Phil Ponder and Jim Varallo

Phil Ponder, left, and his newly enlisted drone pilot Jim Varallo size up the Nashville skyline from above.

There are some men you can set your watch by, and Nashville artist Phil Ponder is one of them.

Every four years, whether there’s been a tornado, a pandemic, a bomb or all of the above, the pen and watercolor artisan emerges with the summer like a much more pleasant and friendly version of a Tennessee cicada to aerially assess how the years have treated his beloved Nashville skyline.

Instead of hovering in a buzzing helicopter, this year the only whirring came from the electric engine within a drone he’s opted for as a new wrinkle in an old style for a new age.

“For some reason this year, it seems perfect,” said Ponder, who also created Main Street Nashville’s skyline masthead. “If it had been last year, it would have been a disaster trying to merchandise and market a new product. Last year would have been extremely difficult. This year is much better.”

With a wide smile, looking on at the screen of friend Jim Varallo’s drone, Ponder happily indicated there will be no reference made to the non-architectural happenings built up over the past year and a half.

“I think that’s a memory a lot of people are trying to get away from now. You can see it. You can tell. It’s in the feel of things the last month,” he said. “I think it’s like the chicken has come out of the egg almost and we’re out in the open and ready to peck around and get something to eat, and go places, and crow and lay eggs.”

Ponder himself has hatched his own plan to release at least 1,000 copies of a 120-page coffee table book complete with authentications and stories behind his many images of Nashville’s skyline, its historical buildings, architectural pieces, as well as more naturalistic works.

“It’s going to be a grandiose synopsis of the works I’ve done for the past 42 years,” he said.

(For more on Ponder, check out

This year’s skyline will revisit a perspective Ponder hasn’t used for some time, one that focuses on the bigger picture the Nashville skyline presents, to accompany the book focusing on the bigger picture of his career.

“It’s more from one point of viewing, a panoramic picture of the city. The last time I did this view was 22 years ago, so there’s a lot that’s changed in that time,” Ponder said. “I’m glad to be able to feature the stadium, the river, and the structure of the new buildings in the background. For instance, the Four Seasons tower has just reached its peak, so I’m glad we’re at this point.”

The panoramic look will offer a new take on fresh additions not seen in the previous 1999 iteration, such as the 505 building, JW Marriott, The Westin and other spires that have sprung up to join more familiar edifices.

When complete, the new, broader view of where Music City stands will stand in as the cover of the book when it’s released to Picture This Gallery in Hermitage on Oct. 21.

And while the time crunch the book presents will require one of the faster turnarounds he’s ever worked against, even as the seconds tick away, Ponder, with a watch on the horizon and pen soon in hand, is a hard man to bet against to be right on time, like clockwork.

“I’ll just have to keep the pace up and work a few more hours at night to be able to squeeze it in,” said Ponder with a smile. “But, it will work.”

Recommended for you