Lovell began illustrating during his junior year in the College of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1931. At Syracuse Lovell met his future wife, Cloyd Simmons, a fellow art student and sometime model. They married in 1934. Lovell said that he was fortunate to be able to earn a living illustrating during the Great Depression when so many people were unable to find work. He spent almost 40 years as an illustrator and his work appeared in popular magazines. His illustrations appeared in The National Geographic Magazine, along with a series on the Vikings. He produced several illustrations for the Civil War series in Life Magazine to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War. Lovell's work illustrated many products too. Perhaps his most famous was the Revolutionary soldier used as the trademark of Continental Insurance Company.
Tom Lovell was beyond draft age when World War II began; however, he and other artists joined the Marine Corps in 1944 to become combat artists. He was sent to Washington, D.C. where he was assigned to illustrate Marine publications and to do a series of large paintings on Marine Corps history that now hang in the Marine headquarter in Washington.
In 1969, he left the world of illustrators and turned his attention to western art when the Abell-Hanger Foundation commissioned him to do a series of paintings depicting the southwest and early oil industry in the Permian Basin of West Texas.
Tom Lovell was a founding member of the National Academy of Western Art. He received many honors for his illustrations and paintings. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators in 1974. In 1992, Lovell received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Robert Lougheed Memorial Award for Traditional Painter of Western History. His paintings in permanent collections include the Cowboy Hall of Fame, U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters, U. S. Capitol Armed Forces Committee Room, New Britain Museum, Connecticut, and the National Geographic Society, in Washington D.C..
Tom Lovell and his daughter, Deborah, were killed in an automobile accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico on June 29, 1997.