The Screwball Confidential Interview – Tom Laura (AKA “Big Toe”)

What can I say about Tom Laura?! I guess the only thing I can say is…


I mean green and purple babes? Hot rods, Tiki and surf? Somehow the ubiquitous “Big Toe” makes it all work in a big way.

Lets get to it!


James Owens:  Okay Mr. Toe how about the 411 on where you’re from and where you call home now?

Big Toe: I was born and raised in Southern California, and still make my home here in Orange County. my folks were beach rats, so i spent many weekends learning to ride waves on inflatable mats near Los Angeles and San Diego, then moved onto boogie boards and eventually on surfboards, which i am still learning how to ride after 40 years!

J.O.: Did you go to art school, if so what was your field of study?

B.T.: I went to art school in Long Beach. I intended to be an artist and illustrator when i graduated, but was really disenchanted with the art world that was happening then, so I went into the apparel business, mostly in the surf industry.

J.O.: How about a little on how you got from there to here? What was your first art job?

B.T.: My first art job was working for a custom apparel company in Malibu, California. From there, I bounce around to a few companies, Art Directed the surf brand Maui and Sons for a number of years, then started my own design firm and did work for companies like Rusty, Redsand, Hobie and Op. After 15 years out of art, I simply could not “not do it” anymore, so I started painting again around 2006.

J.O.:  Who were the artists that influenced your work the most?

B.T.: The artists that inspired me growing up were the artists from MAD magazine, particularly Don Martin and Sergio Argones, and also Rick Griffin and Ed Roth. The artists that got me back into art were lowbrow art stalwarts like Robert Williams, Todd Schorr, Glenn Barr, The Pizz, Jeral Tidwell, Coop, Shag, Dirty Donny and Keith Weesner.

J.O.: I think those guys might go somewhere if they apply themselves. Ha! Tell us a bit about your studio set up. Is it in your home or a separate building?

B.T.: Currently I paint in my garage. I jealously guard a corner of my 2 car garage for my “work bench” painting area.

J.O.: Do you have separate areas for drawing and painting?

B.T.: I had a studio space for my “day job” artwork (graphic design and illustration) until recently, when I moved my computer and drawing table back to the garage. I am currently looking for a new studio in the mid Orange County area if anyone has a lead!

J.O.: Do you use the computer as a tool in creating your work, if so how?

B.T.: I love to work from photo reference in my art, so I do a lot of photo research on line. Sometimes I scan my sketches into photoshop, refine the composition, then print out and transfer the drawings to panel or canvas with charcoal. I am trying to get away from that and just draw directly onto canvas, as I invariably like the energy I get in the composition better that way.

J.O.: What is your medium of choice?

B.T.: I use exclusively acrylic paint right now. No brand loyalty, but I buy good paint, never the student ranges. I learned how to paint with oils too, and use a lot of oil technique in my painting style. I prefer the superior finished quality of oil paint, but moreso I prefer the immediacy of acrylic paint.

J.O.: I’ve seen your work on everything from canvas to surfboards to the door of an old Highway Patrol car. What is your favorite ground to work on?

B.T.: Awesome question. I like painting on heavy masonite panels treated with several coats of gesso  and also dig stretched canvas. I really enjoy painting on “found” objects for a change of pace. Driftwood picked up at my favorite surfing beaches in Orange County, construction fiber board, street signs and other objects that I “find”.

J.O.: I’m not even gonna ask where you “found” the door to that cop car. To me designing and drawing a piece is where the heavy lifting is and the painting is a real joy. What part of the process do you enjoy the most?

B.T.: I do like working out the design and content in my sketchbook. My heavy-lifting is probably in transferring the drawing to canvas. But for me the magic really happens when I am painting the final elements of the painting, when colors relate to the other elements in the painting in new cool ways i hadn’t really anticipated.

J.O.: What kind of materials do you prefer to draw with?

B.T.: I  love my 9 X 12 spiral-bound sketchbooks and my Sakura brand .09 Sumo Grip mechanical pencil. I am also enjoying drawing with the new Sharpie writing pens.

J.O.: One thing I’ve noticed is you have a wild color sense. I mean anyone who can paint green and purple pin up girls and pull it off is tops in my book! Share a little on your approach to color.

B.T.: Haha. Thanks brother! Well, i didnt pay much attention in my art school color theory classes, but I have learned from other artists what I like. Especially Robert Williams and Todd Schorr. I especially dig how they uses the classical theory of setting off foreground elements from backgrounds by contrasting warm and cold colors or contrasting bright and dull colors. I also try to think about how artists make elements turn in space with color. For example, if i am painting the meaty thigh of a zombie pin up girl, I will use background color in the reflected light and shadows, then vary from purple to blue or bluish green to lime green at the top of the thigh to give it volume. My exotically colored girls are supposed to evoke a sense of danger and/or mystery. One secret though is that i still use warmer colors in the areas where more blood is close to the surface of the skin, such as the nose, cheeks, hands, etc.

