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Year’s End, 2015

Happy Holidays, see you in 2016 (click for full size)

Happy Holidays, see you in 2016 (click for full size)

As you can probably tell from the now year-old previous post, I have not updated the page here in a long time.  This year was among the busiest ever, and between March and Late October, I did not have a day off, …a day without work in some form or another.

Sounds like a lot, but the job doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting, and of course I work from home, so even the longest day still allows me to see the family and have dinner with them every night.  I’m never ‘stuck in the office’ or on the road away from home.   And that of course makes the workload much easier to bear.

But it kept me from keeping up with the recent work posts here, which I regret.  I also haven’t been able to find time to update my acquisitions on the book-collecting side of things, re: Stikeman&Co, binders.  But there has been much advancement there as well. …and as many of you noticed, and emailed about, there was no pumpkin this year.  Given that they take some forty hours (from design, painting the concept, carving, photographing, etc.), I just could not find the time.

Perhaps as we move through the holidays, which tend to ease my schedule, I’ll be able to find time to post updates and images from the year.  I’m thankful for the work, and appreciate my clients and their trust in me to illustrate their projects.


Thank you for a busy 2015…





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“Kong’s Demise” 2014 Jack-O’-Lantern

"Kong's Demise" (-click for full size-)

“Kong’s Demise” (-click for full size-)

It wasn’t “beauty that killed the beast”, it was the damned men in planes shooting bullets at him that did it.

I always saw Kong as a sympathetic character, not some giant wild beast that needed to be taught a lesson. And frankly the whole “falling in love with a tiny human woman” thing wasn’t merely a bit of a stretch, it’s downright inter-species weirdness. Fay Wray is simply a maguffin, a plot device.  I felt comfortable ignoring her role in all this and focusing on the big guy, and the city of Manhattan.

Here’s an appropriately cheesy video, which shows the effect far better than the stitched-together photo above.

Kong is a peaceable gorilla, completely unaware that he’s a hundred feet tall, just hanging out on his own island, not a care in the world, King of the Jungle. …but along comes Man in a giant metal smoke-belching floating thing, dragging him to another world, and chasing him to the top of stone and steel tree, where he’s attacked and shot by men in metal birds.

Sure, “King Kong” is just a story. But it isn’t one of a gorilla that falls in love with a human woman and who dies trying to protect her. It’s just an amplified telling of the same age-old tale: Man (capital ‘M’) sees something that scares or amazes or transfixes him, something he doesn’t understand, and so he decides it needs to be hunted and destroyed. Whales, tigers, elephants… All the great beasts under siege and threatened with extinction. News last week that one Northern White Rhinoceros is left in the wild.

Perhaps over the top. But for the past five years or so, all of these pumpkins have an underlying theme: the primal fear that arises when a living thing is confronted by an unknowable otherworldly phenomenon, beyond their control, helpless against it, and overwhelmed.

Kong has no idea why he is there, or what is happening to him. That’s some primal fear, in my book.

Some Details…  everything that is bright has been carved deep into the pumpkin,  and the dark areas are untouched skin.  All shading is everything in between.

Freedom Tower at the tip of Manhattan.  A bit of an anachronism, the bi-planes and the Freedom Tower.  Call it artistic license...

Freedom Tower at the tip of Manhattan. A bit of an anachronism, the bi-planes and the Freedom Tower. Call it artistic license… This detail is about two inches square “in real life”

East River to the left, with Kong;s arm grasping at one of the attacking bi=planes.  Y(...and yeah, that other biplane should maybe have a propeller too. oops)

East River to the left, with Kong;s arm grasping at one of the attacking bi-planes. (…and yeah, that other biplane should maybe have a propeller too. oops)

A squadron of biplanes circles around the Empire State Building from the West, with the Hudson in the Background.  Kong's Right Arm hanging onto the base of the mast.

A squadron of biplanes circles around the Empire State Building from the West, with the Hudson in the Background. Kong’s Right Arm hanging onto the base of the mast.

Thankfully, Kong’s left arm and hand, grasping desperately at a firing biplane, conveniently hides the Brooklyn and East River bridges. It was a bad enough idea to carve the mast of the Empire State Building front and center, in the foreground.

