The abstract artworks of Ginger Thomas conjure up oceans and heavens in a dreamscape swirl of blues, trails of gold, and textured surfaces awash and aglow like islands and nebulas of the inner psyche.
Her creations since 2014 have captured the eye of an international audience and prompted classes where the artist shares techniques. Thomas’ later-in-life journey prompts a message to peers: “I want other women, no matter what your age, to know that it is not too late in life to go after your dreams.”
Thomas (maiden name Ford), 59, grew up in Summit, a tiny Pike County town with its own stake in Mississippi art history—artists Bess Dawson, Ruth Atkinson and Halcyone Barnes are known as the Summit Trio or the Summit Group, which started in the 1950s.
An artistic vein runs through Thomas’ own generation, too, with three sisters who all paint. She and her sister, Carolyn Quin (owner of Gulf South Art Gallery in Summit, started in the ‘70s by Dawson in McComb) are the most serious about pursuing art, she says.
Thomas loved art as a kid, from coloring contests at school to hand-drawn “paintings” in play houses they made from boxes dragged home from the hardware store. “I’ve always been creative and had an interest in art, but getting married and having two kids, it just was never convenient for me to paint,” she says.
The path cleared in recent years, with Thomas’ move to the Jackson area, her marriage to Paul Thomas in 2011 and her exit from a full-time job as an office manager for a real-estate company. Now, skills from her work history—home staging, photography, graphic design and more—fold into support for her business, Ginger Thomas Studios.
At the outset, her creative concentration focused on handmade jewelry and crafty art. “That took off and did real well, but I really wanted to do fine art,” Thomas says.
She started painting in 2014. When she and her husband built their current home in Flowood, it practically became her canvas. “We had bare walls. And, I did not want your box store Home Goods, Hobby Lobby, Kirkland’s prints on my walls, because I wanted something that reflected me. … What better way to do that than to paint it myself?
“So, that’s what I did. I just started painting.” When a few people saw the results and suggested she ought to sell the artworks, “that’s kind of what pushed me over the edge,” Thomas says.
Thomas says her art got its start at the now-closed Ridgeland restaurant Signa’s Grille, owned by a friend, where meet-the-artist events connected her with customers.
Now, sales come primarily through online and social media, mostly Instagram (106,000 followers) and to a lesser extent, Facebook (about 6,300 followers). The vast majority of her buyers are from out of state or out of the country, and Thomas has shipped works to France, Great Britain, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Sweden and more. Her sister’s gallery in Summit is her sole brick-and-mortar outlet.
The artist proceeded with no formal training save one art class in high school. She laughs now to tell it, but her art teacher had discouraged her from going into art because of the field’s precarious nature. They are still friends, she adds.
Circling back to the passion in her 50s, Thomas explored abstract expressionism and developed a signature style. “My true inner voice, I guess, was starting to come out,” she says.
Her paintings’ calming, soothing expression is reflected in color choices—a swath of blues from turquoise and aqua to sapphire and cobalt. Her home’s color scheme (a grayish blue called Storm Cloud in a couple of rooms) was an influence, too. Between the stress of her former work life, and her husband’s stressful job, “I just felt like we needed something calming and soothing in our life,” she says.
Her painting “Wondrous Stories” dominates the wall in her keeping room, just off the kitchen. “When you can come home and sit down and have a glass of wine and look at that, it’s relaxing,” Thomas says.
Thomas also sees a reflection of spirituality in her works.
“To me, a lot of them look like Heaven, or what you would expect Heaven to look like,” she says. “And a lot of them look like the Earth, if you were in space, looking down. I really don’t know what makes me paint that way, but that’s just the way I do it.”
The paintings’ heavy texture captures the eye of fans, and has drawn many to classes to learn her techniques. “I think that’s what appeals to most people—the heavy texture, and the depth and interest that it gives a piece,” she says.
In 2019, St. Catherine’s Village commissioned two large paintings for its new nursing center. She was also approached by Visionary Projects to lead a workshop in Miami.
The self-described “shy little mouse” demurred at first, knowing she had only a few years of painting under her belt. “I have this phobia of talking in front of people,” she says, but was coaxed into leading the three-day workshop with about a half-dozen students.
“It went great. … It was fun. And, I’m like, what was I so stressed about? That taught me, don’t let fear keep you from doing something that you really want to do,” she says. That got her over a hump with a “Just do it” momentum.
While the COVID-19 pandemic put Thomas’ in-person group workshops on hold, her online courses did well, opening the avenue to more customers. Her third virtual class opens in late March.
Thomas boosted her social-media savvy through sheer persistence. “I knew that if I didn’t want to go back to work at a stressful job, I was going to have to make this work,” she says. “So, I was determined. … I did not want to go back to that life.”
With social-media growth came opportunities as an influencer; she recently joined up with Artistic Painting Studio in California. She credits business manager Dawn Dugle’s help with focus and development in the last year.
Though 2020 was the best year for her art business, it was marked by the tragedy of her daughter Breana Nix’s death in March.
“I was almost at the point where I was just going to quit painting, because I felt so guilty about focusing on my business,” she says. Now, the grief drives her harder to take it even further. “She loved my art. She had her home full of my art.
“I feel like, now, my art has advanced because I’m reflecting more of her in my art. …. It helps me cope with it.”
Thomas’ kitchen doubles as her art studio now. Her current goals include saving for a larger house, with space enough to host art retreats and a huge studio for workshops and filming online courses.
“I want to have a bedroom wing on the opposite end of the house so people can come to stay for my art classes, and Paul will be our personal chef because he’s a great cook,” she says.
Another goal? “To make enough so my husband can retire and come work for me,” she says, chuckling fondly. “And, he’s OK with that.”
Her timeline? “Within the next year, I hope.”