Tom Metcalf is a surf artist based in Exmouth, Devon, UK, who creates bold and striking linocut surf fin art prints, inspired by traditional surf culture themes, for people who spend their days dreaming about being on the white sandy beach of a tropical surf island paradise, relaxing under the shade of a palm tree, while watching wave after perfect wave roll by.
We caught up with Tom to talk about surfing, life and art.
Hey Tom, your fin art is truly unique – we love it. What inspired you to get started as an artist?
Thank you, I’m really stoked you like it. I’ve always been interested with art and design, but actually creating art myself only really made its way back into my life properly about three years ago, in 2015. After a pretty serious breakdown with my mental health (during which I almost lost my life), I was volunteering with a great local organisation, The Project, which helps young people struggling with their own personal difficulties. It was during one of the sessions there, that we were given some charcoal and a piece of white card and just told to make marks on the page, without really thinking about what we were doing or any fixed intention on the outcome. Mine ended up looking really flowing and wave like and I really enjoyed the process of creating without any thoughts or judgements.
I was also volunteering with another awesome organisation at this time too, called The Wave Project, which is a charity that helps young people who are experiencing various issues in life, by teaching them confidence and self esteem through surfing. As well as helping out others while doing this, surfing was also a kind of therapy for me too and my passion for it just seemed to grow stronger and stronger.
It was sometime around then that I visited a local art gallery, where I saw some pastel drawings and I could see similarities with the look of pastel to the charcoal drawing I’d recently created. I went home that day and my girlfriend had a drawer of old art supplies including some pastels, so I started drawing with them and that was the start of it all really.
It began with just copying my favourite surf photos, but as my confidence grew and I developed more skills, I moved on to creating my own designs. I also started to explore different mediums and from the first picture, I went on to create a picture a day for 125 days, inspired by a video I’d seen on Youtube about how drawing a picture a day can change your life. I didn’t make it to the full year, but after this, creating art had become a massive part of my daily life. Fast forward three years and I’m really excited to be in the position where my art is now finding its way into people’s homes and I’m able to share it with the world.
Sounds like you had some rough times and we’re glad you pulled through. How did surfing and art help the process?
Thanks, I’m glad I made it through it all too. You could say I’ve had some pretty interesting times with my mental health over the years! The breakdown I mentioned above wasn’t the first, but I tried to approach it very differently this time round and be more open and honest about it, especially with myself. It’s very easy to just put a brave face on and try to get back life as quickly as possible, but I’ve found if you don’t deal with things properly, they have a nasty habit of coming back, which can also be a lot worse. It’s like putting a bandage on a broken leg and then carrying on walking on it. It doesn’t work, it won’t fix and it’ll just cause more issues in the future. Like broken bones, the mind needs rest to heal, so this time I’ve tried to allow myself to recover from it properly, rather than pretending it was all alright and ending up going round the same cycle again, that I’d been stuck in for years. Been there, done that! Thankfully, this new approach seems to be working.
During my recovery, I’ve tried to spend as much time as I can doing the things that I love, which inspire me and that feed my soul. I’ve also tried to spend time with people who do the same. That’s meant a lot of time out on the water and creating art. In a way, I feel lucky that I’ve gone through what I have, as it’s really taught me to appreciate those things in life which bring you the most happiness. You’re a lot less likely to feel bad when you get to do more of the things in life you love, with those you love. It doesn’t necessarily solve everything and there are always going to be struggles you have to go through, but it definitely helps.
They’re both activities that I find really mindful too and that’s been a huge part of the healing process for me. They’ve allowed me to feel a greater sense of connection to the world and my environment and as a result, I feel like I’ve grown as a person. I try to be more aware of what’s happening in the moment and spend less time worrying about things that I have no control over. In one of the JJF Twelve videos he says “You’re surfing the ocean, it’s so unpredictable, you can’t control it” and life is the same really, you just have to go with it and stay focused on what it is you really want to do.
Which artists do you admire?
