The Modern Theatre, Boston: Exterior

…waiting on a package of drawings for a set of three images that I’ll need to execute by end of the day Thursday.  As I sit here with an eye on the in-box, I might as well make use of my time and expand upon some work I showed a couple months ago. Then, I posted an interior shot of this historic theater’s renovation, and so now maybe it is about time to post the exteriors.

The existing building is a somewhat odd mixture of a classical entry of an arch and columns, coupled with a later addition (of a few upper floors) in an incongruous polychromed victorian “mannerist” confusion.  Taken in parts, each is perfectly fine, but together it seems, to me, there’s little hierarchy.  Makes for a difficult composition. Because it was an existing building, I basically got a marked up existing photograph from the architect, showing some thoughts about exterior lighting.

The Existing Theater, with architect's comments

The Existing Theater, with architect's comments

The new work is a tower above, housing students of Suffolk University.  The tower, as large as it is, is secondary, and not intended to (literally or figurally) overshadow the theater entrance. When renovated, the theater will host live performances, and the dormitory tower won’t really be a part of that experience.  In some ways, as far as this pair of exterior images is concerned, the tower is to be incidental, and background.

The architect had modeled the tower, and provided me with a shot of it from roughly the same angle as the existing photographs.  The difficult thing for me is that the tower and the existing building are not structurally parallel or aligned.  They are just a bit off, which makes them (in a rendering) appear to have “perspective issues”.  That is, it looks like things are out of whack in three dimensions.  Another complication is that the corner of the existing building, where it returns down the alley at left, is not a square ninety-degree corner.  It is wider, and flatter, and so it also appears out of whack in perspective and not parallel to the tower.  Can’t be avoided, really.  It’s the kind of stuff you don’t pay any attention to walking down the street, but which jumps out when you study it in 2D.  The choice for me is often whether to render it faithfully (out of whack) or to tidy it up and force it back into a more expected alignment or geometry.  In this case, because the tower and the existing building were already at odds, I felt that trying to “fix” everything would be too much manipulation.  One tweak or two is acceptable, but a few “white lies” can really pile up and cause problems. So the odd geometries were allowed to coexist.

The client wanted to show the theater at night. It had been empty and run down for about 20 years, and was a veritable “missing tooth” in Washington Street’s row of wonderfully lit theaters.  Restoring it would contribute greatly to the night time street experience.


The Modern Theatre, Boston

I mentioned in a previous post about the interior image that the project architect for CBT, Adrian LeBuffe, was amenable to doing something a little more visually interesting than a standard glory-shot. Because it was a theater, the idea soon became to inject a little, well, theater or drama into it.  The idea is that people are arriving for an opening, limos, bright lights, traffic, etc.  and that there’s a little drama at low left occurring with a couple who are either on their way there, or headed home.  Not quite sure what’s happening, as much as I was trying to set something up and let people fill it in with their own thoughts.  It was a bit of an attempt at a set-piece, with the newly renovated theater acting as the stage itself.

Detail at foreground and Theater Entry

Detail at foreground and Theater Entry

Detail at the upper portion of the existing building

Detail at the upper portion of the existing building

About three months later, the client called to have me do something from the reverse angle, showing Washington Street at night with “The Modern” included as one among a few great old theaters lit brilliantly and creating a great evening street scape.  The balance was to compose the image so that the theater could be included as a supporting player to the street scene, while also trying to make it something of the center of interest.  Those concepts are a bit at odds: focus on it, but without drawing an inordinate amount of  attention to it.

There was an existing photo to work from, and the architect had spent some major effort in generating a photoreal daytime view. This image (below) was part of that work, which I further stripped down back to the barest information.  This image doesn’t represent the fine work of the architect’s team, it’s a rather dumbed-down version that I used as a base to begin my work.

A daytime shot of Washington Street from the Station Point (or viewpoint) selected by the client.

A daytime shot of Washington Street from the Station Point (or viewpoint) selected by the client.

The work I did at this point was essentially an exercise in overpaint.  Mostly, I used a hard round brush in photoshop to build up the image, and drew in whatever was missing. I also edited out those things which were a distraction.  A giant Mercedes SUV may be a handsome car, but there’s no reason to keep it front and center in a rendering, fighting for your interest. Lose it.

I also continued the use a textured “ground” under the image, to break up edges and add a unifying visual interest to the surface.  I suppressed the amount of strokes that are visible where there is detail or a center of interest, and allow it to be pretty strong and obliterating where there is a desire to keep the eye from lingering.

Washington Street, and The Modern Theatre, Boston

Washington Street, and The Modern Theatre, Boston

Compositionally, the Millennium Tower (the glass triangular-topped tower, at center left) was asserting itself too much, and so I just clipped the top off.  That relegated it instantly to lesser status.  If it had a completed top, it would have read much more like the center of interest. I also pushed it back with some atmospheric depth.

I frankly feel that having the theater dead-center is a bit of a compositional no-no, but the two buildings at right were added to the “make-sure-you-show” checklist halfway during the work.  Turns out the project would also be renovating the two right buildings, and so the client wanted to show them as well.  That forces things compositionally, but as this is illustration and not fine art, there is an editorial aspect to things.  I don’t just get to paint what I want… I did add the back side of a no-parking sign at far right, in cooler blue, as a bit of relief to the sea of red/orange and to “push” the viewer’s eye back into the composition.  On the back of the sign there’s a little in-joke. I applied a sticker with my website’s logo on it.

At lower left again is a staged bit of tension.  He’s leading her on, yet she’s looking back at the viewer.  No real story line here, just (in all three views) different glimpses of couples undergoing their own personal dramas.  Some details…

The Modern Theater_FINAL02_detail

Detail of the Theater Marquees along Washington Street

I’m not sure there is a more enjoyable type of architectural scene to work on as an evening exterior of a street of theaters.  For me the real enjoyment came in turning the daytime photos into evening shots, and adding exterior lighting and the highlights they generate.  In this case, adding details is very much like painting in an opaque medium, where strokes of lighter values (like white) can go down over darker values.  In watercolor, that’s not really possible, and if you want something white you generally need to leave the paper showing through from the very beginning.  Watercolor can seem to be a very much a straight-line process, building up darks with little chance to retreat.  Digitally, though, I am able to jump back and forth between darks and lights if need be.  It’s very forgivable having an “undo” button.

Detail at the Entrance of the Modern Theater; showing the overpainted lighting effects and "paint" work

Detail at the Entrance of the Modern Theater; showing the over-painted lighting effects and "paint" work

From what I understand, the Modern Theatre should be opening late 2009.


Filed under Commissioned Work

3 responses to “The Modern Theatre, Boston: Exterior

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I’m writing an article for Suffolk’s student newspaper about the renovations of the Modern Theater and I was wondering if I could use some of these renderings?

    Please let me know.


  2. Your renderings of the theatres and streetscapes are wonderfully evocative and dramatic. Thanks so much for sharing these images. My mother (now 95) says that Washington Street once had the vibrancy of Broadway. You’re vision here confirms that it could be
    that exciting again.

    • Thanks very much Don. The Modern has sat empty since 1985, an unbelievable span of time, especially during the boom.
      It will be great to see the marquee lit again, and for the gap to be filled in. Washington Street may not be as vibrant as it was in your mother’s day, but it is much better than it was a couple decades ago.
      Thanks for your comments.
      Jeff Stikeman

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