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Arts & Culture

Thomas Thorspecken finds beauty in the mundane

Urban sketcher known locally as Thor adds a book and a gallery show to his achievements

Photo: <a href="http://goo.gl/J9NfU7">Click here to see sketches of Orlando by Thomas Thorspecken</a>, License: N/A

Click here to see sketches of Orlando by Thomas Thorspecken




opening 7-10 p.m. Friday, March 21 | show through April 11 | Snap Space, 1013 E. Colonial Drive | snaporlando.com | free with RSVP

An unspoken rule of arts journalism is not to accidentally interview someone where one of their masterpieces was murdered. By choosing to meet urban sketcher Thomas Thorspecken in the lobby of downtown’s DoubleTree hotel on Ivanhoe, I inadvertently invited him to the place where his massive cityscape mural, installed a few years earlier under previous owners, was erased and replaced by some framed photos. But Thor (as his friends call him) appeared surprisingly unshaken. Embracing impermanence with equanimity seems essential in an artistic career that’s entering its fourth major evolution: first from analog to digital and back again, and now by the book and in the gallery.

After graduating from NYC’s School of Visual Arts, Thorspecken spent the first decade of his career as a freelance illustrator for New York newspapers; his biggest ongoing gig was an “Undiscovered Manhattan” series for the Daily News. Then came his first seismic shift, as he moved to Orlando in 1994 and began a 10-year career as a Disney animator, working on films from The Lion King to Brother Bear behind aquarium-like walls inside the former Disney-MGM Studios theme park. “They put me up against the glass in the ‘fish bowl,’ and all day long people were knocking on the glass and giving me the thumbs-up,” he laughs, recalling his first day on the job as an artist-slash-tourist attraction. “Ten years at Disney was amazing; best artists in the world. An amazing job while it lasted.”

He was trying to transition to computer animation and working on the abandoned folk-art-themed feature My Peoples (aka A Few Good Ghosts) when the ax fell for Disney’s Orlando-based animation department in 2004. “I bought my desk, bought the same computer I was working on at Disney, and spent several years at home teaching myself computer animation,” Thor says. “After several years alone I just couldn’t take it, staring at that computer screen, so I got out and started sketching.” That led to his next major creative phase, which launched in 2009 with his project to publish a sketch of Orlando on his AnalogArtistDigitalWorld.com blog every day for the whole year. What seemed like an impossible aim was not only accomplished, but opened doors for Thorspecken to become a familiar fixture documenting Orlando’s performing arts scene.

“I assumed it would just be buildings, but it was too darn hot to sit sketching outside,” Thorspecken says of the unplanned evolution of his subjects. “I thought it was just going to be street scenes, but I kept meeting artistic people while I was out doing the drawings, and they would steer me in directions that I hadn’t expected.” Though his tools are decidedly analog (sketchbook, pens and a well-worn watercolor palette), his research methods have gone digital; after relying on the calendar section in the print edition of Orlando Weekly for years, now he finds Facebook helpful as well.

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