Category Archives: Self Commissioned

Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, Wakefield MA

Back almost twenty years ago, I worked as the designer on a renovation of The Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, in Wakefield Massachusetts.  At the time, I was working for CBT Architects of Boston.

The Library had a fund raiser the other night, and I donated a sketch of the original entrance, on Main Street, for the silent auction.  thankfully, it sold.  …nothing worse than donating something and seeing a blank clipboard at the end of the evening.  Come on people, the FRAME is worth something, isn’t it?!?!

The sketch is in warm grey pencil, on vellum, with white highlights, about 8×10 in size.

Lucius Beebe Library Sketch

The Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, Main Street Entry  -(click for full size)-  © Jeff Stikeman 2014

Been busy here, and per usual, neglecting updates. Had a week off in March, but other than that, it’s been straight through since Christmas and New Year’s.

Typically slows in July and August (which is fine with me!), so I’m looking forward to getting out of the studio and into some sun.

 

 

 

 

 

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“One Day in Pompeii” , the 2013 Panoramic Pumpkin Lantern Carving

- (click for full size) -

– (click for full size) –

This year’s pumpkin lantern is a five foot long panoramic view of the Last Day of Pompeii, carved on a 75 pound ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin from our garden.

Pliny the elder was a man of science, and an historian.  He lived in Pompeii, and being a man of letters, kept a thorough diary.  When he woke, August 25th, 79AD, it was a day like any other in Pompeii.  He had a cold bath, and breakfasted on the balcony.

The panorama starts at left, in the morning, as Pompeii wakes and comes to life on its last day.

Morning in Pompeii, August 25th, 79AD.  No sign of danger, a perfectly beautiful day by all accounts.  At top here in the carving is a quote from Pliny the Elder's Diary, from later in the day.

Morning in Pompeii, August 25th, 79AD. No sign of danger, a perfectly beautiful day by all accounts. At top here in the carving is a quote from Pliny the Elder’s Diary, from later in the day.

Very quickly the world began to fall apart.  Earthquakes shook the region, twenty miles in all directions.  A strange Cloud appeared above Vesuvius (no one was aware that it was in fact a volcano).  Pliny writes:

“A cloud made of ash and dirt appears to be coming from Mount Vesuvius”. -Pliny the Elder

After the Earthquakes came the falling boulders, the size of houses, many of which were on fire as they came.  This is a detial of a flaming chunk of pumice crashing through the roof og the market building, sending roof tiles flying, structure exploding, and people scattering.

After the Earthquakes came the falling boulders, some the size of houses, and many of which were on fire as they came. This is a detail of a flaming chunk of pumice crashing through the roof of the Forum’s left market building, sending roof tiles flying, structure exploding, and people scattering.

Pliny, However, didn’t flee.  He investigated:

“The scientist in me wants to get a closer look. Having my boat made ready”. -Pliny the Elder

Same View, with the Room Lights On

Same View, with the Room Lights On

Fleeing Residents of Pompeii (Enlarged Detail)

Fleeing Residents of Pompeii (Enlarged Detail)

At the center of the Pompeii Forum stood the Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the space, and standing literally under and in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

The Quote on the Pumpkin, from Pliny’s Diary later in the day, reads:

“Buildings have come loose from their foundations.

…sheets of flame engulf Vesuvius,

and rocks consumed by fire are falling everywhere around us”

The Temple of Jupiter, in the center of the Forum of Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius Looming in the Background

The Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the center of the Forum of Pompeii, and with Mount Vesuvius Looming in the Background

In the center, an abandoned merchant’s cart, a statue falling from the tri-part archway beyond, and people crawling to shelter in the Temple,  suffocating from the fumes and ash.  At right is another market building, with fallen columns in the foreground, the building itself collapsing from an aftershock, columns caught mid-collapse, and the roof coming down.

“Walking through town. We can see broad sheets of flames rising from Pompeii.”  -Pliny the Elder

A View of the Temple of Jupiter and Vesuvius, with the Room Lights On

A View of the Temple of Jupiter and Vesuvius, with the Room Lights On

A Closer View of the Market Building's Collapsing Structure and Columns, which are Becoming Buried Under Ash

A Closer View of the Market Building’s Collapsing Structure and Columns, which are Becoming Buried Under Ash as the Day (and Pompeii) Comes to a Close

Pliny the Elder had no exit strategy.  In fact, instead of escaping, he went back.  He even went to bed, rising again in the middle of the night in a belated attempt to flee.  He and his group tying pillows over their heads and heading to the shore.