Obligatory "Room Lights On" photo.

Obligatory “Room Lights On” photo.

I painted the mock-up in photoshop very quickly, by collaging together some reference photos of the city, a model shot I had made from a model of the Empire State Building (in Cinema4d, with a fish-eye Lens rig), and from some shots of a few airplane models I had found in Google’s 3d-Warehouse, which I posed and lit as I needed them.  Then overpainted everything to semi-meld it together for use as a reference.

Here's a Screen Capture of the Empire State Building Model in Cinema 4D. I used a fish-eye lens to get Kong's Point of View

Here’s a Screen Capture of the Empire State Building Model in Cinema 4D. I used a fish-eye lens to get Kong’s Point of View

I positioned a few planes around in 3D space, and rendered them for reference.

I positioned a few planes around in 3D space, and rendered them for reference.

...then pasted them together and did a very quick overpaint

…then pasted them together and did a very quick overpaint

I put a few tick marks on the reference drawing, at half-way and quarter points, top middle, and bottom. And then put  matching ones on the pumpkin in order to transfer the sketch by eye, with a water soluble sign pen.

I put a few tick marks on the reference drawing, at half-way and quarter points, top middle, and bottom. And then put matching ones on the pumpkin in order to transfer the sketch by eye, with a water soluble sign pen.

And after that, it’s time to get out the tools…

99% of this was done with a small Wusthof paring knife, sharpened like crazy, and held by the blade like a pencil, but I'll go to some of these when I need to.

99% of this was done with a small Wusthof paring knife, sharpened like crazy, and held by the blade like a pencil, but I’ll go to some of these when I need to. The large serrated knife in the photo was just for cutting the hole to gut the pumpkin.

This year’s Pumpkin-of-Choice was a 76-pounder, home grown ‘Atlantic Giant’.

Hope you enjoyed it, Happy Halloween.



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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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A Suite of Tropical Sketches (sadly, done while it was 30 degrees and Rainy Outside)

One of nine concept sketches from a week's effort at the end of March. ©jeff stikeman architectural art

I’d set aside a month to do 10 of these images, figuring it would make for a relaxing pace and allow time to work with a new client.  I don’t like to go into a project with a new client on a very short term schedule, because I’d prefer that they get a chance to review these more closely as we go, and so they can get a feel for where things are headed and how the images are developed.  As it turns out, none of the design information was ready for me for about three weeks, but since the due date didn’t move to accommodate the delay, I was still gunning for all ten in a week.  Mind you, at that point, my getting them done is a favor, not a contractual obligation.

But they got done.  Well, nine of them, anyway.  The tenth will need a little more design information and consideration before I can begin on that.

…a couple details from one of the images.

Detail of the same image, showing a proposed concept for the project's drawbridge. ©jeff stikeman architectural art

When I drew these, it was 30 degrees and wet and rainy outside.  Thankfully, the day after I finished these I took a quick flight to warmth and palm trees.  Mini-vacation…  I needed it.

Detail of a portion of a marina, from the left-hand side of the same image. ©jeff stikeman architectural art

Although the drawbridge was the center of interest, this is my favorite part of the image.

I hope to post all 9 some day.  It may be sooner rather than later… We’ll see.

The images are a combination of collage, photoshop, and pencil, and are all 11×17 and 300dpi.


© Jeff Stikeman and jeff stikeman architectural art, 2009-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jeff Stikeman and jeff stikeman architectural art with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Robert A. M. Stern: On Campus

“Robert A. M. Stern: On Campus” (The Monacelli Press), the latest monograph from Robert A.M. Stern Architects, was released December 21st. As the publisher describes, it “collects more than fifty projects by the firm for the most prestigious institutions in America—Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Stanford, University of Virginia—and focuses on the importance of the historic character of the place in charting the future. “

Robert A. M. Stern "On Camous" Cover

I have been privileged to work with Robert A.M. Stern Architects on many of these projects, and am honored to have a large number of my sketches and renderings included in the volume: as illustrations for the projects themselves; among the reference illustrations in Stern’s survey of the American campus context; and as greatly enlarged details on the facing pages of many Chapter Titles.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

Detail of a Conceptual Sketch done in 2006, for The Farmer School of Business, Miami of Ohio; Jeff Stikeman, for Robert A. M. Stern Architects, NY

Norman Weinstein of ArchNewsNow review specifically cites “the spectacular photographs and drawings in this weighty tome. “ At nearly 600 pages, the profusely illustrated and substantial volume is in keeping with Stern’s previously published iconic monographs. The extensive project descriptions, photographs, and illustrations, together with Stern’s survey of the American Campus, make the volume not only an attractive record of his firm’s college and university work, but a valuable reference for architects involved in college and university work themselves.

