Spokane Valley artist Tom Hansons masterpieces dont hang in galleries. Youre most likely to spot them when you deposit your paycheck, sit down at a business conference table for a meeting, or go to a doctors clinic for a checkup.
Hanson owns Tom Hanson Arts, a longtime business through which he creates commissioned artwork for corporate clients. He has painted canvassesfrom landscapes to abstractsfor businesses throughout the Northwest. His clients have ranged from Boeing Co., a Seattle hair salon, and a Tacoma TV station, to Spokanes Rockwood Clinic, Post Falls Jacklin Seed Co., and Great Falls, Mont.-based D.A. Davidson & Co.
Of his typical painting, Hanson says, Its a custom-made piece to fit the environment and fit the budget. Those two items have allowed me to make a living for 30 years. His motto, he adds, is, No wall too big, no space too small.
One of his more recent large projects, consisting of 10 pieces, was for the rustic-themed Coeur dAlene branch and administrative building that Panhandle State Bank opened at 200 Neider Ave. last year.
The largest of those paintings, named Panhandle Falls and measuring nine feet square, actually is three horizontal canvasses positioned side by side to create a contiguous mountain waterfall scene. Its positioned high on a prominent wall facing the branchs lobby, between two massive stone-and-timber pillars, and is flanked on either side by 4-foot-by-5-foot paintings depicting similar scenes. Those pieces are positioned lower on the wall, next to bank employees desks, and two other pieces he painted, both depicting Lake Coeur dAlene, are on a back wall that customers see when theyre talking with tellers at the branchs main service counter. Other pieces he produced for the bank hang in its conference rooms and administrative office area.
That project, Hanson says, took him close to a year to complete, from initial concept to when he hung the paintings.
Some pieces are huge and time-consuming. Or, I can do 30, 40, or 50 smaller ones at a time, he says. The prices he charges for the pieces range from as little as a couple of hundred dollars to many, many thousands of dollars, he says.
Over the years, Ive done I dont know, thousands of paintings, he adds. To have broad appeal, your work must be multidimensional. Some (clients) will like the representational landscapes or industrial imagery. Others respond to the abstract, nonobjective work, or the collages.
Of the abstract paintings he does, Hanson says, I get to play with color, texture, and composition, and its funa blast of color.
All of his paintings are originals, mostly acrylic paints on canvas. He says, though, that he expects in the next year or two to release limited editions of two collections, one Hawaiian themed and the other featuring Northwest and Rocky Mountain scenes, and hopes to sell them through galleries.
Do I make a good living doing it? Some years I do, and some years I dont, Hanson says. Whats most important to him, he says, is that he gets to pursue his lifelong passion for painting. He says he greatly enjoys enhancing with a final touch these fancy interiors, and he adds, My clients are real happy with what Ive done for them.
Hanson was born and raised in Great Falls in a family of artists and designers.
My dad had an outdoor advertising and sign company. That was when I first got my hands dirty painting, as a toddler, he says. His oldest brother, Don, is a well-known potter in Great Falls, he says, and his stepbrother, Daniel Kelly, whom he describes as a mentor, is an internationally renowned artist in Kyoto, Japan.
So its a natural calling to be brought up in that environment and a bit of a spoiler, really. It spoiled me to not want to do anything else, Hanson says.
He says he started selling his paintings when he was in high school and began making some pretty good money at it, which led him to pursue his art more seriously.
Hanson moved to Spokane shortly before the Expo 74 worlds fair to pursue fair-related job opportunities and to market his paintings. He landed a job at the fair as an entertainment production manager and sold his paintings for a time through a gallery at Second City, a popular entrepreneurial retail center that was operating downtown then.
When Expo 74 ended, Hanson became road manager for the Harry James Orchestra, which had performed at the fair, and moved to Hollywood, Calif. During his stint with the band, he says, he toured more than 350 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
It was a great opportunity, but I was longing to be more creative, he says. Through the United Scenic Artists union in Los Angeles, he then began applying his skills with paint and canvas to help create scenes on the sets of film, TV, and theater productions there.
To supplement that income, he says, I went full time with my art in L.A., literally going door to door on Wilshire Boulevard, offering to do commissioned artwork for businesses there. It was kind of a bizarre way to go about it, he says, but it was productive.
Over time, he says, he developed a solid list of corporate clients, which enabled him to move his studio back to Great Falls in 1979 and serve his customers from there. He opened a gallery there in the early 1980s and operated it for 11 years, after which he also lived for a time in Denver and for two years on the Hawaiian island of Maui. He moved back to the Spokane area about a year ago, and a converted garage-shop building at his Spokane Valley home now serves as his studio.
One of the things he says he enjoys about doing commissioned artwork for corporate clients is the interaction he has with the companies executives to determine what type of art they want and what effect or impact they want it to have.
By inviting the client into the process, you create a bond that leads to successrevealing the identity of where they are and what they do. The art becomes something they can love, because they see themselves in it, he says on his Web site, at www.tomhansonarts.com.
Hanson says hes well aware that there are some artists who might turn their noses up at the thought of creating pieces designed so specifically for commercial uses, rather than, say, for admiring individual collectors.
Im OK with that because Im working for myself, and Im working for a client, he says. Im just making a living. I learned early on that (getting) money for art is not a bad thing. I love what I do, and thats its greatest reward.
Contact Kim Crompton at (509) 344-1263 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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