Studio Practice — Tom Flanagan 2018

Tom Flanagan's Fort Andross studio.

The only thing I really understand about my process as an artist is that everything comes from my drawing practice. There’s something essential about drawing. It connects me to the world and to my sensibilities.

Lately I’ve been drawing directly onto the canvas using a colored pencil that can be erased with a wet rag to make adjustments. Sometimes this takes hours and sometimes this can take days. I try not to judge what I’m doing, at least in the beginning. Basically, I keep at it until I see something that interests me. Feeling my way through the work, rather than thinking my way, has become more and more important. This is the kind of feeling that has been informed by years of thinking about what my work is about, and then letting it all go.

Everything changes as soon as color is introduced into the work. I mostly use

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

Golden Heavy Body acrylic paints because I find them to be of a consistently high quality. The other thing I’ve done since graduate school is to keep a powerful metal fan on high, three feet from the work at all times. The fan dries the acrylic paint so fast that I never have to stop working to wait for a layer of paint to dry. I need the painting process to be more like drawing in the sense that the painting medium doesn’t slow me down.

I work on one piece at a time. I’ve tried to work on more than one canvas, but the work becomes watered down and not as intense. Intensity is very important to me. If I’m going to put two colors side by side, they’d better have something to say. Every line and shape compete with one another and hopefully depend on one another in order for a disorder of my creation to exist.

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

I don’t use brushes much. About 12 years ago I started using broad knives used by sheetrock contractors to apply color. There’s something freeing about putting two or three colors on a blade and pulling them across the surface. I have no control over what comes out of it and that feels right.

I use thousands of feet of masking tape and rolls and rolls of paper towels in the course of completing each piece. After a week, the trash can next to my painting table looks like a tall masking tape plant with blobs of color mixed in. I have a large thick piece of glass that I use as a pallet and clean that glass after each color is mixed and used. That’s my obsessive intense side coming through.

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

The studio I’m in right now is in Fort Andross in Brunswick, Maine. The Mill, as it’s known, has become a real center for contemporary art in Maine. Most of the spaces are big and bright with large windows. Being there allows me to work on large canvases and look at multiple pieces as a body of work at once. It has also connected me to other artists and creative types that I wouldn’t normally bump into, like painters Cassie Jones and Richard Keen and sculptors John Bisbee and William Zingaro.

All the technical stuff aside, what I’m really doing in the studio is looking. I start with something––whether it’s a line or a color––and then I react to it. I adjust it. I add to it. I cover it. I put something next to it. I turn it upside down. How I get there doesn’t matter. This is a creative act. There are no rules.

What matters most to me is that I end up with something that has an energy that stays with me.