Richard Bach once said:

“Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.”

Thomas Van Stein is such a person, who has the ability to create friends and meaningful memories wherever he goes. 

Born in Pasadena in 1961, he was the youngest member in a family of five boys, and no girls, trailing behind a fifteen year legacy of “Steins” in the Burbank Unified School district. As the “Fifth Boy”, he literally became the fifth wheel.  He truly was the youngest until his Father brought home the gift of a baby Capuchin Monkey in 1971. This little girl became like his little sister, and lived in the Stein family for the next 38 years. Life was never boring in this household.

At a young age Thomas attended the school of hard knocks… but all that served to turn him inward to find the light.  Finger painting and scribbling in coloring books sparked his imagination, igniting within him a passion to live creatively.  From his first finger paintings in grade school, he noticed an inner voice yearning to be expressed. Art seemed to be the perfect mode for this.  “Every time I drew,  it was like witnessing a miracle before my eyes!”  This was the alchemy of Spirit into Form; transformation, transcending time. 

At the age of eight, Thomas began attracting a series of accidents into his life. This trend of traumatic pain-filled accident-prone episodes would follow him for almost twenty years, and by the 36th, Thomas would fully awaken as a sensitive human being…almost to a fault.

The year Thomas was born, his parents purchased a few properties up in the little sea coast village known as Carpinteria, California. It was the “World’s Safest Beach”. It was the ‘getaway’ from the concrete jungle of Burbank, and a place where the sense of adventure and travel/exploration would remain ingrained in Thomas for the rest of his life. 

When the accidents started happening, it seemed they came at him non-stop. From frying his belly on a bar-b-q, or shredding his bare foot in the back spokes of a bicycle, nothing compared to his first major accident at the age of nine; of having a Seawall Boulder fall on his left hand, crushing his middle finger. This injury prevented him from playing sports that summer, but instead gave him the opportunity to travel with family friends for three months across the USA, while riding in the back of an Army Truck.  Noted American Artist Richard Creager and his family took Thomas along for the ride of a lifetime.

While visiting the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Thomas became enamored with the compositions and atmospheric landscapes paintings of John Constable.  Entranced, Thomas reached up to feel Constable’s clouds floating aloft, like cotton, in one of his paintings.  Putting his hand on the painting set off the alarm in the gallery. After receiving a reprimand from the security guard, it wasn’t long before Thomas fell back into a trance and once again place his hand upon another of Constable’s cloudscapes. Setting off another alarm, the security guard would then usher Thomas, and the entire Creager family of six, out of the National Gallery.

Two years after this journey, and after experiencing the explosion of his appendix, Thomas met his near-death bout with a speeding vehicle while walking his bike in a crosswalk. At 13 years old, he spent six months in traction, and in a body cast; healing from a severe skull fracture, broken jaw, and broken left femur (which stunted the growth of his leg).   His head trauma, the doctors warned, could make Thomas mentally unstable the rest of his life…

Awakening from a brief coma, Thomas’ fascination for life; history, art, and adventure, flourished.   He developed a philosophy, of succeeding in every a goal, by simply investigating and experiencing for the sake of attaining greater understanding and awareness.  “Everyone and everything can be interesting, if one just takes notice.”

Thomas knew he was being kept alive for some reason and that these accidents would serve a “Blessings in disguise”.  It was at this age Thomas determined to milk two minutes of life for every minute of being alive.  The spirit of the, ‘eternal child’ was given life, and the youthful vigor would remain a passionate player in Thomas’ character. Thomas recognized that miracles do happen, and as a result of living his life became miraculous.

Both of Thomas’ parents were of the WWII generation. So they supplemented the home environment with many stories of their past experiences, family exploits, and historical references to relatives who served and gave their lives for their country. At 16, Thomas was given the diary of his only uncle, killed while serving his country as a pilot in the U.S. Navy in WWII.  While exploring the life of his uncle though the diary, Thomas began documenting his daily life, every day, for eleven years. Thomas was determined to fly one day.