“Tying pillows to our heads with cloth and heading for the shore.    Rocks are falling everywhere around us. Our only possible escape is by boat.” -Pliny the Elder

End of the Day, and of Pompeii

End of the Day, and of Pompeii

The last detail here is of a buried Pompeii, the ash burying a portico remnant to its waist, with burnt tree trunks smoking ruins at left in the distance, and a cooling rivulet of lava coming toward us.

The Same Detail, with Room Lights On

The Same Detail, with Room Lights On

Pliny did not survive.  His last entries to the diary:

“The air is thick with ash.” and ” Breathing now impossible” -Pliny the Elder

Before doing the actual carving, I mocked-up a cartoon from a bunch of collaged elements and overpaint.  I use it as a rough guide, and rather than try to meticulously transfer it, I instead freehand the rough outline onto the pumpkin in water soluble ink.  It washes off later, and the freehanding allows me to change and shift things in the composition to suit the defects of the pumpkin.

Half-Size Mock-Up of the Concept Art for the Carving (click for enlarged view)

Half-Size Mock-Up of the Concept Art for the Carving (click for enlarged view)

As has become obvious, the stitching together of the panorama is clunky at best, and it’s very difficult to capture what it really feels to move around the pumpkin viewing the entire scene.  In “real-life”, the coloration is less contrasty, and has a great deal more depth.  Here’s a link to a movie, which approximates the experience as best it can…  “One Day in Pompeii”, on youtube

Thanks for playing along, and Happy Halloween!  -Jeff (and Pliny)

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2012 Pumpkin Lantern: London Under the Blitz

-Click for Full Size Image-

This year’s pumpkin lantern is a full panorama, some 54 inches long, depicting one night of the German Blitz of London, December 29th, 1940. …see more details and photos below
The subject was inspired by the iconic photograph “St. Paul’s Survives”, taken by Herbert Mason, December 29th, from the roof of the Daily Mail.  St. Paul’s stood unharmed amid smoke and fire on all sides, the city around it on fire. The photograph became a symbol of British resolve, and was declared the “War’s Greatest Picture”.

“St. Paul’s Survives”, by Herbert Mason of the London Daily Mail. Taken from the roof of the Daily Mail, during the bombing, on December 29th, 1940

“The Blitz” was an extended nine-month strategic bombing of the U.K. by the German Luftwaffe. In addition to targets of industry and production, the capital of London itself was bombed every single night for nearly two months straight, 57 nights in a row, and 71 nights in total over the nine-month period.

The panorama starts with the barrage balloons over Tower Bridge, German bombers in the distance and the Thames aglow from distant fire.

Tower Bridge and the Thames, a working waterfront. Barrage Balloons hang in the air in an effort to discourage low-level strafing runs by enemy fighters

Panning along the waterfront and a small gunboat, continuing up across the central image of St. Paul’s behind the still burning debris of destroyed buildings.

View of the Pumpkin with Room Lights on. St. Paul’s at rear, behind a pile of still burning debris, firefighters at far left

St. Paul’s, surrounded by burning debris and smoke, with rising sparks at low left

Following a trail of rising sparks, we encounter the bombers (Dornier Do17s), and pan down along a building being futilely attacked by firemen on both sides.

A building ablaze, with the German Dornier Do17 Bombers high above.

Continuing left, we see the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666.

The tall columnar monument in the middle of the street is the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666, with another statue of a horse and rider in front.  My original idea was to carve the Great Fire of London, all the way around.  But it occurred to me that since most of the buildings were destroyed, there’d be little or no iconic structures to include which would make clear that we were talking about London.  And so I modified the subject to the Bombing of London.  As destructive as the Great Fire was,  I can’t think of anything more terrifying than the continuous bombing Londoners endured for two months straight.

