There’s always some little detail that makes each trip special for Mike Daikubara.
At the DoubleTree Suites in Dana Point, Calif., it was the Wolfgang Puck coffee maker. At the Parkview in Dongguan, China, it was all the extra electrical outlets. And at the
CityClass Hotel in Haan, Germany, it was three empty beer bottles hidden high atop a dresser.
Daikubara takes all those details home with him as souvenirs.
Over the past seven years and across three continents, the 44-year-old industrial designer has sketched to exact scale and in colorful detail each of the 80 different hotel rooms he’s stayed in.
Whether it’s a quick stay for work or a week on vacation, Daikubara always makes time to take in every inch of his room.
“Often I’m traveling with colleagues and after dinner, they’ll want to go out around town and I’ll have to excuse myself to head back to my room to sketch,” Daikubara said. “It feels kind of anti-social and a little quirky. I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. It was a secret for a long time.”
Daikubara’s hotel-room sketches are no longer a secret. Thirty-eight of them are on display through the end of the month at the Newton Free Library and he’s self-published a collection of 67 of them in a book titled “Hotel — Sketch Mike Sketch.”
“I didn’t realize this had become a project for me until maybe halfway through it,” Daikubara said.
The Norwood resident and Pratt Institute alum travels frequently for his employer, Symmons Industries of Braintree, which makes commercial and residential plumbing products. As he visits clients and manufacturers around the world, he sketches daily, both for work and for fun. He started sketching little scenes in his hotel rooms to relax and started doing whole rooms in detail in late 2006.
The room-sketching process starts, Daikubara explained, with deciding just how much time and energy he has and how much the room interests him. That determines whether he’ll rattle off a
simple sketch in an hour or two or step it up to either a “three-quarter” or a “one-point perspective” view that can require from two to five hours or longer.
“The one-night stays are the most painful,” Daikubara joked. “I usually miss a little sleep but I can always catch up on that on the plane.”
He meticulously measures the room with a laser measurer and sets a scale to fit the drawing on a piece of hotel stationery if available. Then he starts penciling in all the details around him. All the pieces are hand-drawn first with pencil and then traced in felt pens. “I start with the dimensions of the room and the large furniture,” he said. “Then I move on to the details.”
Daikubara draws arrows pointing out various features of a room and if something is particularly engaging, he’ll highlight it with a drawing alongside the room sketch. It’s those little details that
show Daikubara’s joy, humor, and attention to good design. He points out the “Noise Survival Kit” (chocolate and earplugs) at The Mira in busy Hong Kong and the “pretty cool” swinging desk at the Novotel in Brussels.
“I always draw the things that are unusual, things that I can’t stop thinking about,” he said. “Finding these little things is really surprising and fun.”
Even in the more modest accommodations, Daikubara’s eye catches something that interests him. In his sketch of a basic room at the Hampton Inn in Joliet, Ill., exclamation points show off his excitement at finding a “rubber duck!” left by the tub and “very nice!” Herman Miller chair tucked in at the desk.
“I enjoy seeing things in our everyday norm, in the mundane. There are exciting things there. But they’re often just hidden. Finding those is what’s important to me,” Daikubara said.
Daikubara then paints in with water colors most of the sketches if the room has strong colors and contrast in its decor. The finishing touch for each sketch is a stamp with his name and the date.
For the Newton Free Library, this exhibit is definitely a departure from what it has displayed in its galleries each month for the past 20-plus years, said Ellen Meyers, the library’s director of programs and communications. “This is very outside-the-box for what you see at our gallery,” she said, adding that the committee that picks artists for the monthly shows had never received a submission quite like Daikubara’s work. “His work is very unique and fun. And how he presents them on clipboards makes you feel like he just drew them. It’s a very fresh and original organizing principle.”
“I think he has a very interesting take on travel,” Meyers added. “How many hotel rooms do you remember? You return from your trip and tell your friends about the great meals and the sights, but very rarely do you remember much about your room.”
That remembering is a key part of the experience of these sketches and a big reason why Daikubara said he will continue doing them.
“When I look at the sketches later, I remember every moment, the sounds, the smell,” Daikubara said. “That immediate recall is fascinating and really the addiction of sketching. You absorb so much of what is around you.”
Daikubara said he loves to travel for work and for vacations with his wife, his parents, and extended family. He insists, however, that he does not travel for the sake of his hotel sketches. The sketches are always a bonus, an additional way to enjoy each trip. But he does let his mind wander to some unique rooms that would be fun to sketch.
“I believe there’s a hotel way up in Canada that’s carved out of ice each winter,” he said. “And a tree house hotel in New Zealand.”
Next up for Daikubara’s travel itinerary is not quite so exotic. In January, he’s off to a conference in San Diego — where he’ll be sketching a room at the Hyatt.Jim Walker can be reached at email@example.com