Artistic Excellence | Thomas W. Schaller

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Manhattan Beach Pier, watercolor, 30 x 40.

What inspired your winning entry? The light. While riding my bike by a pier one early afternoon, I was struck by the amazing play of light—direct, diffuse, reflected, and refracted—in and around the long pier. I am always telling my students, and myself, to try not to paint the objects you see, but rather to paint the light that defines them. This scene was a perfect opportunity. I immediately did a sketch on site and did this painting in the studio that same day.

Do you come from an artistic background? My mom was a student of fashion art, and my father was a gifted engineer and builder. And so, since the age of 5, I wanted to become an artist and an architect.

Where did you study art? I majored in both fine art and architecture at Ohio State University. I did additional graduate work in art at Schiller International University in France and took classes at the Rhode Island School of Design.

What is your favorite subject matter and why? As an architect, I am naturally drawn to buildings and cityscapes. But it is the dialogue between the manmade and the natural—the architecture of nature and the architecture of man—that most inspires my work.

What is the best advice you have ever received? One of my heroes and teachers, Joseph Zbukvic, said to me, “Just paint. All the rest will take care of itself.” This becomes more and more true every day.

What is the most meaningful recognition you have received for your artwork? I have been honored with a good many awards, articles, and cover pieces, and all these are fantastic. But when people want to put my artwork in their homes, or they tell me that something I have painted has actually moved them emotionally or made them see the world with new eyes, these are the most meaningful moments to me.

Future goals? Every day I try to become a better and more expressive painter than I was yesterday. And I hope to be learning these lessons daily for the rest of my life.

Representation: RS Hanna Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Sharp Art Gallery, Kirkland, WA; Carter Sexton Gallery, North Hollywood, CA; Universal Art Gallery, Venice, CA;

Featured in December 2011.