the floor in my room and imagine places where I would like to be. Many times I would draw a crude representation of a lighthouse. It was always high up on a cliff, and I would sketch the rocks and crashing surf below. It was a scene I sketched many times in those days and I remember the joy it brought me not only in creating it but also the encouragement I received from my Mom when I showed her.

It’s very interesting to think about and wonder where inspiration comes from. Artists are always asked the question: “What was your inspiration?” or, “Why did you choose to paint this subject?” The answer is not always easy. Countless essays have been written attempting to clarify the source of inspiration and why some people seem to experience it more than others. As artists, we are told many times that we have a “gift.” Hearing that phrase is good for the ego, but hard to define what it exactly means.

“New England Light” by Tom Swimm
Oil on canvas – 24” x 36″

So, let’s return to the lighthouse. When I first started painting seriously in my adult years, the recurring theme and subject matter in my work almost always had elements that had to do with the sea. There was something in my subconscious that drew me to bodies of water, coastlines, and most specifically small, colorful boats. I never thought about it much during those beginnings that would define my career, but as I developed my painting techniques and began traveling in search of inspiration, it became quite apparent that these places and things brought joy that couldn’t be defined. Walking around a fishing village, navigating the docks, seeing the scruffy locals bringing in their catch, studying colorful water reflections in the harbor. All those things brought on strong emotions and sense of place. The only way to describe it is that it felt like I was “at home.” 

“Harbor Daybreak” by Tom Swimm
Oil on canvas – 36” x 24″

Perhaps it has to do with my lineage and ancestry. Quite a few years ago, I researched my bloodline from previous generations because I was curious about the name “Swimm” and its origins. Turns out, it came from the British Isles and my ancestors migrated across the North Atlantic to the shores of Canada, eventually establishing themselves along the coast of New England. What’s most interesting is that the men from these previous generations made their living from the sea. They were sailors and fishermen, and that is true of the most recent men in my family. My great grandfather was a fisherman in Nova Scotia, My father was born in Gloucester and was a career sailor, and I had two uncles, a stepbrother and a brother who were all in the Navy.

I myself was unable to join the service because of a medical condition, have never owned a boat, and can count on one hand the number of times in my life that I went fishing! I do believe however, that there has always been some inner voice within me that seeks to show the beauty, color, and texture of maritime subjects. To me, each and every one tells a story.

During my many travels, my goal was to always explore the coastline and fishing villages of places like the Amalfi Coast of Italy, the Greek Isles, and the Caribbean, as well as all the coastal towns in the U.S. where fishing is a major livelihood. All these places brought me a sense of comfort and familiarity, and it’s those emotions that I have always strived to convey in my paintings. Call it my muse or inspiration or whatever else describes the need to express one’s inner light, but I believe each and every artist has these sources that come from within and were gifted to us at a very young age. Study the body of work created by artists from the past as well as contemporary masters, and you almost always find a recurring visual theme or technique that communicates what matters most to them. Inspiring!

“Magic Time” by Tom Swimm
Oil on canvas – 30” x 40″

Upcoming OPA Events

30th Annual National Juried Exhibition 30th Annual National Juried Exhibition
The Thirtieth National Exhibition and Convention will be hosted by the California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum, located in Escondido, California, from April 9 through May 16, 2021. Learn More!
OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase
The Spring 2021 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2021 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!
Salon Show 2021 Salon Show
The Salon Show will be hosted by Quinlan Visual Arts Center, located in Gainesville, Georgia, June 10 through August 7, 2021 Learn More!