Hi, I’m Tom Metcalf and I’m the artist behind Carve Fin Art, a series of linocut surf fin art prints. I create art for people whose idea of paradise is a tropical island, surrounded by perfect mellow waves that they can surf to their heart’s content, before spending their evening relaxing in a hammock tied between two palm trees, as the sun gently sets over the horizon.
Since I was young, I’ve always been interested in surfing and art, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they both made a real return to my life and I realised what a great impact they each had on me. I’d always loved drawing, pretty much ever since I could pick up a pencil, but sadly during my teenage years, filled with adolescent angst and with a bad case of the dreaded comparison (with someone who was massively talented and went on to make a career in animation, working on major film titles) taking its toll on my confidence, I pretty much gave up art, due to feeling I wasn’t any good at it. Looking back, I can see that totally wasn’t the case, but it’s always easier to see these things with a healthy dose of hindsight now isn’t it and you try telling a teenager they’re wrong and see what happens!
Fast forward quite a few years and after a serious mental health break down (that nearly cost me my life), as part of my recovery I was volunteering for a few different organisations, when the paths of surfing and art met in a way that would go on to quite literally transform my life.
I was volunteering with the Wave Project, an awesome charity that helps young people who are struggling with various difficulties in their lives, by developing their confidence and self esteem through surfing. At the same time, I was also helping out at a second amazing organisation, The Project, which was another local youth group, helping young people who were experiencing issues with their mental health. It was during one of these sessions, that we took part in an exercise using charcoal to draw, with no fixed intentions of the outcome. Without a thought, flowing lines came from my hand as the charcoal moved across the paper and it was this that ignited my passion to explore my artistic side again.
A few days later, I visited a small local gallery where I saw some pastel drawings and that day I went home and using my girlfriend’s old art supplies, I began drawing again. Little did I know that that spark of inspiration would lead me to creating a picture a day, for 125 days straight (many that would take over 8 hours to finish), in various different mediums, all based on surfing.
It all started with trying to recreate my favourite surf photos, but it soon led me to developing my own compositions, as I gained confidence in what I was doing. Combined with a course in mindfulness that I’d been sent on as part of my mental health recovery and the old judgements of that young me were finally laid to rest and the passion was allowed to blossom and grow, as art firmly put down its roots in my life.
It was during this mindfulness course and the times of reflection that followed, that I began to notice the similarities between surfing and art and what drew me towards both of them as such positive influences in my life. To me, surfing and art share many likenesses, which is probably why I love them both so much and I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position where I’ve found a way to combine these passions in a way that helps me to create a better and more fulfilling life not only for myself, but also for those around me.
They’re both incredibly mindful activities and the more mindful you can be about them, the better I think your experience of them is going to be overall. When you’re out on the water surfing, you’re very much connected to your environment in that moment. For example, it could be whilst you’re sat bobbing around on your board between waves, looking at what’s happening on the horizon, as you watch the swell rolling in to make sure you’re in the right place to catch the best waves. Surfing is very much about being in the right place at the right time, so having better awareness of what’s happening around you (and not having a wandering mind that’s off thinking about something else, like whether you’ve got that email you’ve been waiting for yet) definitely helps with this.
Alternatively, it might be when you’re actually catching and riding a wave, focussing on all the little things that are happening, like your speed against that of the wave, the shape of the wave in front of you, or the position of your board beneath your feet and where that is in relation to the wave, etc. Generally, the more you’re paying attention to these things, the better I feel your surfing experience is and the better you’re going to surf as a result. Try doing all of those actions that I just mentioned above, while also attempting to remember the things you need to fill out in that spreadsheet for your expenses when you get home, and after you end up with a wave dumping on your head, I think you’ll find that you agree with me.
When I’m creating a linocut, I very much try to adopt the same way of thinking, so that while carving a design into the lino, I focus on my hand’s connection to the tool that I’m holding and in turn, the connection of that tool to the lino and the way that it’s cutting. Keeping a clear mind and focussing on what I’m doing helps me to not only make fewer errors while carving, but I also feel that it helps to improve my overall experience, as I’m not thinking or worrying about other things that could be on my mind.
I get to just enjoy creating art for a while, rather than being concerned with other thoughts of what I should be doing in my business, for example. I can deal with that later, and give that the same focussed attention as my art, just as I can also try and do in all of the other areas of my life. There’s a lot of praise put on being able to multitask, but I think that doing one thing at a time and making sure you do that thing well deserves more credit too. It’s hard to remember to do it a lot of the time, especially when we lead such busy lives, but it definitely pays off when you do.
With surfing, I find it’s all about being able to disconnect from any other thoughts and leaving as much as you can on the shore in terms of stresses or worries (they may still be there when you get back, or you may have totally forgotten about them), to make sure you get the best out of the session. Similarly, when I’m creating art it’s about focussing on the piece that I’m producing at that time, so that I can make it the best I can. My worst times surfing have always been those where I’ve taken too much mental baggage into the water with me and it’s weighed me down, so I’ve got negged out way too quickly when it hasn’t been going my way and I’ve surfed poorly as a result. Likewise, the times I’ve made the most mistakes while producing my art have been when I haven’t been working with a clear mind too.
I’d love to be at the point with my surfing where I could draw a comparison to my art, something sickeningly cringeworthy along the lines of, “when I’m surfing I feel like I’m painting a flowing line across the wave with a brush” (in my head I’m picturing Rob Machado’s body, with my head on it), but at the moment, I’m far from there! If there was an artistic interpretation of my current surfing, then it’d probably look like one of those scrawls that an infant does when they’ve barely learnt to hold the crayon and they’re more interested in eating it than drawing with it. I think it’s safe to say that I’m definitely more stylish in terms of my art than my surfing, but I’m working on it and most importantly, I’m enjoying that process as I’m learning, so here’s to the future as this amazing adventure continues!
Talking of the future and all jokes aside, that leads me on to how I’ll choose to finish this piece, with finding peace. It took going through some pretty terrible experiences in my life and times where I saw no future, for me to begin the journey of my recovery and find the things that truly make me feel excited to be alive today. For anyone who is struggling with life, I want to let them know that there is hope and things can and do get better, even when it really doesn’t feel like it. Trust me, I’ve been there many times and I’m honestly not just saying that, I really have. I know how it feels to want to give up and I know what it’s like to keep going and get out the other side of and I can tell you that it’s definitely worth it. If you need help, please reach out and speak to someone, it really can make a difference. For the Samaritans call 116 123 in the UK, other countries, there is a link here.
Editors note, to find out more about Tom and what he does check out his webpage here.