Having the influence of two creatively inspirational parents and older siblings who were always into crafts of one form or another, Thomas learned, through observation, what possibilities existed out in the world.  Also at a young age Thomas was introduced to the concept of community service:  volunteering for the American Red Cross, delivering Christmas baskets to the needy, and training the mentally challenged for the Special Olympics. He served as Youth Chairman on the Red Cross in 1979 and received Optimist Club, Soroptimist International Awards as a result.  Excelling in sports and academics became a mission integrated with his passion for creativity, formally nurtured by Artist David Wood.   This well-rounded approach was acknowledged in 1979, when he received the “American Legion Award” his senior year in High School.

He knew that, to be a great illustrator, he would need to develop his imagination.

Gearing up to become an illustrator, rather than going directly to Art Center College of Design, Thomas desired to continue in his athletics and get a more well-rounded education, learning about the Earth’s environment by attending California State University, Northridge.  Thomas spent five years at CSUN studying under artists like Houston Conwill, Norman Fullner, Tom Fricano, and Hans Burkhardt.  Thomas’s illustration skills were enhanced and directed by American Illustrator Barry Jackson. His Academics and Athletics continued during this time serving as Team Captain on CSUN’s only NCAA Division 1 Championship sport:  Men’s Fencing.  He knew that to be a successful Illustrator he would need to develop his imagination.


While furthering his studies Thomas partnered in an on-campus silk-screening business with fellow art major, Atanasio Prado. He and “Ato” traveled deep into Mexico and the Yucatan to study the ancient architecture of the Mayan and Aztec architectures. He also spent time traveling and hitchhiking around the countries of New Zealand and Australia, studying the Art and culture of the Maori, and Aborigines.

As Thomas’ senior year at CSUN was beginning to draw to a close, and he was about to graduate Cum Laude, he was met by a U.S.M.C. recruiter who simply asked him, “Hey, do you want to come fly?”  Always open to the next opportunity, Thomas agreed.  The Marine Pilot took him up flying and got him hooked.  The next six weeks before graduation, Thomas was in training on the CSUN campus. He was to enlist in the Marine Corps and go to OCS, (Officer’s Candidate School).  The night before he was to sign up for his next career move, Thomas changed his mind about enlisting.  “My inner muse was in a state of panic that I would be neglecting the creative spirit.”  Ironically, when Thomas went to explain his decision, the recruiter apologized that, even though he would be a perfect candidate, they couldn’t take him; they noticed the,” lift” on Thomas’ left shoe.  

Relieved, and almost instantly, Thomas met up with a childhood friend who took him flying out at Van Nuys Airport.  Thomas then proceeded to learn to fly privately.  After Graduation from CSUN, Thomas worked in the Carpentry Trades with his brother, Brad.  Within nine months, Thomas attended Pasadena Art Center College of Design, received his Private Pilot’s Certificate, and left on a Solo Journey of a Lifetime, traveling around the world with a back pack.

While attending Art Center, Thomas met his mentor; American Impressionist Painter, Dan McCaw. From the spring of 1984 through summer and fall Thomas was guided by McCaw in a deeper understanding and philosophy of the Art Spirit, based on design and color relationships mixed with a dry sense of humor.

Thomas set out to achieve his life-long goal of traveling around the world in February, 1996.

Traveling on a world trip ticket, purchased by his a settlement from the car accident when he was 13, his journey would take him to 34 countries in six continents, on a shoestring budget of $14.00/day.  Determined to study the art and culture of each country he visited, he painted and sketched along the way, and illustrated letters of life each day. Living life in imagination, studying and painting where the great artists of the past once roamed, he deepened his awareness of their plight and successes. Monet, Turner, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, were amongst the mentors of the past that called to him. In the Middle East the Moorish architecture came to life and he fell in love the hospitality of the Turkish people.

