Tag Archives: paint

2013 Year End Review

This year I executed just under a hundred images, in levels of detail varying from sketchy to formal.  There were a large number of pencil images, split about evenly with fully digital pieces, and one simple watercolor sketch done as a gift for an architect’s client.  …a pretty busy year, in all.

Following are some details from a little fewer than half the images.  There’s no real text here, as I’ll just let the work speak for itself.  I cannot thank my clients enough, and thank you too for your interest in my work.













































Happy New Year.  See you in 2014…

– Jeff Stikeman



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Recent Work: Summer 2013

Been a while….  The year has been ridiculously busy, thankfully.  Haven’t really had much downtime, and believe it or not, other than a semi-slow July/August (three or four projects each month), I have been working straight through on a variety of projects large and small.

Development work (retail and residential) is coming back in force as the rising tide of the economy continues.  Although there was always some level of private residential work being done through the recession, it seems to really be taking off again. In short, things have been busier than ever.  Still no excuse for nearly a ten month delay in updating the blog.

I’ve been privileged to work on some fantastic projects, including about 18 or so renderings for the U.S. State department, on a couple different jobs.  Sadly, most of it is confidential, as is much of the institutional and development work which has kept me busy over the year.

Best I can offer at this point is some cropped enlarged details from some of the work, uncredited and with some details obscured.  The drawings range from sketchy concept work, to more formal, finished renderings.

Apologies for withholding project information.

These are details (about 2 inches x 6 inches) of some 11×17 sketches I did for a study of a landscaping master plan for a large property.





Some sketches done in a looser style, for a private academy, as part of a masterplan study.  These are loose enough to turn around in just a few days, even a half dozen of them. These types of softer sketchier preliminary images connect with trustees, staff, students, and lay people (and donors!) far more than a screen-shot of a sketch-up model can, and can be pretty cost-effective.





Lifestyle and hospitality work is back in force as well.  I did a small series of very atmospheric, highly considered images for a proposal at an historic property.  Again, I can’t really provide any details, or show most of the work, but here’s a non-architectural detail, one that’s all about the entourage (the people and supporting elements in the image).


Here are some greatly enlarged details from loose studies done as part of a retail project.  They were done on warm buff paper, with pencil and white highlights, digital color added.



Residential work lately has focused on preliminary studies, early concepts… Architects are finding that in a competitive environment, it’s always good to be expressive as early in the process as possible.  Loose flexible sketches can be done the day before (or even day-of) a meeting, and again, clients respond more positively to them than they do to screenshots of an antiseptic sketch-up model…  Sketches like these can help make decisions, move projects forward,  and provide something for the client to become excited about, invested in emotionally. These are cropped details.




Although much of the work has some amount of color, there are times when monochromatic studies can be effective.  The intent here was for atmospheric, painterly, loose-yet-detailed images.  From a series of about eight semi-formals, these are digital, and were done from a roughly built model.




Here’s a small detail from a large aerial I did of a proposed University expansion.  It was 22 inches wide, at about 400 dpi. …fairly large by today’s standards.



March saw about a month’s worth of time given over to executing 12 formal images depicting a modern building proposed for a semi-tropical location.  Much attention was given to the highly developed landscape and exterior lighting plan, and in hewing closely to the existing context and local environment. These details are about an inch or two wide in the originals, which were 12×16, 300dpi.






Thanks for taking a look.  I hope that the wide range of images here, from sketchy to atmospherically formal, will give an indication of the rendering options available at any point in a project’s life.  There’s always a cost-effective solution, and one that almost always works with the schedule.


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New Work: March-June 2012

Well, I thought February was busy….

Haven’t really had any time to update, which is the very thing that will end up killing a blog.  Literally haven’t had a day off since February began.  That’s both good and bad, obviously.  Nature of the business is that you take work as it comes.  I’m looking for a little break during the typical summer slow-down. And I do have a week of planned vacation coming up.  …can’t believe the year is almost half over. But I could use a break.