J.O.: The colors you choose really create an over all mood in your work. When starting a new piece how conscious of this are you? Do you start with a mood you want to create or with the subject matter?

B.T.: I always begin with subject matter. But color plays a critical part in setting the mood. I am currently getting a kick out of insanely dramatic skies.

J.O.: Do you prefer to work out your drawing problems in tight sketches and transfer that to canvas or do you like to draw directly onto the canvas?

B.T.: Both. but I really don’t do tight sketches. I like to keep the sketching process really loose. To explore fun exaggerations from my photo reference. As I mentioned earlier, I sometimes scan the sketch into the computer and refine in photoshop before transferring to canvas using charcoal rubbed onto the back of the drawing. Other times I just re-draw right onto the canvas. I don’t want to get too stodgy in my drawing technique. a note about photo reference. I use a LOT of photos of girls and cars in my paintings. My intention is to always ask permission before using a photo and always credit the photographers, models and car builders when I present my art on the web. Sometimes I fail to do that because I am REALLY easily distracted, but I my intention is always to credit others hard work.

J.O.: What is the one piece of equipment you couldn’t do without?

B.T.: My Sakura brand .09 Sumo Grip mechanical pencil. I use them til I break them and even then duct tape them together and use them some more!

J.O.: If I remember correctly you and I met when you were curator of a show of Hot Rod Surf works. It seems genres are really blurred right now. Kustom cars, surf, skate. tattoo, rockabilly. The interesting thing is they all seem to fall under the heading “Low Brow” or “Outsider”, As someone who slides easily between genres give us some thoughts on this very fluid art scene.

B.T.: Yeah! The SurfBeat art show I curated with Candy in the OC. That was a really fun show and one that made total sense to us. Growing up in Southern California (LA, Long Beach then Orange County, there was a lot of interesting sub-cultures around. i grew up on the beach, so for me the surf and skate thing came first, and through that i was exposed to polynesian tiki and then to the mid-century modern American style of tiki. The car thing came through the music. punkers and rockabilly folks are into restoring and driving old cars. And all of the above cultural renegades decorate their skin with their cultural icons, and although the influence of tattoo in Polynesian places and San Fransisco is undeniable, the confluence of traditional sailor tattoo style in Long Beach with the East LA lowrider style is what blows my mind in tattoo art. I see the mash up of car culture, tattoo culture and surf culture as a natural one. All are outsider cultural lifestyles, the last vestiges of the all-American wild west spirit.

J.O.: “The Last Vestiges of the All-American Wild West Spirit” should be the title of your first book. Ha! What advice do you have for young people interest in a career in the arts?

B.T.: Art school is great. I went to Long Beach State University. The main things I learned there were technique, color theory, the importance of life drawing and the critical importance of meeting deadlines. The only thing missing was any kind of artist business training. Because of that, I didnt start my art career until late in life and a lightening of my “day-job” load. For a young artist who wants to start showing in galleries, I would tell them go out to shows. go to a LOT of shows. Meet and network with other artists and the gallerists. Add everyone on Facebook and keep up with the artists and galleries that you relate to. Ask the gallerists about their submission guidelines and SUBMIT. No one is going to come to you and ask to show your art. The most important thing is not talent, not skill nor it it charisma, it is the desire to be an artist.

J.O.: Where can people find your work?

B.T.: My next car shows are Viva Las Vegas in Vegas in April and Ink-n-Iron in June. I would love to do Bottrop this year or next, but I’m still trying to make that “pencil out”. I just took down my first solo art show, so I am just concentrating on group art shows for a while until I get another good solo offer! On the web, my website is, although I am hopelessly late in updating that. Folks can check out available original art and prints at and keep up with my manic artist schedule and goings on at

J.O.: Tom thanks so much for being a part of this blog thang I have going on. I always enjoy yucking it up with you even if it isnt in person.

B.T.: Thanks for the interview Jim! its been fun for me to analyze my process and l am stoked to share it with your readers.


5 Responses to “The Screwball Confidential Interview – Tom Laura (AKA “Big Toe”)”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maria Brophy and tom laura, Josh Welton. Josh Welton said: RT @BigToeArt: Fun BigToe interview by James Owens, an insanely good artist in his own right! […]

  2. Thank you Big Toe for suggesting that the most important thing isn’t talent – it’s the desire to be the artist. I think there’s some truth to that – not that bad art is pleasing to look at but it definitely allows for a wider range of unschooled styles to emerge.

    I met Big Toe at GNRS and he is as friendly as he sounds in this interview.

  3. Great story again!

  4. You have mentioned very interesting points ! ps nice internet site .

  5. […] And for a neat interview of Big Toe by fellow artist James Owens visit The Screwball Confidential here:… […]

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