After receiving his Certificate of Baptism in Jerusalem, Thomas came across a book by author Irving Stone called, “Depths of Glory”. Influenced by the life and times of French Impressionist Camille Pissarro, Thomas began sketching and painting more diligently.  His goals of traveling up to two years began to wane. After three more months traveling in Egypt, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, Thomas felt the need to head for home and begin a serious approach to his career as an artist.  Eleven Months after departing, he was back home, mixing paint on his palette.

Thomas lived in the neighborhood of Santa Barbara, already rich in legacy of plein-air landscape painters like Carl Oscar Borg, Colin Campbell Cooper, and Ray Strong.  In 1988 Thomas met up with Artists Arturo Tello and Ray Strong, and began painting the classic California Landscape of Santa Cruz Island. Thomas became a member of the OAK Group, a nationally recognized organization of plein-air artists dedicated to the concept of preserving or fighting to preserve landscapes as open space. 

Thomas traveled to India in 1990, to study the Unity Philosophy of Sathya Sai Baba. While on a five-week visit to the ashram called Prashanti Nilayam, he was recruited to work on the installation of the Jewish exhibit into the newly constructed Sai Museum.  Working in coordination with 35 international artists, only a few feet from the spot American Artist Joan Brown was killed, two weeks earlier when the cupola crashed down through four floors, crushing her and her newly completed mandala. Thomas’ job was to create the mural of the Sinai Desert as a backdrop to Mt. Sinai, as well as paint Chagall-inspired stained glass windows for a synagogue affect.   In one of his many interviews during his stay, Baba said, “Thomas, you come to me, and I will give you all the colors you ever desired.”

In 1992, Thomas began teaching Art, through Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education. He began entering into art festivals. He won first prize at the Catalina Island Art Festival in both Most Original Art and Best of Show.  The festival was juried by Christopher Lance.   Arturo Tello introduced to him the genre of painting night scenes on location. After three solo exhibitions, with Nocturnes as a theme, Thomas returned to Cal State University Northridge to achieve his Master’s Degree. Studying under American Artist Bruce Everett, Thomas spent two years wandering the dark eerie nights in urban settings. “I was to paint unsellable art, for two years, setting up in locations nobody likes to go at night.”  In 1999, for his diligence and tenacity, Thomas received the Hans Burkhardt Award in painting, and graduated cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Art.  During this time, he entered into and won his first National Juried Exhibition held at the Abend Gallery in Denver Colorado; juried by Nationally Acclaimed artist, Quang Ho.

Thomas wrote an article on night painting, and was published as the cover artist for the September 1996 issue of, “The Artist’s” Magazine. During his quest for a master’s degree, Thomas received private commissions that sent him to paint in Lake Como, Italy, and Segovia, Spain. He also met his new Mentor, Ovanes Berberian, and soon began studying the depth and value of the Russian palette, in his workshops in Carpinteria and Idaho. Both Ovanes and Dan McCaw studied under Sergei Bongart, so their legacy continued to inspire through Thomas.

The art world seemed to be picking up for Thomas.  In the beginning of the 21st century, he achieved gallery representation and a solo exhibition of his Moonlight Nocturnes at the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York City. He also won the Individual Artist Award for Santa Barbara County, and both First Prize and Director’s Choice in the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard California’s Classic Art Competition.  In 2005, he had his first Solo Museum Exhibition at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, featuring thirty new Urban Nocturne paintings.

In the summer of 2006, Thomas taught a night painting workshop in Santa Barbara. The results of this workshop, when published, became a fourteen page feature article on his processes and techniques for Nocturnal Painting, in the Fall issue of the American Artist Workshops Magazine.

