The Art of Napkin Sketch & Collaboration—International Style!

April Vasquez

April Vasquez

Gresham Smith’s Miami office takes their napkin sketches seriously. So, when the firm’s sixth annual Napkin Sketch Contest called for employees to submit their best architecture, engineering or design-related drawings, we were ready!

What started out several years ago as a collaborative brainstorming session over Colada—aka Cuban espresso coffee—turned into an annual tradition of putting ballpoint pens to cocktail napkins and seeing where our collective inspiration would take us.

This year, it took us on a global journey to Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Honduras, Paris, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Colombia, Jordan, England, and the good ol’ USA through an inspired collection of sketches on 5 x 5 serviettes—as they call them in the U.K.!

A Multicultural Montage

While we could have developed our drawings in a vacuum, we decided it was more representative of who we are to approach the competition and the theme of diversity as a team.

This year, as we did in 2020, we had to do so virtually due to COVID-19. As per usual when the Miami crew gets together, our creative brainstorming sessions doubled as bonding sessions in which we exchanged stories of one another’s cultures, which of course included food!

I guess one thing led to another and it wasn’t long before our “blank canvas” began to fill with ideas and we landed on the concept of developing a collage of sketches from each of our homelands. The ultimate message we wish to convey through the collage is the harmonious coexistence of unity, diversity, and freedom.

The Power of Persuasion

Although this wasn’t our office’s first time at the napkin-sketch rodeo, we did have a newbie among our group of contributors this year—Mohammed Abu-Tayeh, a civil engineer and senior operations manager in our Miami office. I must say that it took some gentle coercing and encouragement—OK, some arm-twisting—from our team to convince Mohammed to attempt his first-ever napkin sketch.

I can’t say that I blame him though, being the lone engineer among architects who make their living out of communicating through their drawings. Nonetheless, it was fun to hear his justifications for opting out, including: “I haven’t sketched a drawing since I was 10 years old,” and “Because I’m an engineer and not an architect, my process of thinking is just too linear,” which is my personal favorite.

It was no surprise to us that Mohammed ended up pleasantly surprising himself with his sketch of Jordan that pays homage to his grandfather’s 150-year-old house, which evokes fond childhood memories for him. We knew you could do it, Mohammed!

Jordan, by Mohammed Abu-Tayeh

And the Winners Are…

We’re proud that two winners of this year’s Napkin Sketch Contest are out of our Miami office. Jose Prado was a winner in the People’s Choice category for his sketch of the iconic Louvre Palace in Paris that features the Louvre Pyramid in the foreground, which serves as the main entrance to the palace.

Although Honduras is Jose’s homeland, he was inspired to sketch the Louvre as it was one of the last global destinations that he and his wife, Gaby, visited just a few months before international travel was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Louvre, by Jose Prado

Brittany Lyon—whose first name is a nod to her grandfather’s homeland of Great Britain—was a winner in the Design Award category for her inspired drawing of the Royal Crescent in Bath, England.

England, by Brittany Lyon

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

It probably goes without saying that you can’t help but be enriched by working in an office that represents so many different cultures. However, it’s funny how putting our heads together for an annual napkin sketch contest has revealed an even deeper level to our diverse cultural perspectives that has not only broadened the way we see things but also inspired our collective creativity.

Who knows what we might come up with next year? I guess anything is possible when the world is your oyster and there’s a ballpoint pen and cocktail napkin around!

Cuba, by Maryann Pando Avdakov
Argentina by Paula Rouyet
Nicaragua, by Eddie Perez
Peru, by April Vasquez
Mexico, by Adolfo Merchand Cravioto
Honduras, by Jose Prado
Cuba, by Gustavo Alfonso
Puerto Rico, by Javier Cordova
USA, by Robert Brown