The silhouette of a man with walking stick under a blacked-out street lamp, at far left, alongside a smoldering building, is a nod to the Londoners’ ability to maintain morale in the face of the onslaught.  “Keep calm, and carry on”.

Some details…

Detail of a volunteer firefighting crew. During the height of the war, the number of men serving as firemen would swell to 273,000 nationwide. A special crew manned St. Paul’s itself, and on December 29th alone, extinguished some thirty fires started by German incendiary bombs.

The Bombers, with the Room Lights on to show the nature of the carving

Detail of Tower Bridge and the Thames waterfront, with room lights on

The Rear of the Pumpkin, “London Under the Blitz”, room lights on

Though I chose to depict London, the number of cities which could have been chosen for the subject is far too long.  Coventry, Dresden, Stalingrad, Hiroshima…. More civilians died in World War II than did soldiers, and heavy bombing played a great part in the tally.

The pumpkin was a 100 pound “Atlantic Giant”, almost 54 inches in circumference, purchased at Wilson’s Farm, of Lexington, Massachusetts.  After carving and hollowing, it now weighs 37 pounds.

It’s nearly impossible to capture the lighting and wrap-around nature of something like this in 2D.  The intent is to make it an experience, to invite people to walk around and investigate it. The best I can offer is a video, which at least conveys something of the scale and quality of the lighting effects.  See here… Video:”London Under the Blitz”

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…Back to School

And work.

Detail of a loose prismacolor pencil linework sketch, on orange-brown kraft paper, with gouache-like color added digitally.

At the end of June, having been on a treadmill of production since September previous, I decided that I was going to give myself a break and take some vacation.  As a sole proprietor in a profession where there are no guarantees of work (especially in this economic environment), and where work rarely appears on the horizon much more than a month in advance, taking time off often feels risky.  A week not working is a week you don’t get paid.

The impulse is great to just keep working, because you don’t know when it will end and you have a nagging fear that you’ll find yourself without any work. But the risk is also that you never take a break.

After nine months of steady work, I needed some time off.  The kids were just out of school, weather was promising, and so I took a figurative pen and drew a line straight through the months of July and August.

The kids will only be young once, and I am certainly not getting any younger myself, so I really knuckled down and made a commitment to keep the two best months of summer for myself and my family.  For the most part, it worked.  I did take a couple emergency jobs for a client with whom I have a long relationship, and we did about a dozen images for two separate jobs at the end of August.

In addition to some camping and beaching it, we went as a family to New York City.

statue of liberty from below

The Staue of Liberty, from below.

We’d been planning the trip since March, and my wife was savvy enough to reserve four of the tickets to the statue’s Crown that were available that day.  Of the 20,000 people on average that visit the statue each day, only about 200 are allowed in the Crown.  Tickets need to be reserved a few months in advance.

Only there for a couple days, we visited Times Square, the Empire State, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty.  We cruised through and along Central Park, scoped the Brooklyn Bridge, and sought out the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” (to no avail, alas). The boys, who are too young to remember September 11 2001, wanted to see the Trade Center.  We visited the site of the rebuilding effort, and stopped in next door at the firehouse.  Both of them were finally able to at least understand where the Trade Center was, and to begin to understand the scope of the events.  They may not understand it all (who does?), but they do now understand where the towers stood in relation to the city and our hotel, how at once large and somehow small it all is, and that it is all ‘real’.

I finally got a chance to do some painting, too.

10x20 detail from a 20x60 canvas

Detail, about 5x8, from "Black on Red", 20x30

I had some other painting to do, too.  Spent a few weeks, mostly full time, building a porch I’d designed about a year and a half ago.  I never had time to do it, as I never set aside any.  This was a big reason for carving out time this summer from my illustration work. Here’s a shot of it primed, before finish painting in white.

This summer's magnum opus. A new porch about 12x14, clad inside and out with 1x10 vertical grain cedar claps, mitered. Decking of 1x4 mahogany with basket weave at the corners.

Day trips were the goal, and so we  camped in Vermont, with a day boating on the lake as we’d done the previous year. We spent a day at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire, where dad begged for someone to ride the Yankee Cannonball with him.   Went as a family to the Cape for a couple nights, where the kids indulged in seemingly limitless pool time. And we visited a cousin in New Hampshire for the day, on his boat, and relaxed at his beautiful place which overlooks an incredible view.

