Local Painting Prodigy Embraces an Artistic Life
Photographer / Kevin Swan
As children, we often form an identity in one way or another. For example, we are known perhaps as the athlete, the animal lover or the reader. Stephanie Paige Thomson, a Brownsburg native, was deemed the artist in her family.
“I was always drawing as a kid,” says Thomson, one of five girls. “My sisters all had their own thing, but mine was art.”
Though she began painting master copies of Van Gogh and Monet at age 14, it wasn’t until she graduated from high school in 2015 after being home schooled that she realized she still had a lot to learn. Though she longed for formal training, she didn’t necessarily want to attend a traditional art school where she would have to study a variety of mediums. She wanted to focus solely on painting. Therefore, she sought out workshops and local master artists such as C.W. Mundy.
“I’ll never forget walking into my first class,” Thomson says. “I showed up, 17 years old, the youngest one there. Everyone else was a professional painter or had been doing it a while.”
She describes feeling overwhelmed with all the information thrown at her during the seven-hour class, without a clue as to the various techniques to which she was being introduced.
“It leveled any ego I had,” recalls Thomson, who was on the verge of tears by the end of the day.
However, the experience didn’t deter her.
“I told my mom, ‘I don’t know anything about painting, but I’m going to figure this out,” Thomson says. “It was a huge blessing to start what would become my career in that mindset.”
Over the course of the next year, Thomson enrolled in six intense, five-day workshops in various parts of the country.
“For the next four years I took classes and workshops, treating it like my college education because that’s what it was,” says Thomson, who loves to paint people first and foremost, followed by landscapes and still-life images.
In April of 2016 Thomson received a scholarship to attend a Portrait Society of America conference, which attracts huge names in the art world from all over the country.
“I was 17 sitting in this demonstration hall watching living masters paint up on stage,” Thomson says. “I turned to my mom and whispered, ‘I’m going to be up there one day.’”
Through the years Thomson, 22, has entered several local art competitions, winning awards along the way. The first time she was accepted into the Hoosier Art Salon show, Indiana’s most prestigious art show, was in August of 2016, and she has been accepted every year since then. In August of 2019 she received Best of Show and third-place honors for her two entries in the annual show.
Thomson broke into her first national show in 2017, at the American Impressionist Society’s national show hosted at Montgomery-Lee Fine Art in Park City, Utah. She was thrilled to compete against a bigger pool of talent.
“There are no bad paintings in a national show, so this opened my eyes to what’s out there,” says Thomson, who in March of 2020 was notified that her painting “Maine Man” had been accepted into her first international show – the Portrait Society of America’s 22nd annual International Portrait Competition.
At the international show, 24 finalists are chosen from 3,000 applicants. Thomson received a certificate of excellence for her work.
Though Thomson paints Monday through Friday, the number of hours she spends on her craft varies widely. Some days it might only be a few hours, and on other days she’ll look at the clock and realize she’s been at it for nine hours straight. The length of time it takes to complete a painting also differs. She has spent as long as six months on a single work, and as little as three hours on another.
“A master artist once said, ‘Some paintings are haikus, some are poems and some are novels,’” Thomson says.
One reality every artist has to learn to face is the fear of messing up.
“It’s sort of a plague of creative people, but you can’t begin creating something if you have a feeling of fear,” Thomson says. “My vision for what I want my painting to be is always several steps ahead of what my skill level will allow me to do, which is good. Otherwise, I’d probably plateau. It’s a good thing to want more, but it can plague you if you can’t appreciate what you can do currently.”
Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, Thomson suffered some disappointments due to the coronavirus pandemic, including a cancellation of a trip to Italy in June. She has, however, found a silver lining in a difficult situation.
“Being forced to slow down was not such a bad thing, as I was wildly over-scheduled before,” Thomson says. “The shutdown allowed me to spend more time on paintings and ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Though she sometimes suffers from painter’s block, mostly in the month of January, she also finds the craft to be so consuming that it occasionally fills her subconscious mind.
“I’ll go to sleep and dream about how to finish a painting,” Thomson says. “It’s crazy and so interesting. I have way more paintings in my mind than I could ever paint.”
During the coronavirus-related shutdowns, Thomson was grateful to be able to offer something she feels is vital to the health of society.
“People looked to movies, dance, paintings, music, books and all kinds of art as a way to calm their anxiety, and cope with all that was happening,” says Thomson, who recently began teaching portrait workshops at the urging of her artist friends. “Someday I hope to teach workshops all over the world. To teach in Italy is my dream.”
Her long-term goals are both simple and beautiful – to completely support herself on painting alone.
“I’d love to be teaching and painting, because looking at the world in a visual way is a really beautiful way to live.”
Check out Thomson’s work at stephaniepaigethomson.com.