Meet our alumni

Tom Bagley

"Art tends to be the only thing in a culture that stands the test of time, regardless of style or if it's "trendy" or not...Creating particular pieces of art can sometimes be one of the main things that a child will remember about certain chapters of their lives.”

alumni tom bagley

Photo provided by Tom Bagley

AUArts: Who is Tom Bagley?

TOM BAGLEY: I'm an illustrator/instructor/musician living and working in Calgary. I graduated from ACA [now AUArts] in 1988. I was the class valedictorian at the graduation ceremony! It's all been downhill since then.

AUArts: What have you been up to since graduating from AUArts (ACA at the time)? 

BAGLEY: I worked for several years at a t-shirt and advertising specialty house in addition to working as a freelance illustrator, mostly in the music scene both locally and abroad (record covers, t-shirt design, posters etc). Also, in 1988 I started my band Forbidden Dimension. Our first show was at the ACA student gallery for my friend Donald David's [Diploma '88 | drawing] opening in April '88. I had previously been in the band Color Me Psycho, which used to play at the ACA halloween dances while I was attending. 

AUArts: What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment so far? 

BAGLEY: Getting paid to draw cool stuff, getting to teach cartooning to kids through the City of Calgary at the Mount Pleasant Arts Centre and getting to keep my silly band going for 31 years. 

AUArts: What setbacks have you had along the way and what did you learn from them? 

BAGLEY: Probably not ever leaving Calgary and going to a bigger place to work has perhaps hindered my career to a degree. However, some people I know who did do just that often became burned-out and slightly disillusioned for various reasons (lack of money, overwork etc. The usual stuff). As a result, some no longer work in the field. While maintaining a lower profile, I do have the freedom to be myself and to do pretty much what I want. I still have a love of what I do.

AUArts: How have you been challenged to see the world differently?

BAGLEY: I think as soon as art instruction became a focus, dealing with students from different walks of life and with different sets of needs opened up my eyes to many new challenges. I found that just being myself and treating others with respect and a sense of humour has been a way to get through some strange situations!

Photo provided by Tom Bagley

AUArts: In your opinion, why is art, craft, design, and creativity in general, so important to the world today and our future?

BAGLEY: Art tends to be the only thing in a culture that stands the test of time, regardless of style or if it's "trendy" or not. I find that particularly for children and young adults, art time is a wonderful escape from the stress and over-stimulation that seems to beset many people. It becomes a quiet time, gets them away from games, computers — unless it's a tool or medium! Creating particular pieces of art can sometimes be one of the main things that a child will remember about certain chapters of their lives.

AUArts: What inspires and motivates you? 

BAGLEY: I'm still trying to build up some kind of body of work that people may look back on and go, "Wow, what a weirdo!"

AUArts: What do you believe are three personal characteristics that contribute to success as an artist?


  1. Interest in finding out how certain styles of art came to be, digging into the past, and then applying some of that knowledge to my own work.
  2. Perseverance in the face of current trends! Trying to stay true to stuff I like, even if it falls out of favour or becomes a current rage with younger, more popular artists. Just keep doing what I do, often whether it is recognized or not.
  3. Keep drawing/creating! "Art is a cruel mistress" is a good line my wife has used. It doesn't pay to neglect it. I try to keep my my hands busy with drawing or guitar playing even in down-times. Honing and crafting, always.

AUArts: What media are you into right now? 

BAGLEY: I love doing ink, coloured pencil,water colour drawings on cheap office supply paper (graph paper, yellow legal pads, post-it notes especially). I will often use these drawings in video projects for my band. 

AUArts: When and where are you happiest?

BAGLEY: Actually, walking my dog in the park is my happy place these days! Post-it note drawing, small scale, if I screw up it's easy to start over, and playing loud guitar quietly also rate highly.

AUArts: What would you like to be remembered for? 

BAGLEY: That I was a nice guy who made weird stuff, maybe inspired a few kids to make their own weird stuff... and that I was in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine when I was in Grade 3!

Photo provided by Tom Bagley

AUArts: Any advice for recent AUArts graduates who are just starting out?

BAGLEY: I always fall back on my "marry somebody with a day job" line when I'm asked that! I guess the best thing is to keep an open mind while simultaneously keeping a closed mind about what inspires you and keeps you focused!

AUArts: What’s next for Tom?

BAGLEY: I'm currently planning on doing a small book of my scary post-it note artwork. My wife [Kipling West] and I recently collaborated on a show at C-Space using office supply paper (and weird stuff like old sheet music) to draw on. Would like to do more of that kind of interactive work soon.

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