Wakefield, New Hampshire

The trees already had a hint of change to them then, and only a couple weeks later, the boys headed back to school.

There’s business to tend to now, including updating my website, and hopefully a little more time spent keeping up with the blog now that I’m back in the studio. Time to get back to work…

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“The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse 1810” …2010 Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse

This year’s pumpkin started with an idea to play off a basic human fear: the vastness of the open ocean. What could feel more overwhelming than being in the middle of the Pacific, in a small boat, at night?

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

...a bit further around to the right, and we can see the tall-masted Whaling Ship 'Recompynse', in full sail, under attack from other 'ships', or flying saucers.

It plays off the idea of “aliens”.  On the rear of the pumpkin is a pair of whales, escaping the whalers (men in ships) who are themselves being attacked by ships from another world. Exactly who are the aliens here?  Just as a whale is plucked and taken from its habitat, so are the men being harvested.  A little recompense being paid by the men of the Recompynse.

The center of the composition is a longboat, being lifted into the mothership by a tractor beam, men falling or hanging by ropes as the longboat levitates into oblivion.

Copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

The men of Longboat No.1 are lifted to their demise, into a flying ship they could not begin to fathom. One man hangs by a rope, a man outside the tractor beam is falling, and one at top is soon to be the first to meet his fate.

I think I enjoy most the man at the front of the longboat, rowing frantically in vain.  The highlights that define his back and hands are nothing more than a few rounded gouges in the pumpkin. This part of the image was inspired by the fantastic image from the label on a bottle of Maudite…

pumpkin carving copyright Jeff Stikeman

The men of The Whaler Recompynse, in longboat No.2, watch helplessly, transfixed and in fear, as their comrades are raised from the water, never to be seen again. They know now perhaps how the whale feels when one of its own is taken from the water, from close beside it, by men in ships from another world.

My favorite part about this detail is the hat of the man standing at far right, and the way the tractor beam glows, with the glare from the beam partly covering the waves in front of the boat.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

A pair of whales escaping their attackers. At left, the tail of a diving humpback. At right, between two clouds, is the spout and arcing back of a humpback rising for a breath, before diving again in the escape.

This year it was a full panorama around the pumpkin. Impossible for me to stitch together even a few decent images, so it must be shown in feeble detail shots.  I have made a test image here> Whaler Recompynse in 360° (which will open a flash-based movie in another page) where you can click and drag all the way around, rotating the pumpkin as you like.  You can also tilt it downward to see the top, and rotate that as well. It is as close as I can get to capturing the effect, although the lighting in person is much subtler, and the detail reads far better. (Right now the file has a ‘trial’ watermark on it.  If you think the interaction is any good, I might buy a full copy and re-do it.  Let me know what you think)

A hand-held movie, with appropriately cheesy Halloween Sound effects, is here > The Whaler Recompynse

For me, this isn’t “carving” in the sense of sculpture.  I have seen (and am in awe of) the fantastically expert carvings of Ray Villafane, whose pumpkins are I think undeniably the best carved pumpkin sculptures ever done.  But for me this is less about  sculpture than it is about using the pumpkin as a 2D lantern, with effects from light and dark and shading, made by carving the image to differing depths.  The deeper you go, the brighter it gets.  It’s a physical negative in a sense.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

"The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse, 1810" ...the obligatory "room lights on" photograph.

As we all perhaps enjoyed when children,  when you turn out the lights and add a candle inside, it should be transformed from one thing into another.  The pumpkins I do tend to look very strange when the room lights are up.  We take one to a party every year where they set the pumpkins  in a corner of the room which is fully lit, for a pumpkin carving contest.  You can’t look at this in a room with lights on and find anything to recommend it. With lights on it looks like a hideous blob of pale orange, incomplete and half done.  I always feel foolish putting it on the table with the others because frankly no one can tell what the heck it’s supposed to be, and no amount of my explaining will do the trick…  I shudder, too, when people try to take a photo, because if the flash goes off, you see none of the lantern effect.  And if there’s no flash, you get a blurry orange smudge.  But that’s exactly what I like about it all.  It can’t really be captured well.  Just like the sand arches, it’s not meant to last, and it really is meant to be seen in person.  It’s fleeting fun.

