Wisconsin Artist Thom J. Ertl


Name:  Thom J. Ertl

Birth Place:  Racine, Wisconsin

Occupation:  I currently have two endeavors that I consider “lines of work.” I am a collage/assemblage artist, primarily wall art and furniture, for Thom J. Ertl Designs.
I also give artistic direction as  a graphic designer at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, and, more specifically, the Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR).

What kind of art style do you like?  I’m most attracted to abstract art because of its colors, layers and textures. It forces one to create his or her own story to go with it. It’s not so “on the nose.”


What does art mean to you?  I cannot imagine life without being creative. It gives me so much—a stability, a therapeutic release, a freedom of independence that I crave—a place to take the ideas floating around in my head and throw them out of me.

When did you realize that art was in your future?  I remember being in third grade and having an assignment to draw frogs for a science project, and the best ones were also going to be displayed as part of an exhibit at the Racine Art Museum. I did not get chosen to be in the exhibit, but it did was drive me to some day “win,” “be chosen,” “make it,” “get recognized.” I’ve always been competitive, always entering contests as a kid, and that spirit means I’m always striving to be the best, then and now.

Who is your favorite artist and why?  Just off the top of my head, I’ve always liked the not-so-subtle wink Leigh Bowery gave to his craft. The intricacy of Gustav Klimt’s art is great. Mark Rothko’s stripes. The brilliance of the undiscovered street artist. Art that makes me think and smile.

Words that best describe you?  On a good day I like to think of myself as being driven. I’m definitely a Type-A personality. I’ve always pushed myself to be the best I can be. I like to think of myself as being nice. With an edge. I can be very caustic at times, but in a silly, funny, voice-from-within sort of way.

Who has been your biggest influence in your life?  I was fortunate to spend my childhood with a thoughtful, creative, sometimes nontraditional person who encouraged me to think beyond the expectations. Grandma Patterson and I spent our free time “doing” art, making things. I remember my childhood as a magical time to explore, to realize what life had to offer, and having the sanctity of her permission to do that. Grandma had this way of guiding what we were doing without influencing it too much, without turning it into her project, her creation or her end result. As an adult, I continue to put into practice what my childhood brought to me. Grandma’s love, support and influence have been invaluable in the thought process I employ today in the creation of graphic design, wall art and furniture and even my interactions with people. One can clearly capture that influence when they visit Thom J. Ertl Designs.

I would give anything to meet…  I always thought it would be fun to go out drinking with Graham Norton and John Waters and have them each bring a guest of their choice. I’d bring my partner and we could see what kind of enlightening conversations we could have!

Your idea of a perfect evening is?  See above. Add a long weekend in San Francisco’s Chinatown for grittiness and flavor.

The last book I read was… I just read Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure for an art project. As far as reading for pleasure, I just finished Sylvester’s biography.


My favorite movies/plays are?  I swear I could watch the original Hairspray every week. And I love bad community theater—you know, the kind where people think they’re a step away from Broadway.


Nobody knows that I…  am secretly a big fan of both gymnastics and figure skating, and have been since I was 10 years old. That’s as close as I get to working out these days.


What had been your biggest setback or failure in life and how did you overcome it?

Ooh, high school was certainly not a fun period of my life.



12524119_10208827206624431_146277797600584533_n It was hard to be in an environment not conducive to individuality—I was continuously called out for being small and a femme boy.








My failure was to completely shut down and quietly take all the abuse. My solution was to realize that it was a  temporary situation and I could leave the narrowness and not look back. God bless the lemmings—that’s a wonderful  way to live if one chooses to do it. I shy away from much of it, even to this day.


Stones Balance


If I could meet my younger self, I would tell him…  to do almost everything he was asked to try, even if it scared him. To confidently create solutions before asking for help. To worry less about the frosting and be more concerned about the cake.


What are the biggest challenges you have as a man after 40?  I have the heart and soul of a kid and the body of a man in his 50s, so that often brings its own set of challenges. I also find myself being less patient at times. If you’re a fan of swearing, I invite you to drive with me!


If someone wants a piece of art customized , do you do  that?  I’m more than happy to create something just for you! Leave me a message in the CONTACT US section and we’ll start from there. Think about things like interests, favorite colors, colors to compliment the space you live in, just to name a few. And please understand that, based on my workload and the number of projects I have going on an regular basis, your Thom J. Ertl Designs artwork could be delivered to you in four to six weeks. It could be sooner—you never know!


What would you like to say to the Age Forward Wisconsin Audience?  Hi everyone! Coffee please. Make mine black and put two ice cubes in it so I can slam it. And keep it coming!




Where can our readers find you or know more about you?   Thom Ertl on Facebook and from  my own website : Thom J. Ertl Designs. The website is also an Online Store.