TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DANIELLE SYKES
Growing up in West Virginia, David Duncan Morris was always drawing houses. “Weird, imaginary houses I liked or wanted to live in,” he says, rendered in pencil on a pad he brought everywhere. One that he remembers suggested a Tudor with a stone tower inspired by LEGO castles, round and arched windows, and “the notion of timber framing.” “We didn’t have these grand things around,” Morris says. “I saw them when we would travel or on TV and thought, that must be the height of sophistication.”
Now an architect at Portland’s Caleb Johnson Studio, Morris draws other people’s dream houses. And between a statewide housing crunch spurring would-be homebuyers to build and a pandemic fueling out-of-staters’ fantasies about Maine living, he’s busier than ever. Confronting burnout late last year, he began sketching houses he liked in his Cape Elizabeth neighborhood on a whim. Soon, his freehand pencil-and-watercolor portrayals of Capes, bungalows, Colonial Revivals, and, yes, Tudor styles were dominating his Instagram. “It turns out drawing for pleasure was in me still, and still satisfying,” says Morris, who is now taking commissions.
But if you’re looking for a literal depiction of your place, Morris will politely pass. “I’m not trying to render your house; I’m trying to capture what’s special about it in an expressive way.” For example, painting his own Shingle-style home its real-life indigo turned it into “a big blue box” with little to distinguish the elegant bay window and gambrel roof. So he used blue paint spatters to “communicate life and color,” a technique that has become his signature. Other perceived imperfections, like layered, slightly off-kilter pencil lines, further contribute to “fluid, dynamic” works, he says.
These days, David Duncan Morris mostly paints on his sun porch, but totes his art supplies wherever he goes — another childhood practice he is happy to have picked back up.