About Ricky Colson

Ricky Colson is a visual artist known for his paintings of miniature people, animal silhouettes, and Welcome to Autumn series. A native Texan, he's also lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia, where he rediscovered his love for architecture, history, and nature. Cat whisperer, Mexican food addict, and proud idealist.

Autumn City Hall – Update 7

Last two days have been floor plans. This part is driving me a little nuts since it can be complicated, especially wall thickness, staircases, and multi-level rooms. I’m not gonna model the inside very much or texture it, but I want the building to be functional if I decide to go back later. This is the “skeleton” showing. After I have random rooms set up, I’ll do a little more research and make sure I have designated rooms appropriate for a City Hall in the 19th century, specifically for a city government in Virginia.

Autumn City Hall – Update 6

Did some work yesterday building the clock faces. There are a couple structural layers that I built. Behind the hands there is the decorative iron work attached to a supporting iron structure that mimics some of the lines of the front layer.

There are individual planes of glass in the center “flower” shape along with larger individual panes towards the outer part of the circle. The inner section has less of a frosted look.

Behind each face there are 12 spheres of light in place as temporary lamps. Because glass has to be replaced from time to time and is affected by the sun, I’m planning to add a subtle variation to different panes that can probably only be seen from behind. I can’t wait to add grime and textures to it! Ahh, delayed gratification…

Next up is setting up the final floor plan to look for any glaring mistakes in construction as well as making sure the entire structure fits into my city map plan.

Autumn City Hall – Update 5

I’d love to texture the building procedurally to have a variation in detail size, but I want more control. I’m not completely sure what direction I’m gonna go, but I may have to split the building up into many sections. I want dirt, drips, scratches, paint peeling – all that. I’ve been using Substance Painter recently, and I’m curious to see if I can integrate it in some way with such a large model.

Like I mentioned before, I got caught up in the clock design this weekend. Here is the final design I came up with. The faces will be 22 feet wide and be made of opalescent glass and iron. I plan to animate the hands in the future along with the machine inside. That’ll be a nice lesson for me in drivers, gears, and constraints.

Would love to hear thoughts on the design…

Autumn City Hall – Update 4

Started working on the back side of City Hall at the end of last week. I’m going on a little less reference than the front side since I don’t have an elevation drawing to work from, just the simple block shapes I had set up initially so there are more creative adjustments. I decided to add a colonnade/portico to the wings, but I might have them become additions that are built later in the building’s history, as if somebody discovered original architectural drawings that the first architect discarded. I’m also not sure if I will add pavilions at the end of the walkway or leave them open gazebo type structures.

I got caught up in the clock tower this weekend so that might be my next update. I’m figuring out what type of bells, chimes, and clock mechanisms are going in so that should be fun work. Lots of measuring and checking to see architectural milestones for the time period. I don’t want my building to be the biggest of the time.

Thanks guys! Until next time…

Autumn City Hall – Update 3

Down the road, I plan to add the building’s surroundings. Because this is a fictional history project, I’d like to build the area up in the timeline I imagine for the area with small houses popping up, followed by new roads and other buildings. I hope to use the area like a movie backlot where I can set up scenes to paint since this whole project is intended to get me back into traditional painting.

I didn’t mean to leave so much ground visible in the shot. Unfortunately, I want all of my progression shots to be at the same angle so maybe I can just crop them later.

Here’s a closer look at the entrance. The dual statues above the arch will be a native american and early Virginia settler.

Autumn City Hall – Update 1

I’ve started work on the main centerpiece of Autumn, Virginia – City Hall. I designed this building in the Second Empire french architectural style, common for the 19th century when this building was “built.”

I’m constructing this building with extreme detail down to light fixtures and window panes so it will be a long project with headaches, I’m sure. Still, it’s worth doing, and I’m looking forward to it.

I modeled an early version of the building using the BoolTool in Blender before drawing the elevation so I could have something to work from. I’ll post some of those images later.