As a backdrop, the traveling continued. In 1999, Thomas met author/spymaster Robert Eringer, who began collecting his work and commissioning him to travel overseas in search of creativity and madness.  From painting the purity of the night sky in Iceland, to painting the starry night in mid-winter outside the walls of Van Gogh’s asylum, or attempting to obtain the relics of St. Dymphna, (the Patron Saint of Lunatics), in Gheel,  Belgium,  their travel to unravel escapades and adventures have spanned across the globe in one continuous surreal odyssey .   Thomas paints and Eringer writes of their experiences.  Their tact in 2010 led them on ten quests in one year, leading them to the hangouts of ten Iconic American writers. Their stories were recollected live on ten different TV shows on Channel 17 Public Access in Santa Barbara.    After exploring specific haunts of Kerouac, Fante, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Brannigan, and Bukowski, Thomas then flew to the East Coast, into the darker wards of The Exorcist, Edgar Allen Poe, and the landmarks of the Salem Witch Trials.  Thomas states his philosophy: “It’s all to get more feeling for the edge.  As an artist, if you are not living life on the edge, you are taking up too much room!” 

In his spare time Thomas is restoring, maintaining, and flying WWII aircraft through the Commemorative Air Force, in Camarillo, California, and raising two teenage boys in Carpinteria California.



BORN August 25, 1961


1984 Bachelor's Degree in Art, California State Univ., Northridge. Graduated Cum Laude
1985 Pasadena Art Center, College of Design. Dan McCaw Mentorship.
1996 Solo World Trip, 38 Countries
1989 European/North African Art Excursion
1995-00 Ovanes Berberian Mentorship
1997-99 Master's Degree in Art, Cal State University, Northridge
1997 Painting Commission, Venice/Lake Como, Italy
1999 Painting Commissions, Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Spain
2012 Painting Commission to England, Matisse Motorcycle Factoy
2000-2014 Surreal Bounce: Searching for Creativity and Madness with Author/Spy Master Robert Eringer, ten times to Europe, United States.


2014 103rd Annual California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition, Los Angeles
2014 TRAC 2014 Ventura California
2013 The Armor Show, New York
2012 Winner: The People's Choice Award, Paso Robles Art Festial Quick Draw Event
2012-14 Oliver & Espvig, Santa Barbara
2011-12 James Main Fine Art Santa Barbara
2011 Urban II California Art Club Old Mill Gallery; Pasadena
2010 Solo Exhibition: Santa Barbara Architecture, Architectual Foundation of Santa Barbara
2008 98th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
2006 96th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
2006 Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara
2005 Elder Art Gallery Charlotte North Carolina
2005 Solo Museum Exhibition, "Urban Nocturnes" Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard California
2005 Juror, Santa Barbara Art Association, Carpinteria
2004 Individual Artist Award Exhibition, Santa Barbara County, Arts Fund Gallery
2000 Featured O.A.K, GROUP Artist, S,B, Artwalk, S.B. Museum of Natural History
2000 First Annual Organic Festival Art Show, Lacuna Gallery, Santa Barbara
2000 Bottoms Sea Arts Gallery, Biltmore, Montecito/Santa Barbara, California
2000 Spring Salon, Edenhurst Gallery, Los Angeles
2000 90th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Histonical Museum, California Art Club
2000 Historic Buildings of the San Gabriel Valley, California Art Club Gallery, Pasadena CA
2000 "Moonlight Nocturnes" Solo Exhibition. Montecito Art Gallery, Montecito CA
2000 Juror, Santa Barbara Art Association
1999 Museum Director's Award, Santa Barbara Art Walk
1999 "Burning the Midnight Oil" Master's Exhibition, Montecito Art Gallery
1999 89th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, California Art Club, Los Angeles CA
1998 California Collectors Gallery, Kentfield, CA
1998 Cover Artist, Discovery Magazine, Santa Barbara, CA
1998 Small Images Show, Abend Gallery, Denver Colorado
1998 Laurence J. Cantor Fine Arts, Westlake, California
1998 Muse of the Channel, benefit for C.I.N.P.S. Museum of Natural History
1998 Santa Barbara Art Walk: Featured Artist, O.A.K. Group Exhibition
1998 Award, SBAA Junied Landscape exhibition, May
1998 "Art at Lotusland", Group Art Show. Montecito, California
1997 "American Tonalst Paintings: Reflections of Reverie, California Heritage Gallery, San Francisco
1997 88th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, California Art Club
1997-98 Award: Santa Barbara Art Association Juried Landscape Show
California Art Club Plein Air Competition, San Juan Capistrano


