By Ingrid Schnader
When you walk into Thomas Andrew’s upcoming art space in downtown Homewood this December, you won’t be sure if you’re in a store, a bar, a gallery or a studio.
It will have a bartop and menu board, just like some of your favorite Friday night haunts. But instead of serving alcohol, the menu has different canvas and paper sizes. Instead of sitting at the bar and drinking, you can sit at the bar and paint.
“I’m going to have an open-door policy where you could just walk in, anytime, by yourself or with friends, and you can come paint,” Andrew said.
The multi-use facility will be at 1925 29th Ave. S., which is a block and a half away from 18th Street, and the grand opening is Dec. 6. Andrew won’t be serving alcohol there, but adults are welcome to bring in a drink to sip while they work.
On nights and weekends, Andrew plans to have scheduled class times at the space. But he said some people are scared to follow along in a class setting because they can’t draw.
Instead of drawing on each individual canvas for visitors, Andrew came up with a solution with his image transfers. Visitors can put transfer paper on their canvases and trace Andrew’s image onto the canvas.
“Or they can just take a canvas and do their own thing,” he said. “They can just freeform it, abstract it or whatever.”
There will be a wall in the back of the space that Andrew will use for team-building and mural painting. He will draw out the mural, and then companies can take their employees to paint on it.
“To keep your people happy, you’re always trying to find ways to do things, what they call off-sites, where they’re doing something fun as a group, as a team,” he said. “What they figure is, if they work well together outside, they’ll work well together inside.”
When the team is finished painting the mural, members can take a photo in front of it and purchase prints of the finished painting.
He also wants to have a splatter tent in the space, but he’s not sure whether that portion will be ready by opening.
“You can bring in anything (to splatter),” he said. “You can buy a canvas if you want to splatter it, or you can bring in an old pair of jeans or shoes or hats.”
He doesn’t want to call the space a gallery, but he will be selling his art there, and he will be renting out wall space for other artists to sell their art too.
Additionally, he’s offering subscription art classes on the website ThomasAndrewArt.tv. Visitors who buy a canvas can get a free trial of the site to follow along with Andrew.
Becoming an Artist
Andrew doesn’t have much of an art background. He majored in graphic design when he went to Auburn University in the late 1980s, but he never painted.
Instead, Andrew’s background is as a serial businessman.
When he graduated from college, he worked for a textile company in North Carolina as a graphic artist. But after five years there, his mother became sick, so he moved back to Birmingham.
From there, he did just about everything. He started a magazine featuring local celebrities and pets, then he started a weekly radio show about pets on WBRC, he opened up a boutique pet store in Brookwood Mall, he opened up a dot com just before the bubble burst, and he even bought a jewelry business.
When a friend who also was in the jewelry business bought him out, he was talking to his dad and trying to figure out what his next adventure would be. His dad suggested he get into art.
“I could always draw as a kid,” Andrew said. “I said, ‘Eh, I don’t know if I want to be a starving artist.’ And my dad’s a businessman, and he said, ‘Why do you have to be a starving artist? If you apply the same business principles to your art business that you did to these other businesses, you should be successful.’”
He spent the next few years trying to find his voice as an artist. He didn’t have health insurance or cable TV, and he was going to Sam’s Club every day to get free food samples.
“The first couple of years were lean and mean,” he said. “I was at the age where I couldn’t go to my dad. I wouldn’t, just out of pride. It was sink or swim time. When you’re that desperate, you’re very inspired to figure out how to make it work.”
His first few paintings were portraits of his friends and their families, but he didn’t want to be a portrait artist forever. His dad had a place in Colorado that inspired him to start painting cowboys. One gallery owner in Edgewood liked his style and put some of Andrew’s cowboy paintings in the gallery.
But nothing was selling. People in Alabama don’t typically hang cowboy paintings on their walls. He learned a valuable lesson, and now he teaches this in his art classes.
“As an artist, it’s not about you,” he said. “I know you think it is, but it’s about what your customer wants. There’s got to be a balance between what you want to make and what they want to buy.
“You’ve got to know who your audience is first. Because if you don’t know who to sell to, you don’t know what they’re putting in their homes, you don’t know what their price points are or where they shop for their work. You don’t know their colors. You’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall, hoping something sticks.”
He went to art gallery owner Jim Smith and asked him what people ask for when they go into his gallery. Smith said that people go in looking for angels.
“I went home and painted one to start with, figuring out my style,” he said. “A friend of mine whose husband had some health issues, she came over to buy a cowboy, because she was being nice. … She saw this angel, and she just started crying.”
She bought it right away. Andrew painted more angels, and he was off to the races.
Now a professional artist for the past 15 years, Andrew paints lots of landscapes and abstract animals. He even still paints cowboys — but only if he’s going to a show in Texas.
To read updates about Andrew’s upcoming Homewood space or to browse the art he has for sale, visit thomasandrewart.com.