LUMBERTON — Thomas Ard has made a career out of being an artist.
Since late 2011, Ard, who is 27, has worked for various national companies that licence his designs, which he says are applied to everything, including bowls, fabrics, coffee mugs, wine glasses and even decorative flags.
Ard had begun making money as an artist before he was even out of high school, selling his paintings to fellow students for a small profit. He says that he was not considered “most likely to succeed” among his peers while attending The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“While other students were doing dark and gory art, I was the kid in the back who did bright colors and polka dots,” the Lumberton native said. “Majoring in art, I initially thought I was going to be a sculptor, but I decided to go into business for myself before I ever got a degree.”
In 2010 Ard opened The Desperate House Wife in Lumberton’s Biggs Park Mall, a niche gift shop where he could sell products with his designs.
According to Ard, the shop was a hit, but he found he wasn’t able to keep up with the demand by himself. The following year Ard closed shop to focus instead on developing designs at his own pace and selling the work to area businesses for resale.
Ard’s art was noticed by Lynn Chason, a regional sales representative for wholesale design and product production company Evergreen Enterprises. According to Chason, Ard’s talent was immediately recognizable and she knew that she would need to bring it to the attention of her company.
“I suggested he get a portfolio together and we set up a presentation in Atlanta and they loved it,” Chason said. “He has all that we are looking for, it is fun, it is whimsical and it sells. Not only do we sell it easily in the Southeast but reps all over the country have found his work easy to sell. We want more of it. He knows what colors are in trend and just what people will love. He is a great artist.”
After signing on to develop products for Evergreen Enterprises, Ard’s work has been featured in more than 200,000 stores across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. He has also licensed work to other companies and developed his own brand under the name Tom Tom Designs.
The “fun” and “whimsical” nature of his art is something that Ard believes has become the main component of his success, and something he feels was inspired by having so many positive influences in his youth.
“My family have been encouraging me my whole entire life. Especially my grandmother. She was my entire driving force,” Ard said. “She’d get me art supplies and I would use them up, then she’d immediately buy me more. We would spend all summer at the beach together. I think that happiness exudes from my work. I believe in energy, the more positive energy you release into the world the more positive things will happen to you. I want to be positive about everything. My friends always tell me that I don’t let things get to me, that is because if you let things get to you then you aren’t positive.”
Ard’s positive outlook was put to the test in February with the passing of his grandmother.
“Probably one of the most difficult things to ever happen to me is losing my grandmother,” he said. “Because I knew if anyone was going to support me, she would support me.”
Ard could use that support now as he heads into yet another new endeavour, creating designs for the national clothing line Erma’s Designs. The deal should mean that Ard’s work will be featured in 72 new stores.
Despite his success, Ard has no plans on moving to a larger city.
“Lumberton is home for me. We have a phenomenal community,” Ard said. “I couldn’t imagine having a support group anywhere else but Lumberton. Without them I would not be as successful as I have been.”
James Johnson may be reached at 910-272-6144 or on Twitter @JJohnsonRobeson.