artist profile: ROss thompson
BY VICTORIA DRAKE
Art proves to be the best medicine for this Dallas based artist - Ross Thompson, who deals with a neurological disorder called “Essential Tremors” (ET). Having had this disorder since he was a young child, he has had to find creative ways to cope with everyday life.
First off, tell me more about this disorder and the effect it has had on your life and then we’ll get to the good stuff ---your artwork:
Essential Tremors (ET) is a non-curable neurological disorder that causes rhythmical shaking that gets worse with movement. It causes uncontrollable tremors in my torso, head and hands. Everything on my body is in constant motion, including my toes. I have tried medications but the side effects were worse than the tremors.
Using eating utensils like forks and knives is very hard. My food often doesn’t reach my mouth. I cannot hold a glass or a cup without throwing it around. I cannot hold a gallon of water without it going everywhere. My wife Sherry has forbidden me to climb on a ladder anymore – I’ve fallen three times. I guess I should listen to her.
I have always had ET. My father had it too.
How do you cope?
I often just laugh and find ways to do things in spite of my disorder. My wife is helpful when I ask, but I insist on doing things myself many times as it helps me feel good about me. We both take ET in stride, but it is still very frustrating and difficult at times.
Have you always been artistically inclined?
I was always good with my hands. I could do woodworking and home repair. Not any more though. For a time, I was somewhat into landscaping and home decorating as well.
When did you start painting?
At the urging of my wife who is also an artist, I started painting when I turned 64.
I just knew that I couldn’t paint because I couldn’t hold or work with a brush. I spill things, often. I knew stirring paint would be an adventure. She kept on encouraging me.
She asked me to watch a TED talk called Embrace the Shake. That’s when I turned the corner.
Having never taken a painting class, I started anyway. You could say that I am self-taught. I learned by watching my wife paint, watching You Tube videos on painting and just practicing. I painted and painted and painted some more.
I started out on paper, then wood and canvas. I would later learn that some of the techniques I used had names and also the names of the people that started them. I was just trying things I thought of. The tools I used were from my wife. Others were things I had. Now I am 66 and painting is a wonderful part of my life. I become immersed in the concentration of my mind and also the movement of my body while painting. I start without a plan and at some point in the process I stop. I paint in acrylics, watercolor and ink. My work is on stretched canvas, wood and paper. My hope is that people will find my work to be a thought provoking and emotional journey. It definitely is for me.
What does painting “do” for you? Does it give you peace?
Does it give me peace? I’m not sure about that. It is an emotional experience for me and meditative. Nothing else is in my awareness.
I have found calmness in the experience. Time passes and when I stop, it may be hours later.
My essence is incorporated into my artwork. Many people have told me that they see me in my paintings. After many years of therapy and medications, I found that painting has become a way for me to express my emotions. Many of my early works show the rage I had and still have within me.
In addition to ET, I also have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have had it since I was a small child.
Some pieces that I do, I could not have done them without the tremors.
When I start, I have no preconceived idea of what it will be. When I’ve tried to create something in particular, my hands always bring me back to embracing the shake.
It’s funny to think about copying something I have done because I have no idea how I did it.
My pieces are one-of-a-kind – even if I try, I cannot reproduce them.
How long have you and your wife been together?
My wife, Sherry Leah Thompson, and I have been together for 30 years. She is a Yoga therapist. I take two classes a week with her. Yet, I have not found anything that helps with ET.
She inspires me to be a better man.
How can readers find you on Social media?
I have a Facebook page called Trembling Tree Studio. Trembling Tree – because my limbs may shake but my roots are strong.
What message would you like to give to others?
The message I will, and do give to others is to “JUST START.” You never know what will happen after you start. If you don’t start, you’ll always wonder what could have been. I learned this only after I took the leap and picked up my first paintbrush.
There are people with no arms that paint with their feet. They make it happen. Many people have said that they are not artistic. I said the same thing...before I started.
Change your mind. Everyone is creative because human beings are creative.It is OK to start and stumble, start again and stumble and then START AGAIN.
Namaste - the Spirit within me salutes the Spirit within you.