Again, most of the work has been confidential.  Most projects coming out of a recession are of course start-up.  Not doing many marketing renderings (for finished/built work), instead, it’s mostly concept work, or schematic design level work.

I did execute a couple more formal images for Powers/Schram of Fort Lauderdale, of a mid-century modernist waterfront home.  I worked with Rick Powers a couple times when he was here in Boston as an architect at Tsoi Kobus, and it was nice to reconnect and work with him again.

Street View of “Sunrise Key”, Fort Lauderdale; digital paint with pencil, 11×17

View from the Water of of “Sunrise Key”, Fort Lauderdale; digital paint with pencil, 11×17

Before executing the two images above, we studied a few black and white camera tests.  These two are my favorites from among those we discarded.

Camera Test, for Sunrise Key, Water Side

Camera test, Street Side

I was partial to the lower camera station of the camera test from the water-side, but the intricate and rich landscaping plan begged for a higher camera angle, and it was decided to raise the camera to a point where the pool and landscape could be more clearly seen.

Some details of the final version of the Water Side view, at near-full resolution:

And details of the Street View:

As has become a recurring refrain here, most of the work I’ve done the past few months is confidential.  Following, though, are some details from work which I’m allowed to share, though many are necessarily cropped to remove any telling information.

11×17 Pencil Rendering

Detail of same

…a portion from a very quick, chalky/gouachy little sketch, about 11×17

A detail from the same sketch

A detail from a 9×14 pencil sketch, flicked with digital hi-lites and paint, on brown kraft-paper.

…another chunk from the same sketch, a private home, in Newport Rhode Island

A tightly cropped detail from a very quick, very loose digital sketch, for a proposed roof deck bar. This detail only about 2×2 from an 11×19 sketch

A detail from the second sketch in this pair of fairly loose, sketchy digital pieces.

In looking back at these, it strikes me that each image is entirely different than the next.  Rather than all pencil, or all digital, there is (I think) a healthy mix of differing approaches to the issue at hand.  Rather than reflecting what works for me, I think it better illustrates that my work is about answering the client’s need.  What do you need, when do you need it, and what do you have for me to work from?  And most important; who is your audience?  These are the questions which, for me anyway, determine what kind of image we end up with, how long it takes, what the final piece feels like…

I’ll try to be a bit better about timely updates.  With the economy the way it has been, there’s a tendency to keep working, never sure when the shoe might drop.  If the work keeps coming in though, that can make for a long run of heads-down work. All work and no-play, and all that.  We shall see what summer holds.  Since it seems to be when my clients, and their clients, take their vacations, that means it’s generally my vacation too.  Have a good summer yourself.

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Busy? …or vanished?


Haven’t updated the blog very much, but not for lack of trying.  Been busy.  Have four formal interiors due next week, did a couple pencils over the weekend, and am playing hooky right now in the middle of a quick pencil I need to do as a favor.

But I really need to try to keep up the blog.

....lost balloon. A detail from a semi-formal digital piece done recently. About half size

Part of the issue is the confidentiality.  I did take most of December off, but pretty much everything between then and now has been somewhat confidential.  All I can show here are some details which are obscure enough to keep the particulars from being clear.

It’s been pretty varied.  Watercolor sketches (a pair), some pencils, and a little ‘sloppy’ digi-paint.

Some cropped details…

2x4 inch Detail from a watercolor sketch. One from a pair.

Study for a stone carving. About half-size.

Part of a digital study done for the restoration of an historic home

Cropped chunk of sky and trees, from a simple pencil sketch. February 2012

Here's a crop from the same image as the balloon (from the top of this post). The brothers are low-left in the image, with the little girl's lost balloon floating away at the top-right.


From the same digital piece. A sax player appears opposite, in the lower right corner of the rendering.

I hope to be able to share more of these, in their totality.  But for now the little clipped details will have to suffice.

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Vineyard Haven Houses, for Peter Breese of Breese Architects

Finished a formal watercolor last week, which is a nice change of pace from some of the pencil work I have been doing.

