Local creations: Borough artist blends mediums for graphic look

Illustrator Tom Ryan shows off some of his work at his studio in Naugatuck.

NAUGATUCK — Tom Ryan is a jack of all trades. He describes himself as “illustrator/fine artist/graphic designer/awesome.” He’s a graphic artist, web designer, and gallery owner.

Ryans majored in illustration at Paier College in Hamden and graduated in 2001.

“It was the only thing I was good at in school. I wanted to be a scientist then and inventor, but I wasn’t smart enough,” Ryan said.

Back in college, Ryan said he was all about comic books. He liked drawing figures and action sequences.

“Not a lot of people can relate to that, I noticed,” Ryan said.

When he got his first graphic arts job, a co-worker suggested he draw monkeys.

Ryan sketched out a graphic monkey with a lot of personality. Soon, he was taking requests for other types of animals.

“People related more to animals,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s animals feature graphic, stylized lines, abstract backgrounds, and blank Orphan Annie-like eyes. Over the years, his drawings have become more intricate.

“I’m kind of just growing up the characters,” Ryan said.

At first, Ryan’s animals still had back stories, like Steamy the whale who flew because he was full of hot air, and Toot Toot the monkey who would magically toot wherever he went.

“A lot of people don’t like hearing that after they bought a painting, so I kind of stopped telling them that stuff,” Ryan said.

Ryan paints his animal characters on skateboards, canvases, and pieces of wood, using spray paint, acrylic, ink, and watercolor.

He starts by painting an abstract, funky background and then tries to find something suitable to go on top of it. By starting with the background, Ryan said he can put the characters on top of it without worrying about ruining the painting.

Ryan draws his characters by hand, then paints them before transferring it into a digital format that he can turn into stickers or other graphics.

“The digital medium has really just completely freed up the whole creative process,” Ryan said.

In addition to selling his own work, Ryan owns Bump Art Gallery, named after one of his characters. His first show about two years ago in New London featured 17 artists and 87 pieces of artwork.

“It turned out really great. … The problem is finding locations, it’s kind of rough,” said Ryan, who added it’s hard to get a short-term lease for the space.

Even though he likes creating art, Ryan said he hopes to run the gallery full-time one day.

Ryan said he likes dipping his toes in the business end of art, taking final products and presenting them in a fashion people can relate to. He said presentation is important.

“You can have a great piece and bring it in with a bad frame and it just looks like crap,” Ryan said. “I’ve learned that from personal experience.”

Ryan enjoys the lead up to an art show — getting the prints ready, hanging the art, making postcards. His reward comes when the show comes together and the people come and appreciate the work he’s put into the show.

Ryan said he made back the money he invested in his first art show.

“The next time around, I’m hoping hopefully to make a profit,” Ryan said.

Tom Ryan’s Studio

Artist: Tom Ryan

Medium: mixed – spray paint, acrylics, ink, watercolor, digital

Website: www.tomryansstudio.com

Local Creations is a series that highlights the creative side of a local resident.