Profile: Sam Ringman
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Profile: Sam Ringman
There is a feeling that comes to mind when arriving Sam Ringman’s office, a one-room corner office on the fourth floor in a building in the West End historic district. The award-winning architectural illustrator quietly sits at his drafting table working on his latest rendering. The sound of the radio fills the space lined with countless books and framed pieces of art and drawings. It’s a calm respite that allows Sam to focus and carefully craft moving pieces of building imagery.
One wonders whether this process used to be a bit simpler, slower, maybe a bit more human, more collaborative, a face-to-face experience between professionals
Sam differentiates himself from other illustrators accordingly: “I am a professional architect. I am not a draftsman, I am a collaborator who will meet with a client in person, not try to generate an image via electronic instructions from a distant time zone.”
The rendered architectural perspective provides an important vision of the project that developers, banks, and the public can identify with. Yet, the process of creating architectural drawings can be quite tense. Often the renderer is situated in a different city or even across the globe and email is the main means of communication. The limited interaction forces the architect to red-line progress views for round after round with the renderer trying to decipher the aesthetic intent of the final image. The timeline always runs too short, the requested deliverables are too numerous, and the repetitive cycle makes it feel machine-like.
Sam cultivated a passion for drawing architectural perspectives as a student at Texas A&M University. After graduating with a master’s in architecture in 1983, he worked for three years at HOK Dallas. He didn’t return to his interest in illustration then, but the desire to grow in the art of representing buildings remained. After getting licensed, he started his own practice as an architectural illustrator. For the next decade, his work at Ringman Design + Illustration would produce commercial perspectives for the Dallas area’s largest firms, including WDG, Gensler, RTKL, and HKS, as well as major home builders such as Centex.
Sam’s portfolio of work grew to include retail, office interiors, and residential work. One of his most enduring clients was Elby Martin, a Dallas-based architect of custom homes who seemed to appreciate Sam’s trademark ink drawings, as well as his efforts at adapting a style reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s perspective drawings featured in his famous Wasmuth Portfolio.
Before he can draw a single line, Sam wants the client to clearly define the final drawing’s intentions: “I always try to ask at the beginning who we are trying to reach, what rational and emotional responses we are after, and what story we are trying to tell.” The information provided by the client can range from a verbal description to a complete computer-generated wireframe.
He works in a variety of media and techniques (pencil, ink, marker, and watercolor) and the scope of work can range from napkin sketches to large, highly-detailed watercolors.
His working process for most of these techniques basically involves three steps. First, he generates a layout on trace paper showing all relevant information including entourage, and he subsequently passes this by the client. If further refinements are not necessary and the layout is approved, he traces a line drawing over the layout with pen or pencil on vellum. Finally, he makes a reproduction on vellum or presentation bond paper and applies the color. Watercolors are a much more time-consuming process, requiring the line work to be drawn directly onto special watercolor paper via a light table. He says that the cost of generating a real watercolor can be quite high, so many clients tend to favor quicker techniques that offer a similar effect such as markers employed in a tight and realistic style.
Sam’s methods have remained the same over the last few decades even as the tools for architectural visualization have expanded exponentially. Due to the technologically-driven acceleration in productivity, architectural renderings have become highly commoditized. Rather than seeking a comprehensive service that relies on the experience, knowledge, and intuition of the rendering professional, today’s clients often pursue those who can deliver slick images that are sufficient in quality, and most importantly, are low cost. Sam has noticed a desire from many of his clients for the “good enough.” If there is a way to produce decent enough renderings of a project for little cost, clients will often opt for it. Such loose renderings have long served as a mainstay for hand-based architectural illustrators, engendering quick techniques that maximize effect while minimizing effort.
What has changed, however, is who is capable in producing these kinds of renderings. With the emergence of modeling and photo-editing software such as Photoshop, Sketchup, and Revit, much of what hand-based renderers could offer in the realm of technique has been co-opted. These tools still can’t generate the more human aspects that are unique to hand-based drawing and naturally connect with most people. “Digital renderings are plentiful and cheap. I try to provide the personal and emotional alternative. I specialize in drawings that look like drawings,” Sam says.
Where does this leave those illustrators who have for many years nurtured a highly personalized and inimitable style? This is where the ability to transcend mere illustration into art becomes important. There is a competitive, but lucrative, market niche for renderings of a more artistic style to commemorate a recently completed building. According to Sam, there will always be a recurring demand for hand-drawn illustration as all people continue to respond to “warm and fuzzy” aspects inherent to them.
Both as a frequent winner of AIA Dallas’ annual Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition and as a part of the selection to the annual exhibit organized by the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI), Sam has built a distinguished reputation for illustrations that carry a bit more emotional resonance compared to his peers. In his spare time he draws and paints more personal or more abstract subjects, even developing an interest in graphic novels. Some of his most striking pieces contain elements of fantasy and the surreal. Such exercises help enrich and renew his craft as an illustrator of buildings, and help focus his work towards a larger goal.
“Even though I am trying to solve for a client’s specific program, hopefully I can do it in an expressive way,” Sam says. “In short, the result should be art. And is this not what architecture is about?”
Check out a sample of Sam's architectural drawings—many of them award-winners.
Julien Meyrat, AIA is a senior designer at Gensler.