About a month ago I flew down to Martha’s Vineyard to scout a property that included three buildings; an existing summer cottage, a main house, and a guest house (both under construction).

Took some reference photos and headed back to the studio.

The composition of three houses aligned next to each other across the page meant that the originally agreed-upon 11×17 size was not going to accommodate the buildings very well.  The largest house would be an inch and a half tall, the smallest, only three quarters of an inch.  I decided I’d go about 30 inches wide, making the image just under a foot tall.  Pretty unusual proportion, but I thought it established the nature of the site well, and the way the three buildings stretched across the brow of their hill and looked out on the magnificent view.

House at Vineyard Haven

House at Vineyard Haven

I needed to keep the contrast in the center of the image, and soften the left and right houses so that they didn’t compete directly with the center house.

Following are some details…

Detail at Left, the existing Cottage.  The cottage is an inch and a half high....

Detail at Left, the existing Cottage. The cottage is an inch and a half high....

Main House, Left; the original is three inches from grade to roof ridge.

Main House, Left; the original is three inches from grade to roof ridge.

....zooming in a bit more. The Dormer is half an inch tall.

....zooming in a bit more. The Dormer is half an inch tall.

Detail at the Balcony of the Main House

Detail at the Balcony of the Main House

and last,

Detail at the Guest House, about two inches tall.

Detail at the Guest House, about two inches tall.

I used Raw Sienna, Cerulean Blue and Rose Madder genuine to mix the colors, going for a simplified stylized manner of handling things due to the small size of the buildings in the image.

Peter Breese, of Breese Architects, was the architect for the project.  His offices are located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

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The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite, Harvard

The FDR Suite, Adams House, Harvard

The FDR Suite, Adams House, Harvard; all rights Reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art

Everything old is new again.  With the economy as it is, a new administration hinting at sweeping social and banking reforms, and a new, charismatic President who is either beloved or bemoaned, the parallels to FDR and the ’30s and ’40s are obvious. Suddenly FDR is back in the public consciousness.

This image is a conjectural reconstruction of the interior of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Suite in Adam’s House, at Harvard.  Harvard, whose alumni for years had openly referred to FDR as a “traitor to his class”, is perhaps ready to acknowledge the fact that the man, who some consider the greatest President after Lincoln, was a student of the institution.  There is no memorial to Roosevelt at Harvard.  The goal of the FDR Suite organization is to rectify that.

From 1900 to the end of 1904, FDR rented the suite of rooms with Lathrop Brown, a Groton School pal.  The two moved into what were, at the time, luxurious and ultra-modern rooms.  Central heating and private indoor bath facilities were rather new, as was the combination gas and electric lighting.  Fourteen foot ceilings, a fireplace, a rented piano, furnishings shipped from Hyde Park augmented by textiles and furniture from Filene’s…. All of it creating a suite of rooms, in 600 square feet, that would boggle the mind of any college freshman today, Harvard or other.  This suite is to be restored and, more interesting, furnished and fitted out to give modern day viewers an understanding of the manner in which a wealthy aristocratic student, transitioning between the Victorian age and into the early 1900’s, would have lived.

Precious little associated with FDR’s time in the room exists today.  Behind an existing radiator, there is a single old layer of burgundy wallpaper on bare plaster.  The wood work is there, and so is, in wonderfully quotidian fashion, the toilet with high water closet, and the marble sink stand.  The floor is lighter, having been refinished many times, but it’s likely the original.  The original finishes may be gone, but in all respects, the bones are still there.

Existing State of the FDR Suite

Existing State of the FDR Suite. Image Courtesy of Michael Weishan

I was charged by Michael Weishan, ’86, with pulling together the very little known information about the suite and FDR’s life at the time, and reconstructing a conjectural view of the space.  Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian and Pulitzer-winning author, is an advisor to the project.

