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Tampa Graphic Artist Pens New Florida Architectural Icon Anthology

Times Correspondent

Longtime Tampa artist Charles Greacen, who creates meticulous, photo-like drawings of iconic structures in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, has compiled his collection in a book, Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends/ Drawings and sometimes accurate accounts, published last month by St. Petersburg Press. He works with pen and ink in a painstaking style that uses thousands of dots for texture and shading. The works are accompanied by short histories, personal and sometimes funny memories, and observations.

Greacen, a New Jersey native who graduated from Denison University with a degree in fine art, is a former artist for the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Times and handled marketing for Brewmasters restaurants. For 17 years, he created cartoons for the regional editions of the Tampa Bay Times. In 2007, he began imprinting his illustrations onto various ceramic and glass items. He sells them to museum stores and gift shops in 10 states including Florida.

Greacen, 72, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about his book and work.

How did you decide to do this book?

One of the things I had done is amass an awful lot of architectural renderings over the years. You kind of distill down to what you’re good at, and I had been doing cartoons, logos, illustrated maps and architectural renderings. … A lot of these I fire onto mugs, tiles and things for my day job.

But I thought here was an opportunity that was handed to me, because all the museums are closed (due to the pandemic). How do I package these to sell them? I thought, okay, a book. Then, I had to figure, what’s my approach to a book? It’s not going to be Burgert Brothers (historic Tampa photographers), because they had just a massive collection. And, it’s kind of unfair trying to compete where they go click and I go dot-dot-dot-dot-dot, there’s one brick, dot-dot-dot-dot-dot, there’s another brick. …

These buildings are to a certain degree my interpretation. I very often (would say), well, that stop sign doesn’t need to be there. That trash can’s not going to be there 10 years from now. So, in a way I step in and make them my buildings. I said it would be nice to do a descriptive, but let’s give it a personal touch.

How did you research the stories?

Some of the houses I knew. I belong to the museum society in Ybor, I belong to the (Tampa Bay) History Center and to the Plant Museum. A lot of this material I had run across, a lot I had read, a lot of it I would just look up and find a couple of sources and add to that. But I’m not offering this as the most authoritative piece.

The book’s subtitle does state “sometimes accurate accounts.’’

I wanted to immediately give myself a trap door (laughs).

St. James House of Prayer Episcopal Church in Tampa. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Greacen. [ Courtesy of Charles Greacen. ]

Do you work from photographs of the buildings?

Yes, I do. In a few instances I used photos that I could find, but I generally like to take my own photos. I can find the view that I figure is optimal. … There’s a lot going on with the building that isn’t even always… apparent in a photograph, so I like to do that.

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I’ve always liked architecture. Until I went off to college, my idea of drawing a house was like every other kid was taught. You drew a home plate. If you’re really savvy you don’t have the chimney flying out sideways, and you can tell the difference between doors and windows. … But I had a good architectural history professor. Even if I wasn’t drawing, I was seeing buildings.

How long does it take to complete a drawing?

It’s hard because often I don’t just sit down and work one through. My tired eyes: I’ll take lots of breaks from it. … But I would put in two to three (eight-hour) days worth of time if I was able to concentrate right on (through) it.

It seems realism has always remained popular, even with the rise of abstract expressionism and other genres.

I never trusted doing abstract. Of course I took courses in that in college, and I remember one instance – to show how out of touch – people congratulated me. “Why?” “Well they’ve got your art on the cover of Exile (the college art and literary magazine).” It turned out it was this exercise from a design class, this abstract that I had been disgusted by and thrown into a trash bin; and here, someone fished it out to put on the cover. … I like doing a project like this because I know where to start and where to finish.

Are there cartoons that you did for the Tampa Bay Times that stand out in your memory?

Oh, yeah. I would have loved to have been able to do (cartoons) on a wider-spread political scale. Every once in a while, these politicians would come to the area, and I said, “all right, they’re targets now”. I had some fun ones with that. …

When Pam Bondi passed on the class action suit against Trump University, even though it was in Florida, I did a bumper sticker saying, “My attorney general was a straight-A student at Trump University.’’

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel on the campus of Florida Southern University in Lakeland. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Greacen [ Photo: Courtesy of Charles Greacen ]

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 firing stuff on the mugs and just never looked back. … After five years of doing this, just a nice sepia-toned thing, I said, I need to go full color. … Printers for that are exorbitant, but what isn’t? Bought one of those. Right about the time I did the color stuff, I discovered this stuff works on glass, too, and made some neat things.

What are some of the museums you sell to?

Hemingway House buys a lot. The Columbia has a little gift shop. They sell a lot of the mugs. … I sold in Key West to the Lighthouse Museum, the Audubon House. (I do) an awful lot of things for the H.B. Plant museum.

What’s the feeling when you complete a rendering?

It’s funny, I do have an emotional feeling. I’ll look at it, I’ll scan it… I put it in the bin of illustrations, and I’ll say, “Eh, that’s awful.’’ Then I’ll give myself six hours and I’ll go back, “Maybe it’s got some hope.’’ Then I’ll look at it the next day and say, “Yeah, okay, I think I got it.’’

Charles Greacen’s book is available at https://stpetersburgpress.com/florida-landmarks-lodgings-legends/and amazon.com.

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