Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light

Our next guest is America’s most collected living artist. His commitment to faith and family are well-known. Recently he has combined his love for art and kids in a new video we’ve been telling you about called Drawing Excitement: Art Lessons. And we’re going to tell you how you can get a copy of that for your own family.
Q. I’m speaking of Thomas Kinkade, who joins us today from his offices,
wherever they are, in the San Jose area somewhere, Thomas?
A. Actually, Dick, I’m up-up in the mountains above Santa Cruz. It’s a-it’s a beautiful day here so¢â‚¬¦
Q. Oh, man.
A. I’m just going to keep painting while we talk.
Q. That’s very nice. Well you know, the journey from childhood in Placerville
to renowned artist has got to be a fascinating one. And I want to just get-let people get a little acquainted with you. Of course, almost everybody hearing my voice has seen your art. But what was it like growing up in Placerville? What were you like as a kid?
A. Oh, I was a rambunctious kid. My goodness, I was like-I lived sort of a Tom
Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of existence. My brother and I were mischievous. We built go-carts in our backyard and always had tree forts, and so forth. But you know, ever since I was a baby I could always draw. And my mother was a Christian woman. She prayed for her children. She was a single mom.
Q. Yeah.
A. And that was back in the days when that was very rare.
Q. Yeah.
A. And she prayed that her kids would grow up to serve the Lord. And you
know, we went through our rebellious phase. We wandered around through different experiences. Went off to college and so forth, but we’ve all came back to a redeeming faith in Christ. And-and you know, somewhere along the line when I became a Christian for real, I gave my talent over the Lord. And that’s where things started to happen.
Q. When you talk about being a Christian for real, what was the kind of the
defining point for you of the difference between what you had known it meant to be a Christian and what it meant to be a Christian for real?
A. I think for me the answer might surprise you. When I was a young boy, you
know, the church I went to you had to swear an oath of certain, you know, behaviors and take a-fill out the blanks so to speak of all the ways you were going to live up to God’s standard. And I think for me, when I suddenly discovered God loves me unconditionally that was liberating. And that happened when I was about 20 years old. At that point the faith became more than just a rule book, it became a very personal
relationship where I’m kind of excited everyday to see what God’s going to do next.
Q. What was instrumental in that turning point? Here you are, 20 years old,
you’ve already learned that you’re-you’re artistic and you’ve got those abilities and so forth, what was it that brought you to a point where you realized I got to do-I got to do something about this relationship with God?
A. Well, I think for me the integration of my talent and my faith was-was
surprising. I mean, you know, I-I didn’t¢â‚¬¦ I couldn’t believe that something I enjoyed so much and that was a-a talent God had given me, that he really would want to use that. I kind of had the feeling that maybe he wanted me to go off to the mission
field or do something that I was completely unprepared to do, unable to do, had no knowledge or way to go do it. And yet, you know, somehow God began to say, Why do you think I gave you that talent, dummy? You know, you have an ability to use that talent, whatever it might be, to glorify God. I didn’t know how God could do that through the arts, but-but he’s done it.
Q. But you know, that’s what-that’s very sad. People think theology doesn’t have severe consequences, but when you start with a-a book like Genesis that talks about God is infinitely creative and creating us in his image, in a theological starting point that would suggest that all of us have artistic abilities and differing gifts and abilities that are unique to us God has made us in a very special way that should lead to the conclusion that God loves your art. I mean, as a kid that should have been the kind of theological environment. But when it isn’t many artistic and creative types find themselves being told, if you love God you’ve got to color inside these lines. And if you color outside those lines, you’re outside of what God has for you.
A. Well, that’s really true. I mean, you know, I always put it this way. God pre-
packaged each individual so when the gospel became real in his heart or her heart you know, all those experiences, all that platform of influence, all that, you know, family acquaintances that you have, all that-that sphere of influence and experience God is going to use. And so whatever talents he has given us I think innately or through experience or training. the first place to look for ministry is how is God going to use all those traits I have right now?