Here’s last year’s pumpkin, too.  Frankenstein’s Lab

Hope you had a great Halloween.

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“Not So Close” Nos. 1&2

H&T "Not So Close"

H&T "Not So Close"

I did these two images last week, in what was my first week without scheduled (professional) work in perhaps a year.  I took one official “vacation” week off in June, but have been working straight through pretty much ever since.  This was the first chance to relax that I’ve had in a while.  As an architectural illustrator, I’m very lucky to have work in this economy.

These were executed digitally, in Photoshop.  I currently work on a 21″ Wacom pressure-sensitive monitor, which lays flat and allows me to paint or draw directly on the screen.  I used a small 4×6 Wacom stylus pad, off to the side, for years.  But it always felt like a disembodied pen.  This is much more analogous to working on paper directly.

T_detail

T_detail at Full Size

At any rate, these are obviously Chuck-Close-inspired pieces.  I didn’t want to copy his approach, but rather wanted to do something very simple with the images, to break them down while preserving as much information as possible.

The originals are 23×23, 150 dpi.  Medium-res.  The squarish blobs of paint are done in two sizes, with the smaller size reserved for areas of detail.  Still, the iris of the eyes is only four or six squares itself.  Not much detail. And yet at a distance of say 10 feet away, the eye (and brain, of course) pull them together pretty well.  I happen to enjoy them closer in, when the edges and overlap of the paint can be seen, and the complementary blue ground underneath the oranges is allowed to poke through the gaps.  The battle of the blues and oranges is enough to create some tension in the ol’ visual cortex…  But conversely it also has the benefit of graying down the saturated colors.  Without the sprinkle of blue in there to hold them back, the oranges would be even more “through the roof”.  A very interesting thing though is that the human eye “digests” color in a few ways, and it does each process separately.  When it’s figured the scene out, it puts the infformation back together and you “see” things.  What’s odd is that if I made a desaturated (no color, a greyscale) version of this, most of the blue would be the same shade of grey as the orange it sits next to.  They have the same value, despite the fact that sometimes one or the other looks brighter or darker because the colors are so different.  They are “isoluminant”.  I made their shading levels equal (equal value), so the shading is correct regardless of color.  But since the colors are nearly exact opposites, the brain also perceives a conflict.  One part of your visual cortex tells you they are vastly different. The other tells you they are very similar.  …and that’s where the tension comes in.

T at 96dpi_6x6

T at 96dpi_6x6

I opened a couple photos that I’d taken of the boys and then dragged them into Photoshop.  My son, “T”, (above) was sitting in front of the fire place, and his coloring drove the palette for both images.  I adjusted it quite a bit to narrow the range and clamp down on the high and low exposure, then worked on adjusting the right image of “H” to match the same rough color range. His photograph was taken outside in indirect daylight.  Being indirectly lit outdoors, he had a blue cast, and not a lot of contrast.  I tweaked his levels a bit too, and adjusted the overall color balance to make the images more of a matched pair.

H at 96dpi_6x6

H at 96dpi_6x6

After painting in the blocks of paint, I merged all the Photoshop layers and then pasted the image on a new layer under itself .  Inverting the colors of the work gave me the exact complementary colors underneath the oranges. I blurred them a bit to expand them and to allow them to break through the negative space between the orange blocks above.  Had to kill some of the over-bright blue, and jack up the bits that were too-dark.  Still, it gave the oranges something to play against.

tuck-detail

The  detail above is just under full size. The bigger squares are really about a half inch.  And yet I think I could have gone even blockier and been more aggressive in breaking down the images.  They still read remarkably photo-real at anything over five feet away.  I really was going for something messier.  Next time.

So. First post.  I do have a website where I update things fairly regularly, but this format will allow me to expand a bit more on the work.  The website is a bit of a flash portfolio, for clients.  Hopefully here I can explain things a bit more, and maybe cast a wider net too.

My business is architectural illustration. These pieces are of course outside that narrow field.  I’ll be adding some old and new work here every now and then, irregularly, both professional and self-indulgent.  We’ll see how it goes.

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