The Vital Importance of Developing a Skill for Drawing with Bill Tripp

In this episode of the Young Architect Podcast, Michael spoke to his good friend and fellow architect, Bill Tripp. Michael and Bill were very luck to have met each other while working in the same area of Portland, Oregon. When they met, Michael was an employed at Merryman Barnes Architects Inc. and Bill knew his employer, Nancy Merryman.

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Architect and Professor | Bill Tripp

Long before Bill even began his actual career as an architect, as far back as he can remember, he had always wanted to pursue this career and work in design. Originally from rural Massachusetts, Bill decided to see what life was like on the West Coast and so he made the decision to study at the School of Architecture & Environment at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Once he finished his studies at the University of Oregon, Bill studied History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University and then went to Finland on a full grant for six months. Deeply interested in sustainable architecture, Bill has really looked up to architects such as Malcolm Wells throughout his education and career.

Today, he runs his own studio and is deeply passionate about drawing and sketching. However, he wasn’t always a fan of the sketchbook. In fact, he was quite scared and nervous when it came to drawing, but he eventually overcame that obstacle. Today, he practices drawing every single day and you can see his work on both the website, Tripp Insights and his Instagram account.

In addition to his professional practice, Bill teaches architectural design, theory and drawing at Portland State University and at the University of Oregon. He is also a guest speaker on the work of Alvar Aalto; architectural drawing; and ritual space.

What You’ll Hear on This Episode

  • His great interest in sustainable architecture, earth shelters, and architects such as Malcolm Wells.
  • Why he chose to go to the University of Oregon and the amazing experience he had there because of the faculty that taught him.
  • His reason for going to Princeton University to specifically study history and theory.
  • What it was like to go to Finland on a Fulbright Grant and also the Ion Lewis Fellowship for six months.
  • Why he was initially scared to draw and sketch, but that all changed while he was in Finland.
  • His top tips for anyone struggling with drawing.
  • Why warming up with just scribbling is so crucial to actually drawing something.
  • The different sketchbooks you should have for various purposes.
  • Why we have drawings to see, drawings to understand, drawings to imagine, drawings to design, and drawings to communicate.
  • Differences between drawing by hand and drawing with computer technology.
  • The napkin sketches he does that he posts on his Instagram account.
  • How mentoring has manifested itself in his life and what his experience has been like as a mentor.
  • The various mentors he’s had the pleasure of working with and what he has learned from them.
  • How mentorship today compares to his experiences as a student.
  • What the true essence of mentorship is and what mentors should be teaching young, emerging architects.
  • The language of architecture and layers of meaning explained.    


Top 3 Takeaways from This Episode

  1. Practice drawing every single day. It’s doesn’t have to be something incredible. Just start out by doing a couple scribbles to warm up the hand and then do a couple of sketches to practice and improve your skill.
  2. Don’t get over stressed about things; especially the small stuff. Really take in and enjoy life. Over time, what you used to stress out about won’t be such a big deal anymore.
  3. Go out there and experience architecture. Visit various buildings, studying them, and draw them. When you combine drawing with your study of architecture, that’s how you truly get to understand how the buildings came to be constructed.

Bill Tripp’s Advice for Aspiring Architects

“Get out and look at buildings. Go visit architecture at least once a month and see a building that you really want to visit. Architecture is meant to be experienced and buildings change tremendously through time. Take your sketchbook and go visit buildings that you like, love, or are just interested in.”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t try so hard. After you’ve been doing this for a couple of years, you just start to relax more. You become more comfortable just doing what you do.”

Favorite Quotes

“As soon as you’ve completed a drawing, especially a sketch, it looks great, but then you’re afraid you’re never going to be able to do it again or it won’t look as good as this one. You always have this expectation that your next drawing is going to be the best one you’ve ever done. It’s something general that all artists have, this fear of the white, blank page staring back at you and not knowing what to draw.” – Bill Tripp on common fears all architects have when it comes to drawing.

“One of the things that I really stress is that sketching is so important to understanding architecture because you have to decide what to draw. When you’re an emerging architect, you’re not sure what to draw. It can be confusing and a mystery. You might go to a beautiful building, but where do you even begin? The idea that you have to draw something that has to be presentable in class can actually get in the way of the drawing process and being productive.” – Bill Tripp on the process of drawing.

“Draw every day. Buy some cheap paperback sketchbooks like the Moleskin books and maybe try to fill anywhere from 3-5 pages a day. Don’t even try to draw, but just start out with scribbling because drawing is a physical activity and you have to warm up. We tend to be rational thinkers during the day but drawing really relies more on our intuitive and subconscious side. You should even have a sketchbook that no one sees except for you. Treating drawing as a practice rather than an event will help you to get over your fear of other people’s expectations.” – Bill Tripp on the various types of sketchbooks you should have and drawings you should do.

“While I was still a student, I worked with my mentor on design competitions. That’s the essence of mentorship; when you’re working with an architect side by side on a design problem. That’s how you really learn about architecture and design.”  – Bill Tripp on the power of mentorship.

“The relationship that a senior architect has with an apprentice is hugely important. Architecture is so complex and so rich that what mentors teach isn’t really specific to problem-solving or finding out information, it’s sensibility. It’s about how you prioritize, how you create a hierarchy in a building, and how you make decisions. Architecture is all about weighing factors that are in competition with one another.” – Bill Tripp on what emerging architects should be learning from their mentors.

“I do see a lot of young architects mentoring each other and more so than I’ve ever seen in past generations. In some ways, as crazy as it sounds, I feel like the millennials are more connected to each other than any other generation as far as lifting each other up and supporting each other through their career development.” – Michael Riscica on how young architects are supporting each other more than ever before.

 Resources Mentioned in the Show


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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