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Meet One of the Valley’s Most Esteemed Architectural Renderers

For more than four decades, Nick Newberry was the Valley’s go-to for architectural illustration.

“Nick’s balance of material knowledge and constructability was the perfect blend with his artistic hand,” says land planner and designer Wendell Pickett. This rendering shows Greey | Pickett’s proposed design for Riverview Park in Mesa. Ballpoint pen and watercolor, finalized in Photoshop. 2010.

He describes himself as a quick study who has never missed a deadline. But any of the dozens of architects and developers who have collaborated with Nick Newberry would say he was uniquely gifted, reliable—and the consummate professional. From the time he graduated from the ASU School of Architecture in 1972 until his retirement in 2017, Newberry was the Valley’s most prolific and respected architectural renderer, producing thousands of artworks for projects both epic and modest in scale.

“Nick blended the unique skill set of fine artist and businessman,” says architect Douglas Sydnor, who relied on Newberry’s watercolor renderings throughout the 1980s to help close the deal on commercial, municipal, health care and custom residential projects throughout Arizona. “His personal style was relaxed, accommodating and cooperative. He was a good listener who could translate an architect’s vision into a strong graphic presentation. Technically his work was precise and accurate, and captured the desired character of every project.”

Raised in the Beachwood Canyon community of Hollywood, Calif., beneath the fabled Hollywood sign, Newberry was immersed in creativity at an early age by his father, motion picture art director, William Newberry. “I learned to draw and render perspective from my dad,” he says. “He also taught me how an art director designs for the camera’s point of view. I just took a shine to it.”

From grade school on, Newberry was busy drawing, inspired by the exquisitely detailed illustrations of Maxfield Parrish and the whimsical cartoon maps by Joseph Jacinto Mora. When his older brother, Norm, an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame, returned from a design conference with snapshots of concept drawings by visionary architect Paolo Soleri, the fledgling illustrator remembers thinking, “I want to do that!”

Nick Newberry photographed in his backyard. The orange sculpture was originally a discarded gate at Taliesin West, which the artist traded for a commissioned illustration he was delivering.

Norm brought design projects home every summer, which the younger Newberry studied, working out his own solutions, shadowing his brother’s education. When he ultimately entered the architecture program at ASU, he had an advantage over his peers. “I was already well-versed in illustrating,” Newberry recalls. “Other students could do designs and plans and elevations, but in order to draw perspective you have to fold your brain a little differently. That 3D puzzle solving suited me.”

1. Newberry with a drawing he did at age 15 depicting his interpretation of a cross section of author Jules Verne’s fictional submarine, Nautilus. 2. Designed and built in 1929, Frank Lloyd Wright’s temporary winter Ocotilla Camp was located in what is now southern Ahwatukee. Working from vintage photos, Newberry created this bird’s-eye study for his own interest. Ballpoint sketch with markers, colored pencils and opaque watercolor.  Circa 1990. 3. “Nick could capture the essence of a design with a few strokes of the pen,” says architect Erik Peterson. Newberry drew this rendering of a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home that Peterson had sketched on a napkin. The design was approved by the client with minimal changes.

Upon graduating from ASU in 1972, Newberry apprenticed with his former professor, legendary architect Calvin Straub. “I worked for three years as a $5-an-hour employee who did everything I was asked, and I had a blast,” he remembers. “Cal was an extraordinary designer. He didn’t sketch, but he knew I could. Working with him, I built up my skills and my confidence.”

In 1976, Newberry joined renowned architectural illustrator Julian Clark founding the Grand Canal Drawing Company. Over the course of 14 years the men freelanced individually and sometimes collaborated on larger projects. The two pioneered the back-painted Mylar technique, which became a standard for presentations. In this process, a perspective drawing is rendered using a technical pen and photocopied onto a sheet of photosensitive Mylar, the back of which is then painted in reverse, similar to the technique used for animation cells. The result was a slick-looking product that took half the time of more traditional renderings. “Clients thought we were magicians,” Newberry recalls with a laugh.

In 2000, Newberry entered an international design competition for a memorial in Washington D.C. to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. From nearly 1,000 entries, this Photoshop illustration was one of 20 finalists. “Some people get 15 minutes of fame,” the artist says. “This was my 15 seconds of fame.”

During the 2000s, the lion’s share of Newberry’s work was with Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Bing Hu. It was during this period that the artist developed a hybrid style of illustrating, blending traditional art techniques with digital technology. 

“Using Photoshop, I devised a process for quickly reshaping plans into perspective layouts,” Newberry says, noting that incorporating digital elements saved time without compromising the result. “There’s so much you can do. You can take a sloppy rendering that you’d never show to a client and sharpen it up and make it beautiful. I had a lot of individual illustrations of cars, trees and people in my funky hand-drawn style. I could bring those elements in digitally and layer them in to create composite finished renderings. My goal was always to make the finished piece look like it was watercolor. I found that most clients did not respond as viscerally to photo-real representations.”

Working with architect Douglas Sydnor’s design drawings of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Newberry created the underlay perspective in pencil. Fellow illustrator Julian Clark finished the piece in opaque watercolor. Circa 1980.

Sydnor agrees. “When given the choice of a presentation that is computer-generated or hand-drawn, the vast majority of clients choose the latter. Hand-drawn renderings are more visually accessible, less intimidating, and appear to give the project the potential to evolve and change.”

Newberry spent the final decade of his career as the on-staff illustrator for the Scottsdale landscape architecture firm of Greey | Pickett, happy to be a salaried employee after 31 years of freelancing and consulting. “Nick really is a Renaissance man,” says Master of the Southwest Russell Greey. “His unique understanding of architecture and his ability to translate that knowledge into watercolor renderings that feel three-dimensional is a remarkable talent. His final product was a not just a realistic interpretation, but also a work of art.”

In 2017, Newberry decided it was time to set aside his pens and paintbrushes and pursue his hobbies, including music, writing, travel and photography, and enjoy leisure time with his wife, May. Since retiring, he has not done any architectural renderings. “I was always proud of my work, but enough is enough,” he says. “I’m lucky that my passion for drawing grew into a lifetime career. I was always the man behind the curtain, but it was an honor to work with the Valley’s finest architects on some of their best work.”

“The success of Wickenburg Ranch all comes back to original conceptual illustrations by Nick,” says landscape architect Russell Greey, who helmed the project with architect Bing Hu. Ballpoint pen and watercolor, finalized in Photoshop. 2016.


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