An Artists Journey

Artist Bio, Flootie, Social Media

We are happy to introduce to you our good friend Tom Quinn.  Tom is a much loved and respected artist and has his fingerprints all over our website (He created all the caricatures for us on  You can see more of the work of Tom Quinn here

Being fired can be a blessing.

The main reason I am a professional artist today is that I’ve been fired from every job that wasn’t art-related, and some that were. It’s not that I wasn’t always interested in art. Growing up in Great Falls, Montana, I ended up spending a lot of time in the C. M. Russell Museum, built to house a collection of work by the “cowboy artist” who did most of his work in my home town. It also helped that there were other artists in my family. My aunt painted seriously in the 1950s, but stopped when she married and raised a family. However, she encouraged her daughter, who went on to become an art major and one of the most successful artists in Montana. My aunt also advised my mother — her sister — about which art supplies to buy me, because they both noticed that I loved to draw.

I started doing acrylic paintings around the age of 11, and asked my mother to buy me some oil paints by the time I was 13. We didn’t have much of an art education program at the parochial school I attended, and the closest thing to Saturday art classes for kids were jewelry making classes at the C. M. Russell Museum. I have never been interested in jewelry (to this day, I wear no rings, and my ears are still unpierced), and I didn’t have much enthusiasm for those classes, but I’m grateful to my mom for enrolling me, because once a week I got to see those oil paintings, watercolors and bronze sculptures that made me want to create paintings of my own. Fortunately, the public school system in Great Falls was unusually generous to their art department. I got to do watercolors, oil paintings, prints, and sculptures. I still wan’t sure I wanted a career in art. For one thing, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to express visually. I certainly didn’t want to do pretty pictures of flowers and old barns, and abstraction held no interest to me. I had a lot better idea of what I did not want to paint than what I did. In college, I was so unsure about art that the first major I declared was history. After many hours of studio classes, I changed my major to art, but I wasn’t optimistic about my chances as a professional.

The high point of my college years was unquestionably my junior year, spent in Florence. That was where I fell in love with Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Piero di Cosimo, and all the other great masters of 15th century Italian art. I changed my major to art history. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I got myself a blue-collar job, and was fired after four months. I decided to try my hand at a comic strip, but gave up when it was rejected by all the syndicates I submitted it to. I still had paints and brushes, but I wasn’t much interested in painting. Everything turned around when I saw a small exhibit of paintings by the illustrator Richard Hess at the Spokane Falls Community College art gallery. Most of the paintings were intended to be reproduced in magazines and on book and record album covers, so the originals were not much larger than the intended reproduction size. I was intrigued by his style. Although Hess was clearly a well-trained and sophisticated artist, he gave his paintings an intentionally primitive look which gave them charm and originality. I began to want to be an artist like Richard Hess, doing work on commission for a reliable wage, but in my own style. A week later, I bought a catalogue of work by other illustrators like Paul Davis, Teresa Fasolino, Robert Giusti, and Marvin Mattelson.


The artist who especially fascinated me was Braldt Bralds, who did breathtaking hard-edged oil paintings with the kind of soft tones I thought were only possible with an airbrush. Like Hess, he could be primitive, but always in a clearly intentional way. I decided to go to the Art Institute of Seattle, to get a degree in “applied art” that I hoped would lead to a career in illustration. I didn’t think I had much more to learn about art, but it turned out that in college I’d gotten a woefully inadequate education on the technical side of art: anatomy, composition, perspective, color theory.

Two years later, I felt my new career as an illustrator was ready to take off. Unfortunately, I graduated at a time — 1986 — when the art of illustration had all but died out. Vinyl records were being replaced by compact discs, and with them the demand for imaginative album cover art. Art directors were turning more and more toward photography, computer graphics, and computer-manipulated photography. The great illustrators I wanted to emulate were now trying to make a living painting on spec rather than on commission.

I got a job back in my home town of Great Falls, as the layout artist for the advertising department of a supermarket chain. When I was fired four years later, I was worried about my future, but also relieved. It was time to get back to painting, whether I could make a living at it or not. For complicated reasons, I ended up coming back to Spokane. I got a job as a picture framer, and was fired after a week. I got a job as a production artist at a printing house, and was fired after two weeks. All that time, I was still painting. I did volunteer work at a non-profit art gallery run by the Spokane Art School, which led to a teaching job. I also started teaching at the Corbin Art Center, the Spokane Art Supply store, and various elementary schools around the city. When a new weekly newspaper called The Inlander started publishing, I got a job doing weekly illustrations and occasional covers. In 1993, I got my first mural commission, in downtown Spokane. That led to several more murals, notably an especially tall one at the Spokane International Airport. In the last 20 years, I’ve been drawing caricatures at social and business events, doing paintings on commission, showing my work in art galleries throughout the northwest, and even making a sale or two of uncommissioned paintings.Art has never been profitable for me in the financial sense, but at least I can’t be fired from it.

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