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Former Art Teacher An Award Winning Artist

Former Art Teacher An Award Winning Artist

Santa Clara resident John Tolomei knew he wanted to be an artist at a fairly young age and the former Santa Clara High School art teacher gave up his position a few years ago to focus solely on that dream.

“I’ve always been interested in art,” said Tolomei. “In high school is when I really became interested in it. I had this really cool art teacher. I started in ceramics and I did that for about seven or eight years. Then I was really interested in photography and I took photography classes at DeAnza and then I did all my BFA work in black and white photography. Then after I graduated I started getting into painting and drawing.”


For Tolomei, art just isn’t about one thing. While his first love is photography and he dabbles in acrylics and airbrushing, Tolomei focuses the majority of his time on photo-realistic colored pencil pieces.

He recently won an Award of Excellence for a piece, “Kauai Palms,” that was entered into the California State Fair and has a variety of pieces hanging in Willow Glen’s Gloss Beauty Lounge – including “Poolside,” a colored pencil photo recreation of his wife lounging next to a pool. Except that in Tolomei’s piece, only her legs are shown.

“I’m trying to create something out of context where you don’t necessarily need to see the whole person,” said Tolomei. “If you just see the legs and then you have to think about the legs and how they’re curved and then the bars and how they’re curved and then the balance between the poolside and the water and how it all works together and the coloration, to me, creates a much more dynamic thing to look at.”

The first step of Tolomei’s process involves taking film photographs – only he takes images exactly the way he wishes to recreate them later and prefers not to crop his photos. The second step involves digitizing and projecting the image to make a realistic outline. From there, he lets his skills with colored pencils do the work.

Former Art Teacher An Award Winning Artist

“I just start laying down the base colors and block things in,” said Tolomei. “I leave the lighter stuff for later because if I put down too much color with color pencil, you can’t really go back…There are actually many, many layers of pencil that go into my pieces.”

All of Tolomei’s pieces are for sale although he doesn’t have an online shop or storefront. “I usually tell people that they need to see my work rather than looking at it online especially with the colors and the intensity,” said Tolomei.

His studio is an eclectic mix of everything he’s been working on – the series of palm trees, poolside images, Santa Cruz Boardwalk recreations, Eye Tests, and color-blocked canvasses and lazy Susans – what he’s working on today, might be completely different for his plans tomorrow.

“A lot of artists say you need to pick one thing and stick with it all your days but to me it’s, like, why not branch out and do different things,” said Tolomei. “I like to switch it up. If I kept doing the same thing I would get bored.”

Visit for a sampling of his work. Those interested in seeing more should contact the artist directly.


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