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In depth

Step Inside Design January 1, 2000 | Harper, Talitha The final image may be printed on a flat surface, but airbrush artist Tom Thewes works in 3D, painting found objects and then building assemblages in Photoshop.

Tom Thewes can’t talk about his own artwork for long without mentioning one or two of his heroes. There’s Katherine McCoy, former dean of Cranbrook’s design department. “She and Neville Brody started a whole new attitude in design, and she doesn’t even know how to use the computer,” he enthuses. “It was all aesthetics. It wasn’t based on technology.” There’s H.R. Giger, the airbrush artist who gave the creature in Alien her monstrous beauty. “He only uses black and white for the most part,” says Thewes, “but he gets these really rich images with lots of warm and cool tones, just in how he handles the translucency of the paint.” There’s Francis Bacon. “His work is all about spontaneity, just going with what happens when you start painting,” Thewes says.

One way or another, these artists and dozens of others have all helped shape Thewes’ imagery. He’s even worked with McCoy. After doing a three-color job for her and delivering final film, Thewes became her duotone guru. “She liked to use duotones to create all sorts of funky effects, but she didn’t know how to use Photoshop,” he explains. “So every time she did duotones, she called me.” It’s an eclectic collection of heroes, but perfectly in synch with Thewes’ multi-faceted approach to his work. He moves comfortably between illustration and fine art, balancing his commercial assignments his client list includes Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Playboy, Vibe magazine, and Bacardi with fine art painting and the demands of running a gallery. That’s right. Thewes owns an art gallery, Pop (pronounced see pop), in downtown Detroit. go to web site how to use photoshop

His style is eclectic as well, an equal mix of sculpture, airbrush, and graffiti, with a generous dash of Photoshop to bring the other art forms together.

AIRBRUSH AND ASSEMBLAGE “One of the things I love about painting with an airbrush and using the computer is the ability to really layer -imagery, texture, color, objects,” Thewes says.

The artist often incorporates 3D elements into his work, treating them as part of his “canvas” and painting directly on top of them. “My studio is next to a thrift store,” he says. “It’s great. I can go over there, and there’s always something that’s appropriate for a project. And people are always dropping stuff off at the wrong door, so when I work late, I get first dibs on the good stuff.” Cutting friskets for things like baseball mitts and mannequin hands might be tricky, but fortunately, Thewes doesn’t need friskets. He prefers to use 3D objects – saw blades, gears, forks, French curves, hair combs, his own hand -to mask his airbrush work.

Typically, Thewes paints the elements individually, then scans them and composites them in Photoshop. “I can’t say I’ve gone too deep into Photoshop,” he says. “The things I do in Photoshop are pretty basic.” But he admits he gives his scanner a workout.

POWER SCANNING “I’ve played around a lot with the scanner. For a while, I was even setting up photo shoots with it, using it like a camera,” Thewes notes. “I was hanging things and lighting them with incandescent lights. That gives them a red glow and a really weird depth of field when they’re scanned. And because I was hanging stuff over the scanner, I had to leave the lid open, and things went to black. That combined with red make a sort of chiaroscuro effect. it’s also easy to edit – it’s easy to cut out the black.” Recently, Thewes replaced his trusty Agfa Arcus II with DuoScan T2000 XL, also from Agfa. “The Agfa scanners are great,” he says. “I’ve never had any problems with them, and I’m pretty rough on them. My old scanner got really beat up, but it kept working.” Thewes has always been rough on equipment. In his pre-computer days – before he began abusing his scanner – the artist pushed his stat camera and photocopier to their limits. “I’ve run thin wood, cardboard, even sheet metal through the Xerox machine,” he says. “I run sandpaper through all the time.” EXPERIMENTAL COLOR Although Thewes is quick to point out the impact other artists have had on his work, one of the most pervasive influences is personal: his experience as a graphic designer. Design, he says, has shaped everything from his love of texture to his insistence on finding new, unique solutions. And the artist’s design instincts are particularly apparent in the way he approaches color.

After graduating from Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies – College of Art and Design in 1989, Thewes spent two years in Compuware’s in-house design department. “Even though it was a large company, we had to do a lot of things on the cheap,” he says. “So we goofed around with duotones in order to get different effects with two colors.” Those experiments in economical color served Thewes well when he and two friends formed their own design firm, Der Larm Studio, modeling their work on the industrial approach of German expressionists. Thewes’ partners have since moved on and Der Larm has evolved into a one-man art studio, but Thewes’ fascination with duotones hasn’t waned. site how to use photoshop

“I want the colors in my images to be rich, but I really enjoy the purity of painting in black and white,” the artist explains. “You can build a lot of contrast warm and cool tones -with an airbrush and black paint. You can’t do that on the computer because you don’t have the translucency, and that’s what gives you the warms and the cools.” Thewes may not find the computer to be a satisfactory painting tool, but as a duotone generator, it’s invaluable. “With a duotone, you can work the midtones to get a play of warm and cool colors.” Although he has been using the basic technique for years – creating a black-and-white airbrush painting and then using Photoshop to turn it into a duotone, tritone, or quadtone -Thewes says he has to experiment with almost every image because the quality of the midtones differs from one painting to the next. “When I’m happy with a duotone, I always save it so I can use it again -but I almost always have to play around with it to find the right mix.” That’s no drawback, though, because experimentation suits Thewes’ style. “I don’t have a hard-and-fast technique,” he maintains. “Every time, it’s a new thing, and that’s why I like doing what I do. It’s always new. That’s what keeps it exciting – to just see something and be amazed by it and work with it.” TALITHA HARPER is ed!bDr Of Stop-By-Step Graphics.

[Author Affiliation] Tom Thewes paints in black and white, then uses Photoshop’s duotone function to add color. “If you work the midtones right, you can get a beautiful range of warm and cool tones,” he says.

Harper, Talitha