Artist Tom Rook from the UK creates awe-inspiring artworks, portraying birds-eye city views of Taiwan

Artist Tom Rook from the UK creates awe-inspiring artworks. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook) 
Artist Tom Rook from the UK creates awe-inspiring artworks. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook) 
Taiwan Immigrants' Global News Network】Translated by CHI CHIA I

An artist with thousands of fans worldwide — Tom Rook — is a British living in Taiwan for more than a decade. Recently, he has created an artwork offered for auction as a nonfungible token (NFT), aiming to raise funds for Ukraine. The magnificent art has successfully received an enthusiastic response.

Tom Rook is famous for his intricate paintings that portray streets and alleys in Taiwan, and he even reproduced historical scenes of Tainan in the 1940s. “The more I’m going out and seeing stuff, the more I want to take time to explore places, so I’ll have to stay longer in Taiwan,” he said.

Tom Rook created an artwork offered for auction as a NFT to raise funds for Ukraine. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook) 

Besides outlining birds-eye city views by using technical drawing pens, he also launched a series of insect artworks to convey the message of environmental protection. “Art has changed every aspect of my life, and it is the best way to have a short escape from reality,” Tom Rook said with a sunny smile.

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From an English teacher to an artist

In his third year of university, Tom Rook served as a volunteer in India and happened to make three friends from Australia, South Africa, and America. Interestingly, he found out that all of them were either going to Taiwan or had traveled to Taiwan before. This is therefore he became acquainted with Taiwan ever since then.

Longing for exploring the world after graduating from university, he decided to teach English abroad and thus made a list of countries. “Gradually I crossed off each country for various reasons until only Taiwan and Vietnam were left,” Tom Rook said, “I know a little bit more about Taiwan than I do about Vietnam, and I feel like Chinese is going to a more interesting language to study so I was like okay let’s go with Taiwan.”

In the first year, Tom Rook kept up a busy teaching schedule with only one day off a week and this has made him feel exhausted. “I moved out here, but I wasn’t learning Chinese, I wasn’t seeing the country, it wasn’t really why I moved here,” he said. Hence, he decided to apply for another day off and embarked on having mini trips in Taipei every Wednesday. 

Tom Rook’s workspace is clean and simple. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook)

Two years later, he put the first drawing up which was well-liked by many fans, and this has marked a major milestone on his journey to becoming an artist. Reminiscing about the exaltation, he said, “I told my parents I was only supposed to stay here for a little while but now this is happening, and this is exciting to me, and I want to see what will happen.”

Each piece of artwork is painstakingly done

Fascinated by fantasy themes because of “Lord of the Rings”, Tom Rook got obsessed with drawing characters such as dragons, and started having an interest in drawing since young. During the university, he began practicing birds-eye city views art and developed a minimalist drawing style in black and white. Following his drawing style, the workspace is also clean and simple. A sofa, a table, a wardrobe, white walls, and an array of technical drawing pens in different sizes.

There are a lot of pre-planning efforts for drawing each piece of artwork. “I would make a concept drawing first to know what I want to include, what angles should I do to get the most interesting stuff on, and whether it looks aesthetically pleasing,” he said. For the locations, he chooses interesting places he has visited before as well as those he always wants to visit but has no chance to do so. Occasionally, he goes to places threatened in some way such as toad mountain in Gongguan and Lo-Sheng Sanatorium in Xinzhuang, hoping to raise public awareness of them.

Artwork portraying toad mountain in Gongguan. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook) 

“Usually all I have on me is some water, and a battery pack for a smartphone,” Tom Rook says. He always travels light like a random tourist and takes quick shots with a smartphone in small alleys. To make drawings as accurate as possible, he takes more than a thousand photos and spends a few months completing them. “If you go into the blocks and the alleyways, you will find unusual businesses, old mansions, and temples which you can’t find on Google Street.”

To make drawings as accurate as possible, he takes more than a thousand photos of alleys. (Photo / Authorized & Provided by Tom Rook)

A fallow period as an artist in 2018

“2017 has been really good but in 2018 I felt like everything slowed down,” he said. “I felt like people weren’t buying, liking it, or sharing it on Facebook as much, it didn’t seem to be making the impact I was hoping it would.” He started using his savings at the end of 2018, and almost decided to leave Taiwan and move back to the United Kingdom.

“In March 2019, luckily stuff started to pick up a lot.” Tom Rook had a wonderful beginning of 2019 as an exhibition in Shilin that led to more commissions, sales of bigger originals and print artworks. “It sorts of taking me out of financial worries a bit,” he said. In 2020, various media even invited him to turn his stories and the history expounded in his works into videos, so that more people can understand the creativity and details of his artworks.

Speaking of whether the exhibition is the turning point of life, Tom Rook said with a determined attitude, “It’s hard to pinpoint something exactly because it’s a cumulative thing as one leads to another.” He also appreciates his fans’ unstinting support, providing him with a drive to keep going with it.

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A memorable trip to Tainan

“Historic Tainan Map” is the most special and challenging creation for Tom Rook. “I think it would be interesting for people to see what the city used to look like 80 years ago.” To look for old photos, he visited Tainan thrice and was accommodated in the same vintage guest house adorned with retro designs. The hotel owner understood the history of Tainan well, and he assisted Tom rook with finding photos too.

Tom Rook used to sit downstairs and read through the photo collection beside antiques. Moreover, he also had a taste of street food and walked around Tainan, even visiting museums to know more about the local history. “I ended up really liking the city a lot, so I try to make it as accurate as possible.”

Kindness of Taiwanese

“Kindness of strangers has been really cool.” Tom Rook once had river tracing with friends. As he wished to enjoy reading books in nature alone, he arrived early. Unexpectedly, local strangers took the initiative to invite him for a barbecue and chit-chat. They eventually became friends on Facebook.

Another time was when Tom Rook wandered in small alleys to take pictures. The local elderly was suspicious of him at first but changed their attitudes and invited him to have a cup of tea once they know he is an artist. This has made Tom Rook feel touched so he gave his art postcard in return.

As a foreigner who understands Taiwan better than some locals, he not only features Taiwan’s birds-eye city views by drawing but also serves as a tour guide twice a year. In the future, he is planning to travel to Kinmen, Xiluo Township in Yunlin County, and Puli Township in Nantou County to experience more local cultures.

“I don’t think you have to protect every single brick of the building, but it would be a good idea to preserve community and unusual buildings.” The beauty of these places is the reason why he stayed in Taiwan, and he plans to stay longer and make more pieces of artwork that carry the history of Taiwan.

Readers are welcome to check Tom Rook’s Facebook, Instagram, Website

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