This Stunning Studio in Rhode Island Is a Creative’s Dream

After living on the road for numerous years, a young artist uncovers an inspiring studio in Rhode Island.

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As an artist, musician, and self-proclaimed perpetual road-tripper, there's no doubt Sean Spellman has an appetite for the unknown. Originally from the East Coast, he's spent the last decade traversing the U.S., seeking out adventure and inspiration. Fortunately, for us, he found both of those things, and is now eager to share his discoveries through his art.

Below, Spellman tells us more about his remarkable travels and lets us in on his intriguing creative process, as well as how he stumbled upon his current studio space in Westerly, Rhode Island.

A peek inside Spellman's historic studio in Westerly, Rhode Island.

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In the past five years, you’ve zig-zagged across the country more than a dozen times to seek inspiration. Is there a specific state that has inspired your sketches and paintings most? 

California has provided me with much material to paint, mainly because I tend to long for the Western landscape when I'm not there. Painting is my way of recreating that for myself; it feels good.

Exploring new places is one of Spellman's favorite sources of inspiration. Although he has traveled across the globe, it is the Western landscape that he longs for when he's not there. 

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Your drawings are full of stunning contrast, yet they all embody a cohesive minimalist aesthetic. Can you chat more about your creative process?

In all aspects of my life I attempt to communicate as much feeling as possible with the least amount of force or effort. I have always admired the minimalist approach—whether it be in a haiku, an abstract painting, or even three-chord punk rock. 

"I'm not trying to do anything new in my work," Spellman states. "I'm simply trying to do it in my own way, and I'm still figuring out what exactly "my own way" is."

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With its expansive windows and ample natural lighting, your studio feels so bright and airy. How did you stumble across the space?

The new studio space is amazing. I'm so happy to be there. My friend and photographer Read McKendree helped me find the space. It's the first stage in developing the new Westerly Center for Arts and Ideas. We plan to invite as many wild and creative folks to town to make art, eat oysters, or just hang out. It's exciting.   

Located in a historic building in Westerly, Rhode Island, Spellman's studio is infused with natural light, thanks to the expansive windows.

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With plenty of space, Spellman is able to utilize his studio to create his artwork and music, as well as use the area as a gathering area for entertainment.   

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What’s a typical day like in your studio?

 The beauty of having a space this large is being able to sprawl out large canvases on the floor, have ceramics stuff in a corner, play bass or guitar, mess around on the computer—all at the same time. It's kind of a disorganized "manic" time. 

"I'm influenced from all sorts of things, but lately I have been inspired by pottery forms and tropical plant life, " Spellman explains. It's easy to imagine a plant that doesn't really exist—or a pot that may be a strange, unfamiliar shape—because both plants and pots can take many shapes. Yet, no matter how weird you image them, there might actually be one like it out there in the world."

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In one corner of the studio, Spellman has an area dedicated to ceramics, as pictured above.

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You recently published a collection of illustrations, "A Short Strange Trip," from your time exploring the American West. How did these personal interpretations inspire you to "keep moving" and document your time on the road?

My friend Brian Everett was doing a book for National Geographic around the time I was living in my van out west. He encouraged me to publish my travel journal in book form. I owe a lot to Brian for making the book happen. He laid the whole thing out and suggested I make it more of a story by adding photos and text. It was a fun project. I'd love to do another, just next time with a publisher so it can reach more people.

During the time he spent exploring the West, Spellman lived and worked in an old Ford van that ran off of vegetable oil. "I lived in the van on and off for two years, maybe more—I can't remember how long exactly" he says. "Most of the time it was fueled by used cooking oil out of grease traps, or other people's trash. It was liberating."

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What was your favorite/least favorite aspect of living in a van?

The best thing about living in a vehicle is that you can position it to wake up wherever you'd like—with a view of the mountains, in the forest, next to the beach.

"Feeling good about your work is one thing, but offering it as something for other people to be happy about is truly something to dedicate your time to," Spellman states.

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As a maker of many things—music, paintings, pottery, etc.— what kind of creative satisfaction does art and design infuse you with?

There's nothing like the satisfaction of making something that you feel good about. And it's even better if/when other people seem to get enjoyment from it. 

When asked what's next in the works, Spellman describes how he's working on an upcoming music festival and concert series called Westerly Sound. 

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To learn more about Sean's work—or to follow along with his upcoming travels—check out his website and Instagram.


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