Longtime Tampa artist Charles Greacen, who creates meticulous, photographic drawings of iconic structures in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, has compiled his collection into a book, Florida Landmarks, Lodgings, and Legends / Sometimes Accurate Drawings and Accounts, published last month by St. Petersburg Press. He works in pen and ink in a detailed style that uses thousands of dots for texture and shading. The works are accompanied by short stories, personal and sometimes funny memories, and observations.
Greacen, a New Jersey native who graduated from Denison University with a fine arts degree, is a former artist for the Tampa Grandstand and Tampa weather and handled marketing for Brewmasters restaurants. For 17 years, he produced cartoons for the regional editions of the Tampa Bay weather. In 2007 he started printing his illustrations on various ceramic and glass objects. He sells them to museum stores and gift shops in 10 states, including Florida.
Greacen, 72, spoke with the Tampa Bay Weather on his book and his work.
How did you decide to do this book?
One of the things I had done was accumulate a huge amount of architectural renderings over the years. You kind of distill what you’re good at, and I had done cartoons, logos, picture maps, and architectural renderings. … I shoot a lot of them on mugs, tiles and things for my daily work.
But I thought that here it was an opportunity offered to me, because all the museums are closed (due to the pandemic). How to package them to sell them? I thought, okay, a book. Then I had to figure out, what is my approach to a book? It won’t be Burgert Brothers (Tampa Historical Photographers) because they just had a huge collection. And, it’s kinda unfair trying to compete where they’re going to click and I’m going dot-dot-dot-dot-dotthere is a brick, dot-dot-dot-dot-dot, there is another brick. …
These buildings are to some extent my interpretation. Very often (I would say), well, that stop sign doesn’t need to be there. This trash can won’t be there in 10 years. So, in a way, I step in and make my buildings out of them. I said it would be nice to do a description, but let’s give it a personal touch.
How did you research the stories?
Some of the houses I knew. I belong to the Ybor Museum Society, I belong to the History Center (of Tampa Bay) and the Plant Museum. I had gone through a lot of this material, read a lot, researched a lot of it and found a few sources and added to that. But I am not offering this as the most authorized piece.
The book’s subtitle reads “sometimes accurate accounts.”
I wanted to give myself a trap door right away (laughs).
Do you work from photographs of buildings?
Yes. In a few cases I’ve used photos I could find, but I generally like to take my own photos. I can find the view that I think is optimal. … There’s a lot going on in the building that isn’t even always… apparent in a photo, so I like to do that.
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I have always loved architecture. Until I went to college, my idea of drawing a house was like all the other kids were taught. You have drawn a marble. If you’re really savvy, the chimney doesn’t fly sideways, and you can tell the difference between doors and windows. … But I had a good architectural history teacher. Even though I wasn’t drawing, I saw buildings.
How long does it take to complete a drawing?
It’s hard because often I don’t just sit down and do one. My tired eyes: I will take many breaks from them. … But I would take two to three days (eight hours) of time if I was able to concentrate on it (throughout).
It seems that realism has always remained popular, even with the rise of abstract expressionism and other genres.
I never thought of doing abstract work. Of course, I took classes on it in college, and I remember one instance – to show how out of touch people were – praising me. “Why?” “Well, they have your art on the cover of Exile (the college art and literature magazine).” It turned out that it was this exercise from a design course, this summary that had disgusted me and thrown it in the trash; and here, someone fished it out to put it on the cover. … I love doing a project like this because I know where to start and where to end.
Are there any cartoons you’ve done for the Tampa Bay Weather that stand out in your memory?
Oh yes. I wish I could have done (cartoons) on a larger political scale. From time to time, these politicians would come into the area, and I would say, “All right, they’re targets now.” I had fun with it. …
When Pam Bondi forwarded the class action lawsuit against Trump University, even though it was in Florida, I made a sticker that said, “My attorney general was a straight student at Trump University.”
How did you start the business of mugs, tiles and other items for the museum and gift shop market?
I found a simple process for pulling stuff off mugs and never looked back. … After five years of doing this, just a beautiful thing in sepia, I said, I need to go in color. … Printers for this are exorbitant, but what isn’t? I bought one. Just when I was doing the color stuff, I found out it works on glass too, and I did some cool stuff.
Which museums do you sell to?
Hemingway House buys a lot. The Columbia has a small gift shop. They sell a lot of mugs. … I sold in Key West at the Lighthouse Museum, the Audubon House. (I do) a lot of things for the HB factory museum.
What does it feel like when you complete a render?
It’s funny, I have an emotional feeling. I’m going to look at it, I’m going to scan it… I put it in the illustrations bin, and I say “Hey, that’s awful”. Then I give myself six hours and come back, “Maybe there’s hope.” Then I’ll watch it the next day and be like, “Yeah, okay, I think I get it.”
Charles Greacen’s book is available at https://stpetersburgpress.com/florida-landmarks-lodgings-legends/and amazon.com.