Troy Terpstra: The sound of art

What started out as a childhood hobby of drawing G.I. Joe figures and Calvin and Hobbes characters, has since blossomed into a full-time career- or, at least for Bellingham painter Troy Terpstra-an attempt at one.

These days, Terpstra has abandoned his childhood characters for new characters, which still contain the same whimsy and glee of childhood. His new characters feature elongated, and at times distorted, bodies and faces. They play musical instruments, dance, hold hands and embrace each other. Some look happy, some look sad, but all of them have a style, a context, that serves as a theme that runs through all of his work.

“I am heavily influenced by the work of artists like Chagall, Picasso and Modigliani,” Terpstra said. “They are all artists who, very playfully, distorted figures and faces. It just seemed to me like they were having fun, and it was something I wanted to imitate when I started painting.”

Terpstra, 33, began his life as an artist as a child: “Whenever I was sitting down, I was drawing,” he said.

Imitation is something that figures strongly in Terpstra’s whole philosophy as an artist.

“When I was a kid, I’d copy my brother’s drawings. I wanted to draw like him,” Terpstra said. “Now, sometimes, when I get stuck on a painting, I’ll go back to my art books and see something that gets my brain working and I’ll steal it.”

Stealing is usually frowned upon by the snootiest of artists, but, stealing ideas from other artists was how Terpstra learned his craft. He never attended art school as a child or young adult.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying originality is bullshit or anything like that,” Terpstra said. “But, it is something that should not necessarily be aimed for, at least right away. It may never come. It’s like giving a child a guitar and then telling them to be innovative without even learning another person’s song first.”

Music is another theme that figures strongly in Terpstra’s work. Many of the characters in his paintings are playing accordions, drums, flutes and horns.

“Music has always been very important to me, although I do not have any actual musical ability to speak of,” Terpstra said. “I see painting as the way I participate in the musical process. I particularly enjoy painting musicians because musical instruments put humans in interesting postures, which is really interesting to me.”

Outside of painting, Terpstra has another artistic endeavor that feeds the same part of his brain as painting, but in a different way. He performs in improv events at the UpFront Theater.

“Doing improv gives me an outlet for my other artistic urges,” he said. “Painting is entirely a solitary art form, in which I have total control. With improv, I have no control whatsoever and it is entirely a collaborative process.”

Troy’s art can be seen at Stella’s (311 E Holly, the old Time and Play Café), which will be opening in early November. Visit online at