Thomas Valentine

REVELO ISSUE 02 • Written by Brooke Carlock Miller

Story Sponsor:
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices
215 South Centerville Road • Lancaster, PA 17603
(717) 615-4874 •

If you’ve ever walked around downtown Lancaster and noticed random painted rocks, abstract paintings, wall murals, or googly eyes in odd places, chances are you’ve seen the handiwork of local artist Thomas Valentine. A prolific painter, sculptor, and creative project enthusiast, Tom produces each work of art with one core ambition: to make people smile.

Looking at his work, which is inspired by Pop art, comics, and a good dose of humor, it’s impossible to imagine the obstacles Tom has overcome in order to craft his designs. For one, Tom is colorblind. It wasn’t until fifth grade when a school nurse sent a note home to his mom that he realized he might not see colors the same as everyone else. He has trouble seeing “the basics—red, green, and blue,” he explains, “and I can’t see brown.”

He points to a painting on his apartment wall: “Like that red painting up there, that could easily be brown. Pink’s another color that I can’t see at all, but I love. When I paint with it, whatever I see and what you see are totally different, but I see something that I like about pink. I don’t know what it is.”

How does a painter adjust to life without a perception of certain colors? “I don’t go into a painting thinking, ‘What colors am I going to use?’” Tom explains, “I usually use bright colors, because that’s what I like.” To assist with projects that take multiple days, he has developed a system where he mixes his colors by measuring quarter, nickel, penny, and dimesize amounts, which he then records so he can recreate the same colors later.

Tom hasn’t let his colorblindness get in the way of his passion for art. A graduate of Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, he has spent years honing his personal style. “I think it’s just life in general,” he says, when asked about where he gets his inspiration. “It’s kind of like, ‘What would I want to put on my wall?’ I get inspiration from that a lot. I like that some of my paintings are very silly… I want someone to hang something up in their place, and it makes that person happy every day. That makes me happy. I really like that feeling.”

A few years after graduating with a Fine Arts degree, Tom had to overcome another obstacle. He awoke one morning surrounded by smoke as his apartment burned around him. He survived the fire, but suffered mentally from shock. The fire destroyed the majority of his artwork, along with his personal belongings. At that point, he moved in with his parents in Cape May, NJ to recover. “I wasn’t going to come back to Lancaster,” he remembers, visibly shaken at the recollection. However, a friend changed Tom’s mind. “He basically told me, ‘You have to come back to Lancaster. You’re doing art. The city’s gonna come around to the whole art scene. You need to come back, and I have a place for you. Paint me the biggest painting you’ve ever painted as a gift for giving you a place.’”

Tom painted a canvas the size of the back of his parents’ house, and came back to Lancaster, but fifteen years later the memory of the fire still affects him daily: “That memory will be with me forever. You know, waking up in that place burning. Every time I fall asleep, I wonder if that’s going to be something I wake up to again.” One gets a sense, when speaking to Tom, that he not only creates his art to make people smile, but also to quiet his own mind.

“There’s just something in me that needs to create all the time… I just feel a need in me… It’s a high. It just balances your mind, and your body, and soul,” he says.

Currently, along with his job as a chef, Tom keeps himself busy with painting, sometimes working on up to four projects at a time. He displays his works around Lancaster at places such as Hidden Treasures, the Lancaster Visitor’s Center, and Root restaurant, as well as at personal art shows. He also recently completed a mural in downtown Lancaster.

In addition to painting, Tom fills social media with his latest art projects designed to elicit chuckles from local residents, including placing charmingly-painted rocks around Lancaster, “eyebombing” everyday objects and street signs with googly eyes, and building robot heads out of random items. “I think between these little projects and painting… It’s almost like an addiction. I get something from it. It just makes me happy.”

You can view Tom’s work

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