Between the Lines

Published sketches show an architect at play

Architect John Walters renders buildings with feeling.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

Among Tryon architect John Walters’ treasured possessions is a drawing he made as a child, a simple figure of a little girl identified as “Sally” in careful child’s handwriting. “I do not remember Sally, who she was, or why I drew her picture,” Walters writes in the introduction of his independently published book, Carefully Placed Lines on Paper, a collection of 100 of the drawings he’s made during the half century of his architectural career. “But,” he says, “I do remember drawing at an early age.”

For his book, Walters culled finely detailed renderings from the sketchbooks he has kept since 1972. The works were drawn on site, and each bears an architect’s careful attention to detail in the precision of line and modeling. “Even though [drawing] is a part of my profession as an architect, these drawings to me are a relaxing pastime,” he says. “Many were drawn during downtime on business trips or when on vacation.” 

Each full-page drawing is accompanied on the opposite page by a description and the circumstances in which it was made, sometimes with references to Walters’ family.

One favorite is his sketch of Boston’s historic King’s Chapel, which John first encountered from an upper-floor window of a hotel across the street. “I recall seeing the chapel upon arrival at the hotel and immediately knew I wanted to draw it,” Walters recalls. “Some of the visible details seen in this view that aren’t visible from eye level add to its appeal for me — the braces at the balustrade, the gutter detail, and some exposed conduits at the roofline. The perspective view, with its vanishing point somewhere underground, makes this a unique image.”

Walters gives a weather-beaten beach house the same consideration as he does storied urban architecture.

Other subjects range from residential structures to government buildings, churches, museums, and public spaces all over the country, with a sprinkling of non-architectural objects, such as an old pickup truck with its toothy front grille or an unadorned beach cabin John spotted on the North Carolina coast, surrounded by smudges of coastal vegetation and a simple line in the distance indicating the ocean. Southport, North Carolina’s City Hall peeks through the branches of a huge tree in the foreground, engaging the viewer’s imagination to visualize the building through the foliage.

“Many of the sketches will be recognizable to readers,” Walters says. “Others are simple, unknown structures that just appealed to me.” Beyond the book, Walters’ work can be seen face-to-face throughout the foothills and Western North Carolina. Landrum, SC’s renovated and repurposed railroad depot is one example, along with the recently opened addition to the Tryon Fine Arts Center, St. Luke’s Hospital Cancer & Infusion Center in Columbus, and the reconstruction and expansion of Tryon’s First Baptist Church.

Skillful drawing is an often overlooked attribute of an architectural career, as important as a knowledge of structural, material, and historical elements in designing a three-dimensional building. As Walters points out, it all starts with lines on paper — and those beginning steps can often stand alone as works of art. “It’s easy to draw a line, or a series of lines, on a piece of paper,” the architect writes in his book’s introduction. “Drawing those lines in such a way that they capture the essence of a subject is a different matter.”

John Walters, Architect PLLC, Tryon. Carefully Placed Lines on Paper is available on Walters’ website:

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