Master printmaker Terrell Thornhill uses old-school methods of screen printing from the early 1900s combined with his painting techniques to craft beautiful limited-edition prints on paper. Using a single mesh screen he spends hours squeegeeing individual layers of colored ink through the screen onto paper. Self-taught, he has spent over 40 years perfecting his style of screen printing.
Terrell grew up in the small southern town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His mother was a hobbyist, she painted portraits and did various crafts. He wasn’t directly influenced by her art because he wasn’t allowed access to her art room. He has a sister and two brothers, and was close with his father but still struggles with losing him to cancer in 2013.
Terrell says he knew wanted to be an artist in elementary school despite the lack of art influence in his small hometown. As a child, Terrell’s teachers left comments on his report cards stating that all he wanted to do in class was draw something he admits was his primary interest. His fascination with screen printing began at the early age of 12 after discovering the process at a local t-shirt company.
At the age of 16, Terrell left home to pursue music as lead singer and lyricist for his band named “Somebody,” despite his childhood dream of becoming an underwater archaeologist. He continued with his music until his early 20’s touring the south from Texas to Florida. During that time he created screen-printed posters and t-shirts to generate extra money for the band.
He and his writing partner went on to form a new group named “Audio Grey,” primarily to record their songs but rarely played out. In 1993 they were offered a development deal with Capitol Records out of New York but when Terrell learned they wanted to cut his partner out he rejected the offer. His management company then shelved his project despite their three-year contract. He couldn’t play out or earn money from music so he began giving it away online. Frustrated he lost interest and began creating art.
“Good music does the same thing as good art. It stirs the soul and it makes you think about things on a different level. If someone is standing in front of one of my art pieces and coming up with their own conclusions, that is what good art does. It creates curiosity and conversation.” Terrell Thornhill
Terrell’s first art gallery experience didn’t happen until he was a junior at Jones County Community College. His “The Movie Star Series” included popular screen legends, reimagined, and reduced to high contrast static black and white on 2×3 foot raw, unprimed canvases. Muted acrylic washes were then added to restore the color. His instructor required each piece to be done using a different painting technique. When his instructor suggested he reproduce the paintings through the screen printing process, Terrell began looking through books at the library to learn the process. He then created screen print versions, and sold reproductions, changing the colors with each rendition.
The more Terrell got into screen-printing the more interested he became. He combined the elements he loved most developing his process through trial and error. He found that the tools available didn’t work the way he wanted so he fabricated his own. His subject matter combines elements of nature, including animals, trees, and flowers. Today as a master printmaker, he is driven by the fact that he can produce art through creative ideas that someone will want to hang in their home.
“Something about stumbling through the darkness and as it reveals itself to you, something about that process really appeals to me. It’s very eye-opening and liberating to me. I love the process and that’s why I do what I do!” Terrell Thornhill
Terrell married his high school sweetheart in 1988 and had his son Thom soon after. In the summer of 1993 Terrell and his wife decided to relocate to Nashville. After settling in they had a second child, Darrah despite a tumultuous marriage and two years later Devan was born.
“My kids all live in the Nashville area and each is a creative genius in their own right. They were raised to believe half of what they saw and nothing that they heard, especially if it was coming from me. Each of them is creative, skeptical, strong, street-smart, resourceful, loving, kind, and caring individuals. They practically raised themselves and I’m super proud of who they’ve become Terrell shares.”
In 1996 Terrell, his wife, and two kids were in a terrible car wreck when a man ran a stop sign and hit them at an intersection. His wife was rushed to the hospital, where she stayed on life support in the ICU for a month. For three months she was in a coma before returning home with a traumatic brain injury. For years Terrell had to support his family through his freelance graphic design work while his wife went through years of occupational and cognitive therapy to get better. Eventually, she was able to recover and their lives slowly returned to normal.
“One day when we were hosting a neighborhood BBQ, I announced I was going to build an art studio onto my house and make my own paper to create a series of screen printed works as an artist. About two years later that is exactly what I did.” Terrell Thornhill
Over the years Terrell’s graphic design has supported his art habit allowing him to afford to create his screen-printed pieces. Today his artwork has become a catalyst for new graphic design clients. He shares that he has always wanted his art to serve his design work and where he is right now is a perfect mix of both. When asked if there’s one thing he wishes he had known when he started as an artist he says to not allow anyone to dissuade you, he explains,
“I’ve had people tell me over the years that I wasn’t a real artist, that I just had an expensive hobby. With over 20 years of screenprinting knowledge, I would say don’t let anybody else kick your can down the road, that’s your job. You get to decide where it goes and how you do your work. The important thing is to be true to yourself and I wish I had had someone to push that in me. I was lucky to have stayed on course and let the chips fall as they may without giving up.”
