Artist in Residence
The American artist and self-confessed “packrat” shows us around his workspace and introduces his studio mate to the world
A spare bedroom in my house serves as my studio. This also means I have the luxury of a non-existent workday commute.
I’m a bit of a packrat – especially when it comes to books – and I have a habit of pulling various books from my library to reference in the middle of a project. This usually leads to miscellaneous stacks of books all around my studio. Having my studio in a separate room of the house means I can close the door behind me in the evening and not worry about tidying up.
Freelancing also gives me the flexibility to spend the daylight hours playing with my two-year-old son. I squeeze in my work whenever I can, with the bulk of my workday occurring after my son goes to bed. These late work-nights mean there’s always a pot of coffee near my easel.
Even with my odd hours, I try to maintain a bit of structure to my workday. Every evening when I sit down to work, I sketch a bit to get my gears turning. After that, I take care of any digital work that needs to be done. I’m primarily a traditional artist, but I often digitally work out my compositions and explore colour options.
Once I complete all of my computer work, I shift over to my main workstation, a Craftech Sienna Multimedia Center, and break out the paints. It can function as a drafting table or as an easel, and has an attached taboret side table and built-in drawer palette.
To the left of the workstation, I have an old drafting table that I use to set up any books or reference I may need for my paintings. Having this bit of structure among all the clutter – both in the layout of my studio and in my workflow – helps me lose myself in my paintings, and focus on the integrity of my brushwork and the overall quality of the image. Thomas is a former student at Watts Atelier of the Arts, where he now works. See more of his art at www.tombabbey.com.
A wall-mounted monitor provides me with easy access to the reference files on my computer. I generally work out my colour compositions digitally, and will pull them up on this screen to serve as a guide while I work. I use this small mirror constantly. Looking at a painting like this gives the immediate, graphic read of an image, and viewing the piece in reverse helps to see it with a fresh eye, enabling me to pick out tangents and unsightly details I might have overlooked.
I try to utilise three-dimensional reference whenever possible. I pick up interesting figures, toys and models, and give them a coat of matte gray paint, giving them a mid-tone value that shows their form and is easy to light. My tendency to clutter my workspace with reference and inspiration doesn’t end with stacks of books. It spills over to digital media too, as you can see by all the icons on my desktop. My dog keeps me company most days, filling the role of unofficial studio mate. These skulls provide visual aid and reference for both my students and myself. My animal skull collection consists of a white tailed deer, a draft horse, a bobcat, an American beaver, an American badger and a black bear. The human skull is a replica. When my print rack isn’t being used for displaying wares at conventions, I utilise it as a drying rack in my studio. Any pieces that I’ve recently finished, varnished or need to be dried between stages will find their way here. If I don’t shoot my own reference, I generally pull it from my ever-growing library of books. Internet searches have a tendency to provide tired reference: images that artists have used over and over again in their paintings. By pulling a book off of my shelf instead of turning to the web, I can help to make my paintings more unique. I work almost entirely in oils, mostly Winsor & Newton, in a standard warm/cool palette. From left to right: Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Transparent Maroon, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Manganese Blue, Viridian Green, Olive Green and Ivory Black.