Legend has it that in 1428 angels appeared to a young girl in the Lorraine valley of France. She obeyed the inspiration and direction of the angels, received the approval of a young King Charles VII and soon was instrumental in a key French victory — over the English — at Orleans. Obviously, I am speaking about Joan of Arc. When I think about how I came to pursue the field of architecture, I often reflect on this story. Not that my story has anything in common with any inspired French virgins. I just wish it did. My story revolves around dogs on a menu.
I attended Mountainview Elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Don’t go looking for it, they tore it down about 10 years ago. Years before the finality of the wrecking ball (and perhaps directly related to it) I attended this prestigious institution of basic learning. In the 5th grade I was lucky enough to have been placed in Mr. Brady’s class. Later in the year I found out that I was related to Mr. Brady through my great-great-grandmother. That seemed cool at the time; in retrospect though I think everyone was related in Utah. Between learning about reading, writing, arithmetic, and dancing to Bruce Springsteen songs with girls who had sweaty hands, I was introduced to real art. Realize that when I say “art” I mean art a la Mr. Brady the 5th grade teacher. We learned Bob Ross-type painting with “happy flowers” and “sleepy little pathways” along the side of a brook. We were also introduced to drawing. We drew dogs.
You see, Mr. Brady was one of those old-fashioned awesome teachers that found ways to teach in everything that he saw. He even saw things when he was out with his wife. We benefited from his prowess one find day when he brought in a menu from his favorite “after school” dinner spot with Mrs. Brady. The menu had dogs all over it. There were big dogs, little dogs, shaggy dogs and dogs that were only half there because the other half had wandered off the page never to be heard from again. Mr. Brady informed us that we could draw each of these dogs simply by combining a series of ellipses and circles to get the basic shape and then drawing the “skin” of the dog around it. He was a visionary!
I loved art though I was unexceptional at executing my ideas. My best drawings to date were of epic battles that I would stage on a piece of paper. Tanks, airplanes, soldiers and cannons battled for supremacy on the surface of my desk. As each army destroyed the other, I would mimic sounds of explosions as I scribbled out the destroyed mechanism. The result of my battles was often a page full of scribbles and 45 minutes lost from my life. Not really framing quality material. Yet, dogs were something that could change my course forever. In a way, I suppose they did.
I actually did a decent job of portraying a few dogs on my assignment. I enjoyed it so much that I went home and applied the technique to drawing a racecar and a semi-tractor. I couldn’t believe the things that would come to life thanks to circles and ellipses! One warm afternoon while I was putting the finishing touches on a pretty wicked Bichon-Frise, Mr. Brady put his hand on my shoulder and said “ya know you are pretty good at this Eric! You should think about becoming an illustrator, a cartoonist or an architect…” That one phrase sent my mind spinning into universes it had never considered. An architect? Me? Crazy! It just might work…
I always kept Mr. Brady’s encouragement in the back of my head when I selected some CAD classes at Hillcrest High School. During my time as a Hillcrest Husky, my drafting teacher -Mr. Nordstadt- thought I had some technical ability and was even pretty good at hand-drafting. He seconded Mr. Brady’s opinion. I was on my way!
Although I flirted with a civil engineering career for a few years in Salt Lake, and even considered landscape architecture (specifically, landscape renderings) while at the University of Idaho; I have never forgotten the encouragement from a caring 5th grade teacher that put me on the path to a career that I love. I don’t draw dogs anymore. In fact, I very seldom draw racecars, semi-tractors or even draw battles that are the visible manifestation of my imagination. Not that I couldn’t… you just connect a series of circles and ellipses and you’re almost there.
You can catch more of Eric’s musings on art, architecture and the crazy life of a father of 5 on his personal blog at www.ericmroberts.com