Q. Yeah. Who encouraged you in your art? I mean, you said you were good at
drawing as a kid, but somewhere along the way was there a school teacher that said, You know, Thomas, you’ve really got an eye for this? Or-or-or how did that unfold in your life?
A. Well, I think one of the most meaningful things I-I ever experienced was from
a negative perspective. You know, in college I went to UC Berkeley, which is not exactly a nice little conservative Christian school.
Q. Yeah.
A. So you know, when I was in college I saw a lot of professors in the arts who
had the philosophy that hey, your art is all about you. It doesn’t matter if someone else understands it. If they like it, if they enjoy it, all that matters is you, you’re the artist. And that attitude was so iconoclastic and so egocentric, I rejected it.
Q. Wow.
A. I began to say, there’s got to be more to a talent than just me. And as I
became a Christian in my 20s, early 20s
Q. Was that when you were at Berkeley?
A. Yeah. It came-I became a Christian¢â‚¬¦ Actually right when I left Berkeley I
was starting to be softened up by Dr. Earl Palmer. I was in his under his teaching. Then going on to be under the teaching of various churches in the Calvary Chapel movement, I was softened up and I finally came to a personal faith in Christ. And at that point I really began to see, look, my art is not about me.
Q. Yeah.
A. It’s a tool to bring a message of hope that extends the gospel into a new
sphere. I call it sharing the light. And you know, a painting is an amazing tool to
share God’s love in the home. It’s like a secret messenger that goes into the home and gets enshrined on the wall of the home. And it brings a solid but very
persuasive message of hope to everyone who stares at it.
Q. We have “Moonlit Village” is in-is in our home.
A. Wonderful.
Q. And I got it for Christmas back in the-in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ90s sometime.
A. Wow.
Q. And a friend of mine, who’s actually a big advertising executive in New York
City, went and helped me frame it and everything else. And it was-it was interesting to see his reaction to it because he really, really loved the warmth of that setting. For people that don’t know, it’s a kind of a New England setting. And I lived in New England. It’s a dark night, there’s light playing off of the water down below a church and, of course, lights in the church. And then there’s the luminaria along the street. And it’s just¢â‚¬¦ It’s very inviting. And it-and it has-it speaks on its own. You know, it’s been said that art needs no justification.
A. That’s right.
Q. And there is a point at which art just says something to people and draws them
in, in a way that prepositional truth and words often can’t.
A. Well, I think that’s really true, Dick. You know, the wonderful thing about a
painting is it can speak a universal language. And unfortunately most artists and creative people today come from a very worldly perspective and a self-absorbed perspective, so what they create is very dark. And you see that in the museums of our country today.
Q. Did you ever go through a dark phase? Did you ever go through a dark phase
before you became a believer where you were experimenting or you were attracted to certain artists that were more abstract in nature?
A. Oh, I definitely did. In fact, goodness, my heroes were all of the-the men and
women whose-whose art I think was very tortured. You know, painters who were searching for a deeper truth. And until I was completed in Christ I think, you know, those unanswered questions and that-that hopelessness of life begins to influence the art of the individual. And-and when I came to that completion in Christ and that sense of all of a sudden being overflowing with his love, then my art was not coming from an empty place, but was coming out of fullness.
Q. Wow. Who were some of the artists that attracted you before you-you came
to that place?
A. Oh, I liked the-the-the humanist artists, the experimental artists, the-the-the
19th century artists who were the early proto-modernist people like Paul Klee and Emile Bonard.
Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, there’s all these painters whose work I think was all about destroying.
And Picasso said, “I didn’t come to create beauty, I came to destroy beauty.”
Q. Wow.
A. And I think there was a lot of pain and angst in much of the art that was
produced in the 20th century. And you know, by God’s grace I have seen joy in my own heart, and that’s what I want to put on canvas.
