Tompkins studied painting at the Glasgow School of Art, and graduated in 1994. Since 1997 she has worked collaboratively with the collective Elizabeth go (Victoria Morton, Sarah Tripp, Hayley Tompkins and Cathy Wilkes).
Tompkins also provided the vocals for indie rock band Life Without Buildings, along with other students of the Glasgow School of Art. Her vocals have been routinely cited as the most distinct and memorable feature of the band's limited output. The group broke up in 2002.