As a creative Terrell finds motivation in the moments of life that he experiences in an instant. Those single visions initiate and motivate him toward new ideas. Often he develops a series of works based on something he sees around him. He is enamored by how his vision takes form and later can generate something completely different in the eyes of the viewer. He explains,
“It’s never what I see, it’s a passing glimpse of something you think you see. The artist is a filter through which you take normal stuff and you put a spin on it. You get to see what the artist sees through in their head, It allows the viewer to see what’s inside the head of someone else. That’s fascinating to me.”
Terrell believes that every failure has helped him learn how to make his art better. It has taught him the limitations of his medium and how to achieve his goals along the way. Fixing things and learning what works and what doesn’t is the key to growing as an artist. He shares his
“F**k it up and then fix it. That is literally the creative process as an artist.” Terrell Thornhill
His primary influence is Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein because he feels his work is extremely different from other artists of his time. Terrell finds Roy’s method of reproducing print by reproducing print within his art pieces fascinating. He also admires the expressive brushstrokes and hidden elements that John Singer Sargent’s work incorporates often including similarities in his own work. He admits over time he has learned to also appreciate the work and accomplishments of Andy Warhol, focusing on how he broke ground by challenging what art was and was not in the public eye.
Terrell’s process combines elements of stencil-based Pochoir painting with reduction screen printing techniques. A multi-colored, layered print is created using a single fine filament-screened mesh as the printing source. He repeats the process of hand painting and then printing single layers of independent color onto handmade paper. He uses the screen over and over until he is happy with the final image of layered colors. Building the painted layers through more than 20 different techniques this tedious and time-consuming method of printmaking he has developed offers a unique one-of-a-kind final piece of art. He only produces four final images with his method of printing because he enjoys the painting process more than the printing itself.
“I can not imagine my life without creativity. It is the lifeblood and the life force of discovery. There is no discovery without creativity. You find out who you are, how to do things and other ways to do the stuff that makes life interesting. It underscores our existence and it gives our existence meaning. It helps us find our way forward.” Terrell Thornhill
The biggest struggle Terrell feels he faces as an artist is the money to pay for resources to keep creating his art. Most artists will agree that the creation of art includes costly materials, resources, and a lot of time. Doing commercial work to earn a living becomes a priority for most artists. The process of creating art requires an artist to get into a distraction-free zone to find a creative flow. Stopping that flow is hard when it is required for the sake of making income to pay the bills.
If I have to stop the creative process to make money that really irritates me, Terrell says. As an optimist, he believes he is right where he needs to be and wants to be with his work. His job is to create work people want to hang on the wall. When asked what advice he would give to an artist starting out, he said,
“Don’t accept NO, no is one person’s opinion. Just keep stumbling through the darkness and you will find little points of light here and there that will guide you in one way or another. Follow the sparkly things, if it catches your interest, follow it and be interested!” Terrell Thornhill
He says he often hears from others who wish they had time to create. This is something we all hear from time to time from those who dream but don’t take action. This is his advice for those who seem to never have time to live out their creative dreams, admitting he wishes someone had shared that with him when he was starting out.
“No one can MAKE time to create, you have to TAKE the time because there is only a certain amount of time in each day. You take it from your kids, you take it from your spouse, you take it from work, you take it from school and church, you just take it. And you make good use of it.” Terrell Thornhill
While he admits artists can drain people emotionally, those who fuel him are positive, quirky, and inspiring. He enjoys socially sharing work, creative experiences, and techniques with others who think creatively. The diversity and variation of other creatives feed him emotionally.
Chauvet Arts is a local Nashville art gallery that currently represents Terrell as an artist. He says they have been very generous in helping him to promote himself, offering opportunities, and giving him wall space to showcase his work. He feels they are a good fit for where he is currently as an artist. He does commission work and uses social media to get his name out locally both as an artist and as a graphic designer.
If you would like to see more about printmaker Terrell Thornhill, you can visit his website.
If you are interested in buying his art his work can be seen at Chauvet Arts in Nashville.
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Check out my recent artist interview with Terrell on YouTube.
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Diary Of A Storyteller
If you would like to see more photos of Terrell visit my photo blog from our interview.
Master Printmaker Terrell Thornhill
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