Thomas Sutley can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawing or painting something.
He said he loves the creative process, and he is especially inspired by being able to share his creations with others.
“It’s nice to do something with your own two hands and bring it into the world,” Sutley said. “To me, it is the coolest thing in the world to have someone else enjoy a work that is your own.”
If you don’t already know Sutley’s work, you may soon be seeing more of them in the near future. In December 2018, Sutley began marketing his artwork under his own Vryheim Design clothing label. He said the decision to market his own clothing was motivated by his desire to let more people see the artwork he has worked so hard to create.
“Not everyone needs a large canvas in their living room but everybody wears clothing,” Sutley said. “People buy T-shirts every day.”
Sutley, a 2013 graduate of W.F. West High School, said he has loved art as long as he can remember. But it was at Chehalis Middle School where he took an art class that introduced him to oil and acrylic painting. A few years later, he went through a troubled phase in school but it was art that pulled him back onto a good track.
“Art really got me out of that, it was keeping busy at home,” Sutley said. “I started taking more art classes my junior and senior year in high school. People would see my art and ask if I could make something for them, so I started doing commission work and I did that through my senior year and into college.”
Attending Centralia College, Sutley had his first public exhibit in Washington Hall. He said he was also was inspired by his instructors.
“One teacher told me ‘you’ve got talent but there are techniques you should be applying,’” Sutley said. “That’s helped me get to where I am today.”
Sutley’s passion for art is painting on canvas, though he also loves drawing and has begun creating hand-drawn art that he scans and digitally enhances. Some of his artwork is for sale at 710 Beans and Bongs in Centralia. Sutley has also partnered with Dapper Games in Chehalis to create some artwork for the store, including recently doing some live altering for a game release there. This summer, he will create a mural for the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team on the wall of Ewe & I.
But he said he found his path to creating clothing designs when he realized the process of getting his artwork in front of people can be difficult and frustrating. He said he began trying to sell his artwork on sites such as Redbubble.com, a space that allows independent artists to offer up original artwork that customers can order in many different mediums, from art prints to tote bags.
“You’re like one in a million on there. It’s really saturated with artists and you kind of get lost in the sea,” Sutley said. “I sold one phone case in five years and I think I made eighteen cents.”
Sutley began talking about his wish to get his art in front of more people with his brother and with the help of their father, launched Vryheim Design Company. He said he figured putting his artwork on pieces of clothing was perhaps the easiest way to get exposure for his pieces. The name Vryheim is taken from vry, an Afrikaans word for free, and heim, an Icelandic word for land or realm. The company name is intentional since it speaks to Sutley’s hope to collaborate with other artists to help them get their artwork to the people as well.
“It’s this liberated realm for art,” Sutley said. “That’s why I wanted to focus on creating a collective. I want to be able to promote other people’s art as well.”
At the moment, Vryheim Design sales are exclusively online through the Vryheim Facebook page. This summer, Sutley hopes to be able to bring some of his designs to local fairs, farmers markets and concerts with the eventual goal of opening a storefront.
When he is not working in his home studio for Vryheim Design, Sutley works for Grocery Outlet in Chehalis. He recently created a piece of art depicting different Chehalis landmarks that became a sweatshirt many of his co-workers at the store often wear to work. Sutley said he is in the process of working on a T-shirt design that will become the summer attire for the store. Sutley and his brother, Brian, will also be marketing microgreens at the Chehalis Farmers Market this year. He is also raising his 1-year-old son Azariah with partner Alexandria Tillotson.
“It’s like too much going on all at once all the time,” said Tillotson, who met Sutley during an art class and helps with various tasks for Vryheim.