Featured Artists

Artist Spotlight: Thomas Schmall

Thomas Schmall is an artist from Germany, now based in Landsmeer in the Netherlands (next to Amsterdam). His art has been featured in exhibitions in the Netherlands and Japan. Classic paintings from German artists he grew up with such as Caspar David Friedrich and Albrecht Dürer have had a deep influence on his work. Keep reading to learn more about Thomas’s journey as an artist and creative process.

Where are you from and where do you currently reside?

My hometown is Dresden, where I grew up when it was still part of socialist East Germany.  After moving around a couple of times, I got a job offer in the Netherlands. And I’m still happy here, nearly twenty years later.

“Machiya Bonsaishop” – oil on 35 x 24 cm wood panel

What drew you to become an artist and what type of art do you most enjoy doing?  

Drawing was something I loved from Kindergarten times on. I remember that while most of my classmates in school liked drawing comics, I preferred drawing realistic animals, people, or observations from my surroundings, like our garden.

It always felt like a given that I would work in a field related to visual art – and once I discovered video games, my path was set. To raise my level professionally, I needed to improve some foundational skills. So I picked up figure drawing and painting outside in the city or nature. And I got so much into it, that  has it become my main occupation. 

“Summer Shower in the Singel” (2010) – Oil on 40 × 50 cm Linen

How would you describe your style? 

It’s hard to recognize my style from my own perspective – and I’m not aiming for one. Recently I visited art museums in Berlin and my hometown Dresden, and noticed how the classical paintings I grew up with, had a deep subconscious influence on me.

One of Dresden’s most famous artists is Caspar David Friedrich, who painted detailed romantic landscapes with a mix of realism and mystic exaggeration. I especially recognize his love for nature and metaphoric elements.

Another giant of German art was Albrecht Dürer. In a recent exhibition, it struck me that my more recent use of ink lines resembles some of his etchings. My grandmother used to have prints of him on her wall, so that must’ve made an impression on me.

What has kept you engaged and committed to your craft over the years?

Every artwork you make, no matter how small, offers new challenges. You constantly have to question your choices of subject, material, and approach. That keeps me on my toes – and with every artwork I’m going one step further. I’m still far from the end of this exploration, especially in figuring out what I have to say and how to best express that.

“Nightfall on Construction” (2019) – Ink on Clayboard

How have you grown as an artist in the past five years and what are the major contributing factors to your growth? 

Whenever I noticed a specific weakness in my work, I tried to concentrate on improving this aspect. Colors came easy to me, for example, but I noticed that a solid drawing is an important groundwork for an impactful painting. So I switched from oil colors to ink. Adapting materials like that helps to get unstuck by concentrating on different aspects. In the case of ink, that’s shape, composition, and intentionality (since you can’t erase). Then you can look at the masters of these mediums with new eyes. I grew a different appreciation for Japanese artists like Hokusai and his expressive use of ink lines.

“Moa Portrait” (2023) – Ink and Watercolor on 45 x 54 cm hot-pressed paper

What materials do you most commonly use?

Recently I started picking up my colors again and I’m trying to merge them with the ink medium. While experimenting, I noticed that the Ampersand Aquaboards and Clayboards are an extremely versatile ground to work on. They allow me to use watercolors, then ink, then oil colors. And then wipe or scratch it all back to white – or do it all the other way around. I still have to figure out a lot about this workflow, like how to protect lower layers when adding another medium. So far I enjoy the flexibility a lot.

Can you describe some of your favorite pieces you’ve worked on?

One of my first pieces in which I merged watercolors and detailed ink lines, is called “Spirit Tree”. I painted it two years ago in a little forest in the Netherlands – while the sun was setting. First I used technical pens for the drawing and afterwards flat and subtle watercolors for the background. With that painting, I’ve taken an important step of moving away from an accurate depiction of everything I see, to a more impressionist vision of the patterns I was surrounded by and the feeling of standing in the warm setting sun of an autumn evening. 

To finish the artwork, I went a second time to the same location, but one of the trees had fallen. That added an extra sense of fleeting time, that I tried to express more in moving lines than in directly depicting a dead tree.

“Spirt Tree” (2021) – Watercolor and ink on 31x23cm hot-pressed paper

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists? Are there any tips or techniques you can offer? 

If you feel too comfortable with one subject or material, you might start to fear straying to different ones. Keep on trying and ignore that little voice in your head that tells you “But what if someone notices that you’re not good at this other thing” and keep on learning. The confidence you will gain that way will show up in your work in the end.

“Alice” (2023)  – Watercolor and Ink on 30.5 × 23 cm Cotton Paper

What are your website and social media links? 

My Website is: https://www.oxpal.com/

I am on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thomas.schmall/

And on Mastodon: https://mastodon.coffee/@oxpal

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