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Painting Tutorials

How-to watercolor and sketching tutorials demonstrating tips, tricks and techniques used in the Procreate app, using Apple Pencil and iPad Pro. Also, thoughts about life and architecture in NYC and the Berkshires, MA

My Friend Tom Is Cool

My friend Tom Schaller is cool. Back in the 1980s, he just about single-handedly brought back the tradition of architectural watercolor rendering (it had long-since been replaced by pen-and-ink) when he wrote a book called Architectural Rendering in Watercolor. Along with Steve Oles' books, they were mandatory reading for any aspiring architectural illustrator at the time, and for a lot of architects, too.

This was one of the first of Tom's images I ever saw. I was all, like, "What? Holy crap, I gotta learn to do this!!"

I remember going to the bookstore at the Helmsley House on Madison Ave. to get my copy in 1990. Clark and I used to keep it open on our desks when we were working together like I told you.

Tom sort of blew everyone's mind because he did these images for himself and for his books, with no client involved. Did you ever have friends like that? That's when you know a true artist.So there we are trying to figure out how this guy does these amazing architectural renderings in watercolor and these amazing watercolor techniques, and just when you think you may have figured out one of his moves, like underpainting, which sounds like "underpanting" but isn't, which Tom, because he is actually a pretty wild and crazy guy would probably laugh at if you did it to somebody, he moves on and starts getting even better at new architectural watercoloring techniques, so you know you're never going to get close and be as good as this guy!

Can you believe this stuff? Where does one get this kind of passion and energy? I need some in a bottle because I'm basically procrastinating from a watercolor rendering I have to do right now and writing this post instead!I remember the first time I saw this one. I just about sh_t my pants. So that's when you say, well, I'll never be able to do this, but maybe he's a nice guy and he'll share a few secrets, which he was, because I remember entering my first American Society of Architectural Perspectivists competition back in the day, and I was really lucky and won two awards in one year with these bad boys below which you've already seen:

Competition Entry, Hamburg, Germany waterfront, Skidmore Owings Merrill, NY, NY

Sorry to show this to you again, but you can see Tom's influence in this stuff.and lo and behold this Tom Schaller dude comes walking over and introduces himself and starts talking because he's the president that year and he set up this great show at the Vuillard Houses at the Helmsley Hotel and he's just being nice like a president should, and I did one of those insecurity things where you see this semi-famous guy across the room and you go instantly from "Man, he's probably stuck up and not a very nice guy," to him coming over and talking to you and now you're like "Holy Crap, that dude is unbelievably nice?!" Which he was. And then life happened and he kept being the best and writing more books and he did more amazing stuff like these:

The second dude in from the right kind of looks exactly like Tom in profile, which I have this theory that all artists and cartoonists are actually drawing themselves, not out of vanity but that's the shape you see most in the mirror and you just end up drawing that subliminally

But then the coolest thing that Tom did (besides buying up a couple of apartments around Lincoln Center in NYC at just the right time and probably ending up rich because of it, which isn't because I'm jealous but because the dude was kind of a genius businessman all along, too, and I say that to admire him) is that he ended up saying "OK, I'm done with NY and I'm going to California," and he did!! Just like that! And he bought an amazing early modern house in Palm Springs but then he sold that and moved to Venice, CA, and I remember visiting him there in 2008 for, like, one night while we were out there for a few days to get away on the day Spencer died, which we always do every year, and this year we went to Venice because we'd always heard about it, and sure enough it was so cool in an unexpected way, and one night I was, like, I'm gonna give Tom Schaller a call and see if he's around, and he was, like, "Sure, dude, come over and watch the democratic debates" or something that was going on like that on February 13th (you should Google that), and so I went over, and that's the first time I meant his awesome dog who was a chihuahua and had a cool name like Bullwinkle or Boomer, and Tom cooked us eggs or oatmeal or something odd because like a douche, I hadn't eaten before I came over, and then we got sloshed watching this thing and drinking really good red wine, and that's when I found out he had gone on to the next phase of life (because remember I told you he was always pushing the envelope and doing the next cool thing?) and was starting to do straight up watercolors to sell, like this:

The dude is straight up geniusand this:

and this:

and also smaller, faster sketches like these which I really love:


And now I'm like, Holy Crap you couldn't even do that if you wanted to (as in me talking to myself in my head), which was kind of liberating because it meant you didn't have to try, and now that's a pattern you've heard me say before, or you would be if you were a psychiatrist. So anyway, that's my friend Tom and that's why I think he's cool. We should probably do a game to see if you think you know what he looks like. Here's a picture where he's in it. Can you guess which one he is? I'll give you one clue to try and confuse you, that he's not necessarily the one you think he is. Haha!!

Can you guess which one is Tom after this and seeing his watercolors?Got it? Have you picked a guess? OK, totally tricked you:) Nope, he's the other guy! He's this one with the skull, and you can see his sense of humor, too:

It would be so cool to pose for a picture with a skeleton. I would do it.So you see this post has a lot to do with architectural watercolor renderings, after all. I probably shouldn't say this but Tom, if you ever see this, write me a funny email, but a short one since you're generous and usually write long ones even though nobody has time.

(Author James Akers is a registered architect and freelance digital and traditional architectural renderer who collaborates with some of the world's most admired architects and business entrepreneurs to create inspired architectural designs, house portraits and architectural renderings in all media, including watercolor, pen and ink, pencil, photoshop and computer. He may be reached directly at 413-250-8800)

James Akers