Creatures featured: Painting nature’s critters among Thomas’ artistic passions


“I was always into creative endeavors; creating things, taking things apart to see how they were made. That and animals; I also wanted to be a vet,” says Christine Thomas.

Instead, Thomas is sometimes known as the ‘critter painter’ for her natural world subjects, including the spectacular Lionfish that graces her business card.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Thomas moved with her family to Kenmore, a small town in upstate New York. She recalls that her Scottish accent was so thick at age 5, that her teacher had trouble understanding what she said.

So, during free time, the teacher let her do whatever she wanted on the easels in the back of the room. “That’s really where my art side was born,” says Thomas.

As an adult, she and her husband raised their family in numerous places, including Asheville, N.C., where her in-laws had a summer home.

“When my kids went to a 4-H Camp, they needed a basketry teacher, so I taught myself basketry and took the job. It’s very popular in North Carolina,” she explains.

While going into the woods to gather materials, she recalls finding a hornet’s nest in a vine she was pulling down, and another time a large alligator appeared.

“My husband said, ‘We’re not doing this anymore. This is dangerous!’”

Thomas attended Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains, “a really cool place,” and later had jobs as a general manager of a newspaper in Newland, N.C., and as a radio news broadcaster.

“I also did a lot of faux painting while in North Carolina,” says Thomas, who initially learned the technique in Atlanta.

After landing in Vero Beach, she continued her study of faux finishes at Faux Effects, a company now based in Fort Pierce, that was “run by two incredible guys who had been on HGTV.”

Wanting to get involved in Vero’s art scene, she joined the Vero Beach Art Club around 2002, eventually serving on the board and chairing its Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts Fair.

Thomas taught classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art for many years, including summer camps, once-a-month family classes, and the evening Cork & Canvas classes.

When the Art Club moved out of the museum and into its own building on 14th Avenue, Thomas began teaching classes there.

“I am really happy with the Art Club. I felt like it was a really good opportunity. You can also show your work if you are a member. They are so involved with the community,” she says.

Thomas teaches acrylics there, from beginner to advanced, and also offers a studio class where students can bring their current projects – in any medium other than pastels. She has also enjoyed teaching summer camp classes and participates in a free class for veterans.

“We’ve had great, great groups,” says Thomas. “Wine & Design, similar to the museum’s Wine & Canvas classes, is sort of like a party. We all work on the same thing in this one-time class for each painting.”

Of her own work, Thomas says, “I try and mix it up, so it’s not always the same thing.”

Her paintings are often of animals, such as one of her most popular works, “I Don’t Do Mornings,” featuring a baby yellow-crowned night heron, whose animated personality fairly leaps off the canvas. Another, “The Last Hug,” is a painting of her niece hugging one of her horses.

“The Rescue,” painted from a photo of a small dog being saved from fires in Australia, depicts the drama of the pup’s adventure, now safely tucked into a basket. When it was shown at the museum’s artist-teacher exhibit, Thomas recalls that a young boy started crying after looking at it, before saying to her, “I get it.”

With another rescue, this time an owl named Becka, she sent the painting to the sanctuary so that it could raise money by selling reproductions on notecards.

Locally, Thomas has been involved in numerous community art projects, including a mural in the Vero Beach Community Center that had been started 10 years before, which she completed with Dawn Mill and Judy Burgarella.

“Many activities take place in this room which has mirrors on the opposite wall, so it almost seems panoramic. We really had fun doing it,” recalls Thomas.

“Each of us did two 8-foot by 5-foot panels for a total of six more. The project, sponsored by the Vero Beach Art Club, starts with the natives and goes all the way out to the ocean, depicting different eco zones.”

Thomas has also painted large outdoor murals at Indian River Academy, an elementary school in Vero Highlands; a mural at the Gifford Youth Achievement Center, where she gave weekly art classes; and, with Dawn Mill, one at the bus station that matches the design on the buses.

At least four times she has repainted a mural, initially created by someone else, that is featured on the concrete floor of the large main hallway of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on A1A, after the wear and tear of heavy foot traffic.

“Disney has said I pretty much own it now; I have done it so many times,” says Thomas, adding that she finds Disney “absolutely wonderful to work for. When I am working on the mural, they let children come and watch me and ask questions.”

To keep in touch, Thomas sends email blasts to her now 700-plus students.

“One of the best things about teaching art is the students not only learn art, but they also become your friends,” says Thomas.

“I have the dearest friends here through the art world. It is just amazing; we go out to dinner, to lunch, we go down to West Palm and go to art shows, the museums.”

Her advice to art students is to “just relax, put your arms down, close your eyes, take a few breaths, and just get all the monkey brain out before you start painting. And then as you get into your painting, you get into your zone.”

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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