Travis Simpkins: Interview
Portrait Artist Taking
Freemasonry by Storm
By Elena Llamas
Director of Public Relations for
The Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library
Portrait by Travis Simpkins.
If you have a lot of Mason
friends and follow various Masonic and related personalities, like I do, you
for sure have noticed how profile photos have been shifting to the signature
style portrait drawings of artist Travis Simpkins. Phoenixmasonry is pleased
to have had the opportunity to interview this prolific artist so we can all
learn more about him and his art.
EL (Elena Llamas): Hello, Bro.
Travis, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I am honored to have the
chance to talk to you about your work, which I have been admiring for quite
some time now.
TS (Travis Simpkins): Thank
you. It is my pleasure.
EL: Tell us about your
training as an artist. When did you know you had an interest and talent for
art? Did you study art formally?
TS: I'm sure I must have
possessed some innate talent as a child, but I didn't really pursue many
artistic interests until my teen years.
My art education was two-fold:
I earned a
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree from Anna Maria College [in Massachusetts]
in 2002. At Anna Maria, the curriculum focused on traditional forms of art
rendered through a diverse range of mediums, from painting to sculpture, but
an emphasis was placed on working from life.
life means that you are looking at actual 3D models in front of you, be it
people or objects.
I also undertook additional
studies in Arizona with Photorealist artist James Frederick Mueller. Jim had
some success in the 1970's and 80's, including a portrait commission of a
former U.S. President. Along with the detailed logistics of the method, I
learned a very valuable skill from Jim... the ability to create convincing
portraits while working from photographs.
EL: Well, your
portraits are definitely convincing!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Freemason and Composer of Masonic
Music, by Travis Simpkins
TS: In my work, I still
utilize both disciplines on a regular basis. I work from life while sketching
objects in museums. With portraits, however, I work from photographs. Using
photos offers greater freedom. I'm not limited by proximity and the internet
has allowed the whole world to become an accessible market. I can accept
commissions and create portraits of people I've never met, many of whom live
thousands of miles away.
EL: That is wonderful, yes
TS: In the realm of art,
portraiture has always been one of the most difficult subjects to master. It
offers both a challenge and a sense of accomplishment. If you can render a
human face, and do it well, then you can draw just about anything else. There
will always be a demand for well-crafted, quality portraits.
EL: I believe you! You have to
be true to what you see. It must be quite difficult.
Albert Pike, 33° Scottish Rite Freemason and Author of "Morals
& Dogma" by Travis Simpkins
EL: Many portrait artists
switch the background or medium of their work. You have a very unique and
consistent signature style which involves a, and please excuse my lack of
technical knowledge here, to the untrained eye it seems to involve a discreet
pink background with black and white strokes in either pencil or charcoal. How
did you develop this style and why have you remained consistent using it?
TS: It's a classic sketching
technique, utilized for hundreds of years, reminiscent of Old Master drawings.
I just take that historic sense and extend it to contemporary subjects. The
end result has a timeless quality, connecting the past and present in a
EL: How interesting
Benjamin Franklin. Statesman, Printer and Freemason, by Travis
TS: I keep making portraits in
that particular style for a few reasons. Firstly, I work on commission and
create artwork to order. The charcoal drawings are popular and I keep getting
requests for that particular aesthetic. As long as the business demand is
there, I'll keep producing them. Secondly, it's important for an artist to
have a unique style; to have their works be instantly recognizable as being
created by their hand. For me, these portraits border on that signature
TS: Lastly, I simply enjoy
creating them. I work quickly and lack the patience for slow and tedious
mediums. Drawing offers a sense of spontaneity, immediacy and expressiveness
that other art forms don't.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.
Freemason, by Travis Simpkins
EL: I noticed some of the
Freemasons you have drawn portraits for have Masonic pins on their clothes,
that is a very nice signature detail of yours.
TS: Good portraits display
some attribute, prop or element to convey the subject's personal interests and
passions. Small visual details can help to tell a person's unique story. Over
the course of their Masonic journey, many Masons are deservedly honored for
their achievements, and I've found that Masonic jewels make great portrait
EL: Besides drawing a lot of
esoteric, personal, and Masonic portraits, you also have a series of
archeological drawings, is this another interest of yours?
TS: I work with several
museums and cultural institutions, and those sketches are based on works of
art displayed in museum collections. I am usually assigned to draw certain
objects, but others are chosen for my own enjoyment. Those sketches are
interesting in that they offer an interpretive connection with history, with
ancient works of art being filtered through my viewpoint as an artist in the
Worcester Art Museum: Pre-Columbian Seated Male Figure,
900-1200 AD, by Travis Simpkins
TS: In my work with the
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I create artwork for an ongoing HR program. I
am tasked with creating sketches of works in the museum's collection, which
the museum then frames and presents as gifts to noteworthy recipients.
