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Davis, California

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Local artist is “chalk” full of ideas

On a large chalkboard toward the back of the Starbucks at University Mall in Central Davis, artist Tom Corbett’s original works of art add color to a typically black and green establishment.

Every Sunday, Corbett meticulously outlines and plans out the week’s new piece of art.

Reflecting the moods on campus or the current mythologies of the Starbucks universe, each piece takes the artist anywhere from two to nine hours to compose. He comes in with a general idea, but often his manager, Tiffany Swanson, will suggest a theme for him to expand on.

Last week Corbett chose to reflect on the big campus event of the gubernatorial debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman.

“For the debate I looked up pictures of donkeys and elephants on Google images,” Corbett said. “These include the candidate’s political representations. I didn’t sketch anything until I got to Starbucks and had a chance to look at the board.”

Corbett said that he usually starts with sketching some plans at home but finds it much more of a challenge when he just comes in and starts working. First he does line drawings while reflecting on what colors will stand out the most. Then he adds the colors, individually coloring each object.

Corbett, a Davis local, had been a frequent customer at the coffee shop when the manager noticed his portfolio and asked him to be the artist for their newly installed black chalkboard. He has been working with them for close to a year.

“Tom is a really nice guy. He comes in all the time,” said Starbucks employee and senior sociology major Melanie Graham. “He takes a lot of pride in his work and people really enjoy his drawings and talking to him.”

Although Corbett does not have his drawing displayed anywhere else in Davis, his love for the art extends all the way to his days as a child in Pittsburg, California.

“As a child growing up we didn’t always have the financial resources to buy a lot of toys, so often times I would make myself toys out of things I would draw,” Corbett said.

When he was 20 years old, he became interested in the design of plants. Eventually he came to do botanical illustrations in pen and ink for the National Museum of Canada. Corbett has taken courses in art at Long Beach Community College and finds line drawing and Chinese brush and ink work especially enjoyable.

“Usually when you walk into a Starbucks all you see is people studying,” said sophomore geology major Stephanie Wu, who comes into Starbucks every couple of weeks, “But the artwork here is such a great focal point.”

Corbett said his favorite drawings are the ones that were linked to a Starbucks marketing campaign centered around the Asian New Year which depicted the siren gazing at fish through vividly drawn plants.

“Occasionally it does make me sad to erase the drawings, because I have put so much time and effort into it,” Corbett said. “But that hesitation only lasts a minute because I get to create something new.”

The next series of drawings that the artist has planned will be an introduction to the U Mall’s baristas.

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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