Though he was raised on a farm in the Midwest, Thomas W. Schaller spent the majority of his life in Manhattan where he worked as a commercial architectural artist. Today, however, he works for himself, as a watercolor painter based in Los Angeles. Schaller made the jump to a different profession after one of his artist friends asked him what he wanted to do with his life. “I told him I wanted to be a painter, a ‘real artist,'” he recalls, “but then I proceeded to detail all the reasons I had constructed that seemed to make that dream impossible. He listened politely to all my excuses and then said simply: ‘If you want to paint – just paint. All the rest will take care of itself.'”
That day, Schaller’s life changed. His background in architecture influences his art, however, as you can see in many of his paintings. “I am very drawn to the built environment, urban landscapes, and the idea of a physical home,” he told us. “But over time, I realized that it was the emotional weight these places have – the stories they have to tell – that most inspire me. I also realized that it was these stories and emotions I wanted to paint, not so much the buildings themselves.
“That said, I did build up a wealth of technical skills upon which I can draw – perspective, scale, composition, etc, – that have become almost a kind of ‘muscle memory’ for me as a painter. I no longer need to struggle as much with certain technical aspects of my painting and can concentrate more on the emotive impact.”
Schaller doesn’t just paint buildings, rarely are they seen as isolated subjects. The artist shows the movement of light across their surfaces and he almost always includes a human component, like people passing through a space, to define the architecture’s purpose and to also bring it to life.
As for his creative process, Schaller prefers to complete each work all at one time, rarely does he allow anything to be completely dry before he moves on to the next part. “This means juggling a lot at once and keeping large ares of my work wet at the same time,” he explains. “It’s a lot of fun, but timing can get tricky, most especially when working on larger paintings.”
When we asked him what he hoped others got out of his work, Schaller told us, “Most all my work is informed by real world observation but I never paint exactly what I see. I make a sincere attempt to interpret what I see, to paint how I feel about what I see. That’s the job of an artist, in my opinion. I ask my classes and myself to not paint what inspires us but to paint the inspiration itself.”