Michael is a frequent NPR guest, and the former host of PBS’s “The Victory Garden”.  His infectious enthusiasm, and promotion of the project, is the galvanizing force behind the work. In developing the work, we discussed many arcane points, back and forth, in an effort to bring the image to life.  Typically, an interior illustration like this comes about with very specific information from a designer or architect.  Sofas, fabrics, fixtures… everything is usually spelled out in advance, and the charge is to show it all, compose a tidy illustration, and lay it bare for a client to see.  In this case, the effort was to read through FDR’s letters home, to research his time at Harvard, to pore over the web for glimpses into his personal life, and to glean from all that elements that were either known to have existed in the space, those that were very likely to have existed, and those elements that were part of any similar space at the time.

We know from his letters home to Sara (his mother) that there were two Morris chairs, numerous carpets, a (rented) piano, and a small table between the windows at the far end of the image.  Beyond that, we know what the rooms would have looked like in a general sense from period photographs  of the other rooms of Westmorly Court (as Adam’s House was then known).  These “Gold Coast”  apartments were inhabited by other wealthy aristocratic students, among them, Astors and Morgans.

Michael and I debated quite a bit the virtues of clutter in the image.  To our modern eye, the image is crammed with objects, and uncomposed.  In truth, we probably still left out about half of what one might expect to see.  In the archival photographs, every surface of these rooms seems to be filled with photographs, lithographs (Gibson Girls an underlying theme in almost all the rooms), pillows, carpets on carpets with runners on top.  Heavy velvet drapes, mantle scarves, frames overlapping frames, and table top clutter.

Archive Photograph of a Typical Contemporary Suite; Photo Courtesy Michael Weishan

Archive Photograph of a Typical Contemporary Suite; Photo Courtesy Michael Weishan

An early sketchy composition study was done, before diving in to the final image.  It was done in a simpler less cluttered manner, with bolder color contrast, to confirm the view, establish a tone, and begin a conversation about what the image “wanted to be”.

Early Compsition Study for the FDR Suite; all rightsreserved, jeff stikeman architectural art

Early Composition Study for the FDR Suite; all rights reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art

After a quick conversation with the client to confirm the direction it was headed, it was further developed into a stripped-down version of what we ultimately were headed for.  Prior to producing the final image, a penultimate version was needed in the interim.  The client needed to pass along an illustration to be included as part of a small article about the project in the Harvard Crimson, but we wouldn’t have time to finish the fully realized version in time.   The composition test and the interim draft gave us a good head start though, and started the conversation.  Some tweaks were made, objects added, and the final disposition of the furniture and major elements was settled on.  Because the image was going to be so small, and there was so much red in the image, we dropped in a complimentary green rug to take the edge off all the red.  In reality, it’s doubtful the rug would have been a monolithic green, but it helps graphically balance yhings in a relatively small illustration.

Interim Version, for use in a "Harvard Crimson" article

3x3 inch Interim Version, for use in a "Harvard Crimson" article

One thing became obvious from the archival photographs; the rooms were dimly lit, with electric lighting in its infancy and gas struggling to push back the dark.  Most lighting was from daylighting through windows. Even during the day, the interior was darker than we are used to. Fabrics were heavy and layered.  Rugs, too, with mantle scarves and runners on tables.

But we worried that too much staging would feel over-the-top and that people viewing it in today’s context would think the jumble of objects and darkness were a contrived nostalgia.  Too little, and we’d be accused of tidying things up for the modern sensibilities. Michael was a fan of the idea that we assault the senses, but with veracity.  Nothing in the image went in without serious consideration.  At times, such an approach can stifle the idea.  In this case, it was very much like archaeology, however, and layers upon layers of things literal and figural seemed to only make things better.

