Creating finely-detailed pen-and-ink drawings preserving, celebrating and remembering our history in architecture.
Melissa B. Tubbs is an architectural portraitist. She does not create architectural renderings; rather she uses architecture as a subject. She carefully organizes the composition, adjusts the lighting for dramatic purposes, and captures the solidity, strength, textures, surface finishes, and character of her subject with the stroke of a pen.
Tubbs grew up in an Air Force family that required they move every three years. Eventually her father retired in Montgomery, Alabama, so that is where Tubbs settled. She earned a bachelor’s degree in visual design from Auburn University, began a career in commercial design, and raised a family.
After 25 years of designing magazines and creating drawings and pastels on her own time, in the mid 1990s she was offered a commission that would dramatically alter her career and her approach toward art. Her sister asked Tubbs to create an original drawing of her father-in-law’s house as a Christmas gift. This was a new challenge for the artist but it yielded surprising results. Several friends who saw the drawing ordered similar renditions of their homes. A local gift shop displayed other Tubbs drawings of historic homes. Then a local law firm commissioned Tubbs to document every courthouse in Montgomery and surrounding counties.
Tubbs soon came to the realization that this new subject engaged her interest and passion for architecture and made better use of her finely honed technical abilities. In addition to numerous commissions, Tubbs used her pen to document significant works of architecture and the decorative ornaments on those structures. Indeed, some of the artist’s finest works are of building details, focusing on architectural embellishments, different textures of building materials, and the dramatic patterns of light and shadow cascading across the surfaces of the structure.
Pen and ink drawings require careful preparation, concentration, intensity, and error free execution. Tubbs’ process begins with a camera and a zoom lens. She takes several photographs of the overall subject, and detail photographs at different exposures to document information in the area of sunlight and shadow. The basic design is sketched on paper with a graphite pencil. Concentrating on one small section at a time, she builds up layers of ink and depth through a combination of hatched and crosshatched marks until the subject is adequately defined. After all areas have been worked, she reinforces overall shadow patterns to pull all the individual areas together into a unified drawing.
For the last two dozen years, Tubbs has been a full-time artist, architectural preservationist, and community arts enthusiast. She was commissioned by the Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Arts to create drawings as awards given to outstanding business supporters of the arts. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts commissioned a series of eight drawings of its interior and exterior, and a few years later asked her to document a new building addition for a total of 13 drawings. Strathmore Artist Papers commissioned a drawing for their Series 400 Smooth Surface drawing pad covers, as well as their Series 500 Bristol Board covers.
Melissa B. Tubbs has been recognized through numerous commissions, dozens of publications, and inclusion in a variety of exhibitions from Montgomery to New York. She received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant for 2019-2020 in support of her Palladio Project a traveling exhibition.
Mark M. Johnson
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts