Creating impeccably accurate pen-and-ink drawings of complex architecture – so precise that the result has an almost photographic quality – takes infinite patience.
“You have to be a bit screwy, that’s another way to put it,” says illustrator Charles Greacen, who’s just published a book of bay area locales – some recognizable, some famous or historic, and some just cool to look at. Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends, subtitled Drawings and sometimes accurate accounts includes more than 150 carefully-crafted images, each accompanied by a descriptor written with tongue firmly in cheek.
The drawing style, a series of dots (“dot-dot-dot after stinkin’ dot”) is known as stippling. “And if I don’t want a line to be too heavy, I make a line of dots,” Greacen explains.
“My favorite competitor complimented me as being anal. Which is true. I’ve always wanted full command, and I like some detail. It’s a style and it worked well for me. When I was in college and did the traditional oil paints, I wore more paint than I put on the canvas.”
He is, he states emphatically, a fan of “the clean and the precise. It’s a very hardy style that holds up.”
Equally important to him is maintaining a sense of humor. “When asked why I like to draw buildings my simple answer is that buildings don’t ever complain that you make them look fat,” he writes in the introduction to Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends.
A son of New Jersey, Greacen migrated south to Tampa in 1973 after a friend called him and said he was looking for a roommate. No more dead-end job? No more Jersey winters? Sounded like a plan.
“I’d never been farther south than Virginia,” he recalls. “And I’d heard all these stories, about Murph the Surf, and walking catfish, and I thought it had the potential to be a good fit.”
Soon he was hired as editorial cartoonist for the Tampa Tribune, where he learned not only to love and appreciate his adopted city, but to mix, mingle and develop socialization skills. “Here I was under one roof with people from a great cross-section of the city,” Greacen says. “It turned out to be a wonderful way to get under the skin of this new place I was calling home.”
Hanging out his shingle as a freelance graphic artist and illustrator, he created logos, maps, cartoons and illustrations for all forms of print media. And professional architectural renderings.
Between 2002 and 2019, he produced a locally-focused, suitably snarky cartoon weekly for the Tampa Bay Times.
A new wind, from a new direction, was beginning to blow his way.
“I had started offering a drawing of your house, or your child, as an auction item for my daughter’s school,” Greacen says. “And I quickly retreated from ‘your child,’ knowing how particular parents are.
“I began to get concerned that my logo style, and my cartoon style, were becoming dated. The architecture, luckily, doesn’t become dated. It’s a look that’s kind of got no limitations, so I’ve stuck with it.”
Thirteen years ago, he founded Town Tiles, to create and market ceramic items (mugs, trays, coasters et cetera) to the museum store and gift shop market.
He has not slowed down since.
“When I started it,” Greacen recalls, “I slapped myself on the head and said “Dammit you fool, why didn’t you start this sooner?’ Because I love history, I love museums. Whenever I travel I’m sniffing around for potential sites, and that’s what got me into a lot of out-of-state locations.”
The unwelcome arrival of Covid-19 meant the temporary shut-down of the museum store trade. “My kilns got cold for a while,” he says.
Greacen realized – light bulb moment – that he had several hundred drawings of Tampa Bay places, all of which belonged exclusively to him. He’d been meaning to “do something with them” – and the pandemic pause gave him the needed push to start putting Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends together via St. Petersburg Press.
His ceramic business is picking up again, and he has vague thoughts about doing a second book, spotlighting great architecture in other states.
For now, however, the bloom is on Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends. “I’ve gotten rewards in the compliments I’ve received for it,” Greacen says. “I wouldn’t mind if it proved to have staying power on the shelves here.”