EL: That is awesome!
TS: I greatly enjoy the job,
but more than that, I'm truly honored that the Gardner Museum recognizes the
quality of my work and has chosen my art to represent their world-renowned
Worcester Art Museum: Ancient Greek Corinthian Helmets, 550-450
BC, by Travis Simpkins
TS: Earlier this year, I began
working as an Art Advisor with the Massachusetts Senate. One of our State
Senators wanted to have college student artwork from his constituency
represented in his office at the State House in Boston, and I helped draft an
initiative and offered logistical advice for the project. It is quite
rewarding, personally, to see the proud expressions on the faces of the
students and their parents as the artwork is put on display at the state
TS: Last year, I was hired by
the Worcester Historical Museum to create portraits of three generations of
the Salisbury Family (17th-18th Century benefactors of the city).
My artwork was put on display in the circa 1772 Salisbury Mansion, placed
alongside paintings by colonial-era portraitist Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart
painted the famous portrait of George Washington (used on the dollar bill) and
is one of my artistic heroes, so that was quite an honor.
EL: Wow! That is fantastic!
George Washington Masonic Memorial. Cornerstone. Alexandria,
Virginia, by Travis Simpkins
TS: I also work at the
Worcester Art Museum, having taken on various roles from assisting in art
classes to monitoring the safety and security of the artwork on display. I
have also referred collectors I know to the Worcester Art Museum, and my
efforts and connections in that regard have culminated in the addition of more
than 300 works of art to WAM's permanent collection, including 97 woodblock
prints by Japanese artist Yoshida Toshi.
Art Security is a major
concern of mine as well, both personally and professionally. I hold a
certification from the International Foundation for Cultural Property
Protection. I am a contributor to various art security forums, conducting
research into art theft, preservation and archaeological ethics.
EL: How interesting. Keeping
art safe is a challenge! Your wife is also a talented artist.
TS: My wife, Janet, is an
amazing artist. She has a wonderful eye for detail. Currently, she is working
on a series of miniature paintings, which have been on display in three
gallery shows so far this year. We share a mutual love and respect, and I
credit all of my success (artistic and otherwise) to her encouragement and
EL: Wonderful! How sweet! She
does have an eye for detail as can be seen in the miniature painting below.
2x3 inch mini-painting
EL: Can anyone contact you for
a portrait? If so, how and where?
TS: Portrait commissions can
be made through my website:
I can be emailed directly at:
Find my page on Facebook as
“Travis Simpkins: Artist & Museum Professional”
Affordable prints of my
portraits of historical Freemasons can be purchased through Cornerstone Book
EL: Your work has rightfully
earned a vibrant place in the hearts and minds of Freemasons. Is there
anything I did not ask that you would like to talk about?
TS: I'm glad to hear others
describe my Masonic portraits as a contribution to the fraternity, it's
meaningful to be able to play some part in my own way. It is a wonderful
organization and being raised a Master Mason will always be a defining moment
in my life. Since joining earlier this year, I feel that I've already made
many lasting friendships and associations. I have experienced the start of an
incredible journey and am open-minded to future opportunities in Freemasonry.
All of the brethren at Morning Star Lodge in Worcester and the Grand Lodge of
Massachusetts in Boston have been very welcoming and helpful. I am looking
forward to joining the Scottish Rite Valley of Worcester and the Boston
Consistory later this year. I hope to do a lot of traveling over the coming
years and experience the Masonic art, architecture and fellowship in other
areas as well.
Mark Twain, Author and Freemason. Mark Twain House & Museum.
Hartford, CT, by Travis Simpkins
EL: Your work is an
outstanding contribution to Freemasonry and the Fraternity is most fortunate
to have had you join. Thank you again, for this interview. Bro. Travis’
portraits cost about $200 (for an 8x10 inch drawing) if you would like to get
your own or get one as a gift. Phoenixmasonry will certainty keep an eye
on your work to let our friends and fans know what you are up to in the
future. Thank you everyone for reading!
David Lettelier. Founder of Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and
Library, by Travis Simpkins
John Hancock, Freemason. St. Andrew's Lodge. Boston, MA, by
Charles Lindbergh. Aviator, Author and Explorer. 1st Solo
Flight Across Atlantic, by Travis Simpkins