Elder Art Gallery, Charlotte NC
Waterhouse Gallery Santa Barbara CA
Eleanor Ettinger Gallery
Santa Barbara Art Walk
Carnegie Museum of Art, Oxnard, CA
Bottoms Fine Art, Santa Barbara, CA
Pasadena Historical Museum
Lacuna Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Sea Arts Gallery, Biltmore, Montecito/Santa
Barbara, CA
Edenhurst Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
California Art Club Gallery, Pasadena, CA
Montecito Art Gallery, Montecito, CA
California Art Club, Los Angeles, CA
California Collectors Gallery, Kentfield, CA
Abend Gallery, Denver, CO
Laurence J. Cantor Fine Arts, Westlake, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Santa Barbara Art Association
California Heritage Gallery
Morseburg Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Easton Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Gallery Off Grand, Los Olivos, CA
Alley Gallery, Carpinteria, CA
Arlington Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Faulkner Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Columbia Club Foundation, Indiana
Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens
"Desert Oasis" Show, Capitol Building,
Washington, D.C., Palm Springs,
Oakland Museum of Art
Arpel Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Outsiders Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA


2009 3rd Prize: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Art Walk
2007 2nd Prize: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Art Walk
2004 Director's Choice Award, Carnegie Art Museum Classic Competition
2003 1st Prize Carnegie Art museum Classic Competition
2003 Individual Artist Award, Santa Barbara County, Sponsored by the Arts Fund of Santa Barbara
2002 Finalist, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum
2001 First Prize, 2D Painting, Santa Barbara Art Walk
2001 91st Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
2000 Finalist Art 2000 Painting Competition The Artist's Magazine
2000 90th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
1999 Hans Burkhardt Award, Scholarship for excellence in art
1999 Museum Director's Award, Santa Barbara Art Walk
1999 89th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
1998 Award, SBAA Juried Landscape Exhibition
1997 88th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, Pasadena Historical Museum, California Art Club
1997 Award, SBAA Juried Landscape Exhibition
1997 Best of Show, National Juried Art Exhibition, Abend Gallery, Denver, CO
1997 Honorable Mention, 60th Annual Semana Nautica Juried Art Exhibition
1996 First Prize 59th Annual Semana Nautica Juried Art Exhibition
1995 Honorable Mention, 58th Annual Semana Nautica Juried Art Exhibition
1994 Best of Show, Non-Resident Catalina Scene, Catalina Island Arts Festival
1994 First Prize, Mixed Media, Catalina Island Arts Festival
1990 Honorable Mention, Santa Barbara Art Association January Show


2006 Featured Article, “Night Vision”: American Artist Workshops Painting
2004 Cover Artist, Montecito Journal
2001 Cover Artist, Passport Magazine, Santa Barbara, CA
2000 Cover Artist/Artist in Residence, Montecito Journal
2000 The Artist's Magazine: Finalist, Art 2000 painting competition
1999 "Rediscovering Realism in California", Southwest Art Magazine, September issue
1999 Cover Artist/Artist in Residence, Montecito Journal
1998 Artist to Watch, Southwest Art Magazine, December issue
1998 "A Portfolio of Nocturnes", Southwest Art Magazine, April issue
1998 Cover Artist, Passport Magazine, Santa Barbara, CA
1997 Featured Cover Artist, The Artist's Magazine, November issue


Arthur Brown, Columbia Club Foundation, IN
Bob Dole, Washington, D.C.
Robert Eringer, Santa Barbara, CA
Larry and Anita Gershman, World International Network, Hollywood CA
Howard Mendell, Los Angeles, CA
Santa Cruz Island Foundation
Steven Spielberg, Brentwood, CA
Marianne Williamson, Santa Barbara, CA
Gary Breitweiser, Santa Barbara, CA
Bruce Johnson, Montecito CA
Joseph Johnston, Santa Barbara CA