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Above The Clouds Now Then

Tom J Newell "I just love the act of drawing"

We've had the great pleasure of showcasing Tom J Newell's art many times in Now Then, starting in 2009. Even way back then, his work was already part of the fabric of the city, with strong threads running through indie venues and the DIY music scene in particular.

It's lovely to see Tom's craft still flourishing all these years later, including him working with some of his all-time heroes – at the same time as keeping it real with lots of local work here in Sheffield.

Tom told us more about what he's been up to since we last featured him in 2013(!)

Hello Tom, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. By my reckoning it’s been a solid eleven years since you last graced our pages, so for the benefit of those who are new to your work, could you tell us a little bit about how you came to be a visual artist?

Hey Now Then! It's an honour to be back talking to you.

I've been drawing cartoons and stuff since I was a kid. I ended up studying Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam, where I was making conceptual sound and video artworks by the time I graduated, but I was always making gig posters and stuff for bands I was in and for bands that friends were in alongside my main art practice.

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Tom J Newell

Eventually the more illustrative work took centre stage. I made a few zines, continued to make gig posters for bigger and bigger bands, and started to work with a string of lovely clients, which continues to this day.

I just love the act of drawing, getting caught up in that process of the pen-to-paper moment at the drawing board, allowing the pen to run away with itself, and putting the images that I make out into the world.

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Tom J Newell

Where do you tend to find your inspiration, and do you have any particular heroes who have influenced your work over the years?

Inspiration for a drawing can come from anywhere, so I think it's always important to try and bring new visual influences in from a range of unexpected sources.

I've always been fascinated by musical subcultures and the visual cultures that accompany them. I approach everything with the HipHop sensibility of sampling and recontextualizing disparate elements to create something new and fresh, but in a recognisable signature style.

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Tom J Newell

A few heroes who've influenced me in a sort of chronological order through the years are: Pat & Paul Newell, Maurice Sendak, Samantha Miller, Simon Bisley, The Beastie Boys, Alex Moul, Tom Penny, Cully and everyone at the AGD, Dondi White, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Captain Beefheart, Craig Winnard, MF DOOM, Madlib, Erykah Badu, Damo Suzuki and Can, Helen McGuckin, Charles Burns, Drew Millward, Werner Herzog, Simon Mowforth, GLK, Kutmah, Cherrystones, Andy Votel, Kid Acne, Little Simz, Inflo, billy woods and Juga-Naut.

There’s a really distinctive style to your artwork, to the point where I can easily spot a Tom J Newell piece at first glance. How do you stay fresh whilst remaining so recognisable?

I suppose maintaining a consistency in the lines, curves and points that make up the images helps to establish a visual continuity that runs through everything that I do. The freshness is often dictated by new clients who might ask me to step out of comfort zones and push my imagery into new areas, which keeps things challenging and exciting for pushing the artwork forward.

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Tom J Newell

You’ve done some absolutely killer collabs and commissions over the years, with Northern Monk Brewery, Sleaford Mods and the little-known Staten Island outfit Wu-Tang Clan to name but a few. If pushed, could you pick a favourite, and if so what made that one particularly special?

Working with Madlib was the one for me. He is my absolute favourite artist, musician and prolific-work-ethic inspiration ever, and it was such an honour to produce a gig poster for him that later became a limited edition record cover.

Tom J Newell

What made the project particularly special was that my wife and I got to meet him to sign the prints in Leeds. Helen was pregnant with our eldest son Eddie at the time, with only a couple of weeks until the due date. We chatted to Madlib mainly about kids and he told us that he'd recently become a grandad, as his eldest son had just had a baby. Eddie starting kicking and Madlib asked Helen if he could feel the kicks, which he did. An amazing moment. Eddie's four now. I've started to play Madlib's music to him and explain how their paths had crossed before he was born.

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Tom J Newell

You always seem to be lining up the next project. Can you tell us what to expect from you as we head into the summer and beyond?

Yes! I've done a couple of new charity t-shirt designs for events happening this summer, which I'm really happy with. One for Vice Press' Open House convention and one for Tramlines Festival here in Sheffield. I've just finished a gig poster for Smashing Pumpkins that turned out nice and I'm working on a movie poster with Vice Press at the moment too, but I'll have to keep the film under wraps for the moment.

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Tom J Newell

Beyond that, looking forward I'm aiming to start working on children's book illustrations and I've started to write a few of my own stories that I'd like to eventually put out...

Hopefully I'll be back here to talk to Now Then all about it in another eleven years. Much love!

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