By Taylor Aube
Artist Thomas Ard, known to many as ‘TomTom,’ brings joy to many people’s lives through his paintings. Happy, lighthearted and figurative are three words to describe his style. Hailing from Lumberton, this artist has a happy-go-lucky attitude towards his creative process. The ultimate goal of his art is to make the viewer smile. Ard explained, “You never know how a smile can change someone’s day.”
When asked what kind of art he creates, Ard enthusiastically exclaimed, “That’s a broad subject. My answer to that would probably be LIFE! The art of living.” Whether it’s painting with watercolors or acrylics, designing or styling a room… those are just a small piece of Ard’s artistic endeavors. This artist’s exuberance lives not only through his art, but also through his personality. His upbeat attitude will constantly have you smiling, no matter if it is a special moment he is helping prepare or a quick conversation on the phone.
His art does not stop at paintings and design, considering he has a wide background of creativity. Ard explained, “I consider myself to be a much more complex artist than just [a painter]. For some reason I have this innate desire to create in every aspect of life. Whether it’s setting the perfect table, entertaining, conversation, styling a friend, caring for someone or in the kitchen cooking... These are all forms of art I like to create.”
Ard’s signature style can be explained as impressionistic and whimsical. His aesthetic is present in every piece he creates. “A positively happy STYLE,” he said. A man full of passion and imaginative ideas, Ard creates with so much soul and heart. “Every time I sell an original it’s like selling a piece of my heart.”
A labor of love, some may call it, but creating doesn’t seem like work to Ard, it’s more of a second nature. Although he loves to get lost in a creative sublime, his creations also reflect a carefree nature unrestrained by the contemporary rules of art. Ard declared, “I love portraying how beautiful, witty and funny life can be. I think my art resonates so well with a lot of people, particularly southerners, because of the values and humor I like portray in my art.”
Ard is also a talented calligrapher and his wide variety of written content embellishes his sketches and watercolors perfectly. “Calligraphy is one of those gifts that just happened one day. I taught myself and have never taken a class. That’s probably why it has such a quirky style. It’s fun and free flowing like me,” he explained.
As Ard continues to grow as a person over time, so does his art. When describing his inspiration Ard emphasized, “the underlying message of being positive and happy is still the same. I want to stay current with what people are buying, so I will be able to be a positive force for the many that need that encouragement. I would hate to know I work so hard to stay the same! Change is good... It shows GROWTH!” Another way he adapts to growing as an artist is keeping even himself on his toes. He does this by constantly changing things up within his studio. Ard said, “Recently, my favorite materials to use would be watercolors. I love the transparency and how it flows with calligraphy. I really like to keep things fresh, so next week that could mean acrylics or pastels. I don’t like to get bored with a medium or my art, so I’m always changing.”
Just as his style develops over time and his use of mediums may change week to week, the different seasons bring constant inspiration to this eccentric artist. “My favorite theme to play around with would have to be the seasons! We all love holidays and traditions especially here in the south. Each season has its holidays and they always make people smile. No matter what season we are in, we always start to look forward to the next - that keeps me going.” He continued, “My favorite season to interpret would be fall! Fall is like an awakening for me. It gives you a sense of togetherness and family. I know as soon as fall is over that winter is on its way and that’s my hibernation time and a chance to work on collections in the studio for the coming year. Fall marks the beginning of my personal calendar year.”
A colorful season such as fall packs some serious aesthetics into three short months. Colorful leaves, gourds and the smell of warm cinnamon, all of this wonderful imagery and senses of fall reflect perfectly in his seasonal art. “The things I can’t live without in my studio would be great music such as Frank Sinatra and Melody Gardot and a candle that fits the smell of the season,” explained Ard. At this time of year, the scent is undoubtedly pumpkin spice!
The change of seasons is not the only thing that inspires Ard. Muses play an important role in his creative process. “My work does seem to be inspired by only women, but I get inspiration from both women and men. Growing up, I did not watch much TV because I was too busy drawing and painting. While the other kids would watch cartoons and play sports… I was the weird child that was enamored with watching Martha Stewart, Laynette Jennings, and Christopher Lowell. They probably inspired me the most! I have quite a long list of muses. Steve Tyrell, is a great musician that really gets my creativity flowing. Whether it’s with a glass of great wine and cooking, or in my studio painting; I always get my best work done while listening to him. Kelly Sheppard Shatat from Moon and Lola is another one of my muses, she’s amazing! I love how she stays current, always in the press, coming up with killer ideas and how she markets herself. I admire her a lot. I also get much inspiration from friends, as well as other creatives like James Farmer, Natalie Dupree, Ina Garten and Kate Spade.”
Although Ard doesn’t consider his style traditionally “southern,” there are a few tidbits about him that are charmingly so. A few of his past commissioned pieces were monogrammed or hand-painted wine glasses. Paired with some delicious swirls of paint and funky polka-dots, these adorable glasses were made specially for someone with a unique arrangement of letters. Ard discussed this specific style, “Monogramming has been around for ages dating back to the Greeks and Romans. When early settlers from England arrived, many of their belongings were engraved with their monogram and crest. In the south, we are what we are taught and traditions we hold dear. While other parts of the U.S. may consider it passé; we as southerners know it was here long before us and is an art that will continue long after us!” Ard continued, “Personally, I think used with taste and a little modesty it can be very distinguishing. Let us not forget the prestigious LV on Louis Vuitton and interlocking CC on Chanel are both monograms. I’m sure all southerners will agree with me, when I use the southern endearment ‘Bless your heart,’ for all those that don’t care for monogramming!”
If you want to keep an eye out for this budding artist and his creations, there are a couple of special places to find him in Fayetteville. New boutique, Monkee's, is decoated with original works by Ard. Betty Kelly's is a gift shop that has been three generations in the making. The shop started in its current owner’s grandmother’s home. Betty Huffines Kelly took over this family practice, gave it the current storefront and named it The Gift Shop. The current owner, Frances Kelly Morketter, succeeded her mother and changed the store’s name to Betty Kelly’s.
Frances has transformed the humble project into a notable destination shop where many people travel to from across the state for the perfect gift. Ard explained, “I was introduced to Frances about five years ago. She took a chance on me and my art and for that I will forever be indebted. Since then our friendship has blossomed and she is the only store that sells my TomTom originals.”
As for his professional goal, Ard has a long list of things he wants to achieve. He explained, “My biggest goal would be to create a company and a brand that gives back. Not necessarily in a monetary way (I always want to be philanthropic), but one that gives back by feeding the soul with laughter, humor and love! I want a brand that promotes a grateful and positive lifestyle. I want to teach people how to live extraordinarily by slowing down, being grateful and enjoying life. Maybe it will be a book, magazine or TV show... I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t limit the possibilities!”
As such an upbeat and inspirational person as Thomas ‘TomTom’ Ard is, seemingly nothing will stop him from reaching the top. He has an optimistic outlook on life and with each lighthearted stroke of his brush, paints the pictures that reflect his perfectly happy personality. To keep him motivated, Ard has a personal quote hanging on his wall for inspiration. It reads, “Give more than you take, love more than you’ve been loved and must be positive to receive the positive.” –TomTom
Follow TomTom’s art on Instagram @tomtomandco.