Mikel Tolman is a physical artist. He works with ink and a variety of different types of paint, some of which are homemade.
Clarissa Tolman is a photographer. She loves using her digital camera to capture moments of scenery and animal life.
The Tooele couple find joy in creating art.
“I’ve always done art,” Mikel said. “I’ve got images from when I was 17; I turned 60 this year.”
Mikel studied commercial art in college. He enjoyed doing art, but soon discovered that he hated doing commercial projects.
“Back then — this was before computers — I’d do an ad for somebody and they’d say, ‘This is great and all, but I’d like this over here and this color changed,’ and I’d have to do it all by hand,” he said. “I decided that wasn’t for me, but I still did my art.”
He mainly kept up on his artistic skills as a form of therapy.
“I have generalized anxiety disorder and a couple other disorder issues,” Mikel said. “The art itself is actually therapy. … Instead of taking high doses of medication that would make me a zombie, [I’d do art].”
Mikel draws whatever comes to mind. He has images of rock and roll artists, Frankenstein, mermen, flowers, and much more. Most recently, he’s been working on a series of pieces about the Shaolin fighting monks.
No matter how he thinks his pieces turn out, he never throws any of them away.
“I always tell my kids there’s no such thing as a mistake,” Mikel said. “My main focus is to try to teach people to enjoy the ability to do art and turn everything that you do into a positive experience. Every time I would do something where I thought, ‘Oh, I screwed up here,’ I always ended up using it, sometimes years later.”
His habit of keeping every piece meant that he had collected quite a few paintings and drawings by the time he and Clarissa got married five years ago. They were cleaning their house one day when Clarissa stumbled across a stack of Mikel’s artwork under the bed.
“When she found it, she said, ‘What is this?’” Mikel remembered. “I said, ‘It’s therapy. Don’t worry about it; don’t even look at it.’ She said, ‘This is really good.’ I said, ‘It’s not for anybody’s sight but my own.’”
Despite Mikel’s initial reluctance to show his artwork to anyone, Clarissa kept talking about it.
“In seeing it, I was like, ‘We’ve got to show these to the world,’” she said. “He didn’t have the confidence in his own talent of his own art for a long time, but I kept telling him how good it was and so then he started showing more people and they told him how good it was, and then somebody else said, ‘This is good enough to sell’ and then he finally listened.”
The Tolmans have been selling Mikel’s art for the past three years. Mikel chose the name “Old Hippy Art” based on several experiences he had as a young father. His children always introduced him to their friends as “the old hippie.”
“They’d always say, ‘Meet my dad, Mikel Tolman. He’s the old hippie,’” Mikel said. “My kids looked at me as an old hippie and the name stuck.”
Clarissa liked the name for a different reason — a country song by the Bellamy Brothers.
“The chorus says something along the lines of, ‘He’s an old hippie and he don’t know what to do — should he hang on to the old or grab on to the new?’” she said. “It describes Mikel completely, especially in regards to technology. That’s exactly what he’s seeing in his lifetime.”
She added, “He was really reluctant to move forward with cell phones, then smartphones, and to this day he’s not allowed to touch the computer at home. … All of his art is done by hand and then I take it from there and scan it and size it and get it ready for the printer.”
Clarissa manages the couple’s online presence, including their website, oldhippyart.com.
After they started selling Mikel’s art, his work slowly became better known. A few of his portraits of rock and roll artists went viral, exposing his art to a wide audience. He also helped teach art classes at Rose Springs and Willow elementary schools, which allowed him to make new connections in the community.
Just this year, the Blue Antler store in Tooele asked Mikel to put some of his art prints in its store.
“I used to work two jobs,” Mikel said. “I’d work at Home Depot first, then go to another job in the evening. But my art’s taken off so much that now my two jobs are Home Depot and then I come home and do art.”
Along the way, Mikel has helped Clarissa gain a new appreciation for abstract art.
“I hated abstract art before I met Mikel. That’s not an understatement,” she said. “Every bit of abstract art I saw before I met Mikel, I was completely turned off by it. Then I saw his art and it awakened something in me, so that now when I’m looking at his or somebody else’s art, I can see something in it that I was blind to before.”
Clarissa is looking forward to adding her own art to the couple’s gallery soon, under the name Mariposa Rose.
“We were just going through some of [my photos],” she said. “I haven’t done much with it for years, but looking through it, I kind of amazed myself and I’m excited to have some printed [and put up] for sale.”
Mikel added, “She’s quite the photographer.”
One of the photographs Clarissa and Mikel are most excited to share is a close-up of a dragonfly. Clarissa rescued the insect after it got caught in her Intex swimming pool one day.
“I figured it was a goner, but I was able to rescue it,” she said. “I took it out of the water and [brought] it inside. When it dried out it started flying around, and before we [got] it outside I was able to get … one really remarkable picture of it. It’s so up close you can see the veins in the wings.”
Clarissa and Mikel believe one of the most important things artists can do is believe in themselves. To help support themselves and other artists, they belong to a Facebook group called “No More Starving Artist.”
Tren Malcolm of Tooele created the group to support artists in Tooele County, Clarissa said.
“As artists we tend to undervalue ourselves,” she said. “He’s [Malcolm is] trying to help us as a group — especially here in Tooele because we have a huge amount of talent in the Tooele area — to just try and help each other realize that we don’t have to undervalue ourselves or our art.”
You can see more works of art by Tolman at the Tooele Arts Festival June 21-23.