In terms of influences outside of my own life, as I was first getting in to creating surf art, I’d have to say that Heather Brown was a big inspiration to me. I remember reading that she didn’t actually begin pursuing a career in art until later in her life, so that gave me hope that it wasn’t too late for me to try and really make a go of things, if I really put my mind to it. I also love how her style has developed from printmaking and you can really see that influence in her work
People I really admire are those who follow their passions and dreams and find a way to make it work for them, through the good times, and the bad. Those who’ve achieved amazing things through sheer grit, determination and a massive amount of hard work, but have also stayed humble throughout their journey. I’ve been lucky enough to have met a few people like this and they’ve been a huge inspiration to me.
First mention goes to an old friend who I met when I used to be involved in the music scene a few years ago. Back then, I knew him as an amazing graffiti artist (who works under the name Philth), but he’s also an incredibly talented designer and artist, in all type of styles and mediums. It’s been amazing to watch his career develop and see his art evolve over the years. I’ve loved seeing how new influences and projects have taken him in different directions, but yet at the same time, how it’s all still very much in his own unique style. He also creates the most amazing floral designs, a modern take on William Morris inspired patterns, that I really love.
This next person isn’t a visual artist as such, but is another old friend who I have a massive amount of admiration and respect for, due to his pure drive and passion for bringing his ideas and dreams to life. His name’s Dan Tsu and he’s the founder of Lyrix Organix, an organisation that runs live music events, educational workshops and which does a whole lot of great charity work too. I was around to see the early stages of Dan’s vision coming to life, which began as a series of live music and poetry nights around a decade ago and it’s been amazing to watch how that seed planted back then has grown and blossomed into what it is today. He’s really showed me what you can achieve with hard work, passion and perseverance.
Another person that I’d have to talk about here, again for his drive in following his dreams is Adam Amin. You may remember his name from a few years back, when he made the worldwide headlines as the kid from Sidmouth (my home spot), who at 19 years old, paddled out and surfed Jaws, just before the Pe’ahi Challenge. He caught a fair bit of flack for that from a lot of people and a boat load of admiration from others. I was definitely one of those people on the positive side. Just to get himself to a position where he was able to do what he did took so much guts and determination, let alone the courage to actually go through with it! I’ve been following his progress over the last few years since that day, while he’s been trying to cement his name in the big wave surfing scene, with all the hard work and dedication that he’s been putting in to that, and it’s been really inspiring to watch. He’s still only in his early twenties, but he’s got such a wise head on his shoulders and he’s a really humble dude too.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, my journey as an artist really began again while I was helping out with some awesome charities, The Wave Project and The Project and I feel that the people behind these organisations, Joe Taylor and Debbie Humberstone, deserve a special mention here too. Their amazing work has gone on to have such a great positive impact on so many people and I feel so thankful that our paths met along the way. I’d love to be able to do more work with charities, as my artistic career develops in the future too, as I feel it’s really important to give something back.
How do you find flow and stay motivated?
It’ll probably sound really clichéd, but I honestly don’t find it all that hard to stay motivated to do something that I really enjoy doing and following a path that I truly believe will get me where I want to go with my life. Of course, there are always going to be peaks and troughs along the journey with anything that you do, but I think if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing and you really want to do it, it’ll always find a way if you let it and it’ll naturally lead you in the right direction if you’re paying attention.
I guess that I’m also really lucky that my passions compliment each other. If I find that I’m hitting a creative block, then I’ll head out for a surf and by the time I come back from that and sit down to be creative again, I’m usually full of new ideas, or different ways to approach what I’m doing. If I find I’m struggling with something, rather than just butting heads with it and feeling like I’m banging my head against a brick wall, I try to take some time out, whether that’s getting out on the water, or even just for a walk with my dog, so I can come back to it fresh to try and tackle it again and that seems to work really well. It’s far less frustrating that way and it gives your brain more time to explore and process things, rather than feeling pressured. It’s like when you’re trying to remember someone’s name and you can’t and then it pops back into thought while you’re doing the washing up!
I’ve also learnt to accept that not every idea is going to be a winner and that it’s best to let some go along the way. That makes it far easier to be flexible creatively and just try things out, without worrying that it might not turn out to be any good. I used to be really afraid of failure, to the point where I wouldn’t even try things, but now I’ve learnt that it’s all just part of the process. The most important thing is to try and make sure that you learn from your mistakes, so you’re less likely to make the same one again.