Q. We’re going to pick up there with more of Thomas Kinkade. We’ll tell you
about this video series, as well, coming up right after this.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with America’s most collected living artist, Thomas Kinkade, who has told us a little bit about his journey which, interestingly enough, was an ideological, theological one that became focused. And the real transition point in his life was over getting down to himself and understanding that there was more about life, that there was something bigger to aspire to, that there was something transcendent. And that, in fact, has effected his life.
Q. Now-now you’re¢â‚¬¦ I’ve-I’ve read about this infamous sketching tour with
your friend James-James Gurney is his name?
A. Yeah, James Gurney. Yeah, we went coast to coast. We lived as hobos for an
entire summer. And I’ll tell you, that will get you in touch with the dark side. I mean, I really saw the worst of humanity.
Q. Yeah.
A. You know, to this day I’m know as “The Painter of Light,” and my work is
very hopeful. And yet, you know, I’m fascinated by what we might call the under side of life, the-the street people, the homeless, the people of most need. And I think that’s consistent with my Christian faith because, you know, Jesus went to be with-with the outcasts of society often times. And so I don’t really portray the pain of the world in my artwork, but I think every artist has to be in touch with reality.
Q. Have you ever thought about doing a series that does get in touch with that
pain?
A. Well, I would say that would be counterproductive for this simple reason.
You know, art should not be a political poster. I don’t believe because politics come and go, world environments come and go I think the real nature of art is to get deeper into the human experience and touch the human heart in a very powerful way. I like to create light with what I paint, so that the darkness that is out there is-is affected. We have a chance to change the world through what we create.
Q. When did the whole “Painter of Light” theme become kind of the-the phrase
that was used about you? How did that happen?
A. That really happened early on when I started publishing artwork. You know,
I was painting a lot of subjects having to do with nostalgia and the-the-the lights in the windows were always on, and I was fascinated by lighting effects. And I wanted to create times of day. And I didn’t want to be known as a painter of a given genre, be it wildlife or landscape or still life, you know. There’s painters I know who only paint ships, or there’s someone who only paints racecars, or you know, might only paint portraits. But I wanted to be known as a painter who really touched life on deeper levels. And I think the theme of light was the only consistent thing I saw in my work.
Q. Now, what was the Robert Girard period of your life?
A. That was an interesting experiment. I was fascinated with the French
impressionists and I wanted to create impressionist paintings in my own style, and yet it was such a departure from my normal work in the studio that I began to use a brush name in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ80s, I think from ’84 ¢â‚¬Ëœtil about ¢â‚¬Ëœ88/’89.
Q. Yeah.
A. And it was a wonderful phase. I think I did about 65 paintings, 60 or 65
paintings, during that phase. And we’re beginning to publish some of those.
Q. Really. How are they different from what we know as-as Thomas Kincaid
work?
A. Well, they’re much brushier. They’re much more impressionistic. The
French impressionist school was an attempt to capture reality through broken color as opposed to rendered effects.
Q. Yeah.
A. And my studio work involves rendering, glazing, and a lot of detail, whereas
these paintings are very broad-stroked in their approach.
Q. What was the point at which you became self-aware that you were going to be
a known painter? In other words, you weren’t a guy that was just going to, you know, be on the street corners of San Francisco or up on a Russian river, you know, with a bunch of, you know, art strewn on the sidewalk with a can in front of it and hoping for the best. What was the point at which you realized my work has merit and standing and it’s going to be-it’s going to be widely received?
A. Well, I think the phenomenon just developed over the years. You know, I
began to do paintings for galleries and they would sell so quickly that I-I had the fortunate, very, very fortunate position of being able to begin publishing my work, making prints.
Q. Yeah.
A. You know, that was back in the days where there was quite an investment
needed to create a lithographic print, because technology now has allowed artists to do a print on your own, you know, desktop printer if you wanted to.
Q. Yeah.
A. But in those days, of course, it involved color separation and an elaborate
plate-making process, then the use of these multi-million dollar presses to create the print. And so my wife, Nanette and I, took our life savings and published our first print in 1984.
