From Pen to Paper: Greg’s Lessons On Sketching

Author: Greg Bryla, PLA, Principal

I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember—from making my mom cards on Mother’s Day to birthday invitations for my children. I was a big MAD Magazine fan and was enamored by Jack Davis’s caricatures. As I got older, architecture captured my imagination. And, soon enough, fate (and ADD) pushed me toward landscape architecture. It was here where I found a vocation that allowed me to create and draw while providing for my family.

I came across “urban sketching” serendipitously through our state ASLA conference and began, in earnest, to draw and paint for myself again—not just for work. I was an early adopter of the Orlando chapter of Urban Sketchers (USk), an organization of like-minded people from all walks of life who, by manifesto, draw on location as a record of our stories of time and place, and have contributed to this community by being one of several sketching workshop instructors.

From my very local start, I signed up for the 2018 International Symposium in Porto, Portugal. Over 1,200 people attended from over 40 countries. Travel, sketching and meeting new people? Yes, please! I attended my second symposium this year in Amsterdam. Afterward, my girlfriend and I spent a few fun days exploring and sketching through Brussels and Ireland. (Of note: I try to sketch quickly, about the duration of one or two beers, out of respect for the time and patience of my companions. Sketching is a civilized and well-mannered discipline, after all.)

While my go-to is a fountain pen or other ink-based instrument, I’ve been exploring sketching directly with ink washes and/or watercolor. In doing so, I’ve developed a “mash-up” style where I compose on the fly—exaggerating and juxtaposing people, objects and the energy of a space to represent the vibe I’m experiencing. Sketching isn’t necessarily creating finished illustrations, but capturing a time and place. I encourage aspiring sketchers to look for vignettes of details, rather than a large scene, to tell a story. Large scenes can be intimidating, even for those of us with miles of ink behind us.

Currently, some of my work (and that of several other USk Orlando folk), is being shown at the Orange County Regional History Center in an exhibit titled “The Accidental Historian,” which showcases art, poetry, photography and other memorabilia. The idea is that, in 100 years, this collection will serve as a record of daily life in Central Florida.

Quantum Leap Winery – Orlando, FL

Quantum Leap Winery – Orlando, FL

Drawing allows for a direct mind to hand connection, and studies prove that people who sketch or doodle during meetings retain more knowledge than those who don’t (so my primary school teachers were misinformed!). However, I continue to be humbled by the amazement some people have over the ability to create with merely paper and pen… or watercolor… or crayon. I’ve drawn ideas during client meetings and gotten the same bewildered response, as if I held a magic pen. But I think everyone can, and should, sketch in some way or another. And if you don’t think you have the time, I encourage you to sketch instead of looking at your phone during idle moments. Your only limit is your own imagination. So the magic of the pen continues...

Yellow Dog Eats – Gotha, FL

Yellow Dog Eats – Gotha, FL