What’s your favourite surf spot?
After volunteering with the Wave Project at Bigbury Beach in Devon, I have a lot of fond memories of the times I’ve spent down there. All the smiles and happiness of the young people who we’ve been out with, while we’ve been helping them to learn to surf. You can almost see the moments when they begin to forget all their worries, as they’re just having so much fun catching waves. Those have been some pretty special moments for sure.
I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite surf spot as such. I just love being on the water, whether that’s when I’m out by myself, or when I’m sharing those times with friends. I’ve had some amazing times when I’ve been out on my own, but it’s awesome to be out and share the stoke with other people too. Even though surfing is essentially an individual pursuit, you can definitely share good times with those around you while you’re out. I’ve had some of my best sessions when the conditions haven’t really been all that great, just because of who I’ve been with at the time and the fun we’ve had. I try to approach every surf by remembering to just have fun and not take things too seriously.
I’m lucky that my girlfriend also surfs and we’re actually getting married in just over a month, overlooking Polzeath Beach, which is somewhere that we’ve had some great surf sessions over the years. I plan on getting a morning surf in that day with my best men and I’m sure that’s going to be a really special day, where we all create loads of awesome memories. I’m hoping the sun and swell gods are kind to us on the day! We’ve then got a two-week surf trip to Morocco for our honeymoon, so we’re both really looking forward to that and I’m sure there’ll be some really memorable sessions which come from that.
It’s hard to say what I see happening in the future really. At the moment, I really enjoy producing my surf fin linocut prints, so I’m just going to keep exploring with that and see where the journey takes me. I prefer to try and give things space and just let them happen now, rather than overthinking them too much, or pushing things in a particular direction. Who knows what opportunities might come up along the way and where they may lead.
I feel like I’m definitely finding and evolving a style that is distinctly mine though and hopefully this will allow me to expand into other areas, when the time feels right and the inspiration to do so comes. I do have a few ideas for how this could develop, so I’m just going to start playing around with them, experiment a bit and see if I’m happy with the results. The main thing I try to focus on, is just giving myself the time and freedom to try things out and learn from them. If they work out, amazing, if they don’t, at least I’ve learnt that and I’ve built up some more knowledge that will allow me to move forward into my next project. You don’t get anywhere by standing still.
Words of wisdom for anyone struggling with personal issues or afraid to pursue a dream?
The biggest words of advice I want to share are just to reach out to people and don’t be afraid of asking for help. Whether that’s because you’re struggling with personal issues, or you’re trying to achieve something amazing, like chasing your dreams, that advice remains the same. It’s way easier to achieve something when you feel you’ve got people behind you, who’ve got your back and are looking out for you.
Asking for help when you feel at your lowest is really hard, especially with all the thoughts going through your head that you’re not worth it and you don’t deserve it, but there’s always someone out there who cares, will listen to you and who’ll try to help. Just make sure that you talk to someone and that you don’t suffer in silence and if you can, seek the help of a professional, as it can make a massive difference. If I kept it all to myself, I can tell you for sure that I wouldn’t still be here today and I’m so thankful that I am, so I want everyone to know that there is always hope.
I find there are a lot of similarities with that and pursuing your dreams too. There are going to be some people who will probably think your ideas and what you want to do is completely crazy, or will never work. Don’t focus on them, listen to the people who believe in you and can help you get where you want to go. It can be hard to ask for help, even with something really positive, I guess it’s a matter of pride and wanting to be able to do it all yourself (Plus there’s probably a bit of self-doubt going on in there somewhere too, that you’d rather not admit), but asking for assistance along the way from the right people can help you get there quicker and it’s also a lot more fun to share your successes with people who want the best for you too.
How can people get in touch with you?
People can get in touch with me though my website https://www.carvefinart.com, where you can also buy all of my surf fin art that’s currently available, or on all the usual social media channels via @carvefinart, where you’ll also see updates of what I’m working on as I go. I’m always keen to talk to anyone who is interested in collaborating on projects too, so please feel free to drop me a line and I’d be stoked to have a chat about it.