Q. What was your first print?
A. The very first one, that met with success at least, was a painting of my home
town of Placerville. It-it¢â‚¬¦ We sold it for $35 a print and-and we made 1,000 of them. And they all sold out. So we took the monies we made from that and printed a few more prints.
Q. Amazing.
A. And of course, the rest is history.
Q. Now, that was an act of faith.
A. Yes.
Q. It’s probably hard for you to remember back to that moment, but as a
Christian who was placing your-your life savings in God’s hands, what was that like?
A. Well, there was certainly an element of faith, but then again I’m-I’m in a faith
profession. I mean, I go into the studio with a blank piece of white canvas, and I take some smeary pigments, and take a stick with hair on-bristles on the end of it called a paintbrush, and I smear around that paint enough, and hopefully a world comes out. So there’s faith involved in my life as an artist. I-I quit the movie industry when I was a background painter. It was a secure job.
Q. Now, you did Fire and Ice. You were involved in Fire and Ice.
A. Fire and Ice was the movie I worked on for over two years. I did about 700 or
800 paintings for that movie.
Q. Wow.
A. And I left that movie to go into galleries. And that was faith. My wife and I
have always said, Look, God has a plan for our life. He’ll work all things together for good. And so we trust him. We have an old-fashioned habit. We get on our knees and we hold hands and we just pray for guidance. And many of the times when we faced a big decision and we were on the 11th hour, 59th minute going one direction and God said, No, turn the other way.
Q. Wow.
A. So we just try to follow him.
Q. How do you hear him in those moments? I mean, to go a radical new
direction what do you have to hear?
A. I think you’re led forth by peace.
Q. Wow.
A. We will feel peace to go a certain direction. And if something changes and
we’re saying no, something’s I don’t feel a peace here I think that’s one of the scriptural ways that God can guide. The other is a sense of-of recurrent circumstances. If I see things sort of aligning, and-and things are just pointing a certain way, and-and factors just seem to be going one way, then I kind of say, Lord, is this you?
Q. Yeah.
A. And often times it is.
Q. Yeah, interesting. I want to learn a little bit more about you, but I want you to
take a minute now and talk about Drawing Excitement: Art Lessons, because this is a whole new venture that, you know, that you’ve decided to do. What was it that led you to put together a video series to teach kids how to-how to draw?
A. Well, this is really an outgrowth of my experience with the public. I do these
events where I stand on stage and often times thousands of people are there. And we take questions. And consistently, every audience it seems like someone would ask, gee, is there ever going to be a chance for you to do a video or instructional materials to help kids? And it’s been in my heart anyway because I’m-I’m kind of a, I guess you’d say a ham, you know, someone who loves to get in front of the camera and talk about my work, you know. And so this was an attempt to bring people behind the scenes and to talk about the basics of art because, you know, kids need to draw to be happy and well adjusted. Studies have shown that kids who draw do better in school than kids that don’t, and they’re more intelligent and more social. You know, there’s not a whole lot of negative there. If you-if you can get your kid drawing, it becomes a handle for self-expression for that child that they can get through a lot of difficult times.
Q. Wow. Folks, this video series is being made available to you right now for
$19.95. You can call a toll-free number 877-335-7179. That’s 877-335-7179 for Drawing Excitement: Art Lessons. The web site is kolorfulkids.org. That’s kolorful with a “k”, k-o-l-o-r-f-u-l-k-i-d-s.org.
We’re going to be back with some concluding comments from Thomas
Kinkade, the artist, right after this. Don’t go away.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And you know, like many of you I’ve been curious about this Thomas Kinkade guy. My son actually, who’s-who is a professional artist, first told me about his work. And-and many of you know my son is the creative director at Cyan, where they did the highly graphically-oriented games MYST and RIVEN. Interestingly enough, that company Robyn and Rand Miller started that company they’re both guys whose lives have been definitely touched by God. And they found those games as a creative outlet for what God had given them. And my son is the same way. He was the first one to tell me about Thomas Kincaid. And then my wife gave me the wonderful “Moonlight Village” print back in the-in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ90s. And-and then I’ve seen the whole story unfold.
