Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1949, Tolman attended Saturday classes at the Detroit Institute of Art as a youth and was a student at Cass Tech, an arts magnet high school. He is a graduate of the Art School of the Society of Arts & Crafts, also in Detroit. The artist left Detroit in 1977 to paint in Ireland for nine months, returning to live in Texas, where he began showing with the William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth and had his first one man show with the Nimbus Gallery in Dallas. He also lived in Lawrence, Kansas and Los Angeles before moving to the Ramah Navajo Reservation in New Mexico in 1981. New Mexico felt like home, and he later settled in the Duranes area of Albuquerque, building an adobe house and studio in 1987.