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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

From STEM to design, the life of student artist Thomas Telles

How Telles found a passion for art, tigers 

What began as a simple love for slap stickers in middle school blossomed into a small business in college. Thomas Telles, a third-year design major, finds that expressing his love for tigers and art is shown best through his work. He started his small business earlier this year in April, selling original paintings and stickers online through his website

Soon after Telles found his love for slap stickers, he traded it in for a degree in the STEM field. 

“I got really into this whole subgenre of art making ‘slap stickers,’” Telles said via email. “I used to trade these hand-drawn stickers with people all over the world. However, I gave all of that up very suddenly during my sophomore year of high school as I felt pressured from my community to find a career in STEM since I started thinking about college.” 

He pursued a degree in animal biology for two years but eventually decided for a change in pace and went back to his love of art — finally deciding to stick with design.

“I did a complete 180 from majoring in Animal Biology to then going into design,” Telles said. “It was such an amazing feeling and haven’t looked back since.” 

While the shift was an immense change from what he was used to in Davis, he found comfort in knowing that art was something he was meant to do while he took his first design class: Design 15 with Melissa Chandon.

“In this class, we had to make a piece which was only in black and white and

played with positive and negative space,” Telles said. “I remember making my piece last-minute and turning it in after rushing to class, not sure if I really even liked the piece so much. When I handed the piece to Melissa, she really enjoyed it. She liked it enough to choose me as one of five students to enter a gallery show in Davis which featured student artists from around the state. Since this happened in my first-ever design class when I made my change of major, I took it as a sign that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”

A quick browse on his website shows that each tiger has its own look, but all have the very Telles-style vibrant color splashes. The tigers, however, are not there solely because they are majestic creatures, they’re there to help Telles build his technique. 

“Tigers have always been my favorite animal, so I wanted to try a ‘draw every day’ type of challenge inspired by tigers,” Telles said. “I will say, as a student, it’s hard to really follow a ‘draw every day’ challenge. Although they are my favorite animal, I just wanted to use tigers as a method to explore different styles and techniques to open myself up to. This helps me in seeing where I want to go with my art.”

Telles finds his inspiration in an everyday act: daydreaming.

“I have a very active imagination and am always daydreaming,” Telles said. “My art oftentimes is a snapshot of these daydreams. I try to put these snapshots on paper and make something of it. Depending on how inspired I am, I may just do a little sketch or get the urge to bust out a whole canvas and start a new project.”

His current favorite work is one that’s neither on his store nor on his Instagram. 

“My favorite piece is a two-part painting on 16- by 18-inch wood panels titled “MotherF” and “ucker,”” Telles said. “They portray two tigers facing each other in a tense standoff. One of them is ready to snap, ucker, while the other, MotherF, looks like it’s planning every single move it’s going to make. The colors and detail on these pieces are incredible and I wish I could get that through a screen so my followers could see it and hopefully admire it as much as I do.”

Although this was his favorite piece to make, it’s also been his hardest. 

“The two-part piece has been the most difficult as I took a lot of time to prepare the wood panels by taking probably a solid day or two just to prepare,” Telles said. “I also am a fan of the idea of mixing my own paints so that also took quite some time to do. I went through a lot of second guessing when making the piece as it’s hard to know what a tiger would look like when you see it without its stripes. Even when coming up with a title for this piece was hard to do, so I just gave up and decided to title it as it is.”

Telles said that while his friends and family have been immensely supportive in his small business, he is his own biggest supporter. 

“I know exactly what I have been through over the years and know what it took to get to where I am now,” Telles said. “In my deepest moments of imposter syndrome, I have been able to push myself to see all the work and hard times I went through in order to be where I am now. This continues to inspire me to keep moving forward for the sake of a bigger and better future.”

Just like any other student-run business, Telles is forced to learn how to manage his time efficiently in order to keep up with his artwork and the strict demands of school work.  

“It’s very time consuming but with both aspects, I am doing what I love so it really doesn’t feel like work,” Telles said. “There are times where I am caught up in class work and all I can think about is painting or keeping my Instagram updated. Then, there are times where I am spending a bit too much time on my art and not enough on my schoolwork. So, this is definitely a learning process of balancing school and work!”

Telles said he doesn’t know what the future holds for himself or his small business, but he hopes that he could in some way inspire other artists and build a community. 

“Whatever you do, do not give up,” he tells other artists. “There will be days, weeks, maybe even months where you will question yourself and fall victim to the woes of imposter syndrome but just keep going! You will find your place again. Also, be sure to prioritize your mental health so even if you do have to take a break from creating, allow yourself that time and come back whenever/if ever you’re ready.” 

Written by: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


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