Thomas Thorspecken finds beauty in the mundane

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


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

Now, a decade after his exit from Disney, Thorspecken’s City Beautiful-inspired sketches have burst beyond the confines of his blog and are appearing in print and in galleries – not just the online kind. The former comes in the form of Urban Sketching: The Complete Guide to Techniques, the newly published book Thorspecken wrote and illustrated (with the aid of fellow sketchers) as a how-to manual for budding artists. He hadn’t previously considered writing a book, but a publisher contacted him “out of the blue.” He says, “I thought it was spam when I first saw it, but sure enough they were legitimate.”

“It worked out really well. I just kept writing every day and they accepted everything I did,” Thorspecken says. “There was no stress involved whatsoever.”

You can help celebrate the painless birth of this publication at Snap Space, the photo-centric gallery now occupying Colonial Drive’s historic Cameo Theatre, which is flexing its focus to honor Thor’s past five years of urban sketching. On Friday, March 21, Snap Space hosts the opening of A Certain Point of View, a retrospective featuring both original artwork torn from Thorspecken’s spiral-bound notebooks and oversized prints blown up to poster proportions. Each of the 30-plus images, hand-selected with Snap founder Patrick Kahn, will be labeled with a QR code linking back to the original blog post, letting the observer interact and complete the analog-to-digital circle. (The show hangs at Snap through April 11; on March 29, Thorspecken gives an artist talk and signs copies of Urban Sketching.)

When narrowing down the multitude of events he could sketch on any given day, Thorspecken looks “for crowds; people who are doing something creative; something inspiring in some way or uplifting. People’s stories are what intrigue me; the production itself isn’t as interesting to me as what people go through trying to get it made.” Dance company rehearsals, in particular, are “a definite obsession”: “I love the look of the dancers stretching, warming up … just standing at the barre.” One final hint for Orlando arts producers hoping Thorspecken will immortalize their creations: Don’t clean up for company before he comes. “I’m intrigued by everything. I can find something in any mundane situation,” he says. “The more mundane and everyday the situation is, the more it intrigues me. The clutter of creation: Most people don’t think anyone would want to see that, but I do.”

23 beautiful sketches of Orlando by Thomas Thorspecken


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