The Queue: Thomas Little

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Thomas Little

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Summer 2022 issue of American Craft magazine
portrait of an artist in studio next to shelf with vials of ink and paintings and drawings on the wall behind him
blog post cover graphic for The Queue featuring Thomas Little
cover of the summer 2022 issue of American Craft magazine

Welcome to the Forge series of The Queue.
A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the current issue of American Craft. We invite these inspiring individuals to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

Thomas Little turns instruments of violence into vehicles for communication.
Based in Clinton, North Carolina, Thomas Little dissolves iron from guns into ink and pigment for use in his—and others’—artistic practice. Kimberly Coburn wrote about him—along with Lead to Life, James Brenner, and Combat Paper, who also transform weaponry and materiel—in “Material Alchemy” in our Summer 2022 issue.


portrait of an artist in studio next to shelf with vials of ink and paintings and drawings on the wall behind him
photo of a rusting revolver handgun
desk in studio with vials of red ink and ink smeared on paper

TOP LEFT: Thomas Little. TOP RIGHT: 45 Beretta cooling with red iron oxide forming. BOTTOM LEFT: Desk with various batches of red iron oxide ink. BOTTOM RIGHT: Print making set-up with red iron ink on plate. Photos by Thomas Little.

table in studio with printmaking in progress using rust colored ink

How do you describe your work or practice?
I am an ink and pigment maker who works primarily with iron pigments derived from firearms I dissolve in acid. I use these colors to make drawing and printing inks for use by other artists, as well as in my own work. I am fascinated by ink as information technology.

The past couple of years have presented many challenges, from a global pandemic to renewed urgency around issues of racial equity and police brutality. As we slowly move into a post-pandemic world, how are you finding beauty and staying grounded?
My work specifically engages transmuting instruments of violence into the more subtle tools of communication. I am grounded in my practice knowing that, in a very small way, I am part of shifting the world away from reactionary harm and more towards the slow and contemplative. Herein I find beauty.

revolver handgun with crystals forming on it while roasting over a burner on a grill
large glass jar with handgun submerged in murky liquid
black crystals and powder in a mortar
black ink drawing in progress

TOP LEFT: 45 Beretta with iron sulfate crystals roasting. TOP RIGHT: Iver Johnson 22 revolver in a jar of sulfuric acid accumulating iron sulfate. BOTTOM LEFT: Magnetite pigment in mortar. BOTTOM RIGHT: Pen and ink drawing in progress with black iron oxide ink. Photos by Thomas Little.

The theme of the current issue of American Craft is “Forge.” Can you reflect on that theme as it relates to your work and practice?
I find the theme forge rather humorous, considering that I am doing the literal opposite in returning iron to its natural form of iron oxide! But destruction and creation are two sides of the same coin. Some things must be reduced to ash before their redeemable qualities can be found.

What has been the biggest barrier you have had to break through to get to the place you’re at with your career?
The challenge lies with balancing doing what I enjoy and making a living from it in a manner that is congruent with my values. I believe in accessibility with art, and I often undersell myself to accommodate this idea. So in that sense, I am my own biggest barrier, but I wouldn't want it any other way.

What’s one of your favorite tools in your toolkit that the world should know about?
The ability to remove myself from the vision of the world—whether through meditation, movement, or art—and dilate my consciousness to further perceive connections that are otherwise not noticed. It is more than a tool for vision—it is also medicine for a hyperactive world.

inkblot drawing on paper with slime mold creating an anatomical pattern on the paper
inkblot drawing on yellow paper with rust-colored pattern left by slime mold

Photos by Thomas Little.

What research or writing are you doing, or seeing others do, that’s kinda cool, and why?
The work I have been doing with slime mold is endlessly fascinating! I have been feeding Physarum polycephalum—yellow slime mold—my iron pigments and letting them create patterns on paper. They respond to certain herb extracts in the ink and create almost anatomical pictures. It is an interspecies collaboration.

stack of four issues of american craft with the summer 2022 issue on top

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