Thom Robinson:
Scene Seeker

By Rachel Perry

W hen it comes to painting outdoors, artist Thom Robinson doesn’t mess around. He paints in all kinds of weather, any time of day, and thinks nothing of hiking or boating for miles just to find a scene that inspires him.

“I’m a tonal painter,” he explains. “I like to be out early in the morning before the sun comes out—before the sun breaks over the ridge.”

“Most of the places where I paint are places I go all the time. Sometimes I’ll be walking a farm and I won’t really stop and paint. I’ll just walk all over. Then, during the night, I just kind of see it in my sleep. Then I know where I want to paint. Sometimes I paint (from a boat) when I’m floating down the river,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy that likes to see what’s around the next bend in the road or the river.”

Mr. Robinson typically carries a knapsack and does not bother with an easel if he’s hiking a long distance. His oil paints consist of six large tubes (black, white, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue and cadmium red) and no thinner. From these components he can mix any color.

“A French easel (a self-contained box that folds into an easel) is too heavy to take far from the truck,” the artist said. The exception is when he uses a sled to pull his equipment. But in southern Indiana, sled weather is limited. “I wanted to paint a snow scene for this year’s Hoosier Salon (annual exhibit), but we never had snow,” he lamented.

Originally from Michigan, Mr. Robinson was accustomed to painting in snow. “I love to paint in winter when it is quiet and still,” he said. “When I was in Michigan everybody painted outside. Then when I came here in the mid 1970s, nobody painted outside.”

The increasing popularity of plein air (outside) painting among Hoosier artists has made sponsored “paint outs” (outdoor painting contests) more common. “When T.C. Steele State Historic Site had the only paint out, I lived for that day every year. My wife Pat would tell you there was no compromise on that day,” Mr. Robinson laughed. “Five o’clock in the morning, I’d be out of here and the first artist at the Site gate.”

Mr. Robinson’s moody landscapes reflect his intimacy with Indiana’s diverse natural resources and Hoosier rural life. “I like to get in the woods,” he says. “People started referring to me as a ‘ditch painter’ because I started doing a lot of paintings close in the woods.”

Thom Robinson grew up in Flint, Michigan, with two brothers and a sister. Their mother painted, and woodworking was a skill practiced by their father. In high school, Thom attended the Flint Institute of Art and enjoyed illustrating wildlife and geese as well as various motorized vehicles. His talent helped him to be selected as the assistant art teacher in the Jr. High. “One problem with art school,” he said, “They were so worried about squashing your spirit or whatever, that they didn’t teach anything. I always regretted that when I got older because I never got the formal step-by-step training.”

Thom left his home state when he entered the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. There he met many people from Bedford, Indiana (including his first wife) because Crane (also located in southern Indiana) had a Naval Base right next to his work place. When Mr. Robinson and his wife were returning from California in 1977, they stopped to visit her relatives in Bedford. Intrigued by Southern Indiana, Thom changed his plans to return to Michigan and settled down to paint Hoosier hills.

In his quest for artistic improvement, Mr. Robinson has studied with Kaye Pool, Robert Hoffman, Ken Auster and C.W. Mundy, among others. “When I was doing a lot of workshops, I used to try to paint like other people,” he admitted. “C.W. (Mundy) was the one that forced me to paint like myself.”

“I especially like Martin County. If I were making enough money selling paintings, I’d move there.” In the meantime, Mr. Robinson works mornings for a tool and die company. “I make enough money to paint,” he laughs.

Despite the fact that Thom Robinson has yet to realize his financial goal with art, he’s had no problem with amassing recognition for his work. This last spring one of his paintings was accepted in the prestigious “Oil Painters of America” national juried exhibit. He has captured purchase awards at the Hoosier Salon annual exhibit for the past two years, and won second place in the T.C. Steele State Historic Site Spring Paint Out last year.

In Nashville, Mr. Robinson has paintings in the Honeysuckle Gallery and is currently featured at the Waldron Gallery.

The Waldron recently expanded into an additional 1000 square feet of space in the Heritage Mall on Van Buren Street, and opened an exhibit of paintings by David Dale, Todd Reifers, Al Hopkins, Gary Anderson, Wayne Waldron, and photographs by Peggy Waldron in addition to Thom Robinson’s landscapes.

To get in touch directly with Mr. Robinson call

812-279-2546 or e-mail him at <>