Artist in Res­i­dence

The Amer­i­can artist and self-con­fessed “pack­rat” shows us around his workspace and in­tro­duces his stu­dio mate to the world

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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.

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