The HDG Blog: “Why Being an Architect Makes Me a Better Etsy Painter”
January 28, 2019
Most of us have heard of the website Etsy.com. If you haven’t, it’s the Amazon.com of things that are handmade, usually by small home-based businesses. As a result, the products tend to be crafted with more care, thought, and love than your typical off-the-shelf items. I started my own Etsy business in 2014 as a way to make some extra money. I had always loved sketching and watercoloring, and I thought it would be a fun hobby – a practical way to condition my skills with a lead-holder, a brush, and a paint palette.
As a teenager, I used to decompress from school and football practice every night by sketching, coloring, and painting. That love for art inspired me to become an architect. When I started my freshman year of Architecture School at the University of Notre Dame in 2005, we weren’t allowed to touch a computer for our drafting assignments. Every design studio project for the first four years had to be hand-drafted and water colored. I spent hundreds of hours every semester translating my designs onto 140 pound ARCHES® watercolor paper and frantically mixing Winsor & Newton pigments before the final deadline. In Italy, I spent a year sitting on a three-legged stool in the middle of the street, and painted portraits of countless churches and temples from the Classics, the Renaissance, the Baroque, and beyond. My rear-end and legs often fell asleep from the awkward shape of the stool. Tourists sometimes spilled my water cups or crashed into my palette, mixing all the colors. In Uganda, I spent an entire summer sketching mud and grass-thatch homes, marketplaces, and churches as inspiration for my thesis project. Most of the time, I had animals, bugs, and small children crawling on me while I drew. My skills with a pencil and brush weren’t just enhanced, they were chiseled into every fiber of my being.
The pencil and brush calluses on my fingers had started to wear off since college. I occasionally painted a portrait or two for a charity auction, but otherwise, I had no excuses to pull out my old ARCHES® block and watercolor palette. That was until I discovered Etsy. I painted a few house portraits for friends and neighbors as going-away presents and used them to populate my very own watercolor and drawing listing on Etsy. I posted links on Facebook inviting my friends to consider a house portrait as a Christmas present. Within the first year, I had 8 orders. The second year I had 36. By the third year, I was doing at least one house, church, or school portrait every week of the entire year. All-in-all, I have painted or drawn over 150 portraits since the start of my Etsy site. My calluses have returned. I am painting with the same passion and vigor as I had in high school and college. However, as a licensed architect, I’ve also developed another ability, an ability to see and represent things that I wouldn’t have understood before.
When I paint portraits of homes and buildings, I tend to be very detail-oriented. It’s the gift and curse of being an architect. But the more I draw portraits, the more I understand what those details represent. The portrait is not just of a house, but of the home that someone grew up in. A Church is more than just a pretty façade, but the backdrop for a couple when they said “I do”. A bay window is more than just an architectural detail, but the cozy nook where someone discovered their love of reading. The terra cotta flower pots are more than just decoration, but a sign of love each spring, when the green thumb in the family planted them with marigolds. The porch chairs are more than just furniture, especially when Grandpa used them to greet the kids every day when they arrived home from school. Mom’s wreath on the door always marked the change of the season. The flag flying on the quad honored friends and family overseas who were sorely missed. The classroom desks are where students discovered the passion that would become their lifelong vocation. Taking the time to carefully sketch each detail helps me to see those things – the humanity that defines the architecture, and vice versa.
This “hobby” has become something that my two children can also enjoy, as they watch me carefully capture the essence of the buildings that shape people, they often sit beside me and hone their own two-year-old and 6-year-old motor skills to draw their home as they see it. I’ve painted portraits of houses for families who lost a loved one – the one that made it a home. I’ve painted Churches for couples celebrating milestone anniversaries. I’ve painted dormitories for rectors retiring after fifty years. However, my favorite painting of all came last Christmas. I was able to paint a portrait of the house that I grew up in – the house my parents built; the house whose construction inspired me to become an architect. My hands carried the drawing and painting effort. My heart and soul were able to focus on the details of each and every roof shingle, siding board, trimpiece, window muntin, stone, brick, shrub, and flower that shaped me. I painted the lawn that hosted countless games of hide-and-seek in the summer, the window to the den where my friends and I played games during my first sleepovers, the porch where we took every homecoming, prom, and graduation picture, and the door that saw family members come and go every birthday, holiday, wedding, and funeral.
My Etsy Shop has been as much of a gift to me as I hope it has been to those who’ve received the drawings and paintings. While being an architect has definitely made me a better Etsy painter, the opposite proves true too. My Etsy site has made me a more thoughtful architect.
Timothy Reidy, AIA, LEED Green Associate – Project Architect, Hayes Design Group Architects
This article was also published in AIA Pittsburgh’s COLUMNS as “Inspiration from the Profession”: http://aiapgh.org/feature-articles/better-etsy-painter/