Drawing on the Inspiration of a Great Mentor

Finding a mentor has never preoccupied me, but meeting Jon Soules six years ago at the annual conference of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators(ASAI) was one of those moments when I knew I that I had met a kindred spirit. The mentorship followed.

Becoming a member of the ASAI happened fortuitously. One of my employees encouraged me to attend the annual convention which was held in Toronto in 2015. That first year I was clearly an outsider, but I thought that the attendees from all over the world might find my knowledge of the city of Toronto and its buildings, informative.

When I saw them gathered outside the hotel looking a little aimless, I decided to take charge. I quickly introduced myself and convinced the entire delegation to join me on an expedition through the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. Along the way, I recounted the history of some of the significant buildings on the campus and pointed out how they create a labyrinth of internal quadrants and lanes, interspersed with ancient oaks and inspiring new architectural interventions. Through this day of impromptu exploration, I found comradery in this group of creative people.

It was because of attending my first ASAI conference that I came to know Jon Soules, who is a fellow Torontonian, an alumnus of the University of Waterloo, and someone I had followed as a superstar designer throughout my years at the university. Jon had a reputation as a gifted illustrator at the Waterloo School of Architecture, and developed this skill to help him articulate his designs to others, be that to school critics or later for architectural clients.

After the convention, I visited him at Diamond Schmitt Architects where he worked. He showed me the drawings he made by hand for the project he was working on – the expansion of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The drawings were made to help the architectural team detail the building and work through the complex formal geometries of a building based on an equilateral triangle grid. I know that the design process is collaborative. I could see that Jon’s design input was critical to the process of creating a beautiful building. His drawings conveyed the ideas that he was formulating in his head about the design and how to construct the new work. The drawings included free-hand graphite sketches on vellum, drafted graphite line drawing studies on vellum, ink line sketches on tracing paper and AutoCAD studies. This helped the team around him as well as the contractors understand the direction that they were headed. The beauty of the completed building, and the complexity of the work he and his team performed to transform it from insular brutalism into a building that invited the people of Ottawa into its glass enclosed lobby, is a testament to this ability to translate ideas through drawing.

Over the intervening years Jon has been an inspiration to me, and our conversations have been instrumental in my appreciation of the art of illustration. These talks often involved discussing aspects of colour and light but also the technical aspects of perspective as we reviewed the ways that the selection of the perspectival view can give the composition a compelling vantagepoint, drawing the viewer into the scene depicted.

I remember his helpful critique when I was working on an illustration of a villa I designed while working in China. Jon was quick to remind me of the importance of understanding how depicting light in a drawing could set an evocative scene which would connect with the viewer. He then produced examples of images by other illustrators who had tackled similar challenges and described the ways they had manipulated the drawing to help them convey their ideas. Later that year my drawing was recognized by the ASAI in their Perspective 31 awards program.

During this past year and a half, I have created a series of conceptual drawings of elements that will be built as part of a nature preserve that I am creating in Muskoka, Ontario. I submitted two to the ASAI for consideration.

Jon’s influence has significantly informed the way I approached creating these drawings. Particularly, the forced perspectives and distortions of the landscape I convey within my charcoal and pencil illustrations were a direct result of our conversations. In these drawings I have not been hindered by the attempt to create an accurate perspective. Rather, I decided that the spaces were expressed more effectively by depicting them as if they were viewed through a fish-eyed lens.

I made a conscious decision to have the trees in the drawings envelope the scene depicted. The trees are rendered symbolically as enclosing hands, creating a cocoon like space that envelopes the subject of the scene, be that the round sphere of the Genesis Grotto or the strong diagonal of the Gatekeeper Bridge. The light and shadows are simplified and amplified in both drawings to give the scenes an otherworldly atmosphere. Through their monochromatic simplicity I wished to convey the spiritual quality of these two spaces hidden deep within the wilderness.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn this week that both illustrations have been recognized with Awards of Excellence from the ASAI for 2021. This year’s ASAI convention will be virtual, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with Jon and my other colleagues and continuing to learn new ways to convey my ideas through illustration.

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