Q. I mean, how do you go from-from taking out your life savings and-and making 1,000 copies of something at 35 bucks to this massive empire? What happened that-that launched you from being a guy that’s doing art to a guy that was-was producing it in ways that would go to the masses?
A. Well, it’s been a-it’s been an amazing thing to watch. I-I-I don’t have an easy
answer for that other than to say it’s God’s miraculous hand. We published many prints in the early days. Of course, there was a lot of artists doing prints at that time. And different factors began to congeal. One was my presence on television. We began to sell artwork through the QVC Network and, of course, that became a top-rated show. When that happened, of course, millions of people were exposed to the art.
Q. But interestingly enough, when you did QVC you didn’t know it was going to
work. I mean, that’s the¢â‚¬¦ In retrospect everybody can say, well obviously.
A. And that was the thing. In fact, it’s kind of an anomaly in fact in the realm of
infomercial marketing and television and electronic marketing, there’s not a whole lot of art in that realm.
Q. Yeah.
A. You know, it’s kitchen appliances and home décor items that are tabletop
items, or clothing items, fashion jewelry. But you know, you don’t¢â‚¬¦ I’m really kind of the only artist who-who’s been able to make that medium work to that level.
Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s something I give God the credit for. I also think that publishing,
you know, the books we’ve done. I’ve done 40 books. And-and that fueled, as well as our licensing, you know, collectible plates, Christmas ornaments, greeting cards, and-and let’s not forget the calendar. We were told this year that our calendar was the number two calendar in all the Wal Mart stores, right behind the firemen’s calendar.
Q. Wow.
A. I don’t know where the Sports Illustrated swim suit calendar figured, but
somewhere I felt good that we beat them out.
Q. Now, what did you introduce in terms of technique as a painter and then in the
production of your stuff that was nuanced?
A. Well, this has been another factor that fueled our success. We created a
technique we call luminous lithography. We’re working on a new technique now that will be the definitive, state-of-the-art way to reproduce art. It’s the closest you can get to an original. Period. And we’re calling it the lumigraph. And it’s an experimental thing we’re working on right now. But I think I created new ways, and our team created new ways to make a print that looks like an original painting. For example, we pioneered the technique of hand retouching on prints.
Q. Yeah.
A. Well, you know, we employ 60 artists or so in our workshops that do nothing
but hand finish these prints one by one
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œwith-with, not with, you know, artificial materials, but with oil paints, actual
oil like the artist uses. And it creates an original look in the print. And I think, you know, that’s been enormously popular. And then the other thing we did was I-I would say invert the paradigm of what an art gallery was. You know, art galleries have traditionally been places that are very uncomfortable for the average person.
Q. Yeah.
A. But we have created an art gallery system that makes the art gallery feel like a
home.
Q. Yeah.
A. You walk in, there’s-there’s a fireplace. There’s soft music playing. It’s
comfortable. There’s oriental rugs on the floor. And I think the-the atmosphere of a loving-loving approach, a very I would say non-threatening approach to selling art, that has been another thing that God has used.
Q. What has been the most popular series that you’ve done?
A. Oh, goodness, I think my spiritual paintings have been amongst the most
popular. I did a painting called “The Garden of Prayer” that is one of the most
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œpopular paintings I ever did up to this point. Many of my paintings have a
spiritual theme in the sense that they depict settings of hope. I try to weave a story within the painting that invites you in and leads you into little pathways where you discover elements within the painting.
Q. Yeah.
A. And your imagination is engaged and yet somehow you feel hopeful. Again,
that’s consistent with my goal of being what I would call a minister through the art.
Q. Yeah.
A. Using my talent really to bring God’s love into the home. Because if you
remember in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul spoke of praying over little bits of cloth and sending them out throughout the regions. And people’s lives were touched, people were healed, people had new hope in their hearts. And so I always tell people when they see my paintings that really all you’re looking at is, not a painting but a little bit of cloth.
