— From the pages of FLL Issue #28 • Portraits by David Schrott[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/pullquote]
It’s no secret that Lancaster has become a hub for artists and their wares. A stroll through downtown will leave your senses amazingly refreshed by new artists, classically inspired designs or innovative takes on old techniques. Thomas Valentine is a little bit of all of that. Evocative, avant-garde, and grandiose are all words that could describe his work, as well as satirical, camp, and stylized.
Originally from Cape May, New Jersey, Valentine moved to Lancaster in 1999, where he studied at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. His major was fine art, but he studied everything from photography to sculpture. Ever since then, his work has been featured in and around Lancaster.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/pullquote]
“I’ve watched the community grow tremendously since moving here,” Valentine said. “From galleries, businesses, events and artists, it’s been buzzing for awhile. I think it’s so inspiring being out on First Fridays and seeing everyone going in and out of galleries. That’s what an artist wants to see, tons of people coming out, viewing their work. I think that helps artists to create and keep creating.” He notes that when an artist can come to Lancaster and sell, “it boosts your confidence and you continue to make art.”
Valentine has been making art for as long as he can remember. I asked him if he thought artistic talent was an inherited trait. He immediately pointed out that his parents are also artistic. “They don’t paint pictures, but I can see it in them in their everyday life.” That doesn’t mean Valentine thinks artistic talent is something that you have to inherit. “I spent a lot of time with my niece while she was growing up and we would always draw together. Even after moving away she kept with it and she’s a wonderful artist now. For me I think it was a natural-born talent but also a skill that was developed over time.”[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/pullquote]
The skill has paid off for Valentine, who’s sold his paintings for anything from $30 to $800. But he’s quite adamant that fine art shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. He came to this realization as he developed a specific type of following. “My art has attracted a wide variety of age groups over the years, and still does.” His major fan base revolves around young adults ages 25-35. “That age group is just starting out in life: buying their first home, [making] student loan payments, getting married, having kids. There’s not all kinds of extra money laying around to buy $500 paintings. Lancaster has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, especially the art scene. This age group is helping it happen, by buying here, deciding to raise their families here, working and spending their money here.” Though he knows that every age group has helped this growth, something stands out about young adults as compared to their more settled counterparts. “When I first started showing I saw people fall in love with a piece of art until they looked at the price… you can see the disappointment. It’s not that it’s way overpriced, it’s the fact that they could never afford something like that.”
So, Valentine started pricing his art a little bit lower, and a little bit more affordably. He created a formula that calculated his material cost and the time put into each painting. From there, he was able to offer fine art at reasonable prices. That formula has paid off in spades.
“I noticed that at my shows there were a lot more people attending them and buying art. It made me very happy as an artist to see people being so excited about purchasing for the first time and coming back for more. It also got me a lot of custom requests – like kids and pets – which was a good experience as an artist I think.”
Now Valentine has built a following of like-minded artists. He organizes a few yearly shows where other artists with similar price points feature their work. In this capacity, Valentine has become a mentor. “The number one question artists that are just starting out doing shows is ‘How much do I sell my art for?’ I tell them figure in materials, time spent on it, and make a profit but be reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with selling your art for $1,000 but it would be nice to offer some for reasonable prices also.”[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/pullquote]
Though Valentine’s art is reasonably priced, it’s worth twice the price when you take a look at his work. His process is extensive and involved. He starts by taking notes and sketching out ideas. He’ll create backstories for his characters and develop entire personalities for his creations. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m not just painting something. I’m creating a character that has a life. For example, I recently painted a series called ‘Monsters with Issues’ which included a monster afraid of monsters, a blind monster that had no idea he was one, and a monster that was obsessed with women’s shoes. I have a great imagination and have a lot of fun with these paintings. There are also some paintings that are very serious that take a lot of thought and technique rather than silliness. I like to challenge and push myself as an artist; it’s a great feeling finishing a piece and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did that.’”