by John Lamb
When he's at work, Drew Bryant designs behind-the-scenes sports spaces like the new basketball practice facility at Mississippi State and the football operations recruiting lounge at BYU. Bryant is lead concept designer at Nashville branding/exhibit design firm Advent.
In his spare time, Bryant draws whatever is around him: workers, storefronts, landmarks. Printer's Alley, the Parthenon, Bridgestone Arena, Union Station, The Ryman, the Mas Tacos Winnebago — they're all in his sketchbook.
Even though he has enjoyed drawing since childhood, Bryant says it wasn't until 2008 that he took up the hobby with the passion and intensity he has now. It was then that Everyday Matters author Danny Gregory came to town for a state convention of architects.
"From there I decided to get a nice pen and sketchbook, and there has been no let-down since," Bryant says. "Now I am inspired by so many things around me everyday because drawing has made me slow down and SEE the world around me."
At the request of a good friend, who saw Bryant's work on Flickr, Bryant put "a few loose illustrations in a small gallery display" at a marina on Lake Barkley in Kentucky. He hasn't displayed his work in a Nashville gallery yet.
I recently chatted up the pen-and-ink artist about his hobby and its intersection with his work.
What sparked your passion for drawing?
Since I was a young child I have loved to draw. It really has came and went over the years. Then in 2008, Danny Gregory spoke at the AIA Tennessee Convention and I found him and his drawings to be very inspiring. His speech and approach towards drawing kick-started my habit.
What is the process of your drawings for leisure — when do you fit it in, how long does it take, what do you do with the drawings when you're done?
For the most part, I always have my pen and sketchbook by my side. Drawing outside of work is a priority in my day. It is my form of mediation, an outlet. So, if that means taking a shorter lunch or going in early so that I can fit in time after work, I do it. The weekends are when I get more time to explore Nashville and find unique subjects to sketch.
There are two reasons why my drawings live in a sketchbook.
One reason is its great to see a collection of sketches together. There is a gratifying feeling to be able to turn page after page and see what that artist saw in that moment of time. Apart of this is my grandiose belief that someday a long time from now my family will be able to learn about who I am and place I lived through my sketches.
For me as designer I am measured by the quality of my designs everyday. It a great feeling to have something that I do creatively for me and me alone. If I do a poor drawing ... no big deal ... just turn the page. If I don't want anyone to see it ... no problem ... close the book.
How much of your work is drawing concepts of buildings?
I was trained as an architect and my job now is a concept designer for a branding/exhibit design Firm. In my profession drawing has always been a crucial skill for daily communication. Almost daily I am taking my ideas and providing a visual sketch to strengthen the narrative. It is vital to explaining those early concepts — and for receiving approval.
After working and studying a style to best present initial concepts to a client I have found that the more educated the client is — the more receptive they are to a sketch. A sketch invites them into the process and they feel more comfortable dreaming of the possibilities with you.
An interesting side note, my sketchbook played a vital role in getting me my current job.
What's that story?
I have a several elaborate portfolios from all my educational and professional work — that showcase my design and computer abilities. While they reviewed and appreciated the portfolios, the major point of differentiation for me was my sketchbooks. ... My drawing ability allows me to work on the front end of projects and quickly uncover the story through a sketch. In our business there is a great benefit to coming out of meeting with a visual to guide the next step.
What is the work of being a lead concept designer for a branding/exhibit design firm?
My job is a designer and sports fan's dream job. My company designs branded spaces for university athletics across the country. Brand, as defined by Advent, is a collection of perceptions (assets and liabilities) about a particular entity or product that add value and enable choice. We are charged as design firm to create a space that tells our clients story in a memorable way for recruits, alumni, and current players and staff. My role as the lead concept designer is to research, define the story that is to be conveyed, and then figure out the most intriguing way to tell it visually and experientially. In the end, it is a blend of interior architecture, environmental art, graphic design and storytelling. Currently I am working on Texas A&M Memorial Student Center and BYU football offices. And we just finished Mississippi State's new basketball facility. This past weekend one of our new clients, USC Athletics, invited us out for their first home game. Our project is to brand the new McKay Athletics Center.
In your previous job, you helped shape the 1700 Midtown building, between Church and Charlotte. What was that experience like, both in terms of drawing and in general?
Two-and-a-half years of my professional life were spent on 1700 Midtown. As the project designer and manager I was able given the opportunity to take that project from initial sketches into construction documentation through final construction. In the early phases, the design was developed through a back and forth between sketching and the computer. There were numerous iterations of the design done through sketch and then developed further through the computer. By balancing the design between the two, I am able to effectively and quickly get to a solution.
Overall, it was great experience for me as designer. To say it was challenging would be an understatement, but we made it through, and I am very proud of results. The architect of record was my former boss at Southeast Venture, Paul Plummer. He oversaw my work and played an integral leadership role on the project.
One last question, for the curious - what kind of pen and pad did you get when you started getting serious about drawing?
My pen of choice is a Lamy Al-Star Extra Fine Fountain Pen with Bulletproof Black Noodlers Ink. I have used a lot of different sketchbooks over the past few years. For the most part I use a 9x12 Canson Montval All Media Book and a 3x5 Pocket Moleskine.
See more drawings by Drew Bryant at flickr.com/photos/drewbryant/
John Lamb is the editor of HispanicNashville.com