For ordering, see Robert A. M. Stern: “On Campus”

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Architecture in Perspective 25

I’m a member of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators.  Every year, the organization sponsors a competition, in their words, “a juried international architectural delineation competition that has included work by the most accomplished contemporary architectural illustrators from around the world.”

I have been lucky enough to get in a number of times, and was pleased to find out that this year was another one.  The image which was selected by the jury was a digital piece, one I discussed here on this blog a while back. It’s an exterior night view of Boston’s renovated, rejuvenated, and expanded  ‘Modern Theater’.

washington street view of the Modern theatre, Boston, at night

The Modern Theater, Boston. View from the corner of Washington and West Streets, at night. Digital, 10x13, 200dpi ©

I enter three or four pieces every year.  Although self-commissioned work is accepted, I have made the decision to submit only those works which were commissioned by clients.

One reason is that the demands of an image produced as a commission can be quite different than the work done for one’s self.  Schedule, design documents, critique by numerous parties… all of these are layers of complication that an illustrator must deal with.  Those complications though are the very reason that I enjoy this piece.  For me, and my client, it was fairly experimental.

Another reason is simply that the  ASAI is a professional organization.  I’m not entering these pieces in an ‘art’ contest, but rather putting my professional work up against that of others.  It’s an illustration competition, and as an illustrator (not an artist), my work is commission driven.  I’d simply like to see if I can get in with a commissioned work, against those others whose work has always inspired me (whether commissioned or not).

detail of entrance to the modern theatre boston

A detail of the entrance to the Modern Theater, showing the proposed exterior lighting concept, and the fully restored historic facade.

The subject matter of a theater gave us a little license, and so my client, CBT / Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc. of Boston, was willing to create an image with a little more edge to it than we might otherwise have. The fact that it is fairly experimental as compared to most of my work is something that makes its selection all the more satisfying.

The blue highlights here aredriven by the lighting of the shopfront to the left. As for what she is thinking, I do not know... but I have always enjoyed the few pieces where a figure in the image is looking directly at the viewer. That's generally a no-no...

To be truthful, I generally throw in a pencil sketch or two, knowing that the jury is interested in producing a “round” show, encompassing many types of illustrations and media.  There isn’t a lot of pencil work being done these days (in architectural illustration, anyway), and having a pencil illustration in the mix is a bit of a safety or fallback.  Gotta do whatcha gotta do…

This year, both this image and a pencil image of mine made it to the final round.  Unfortunately, the client who had previously approved the pencil image for public display decided to rescind the authorization.  Since this image was on par with it, and being considered for the final round of voting, it went ahead. I’m frankly glad.  I liked the pencil piece, but I take particular enjoyment in this image because it isn’t as conventional as most illustration work tends to (or needs to) be.

Foreground street sign, with a sticker on the back which happens to have my website logo on it.

The strokes of the background are a reference to the gesso ground often put down on a canvas before painting, in order to create some random textures and visual interest before the actual paintwork is begun. I’m not trying to pretend the image is built of brushstrokes.  The strokes don’t follow edges or anything… It’s more about introducing texture enough to break things down and maybe unify the overall surface.  Nothing more.

Detail of the theaters beyond, The Paramount and Opera House

The image was painted in photoshop, with both a hard round and soft round brush.

Had a good deal of fun in the low-right corner, where the car becomes a smudge of reflected highlights and a tailing headlamp blur, contrasting the relatively more detailed interior of the building beyond

The original image is about 8×12, at 300dpi, which kept things sketchy and loose.  It was done in 2007.


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