One example of many:  Pipes.  A simple suggestion from Michael “let’s not forget to include some pipes”  (see the archival apartment photo above, where there is a scattering of pipes on the table).  Well, hold on now.  Just because there are pipes in ONE photograph from a similar room in the building… isn’t that a bit of a stretch?  Well, no.  A loose pile of pipes appears in almost every photo from the archive.  And we know that FDR was a smoker at the time and later; the iconic image of his jutting jaw and jaunty cigarette holder is among the more famous images of the man.  Even so, in simply trying to find out what kind of pipes to show, I ran into some interesting information.  The pipes we show were just coming into fashion.  Any wealthy fashionable young man would have had a few at least.  But it turns out he’d have also had on hand the older, less fashionable (but still in-use) longer clay pipes, too.  Cigarettes, which were just becoming popular due to the mass-production of machine rolling (and FDR was an “early adopter”) were the new thing.  So we see a jumble of pipes on the table at right, a silver cigarette box near the pipes, and a pair of older fragile clay pipes in their proper pipe stand on the mantle, out of harm’s way.  No fashionable wealthy student at the time would have been without any of them.

Detail of the Table at right; All rights Reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art

Detail of the Table at right; All rights Reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art

There are numerous “easter eggs” tucked into the image: a framed portrait of Eleanor on FDR’s desk, sitting in the corner; a photo of his “Boston Knockabout’ sailboat; one of his Groton School graduating class; and one of him as a boy sitting on his father’s lap (the black ribbon on the corner of the frame memorializes his father’s death).  The table behind the sofa was developed from some photographs of a table purportedly owned by FDR at the time and fairly likely to have been in the room.  The FDR Suite organization is considering acquiring the table for use in furnishing the restored suite.  A taxidermy owl (up high between the windows) wasn’t anything unusual at the time.  We’d originally started with a hawk, but it didn’t feel right.  For one, it was also reddish, and dark, and was subsumed into the wallpaper. FDR was wise (perhaps ‘cunning’ is the word)  even in his middle-late twenties.  Only later when pressed did he become hawkish.  So an owl it is.  A number of similar considerations occurred to develop the elements in the illustration.

Eleanor, at lower right

Eleanor, at lower right

Groton Class Photo (left) and the Roosevelt Summer Home, Campobello (right)

Groton Class Photo (left) and the Roosevelt Summer Home, Campobello (right)

Snowy Owl, Gibson Girl, and the knockabout "Half Moon"

Snowy Owl, Gibson Girl, and the knockabout "Half Moon"

The image was produced in Photoshop, with the work executed on a 21″ Wacom pressure-sensitive monitor.  Printed at full 400 dpi resolution, the image is 15″x16″. For me  the great joy and challenge of the work was in the research, and in the effort to hold together an assemblage of clutter, to light it in a way that was faithfully dark yet contained color and highlights and contrast, and to create a circular composition which kept the eye moving and searching.

The figure in the chair…  I’ve been asked if it is FDR.  I can’t answer, really.  When I developed the figure, I knew that it was implying the man: undeniably, the arm thrust out very directly, the ease, even the “fireside” nature of it seem to make it obvious.  But there was never any danger of seeing his face here.  The image is less about him than it is about the room. This is the time just before Roosevelt burst onto the world stage.  He’s a student, enjoying his life and wealth, without an aim yet, and with no idea of what lay ahead.  He’s a bit more than five years away from his first politically adept moves which masterfully maneuvered the New York State Senate race and brought him to prominence, at least among political peers.  But if he had a feeling it was coming, he never let on, not this early anyway.  Certainly his fellow students didn’t think so, we know that.  Only later, in New York as a young lawyer, did he openly talk about eventually becoming President. We are glimpsing him in the last few moments of his private life, before the world really knew who Franklin Delano Roosevelt was.  And so my inclination was to let him be.  Hide the face.  Let him have some peace for a moment.  There’s time enough…

 (all rights reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art)

(all rights reserved, jeff stikeman architectural art)

This illustration was selected by a jury for inclusion into the traveling exhibition “Architecture in Perspective 24”.  From some 500 entries to the American Society of Architectural Illustrators’ 24th annual juried competition, only 50 or so images were selected to represent the Society’s collective talent.  I am honored to once again have a piece in the show.

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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 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.


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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