Q. A healing cloth, actually.
A. That’s it, that we’re sending out.
Q. What are your work habits? When do you paint?
A. Oh, I paint non-stop. I’ve always had this one characteristic of being
passionate about-about my work. It’s my hobby as well as my work.
Q. Yeah.
A. And so¢â‚¬¦
Q. So what time do you start on a typical morning?
A. I’m in here usually by 6:30 or 7:00. I am¢â‚¬¦ I’m lucky, my commute is about
30 feet so¢â‚¬¦ I wake up, roll out of bed, don’t have to put on a suit and tie.
Q. Yeah.
A. I throw on my jeans and come out through the redwoods to my studio. It’s a
very private place.
Q. Yeah.
A. It’s a little cottage right by the home. And I’m-I’m undisturbed. My wife
comes over once a day to critique what I’m working on. The kids come in and help Dad with his paintings by-by finger painting on top of the oil paint, or whatever is needed. And it-it allows me to be very productive. I-I work on Saturdays. I do take Sundays off. But one of the nice things in our family is we do not have television in the home. And so as a ,result we’ve become a family of readers and a family who plays games and does social things. So I think, you know, I can have less hours in the evening more meaningful time with the kids even though I might have less hours just because we don’t share the time.
Q. How much on-location stuff do you do where you go and actually¢â‚¬¦ I was at
our son’s home the other day and he has a painting that is of Boston. And I was on the staff of Park Street Church when I was in seminary.
A. Oh, yeah.
Q. And there’s Park Street Church.
A. Yeah, you can see it right there.
Q. And you totally captured the Boston Commons and the whole feel of the
thing. I thought, the guy had to be there. I mean, you didn’t just see a picture of it.
A. No, I go on location. I take¢â‚¬¦ It’s called plenair painting. I take my easel
setup and I work out in the open air. And that is one of my passions. In fact, my wife and I are leaving in about a month and a half for England and France.
Q. Wow.
A. We’re going to be doing painting for a couple of weeks.
Q. Wow.
A. I do this every year. I-I travel extensively with my paints and this gives me
new ideas.
Q. Do people-don’t people recognize you, though, at this point? Isn’t it a lot
harder to be incognito?
A. It really is. And I don’t like that because I don’t consider myself a public
figure or a celebrity. I-I really just want to be left alone to do my artwork. Lord knows, you know, I get recognized at some very unusual times, especially when I’m cruising on my Harley Davidson.
Q. Oh, there you go.
A. That’s when I hate to be recognized.
Q. You’ve invested a lot in ministries, World Vision, City Team, I could¢â‚¬¦ The
list goes on and on. How do you decide which missions you want to connect yourself with?
A. Well, I’ve got a simple answer about that. You know, God’s given me
resources over the years, as the company has grown, to make a difference. And I don’t view it as the resources that you have financially are through influence, or any other resource you might have should not just be something you spend on yourself or on your, you know, own ego needs. I’ve always thought, gee, you know, there’s a whole world of need out there.
Q. Yeah.
A. Why don’t we reach out and try to make a difference. That’s really what
Christ called us to do. So if I see a ministry that helps children or that helps the hurting, then I’m in favor of that. I don’t care what the political correctness of it is, I just want to help people who are in need. And so we try to reach out every way we can.
Q. Wow. And Drawing Excitement has a connection to all of that, too, Drawing
Excitement: Art Lessons, as I understand.
A. Well, we’re using that to raise some money for a few different ministries. We
believe that, you know, kids today need the chance to draw. And we have a vision of helping to return the arts to the schools
Q. Wow.
A. ¢€œbecause so many of the schools have taken the arts away. And hopefully we
can help.
Folks, the toll-free number to order your own copy of Drawing
Excitement: Art Lessons, is 877-335-7179. We’ve been visiting with Thomas Kinkade. We’ll be right back.

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