By Lee Noles
MATTHEWS – As children, we’re always taught to color within the lines. It was a rule that Daniel Thomson had a hard time following when he was in school and an even harder time today as a local artist.
Thomson bucks conventional wisdom by using mirrors, seashells and saw blades as canvases instead of the standard cloth backdrop.
“I visualize the idea that I have and whatever the medium may be, and I just attack it,” Thomson said. “I really don’t have a plan, but I just use my imagination.”
It’s an imagination that took hold as a child in western New York, where Thomson lived in the small, rural town of South Wales, not far from Buffalo and Lake Erie. Thomson described the town as a farming community surrounded by forests. It was in those woods where Thomson spent his childhood watching birds and building forts. The woods also supplied Thomson the inspiration for his artwork. He paints a lot of naturalistic scenery, including mountain-range views or meandering creeks, weaving through a forest in the fall.
“I always played out in the woods by myself because there weren’t many kids my age growing up,” Thomson said. “So, it inspired me a lot.”
The farms in the area also influenced Thomson when he started to use saw blades as a decorative showcase of his pastoral designs. The cutting tool was found in a lot of barns in South Wales. When Thomson moved to North Carolina more than 20 years ago, he began to track them down at local flea markets and farms.
Since most of the saw blades were weathered and worn, Thomson uses muriatic acid to remove the rust before grinding down the metal with a still wire. He places a primer over the blade, allowing him to paint.
“This is something I see hanging in a log cabin,” Thomson said of the blades with paintings of a forest on them. “If I was going to paint a tropical scene, then that would go into a beach house.”
The unique approach Thomson takes hearkens back to when he was a child. His father was a firefighter in South Wales, and he entered Thomson’s drawings into the fire station’s art contest. While most of the kids drew in the lines, Thomson always and purposely colored all over the picture. He regularly won first place.
“When you color inside the lines, it just didn’t look quite right to me,” Thomson said.
He continues to look at things differently. Besides the saw blades, Thomson is now working with drywall. After watching a video on the internet, Thomson began to make plaster and create different designs for himself. He has made the fossil skeleton of a velociraptor and a scene from the beach with a sand castle out of drywall.
“I figure if I can’t be at the beach every day messing around in the sand, I could stand in some drywall,” Thomson said.
The drywall doesn’t involve any technique for Thomson. He takes a computer screen shot of what he wants to create, then makes the dry wall and begins to place small amounts in layers before building it out. Thomson said trial and error has been the best approach, like the time he started putting big blobs of drywall onto a sheet. The amount was too much, causing the mixture to dry and crack before Thomson could get around to molding what he wanted.
“You learn from it,” Thomson said.
He also has learned about the power of the internet from his two children. Shunning Twitter and Facebook, Thomson has an Instagram account, but rarely goes on it. It was his son, Scott, and daughter, Cassandra, who convinced him to start showing his artwork online. Scott, who creates websites, made one for Thomson. He also showed Thomson a website which allows artists to sell their artwork. Thomson shows his pieces locally at 47K Marketplace in Monroe.
The future for Thomson isn’t a clear one. He knows he wants to continue to make art, and if that means drywall or on a saw blade, that is fine. It also could mean delving back into just painting on a regular canvas.
“There’s the question mark,” Thomson said. “I don’t care if I don’t make any money off my work. I can be a starving artist. I am fine with that.”