Artist Profile: Tom Best

Hallmark Artist

Started at Hallmark:

December 28, 1982

Started at Keepsakes:
June 2003

Avon Lake, Ohio

Tom Best grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, just west of Cleveland, Ohio. The youngest of three boys, he was surrounded by creativity. His brothers and father were all accomplished musicians, but Tom says music didn’t come naturally to him. It was his artistic abilities that, in grammar school, gave him the reputation as “that kid who can draw.”

By ninth grade, he had decided to focus his studies on art. In 1982, he received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design.

Tom’s career at Hallmark started immediately after graduation when he became an illustrator and graphic designer in the greeting card department. He also worked in Hallmark’s business-related loyalty marketing department and had a short stint in the licensing studio.

Some 21 years and, literally, hundreds of greeting cards later, Tom joined the Keepsake Ornament department in 2003. He now truly enjoys developing 3-dimensional product for Keepsakes. “It’s a thrill seeing your ideas and drawings come off the paper or computer screen and into your hands!”

Outside of work, Tom enjoys running and keeps very busy with his daughter Madeline, wife Denise (also a Hallmarker) and three very active dogs.

Tom’s Ornament Gallery
Tom’s Ornament List


A Reel Keeper (2016)

A Reel Keeper

Growing up in Ohio, Tom Best vividly remembers fishing on Lake Erie.

“Basically everybody fished in my hometown, especially kids,” Tom says. “We’d catch night crawlers for bait, or we’d find crayfish in the creek behind our house.”

He grew up in Avon, a Cleveland suburb about 18 miles west of the city on Interstate 90. Tom and his brothers, who were Eagle Scouts, spent many summers along the lake on camping and fishing trips.

“We’d always pack our Zebco spin-cast reel and a travel-size tackle box,” he says. Other times they’d just head down to the water with a stringer line and a bucket—whatever worked. The lucky kids caught walleye, but mostly they caught perch, white bass and carp.

“If you visit anywhere along the shoreline, you’ll want to have perch or walleye for dinner,” Tom says. “Just wonderful, classic, mild white fish.” Just don’t eat the carp: “They were fun to catch. It was fun to fight ’em as long as they didn’t break your line,” Tom says. “But you certainly wouldn’t want to keep one.”

Tom described designing this ornament as setting up a still life of sorts.

“I composed it like a still life painting but with the elements of fishing,” Tom says. “I needed to combine them into a form that worked, that had a nice visual structure and that protected all the pieces.”

That’s why the straps from the wicker-style creel basket overlap nicely with the fishing poles. And by including a spin-cast reel as well as a classic fly-fishing reel, Tom paid tribute to as many different kinds of a-fish-ionados as he could.

Ring in the Season (2016)
2nd in the series

Tom’s dad inspires his work, sometimes in unexpected ways. When Tom starting working on this sleigh bell last year, he remembered a clipping from a Cleveland newspaper his dad sent him years ago.

“He’s pretty antitechnology and still loves the newspaper,” Tom says. “He tears things out and sends them to me and my brother.”

The clipping featured a large, color photo of a piece of Austrian armor, a breastplate, with dynamic, flowing lines. And because Tom’s college illustration professor once advised him to never throw out any research that had a profound impact, Tom held onto it for almost a decade.

Ring in the Season

“I’ve seen medieval tapestries like this,” Tom says. “And years ago Hallmark made gift wrap that also had a bit of this tone but with holly, greenery and deer. That was the germ of the idea.”

The bell features six vignettes with a deer in each scene. This stamped-metal sleigh bell series, with each ornament a working bell, will continue in 2017 with a different designer taking a turn.

Hoppy Holidays! (2016)
Keepsake Premium

You can’t miss Tom Best’s space in the Keepsake Studio—just look for the beer wall.

He’d been collecting bottle caps for a while when he turned one of his favorites, from Leinenkugel, into a pushpin for his bulletin board. Soon after that, the caps began to turn into an artistic statement.

Hoppy Holidays!

“Pretty soon people started bringing them to me,” Tom says. “They’d ask, ‘Do you have this one? Do you have that one?’ It just kept going.”

Tom designed his first Keepsake Ornament stein in 2012. His fondness for malted hops comes through once again in this premium version, which depicts an elf transporting newly brewed beer from the brewhouse by sleigh. Porcelain gives the mug its heft, as does the die-cast metal of the lid and its elf-shaped hinge.

“It feels substantial, like a real mug,” Tom says.

Tom’s first steins featured traditional Santa scenes. Since then he’s been able to branch out a bit and take a new perspective, as he did with this distinctively imagined elf brewery.


“I had a vision for an aurora-borealis light effect on the 2015 Frosty Friends ornament—our incredible Keepsake engineers helped bring it to life.”

Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (2014)

Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

“I’m a frustrated musician, but my brother is a great guitarist. He was teaching lessons to adults when he was still in high school, and he tried to teach me, but I was young and stupid and now I kick myself. So this is how I have a toe in it?I get to design guitars but nobody has to suffer because I can’t play them.

I want these to look real no matter how outlandish they are. It may look like a Christmas tree, but I want it to be playable?like you could pick that thing up and play it. They’re all about the same size, they all play a song and they all have real strings.”

Wishin’ I was Fishin’ (2014)

Wishin’ I was Fishin’

“I grew up right on Lake Erie, and everybody fished. There was a power plant in our town that brought in lake water and
spit out warm water.
There were kids who, instead of having paper routes, they’d just stand there and catch a bucket of fish and sell it for five dollars, a lot of money back then. And my brothers and I were Boy Scouts so every camping trip you went on you took your tackle box and your pole.

For this ornament we worked hard to make sure the fish, the pole and the gear all looked right together, and felt like something any fisherman could relate to.”

Happy Campers (2014)

Happy Campers

“As a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout I spent my whole childhood camping. I’ve always been a tent camper, but with this ornament I had some fun playing with how the other half lives, so to speak. I got to play with how I thought a camper from the ’50s or ’60s could look.

I also took some liberties. For example, there aren’t any buses that slope that dramatically in the back, but with these I can do whatever I want, so I did.

Best Advice

• Expose yourself to great artwork.

• Research first; you can’t create in a bubble.

• You only get better by “doing,” so be like a musician—practice, practice, practice!

• Within reason, never say no to any job. Every job is potential to learn something new. Stretch your comfort zone. Variety in your work will help you grow and grow new jobs. That being said, be responsible. If you take a job, you have to deliver on time with quality, no matter what.

Happy Place (when I'm being creative)

Coffee and music. I’m always thinking about my next project or what I’m currently working on at work. So that means an idea or solution may also come at anytime. Sometimes that can be at work, other times by seeing something over the weekend, in the shower, driving or even out on a run.

Favorite Work of Art (so far)

I really like my beer steins and guitar ornaments.

When I'm Not Working

I have a charming daughter in college who is pursuing a degree in journalism. My wife works here at Hallmark with me. Though not an artist, she is quite creative. We collaborated on a huge Christmas tree skirt two years ago for our tree. I designed it and helped cut out the design elements. She did the sewing and the quilting. It’s beautiful! We are both runners and dog owners. I love art, music, history, old toys and puttering around the yard and garage on a nice day.