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A Landscape Built from Scratch

Monday 23 April, 2018, by Katy Foxford

How 16 year old, James Owen Thomas Creates Inspiring Artwork from Scratch cards
I met with James as he was installing his exhibition at Yoredale, Bainbridge; I was intrigued by his display and wanted to find out more about his work and how his interest in ‘scratch card’ art began…

Swaledale sheep

Swaledale sheep

James is a budding artist, originally from East Sussex, who moved to North Yorkshire and started a craft business. He loves the Yorkshire Dales as much as the South Downs and intends to continue to feature both areas in his artwork.

Hi James, thanks for coming today to talk to us about your exhibition ‘Much More Than Meets The Eye’ – we love the name!
Hi, thanks for having me.
So how did you get into making artwork using scratch cards?
Four years ago I came across a discarded scratch card floating in a puddle of water, a piece of rubbish you might say, but I decided to pick it up, clean it and keep it safe in a plastic container.
I then began to see how scratch cards were littering our streets, parks and hedgerows. I thought I have to do something about this and started picking them all up, which soon turned into quite a big collection.
And so that’s how my mosaic-style collages with torn or cut pieces of scratch cards began…
I see – what a great story. So what would you say inspires you most for the subject of your pictures?
All the subjects I have chosen for my artwork are linked to places where I have lived or visited, and either have family connections or are inspired by my love of wildlife, in particular, birds.
My Nikon bridge camera has been so helpful for taking pictures of special places that I can later use for the basis of my artwork.
Do you have any particular artists that inspire your work?
Yes, all of David Hockney’s artwork and photography have inspired me, as well as another contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama and her use of circles and dots.  I also feel inspired by the bright vivid colours in Van Gogh’s paintings and the pointillism effect of Seurat.
How many scratch cards does it take to create a typical picture?
It’s difficult to say how many scratch cards I use as each picture varies so much.  Sometimes in a landscape scene I may use 20 scratch cards of one type for green sections, then a similar amount of different scratch cards for another shade of green.  I just use the parts I need and then put the rest of the scratch cards aside for later use or recycle what’s left of them.
Can you explain the techniques you use?
My techniques keep changing. I started with larger sized torn pieces about the size of my thumb nail.  Then I cut rectangular pieces and also thin strips to give straight edges to the sides of buildings or for features like the fence in the Wensleydale barn scene.  The circles are probably a standard hole-punched size of ½ cm diameter so are really quite small.
What’s the longest time it has taken to create a picture?
It’s impossible to say exactly but the Ripon Cathedral collage took me several months.
What sizes are your pictures? What’s the largest one you have done?
The size depends on what I have available.  I use second-hand canvases and look out for them at charity shops as my whole theme is about recycling.  The smallest size is about 9 x 7 cm and the largest so far is 75 x 75 cm.

James working on a piece of artwork

Work in progress

What sort of ‘canvas’ do you use?
My recycled canvases are square and rectangular in shape. I often collage the sides of them so that the pictures run over the edges. Other times frames are set tight against them.
What do you use to stick the pieces on the ‘canvas’?
I use a craft glue to stick the pieces and a clear varnish at the end to give a glossy finish to them.
How do you get them to line up without a gap between them?
I over-stick pieces until I can’t see any more gaps.  Sometimes there are layers and layers of pieces until I achieve the texture and look I want.
Do you always work from photos you have taken or just pictures you see in magazines, etc.?
I mainly work from my own photos.  Some pictures come from my imagination such as “Encircled” and “Night Owl”.  “Woodland Walk” is influenced by David Hockney’s colourful tree pictures and I then added birds to the trees which can be moved to different areas of the canvas.  Other times I am allowed to use other people’s pictures, for example when I was asked to do a collage of a “Red Squirrel” by the National Park Authority.  I still haven’t seen a red squirrel myself in order to take my own photograph.
 What part of creating a picture do you enjoy the most?
Seeing the colours blend well together is good and I enjoy using them in an imaginative way.  I also like having a bit of fun and adding in scratch card symbols such as a money spider to the dry stone wall by the Wensleydale barn.  I don’t want people who look at my art to forget that the collages are made from scratch cards so sometimes I also include bits of text and numbers.
What are you working on at the moment?
For my own interest, I am copying a van Gogh pencil sketch where I am keen to know what his picture would have looked like in bright colours if he had painted the scene.

Bejewelled scratch card artwork


Do you have a studio to work in?
No – but I cover the kitchen table in scratch cards, glue and canvases to make my artwork!
Is there something that you really want to create a picture of that you haven’t been able to do yet?
Until recently, I haven’t been able to find a good skin-tone colour in scratch cards but I did attempt a picture of myself a couple of years ago.  Now I have found the right scratch card so am saving up enough to start a picture of my great-grandfather soon.
Do you sell your pictures, or would you like to be able to?
I am selling prints of my collages and also greetings cards for now.  Each one is unique and I won’t be able to make an exact copy as I will never be able to find the same scratch cards again and make the picture in the same way.  I need the originals for exhibitions.  I am making one collage around a photograph of a dove by the sea in Cornwall that I took when I was on holiday last year.  I hope that this original photo collage will sell and any money raised I would like to go to Shelter as I see so many homeless people in towns and cities. 
Are you interested in any other forms of art? E.g. traditional painting?
I have been painting onto fabric recently as part of my college art project.  I prefer my own style of collage but it has been a challenge copying some famous artists’ work on fabric.  I still add in my own touch and use some scratch card on the fabric too!
Are you aware of anyone else doing this or do you believe it to be unique?
I don’t know of anyone else doing collage artwork from scratch cards.
How many scratch cards do you have in store at the moment?
I must have thousands.  They are kept in cardboard boxes and bags in the garage, and some are sorted by colour in plastic containers ready to use.
Is there any particular type of scratch card you prefer to use? E.g. are some more colourful than others?
The more colourful the better and I especially like colours linked with nature as they are the most useful.  I’m not too keen on luminous shades.
Do you see yourself making a career out of this or is it just a hobby?
At the moment my artwork is more than a hobby. I think about it most of the time and keep imagining how things I see would look as one of my collages. I have several projects on the go at any one time.  As for the future, it all depends on how successful my artwork becomes.

James Owen Thomas with part of his exhibition

James Owen Thomas with part of his exhibition


Are the scratch card companies aware of the work you do? Have they shown much interest?
I’ve contacted the National Lottery and they have written back to me saying that they think my work is amazing and they hope I continue to create much more in the future. 
Is there a particular part of the Yorkshire Dales that you like and would like to create a picture of?
The Yorkshire Dales is a beautiful area and offers so many possibilities for my art.
I understand you are wanting to raise money for Shelter with one of your pieces of art, can you tell us a bit more…
I have seen a lot of people sleeping on the streets during the past few years.  That’s why I would like to donate the money raised from the sale of ‘Seascape’ to the charity, Shelter.  I would like to think it could raise about £100.  ‘Seascape’ is the first time I have created a collage around one of my photographs.  It took many hours to make and is now complete with a white frame and a transparent art glass finish.



Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, we loved looking around your exhibition.
Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it. See you again soon.

James’ exhibition is displayed at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority offices in Bainbridge until 30 April 2018.

Picture of Katy Foxford

Katy Foxford

Katy is the Tourism Support Officer with the YDNPA


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