Friday, September 20, 2013

Becoming an Architect and Artist

TOM:  One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor, watching my mother paint in oils. She was inspired by scenes of Venice by William Turner, and here is one of the results.

Growing up in Seattle's rainy climate, I had plenty of time indoors to draw, paint, and cartoon for my school newspaper. I was always drawing, sometimes in class when I was not supposed to.  One of my favorite subjects was horses.

Fortunately I had a very wise teacher in the fourth grade, Miss Pearl. She once sent me out in the hall, not as punishment but to paint a Thanksgiving mural. Drawing became my ticket to social acceptance and good grades, especially when encouraged to illustrate my reports. I got an "A" on a report about Marco Polo for which I made a cover illustration of him standing at the bow of a ship, his hand shading his eyes as he looked forward to his great adventure.

Our home was blessed with a library of beautifully illustrated editions of the classics such as The Boy's King Arthur, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. I knew the stories through the pictures before I read them.

On my ninth birthday I received a set of Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia. I remember opening one of the volumes to a picture of the Temple of Karnak on the Nile River and marveling at the mighty columns that dwarfed the man standing between them. Then on Career Day in high school an architect showed his drawings of beautiful buildings, and I, still dreaming of the Temple of Karnak, decided to use my artistic talent to become an architect. My attorney father was relieved that I would not become a "starving artist." As it turned out, I am now both.

During my travels here and abroad I have never been without sketchpad and painting tools. When Janice and I married, we took a year-long honeymoon trip around the world via freighters. I sketched and painted the whole time. Here I am relating to the Meows, a tribe living in the mountains near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. They did not want their photograph taken, but delighted in my sketches of them - so much so that Janice managed to snap one quick photo. Many of these drawings are included in Janice's travel memoir,  Honeymoon Hobos.

We continued this writer-illustrator collaboration in children's books. While not working on a book, I paint scenes that inspire me, such as "Capitol Guardians." I was overwhelmed by the view from the Congress Avenue bridge of our graceful old Texas capitol "guarded" by such powerful new structures.
Since I could not set up an easel in the middle of the Congress Avenue bridge, I took photos when the traffic let up. Back in my studio I made a small pencil sketch, a few color studies, then had the sketch enlarged to full size, transferred it to watercolor paper, and painted. Whew!

Occasionally I do plein aire painting from start to finish, especially in Venice, as you can see in this photo. That way I'm not a tourist - I'm part of the scene.