Here, though, is my current progress on the building so far, still considered the block in stage. I’d like to get the main parts in so I can see if I need to do any major changes. The back half of the building is not done yet. Once I have the blocking in done, I’m going to lay out the rooms. I want this to be as functional a building as possible since I’m always striving towards realism in my work. I added some simple lights inside just to give it a little life during the construction process. Thanks everyone!

Autumn City Hall – Front Elevation Final Design

Here is the final design for Autumn City Hall. It’s pretty massive for the relatively small town, but it’s financial backers wanted something ornate and impressive to attract new residents. It’s built in the Second Empire style, a french architectural style, popular in the mid 1800s. The statues and details still need to be created, but that will be further down the line. The clocktower has both a giant bell and a carillon, a series of smaller bells that a musician plays using a giant piano like instrument. Stained glass will be implemented at select places including the main hallway under the arch. I’m very excited about developing the history of this building and various traditions that go along with it.

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Sketches of City Hall

Now that I’m finished with the basic plan of the city, I’m starting to think about the major buildings including City Hall, the train station, and grand hotel. Autumn City Hall was built in the 1870’s so it’ll be pretty ornate. That means it’ll take some time to come up with the design, sculptures, and construction. Here are a few of the early sketches. I’ve also started to sketch in 3d to get a better idea of the shape. More to come…

Original 1879 City Plan of Autumn

Look what I discovered while rummaging through old stacks at the Autumn Historical Society. It’s the original 1879 plan of the city! Also known as the Wick Plan, named for architect and engineer Harold Wick, this city grid was developed in a style similar to the L’Enfant Plan in DC with large boulevards criss crossing the city.

I created this map in a vintage style using Illustrator CC for most of the work as well as Photoshop CC for final touches and aging effects. This plan is intended to be my own reference for building the rest of the city. I needed to put the locations I have in my head down on paper .

Many early American cities follow an organic growth pattern because of the way streets were built around farms and cow paths. Cities in the 19th century, however, followed a strict grid pattern to match the planning philosophies of the day. I wanted my plan to fall somewhere in the middle. It had to fit in the context of the period but also allow for flexibility. I don’t want Autumn to grow like New York. Like all city plans, mine will be used as a guide which will probably change to meet the demands of the city.

I discarded the standard numerical streets for something more fun and unique. It was a hard decision because most grid plans include numbers, trees, or something similar in their setup. I’ll let you take a closer look to see if you notice the theme.

The region at the top is considered Old Main, the original section of the city with most of the buildings located along Old Main St. (previously just Main St.). The bottom half at the time of the map’s creation is still open land.

I expect to create more maps in the future with various information like future expansion, neighborhoods, architectural drawings, etc. I really enjoyed researching old maps and working on this, and, at some point soon, I will have it in my shop for sale as a print. Back to the stacks for me to see what else I can find!

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Surveying the Land and Virginian Topography

Each mini project I start seems to warrant yet another big one. The fireplace led to the need for a library and an entire house; the house led to the new website; and now I’m starting a whole new subject, but don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned the other ones.

As the project continues and the story starts to develop, the need for a map and an overall better understanding of the city layout has presented itself. But, in order to even think about the way a city grows through roads and buildings, I needed to first learn about the geographical region since that’s what I’m building on top of.

Virginia’s mountains are the result of ancient tectonic shifts that occurred millions of years ago and have a direct impact on the cultural evolution of the region. The barrier that the Blue Ridge Mountains creates helped to alter the course of Native American settlement, trade routes, and immigrant populations. The “cause and effect” never stops, and it’s the reason why I take a fictional map so seriously. The historical context of how the region developed will and should have an influence on the way Autumn progresses in the future, and like a city that’s been around for a while, it’s hard to change the framework late in the game.

I started sketching city layouts many months ago, playing around with grid structures and buildings placements. I’m at the point now where I needed to start laying down a permanent foundation to build the story, characters, and city on top of. That’s no easy task.

American cities area laid out in vastly different ways, with block sizes and sidewalk widths varying from one city to another and sometimes within their own city limits. What’s the best size? What fits the historical period? Do I go with a grid structure more common to utopist urban planners of the 19th century or more of an organic unplanned style reminiscent of ancient European cities?

The city layout plays an important role in my story so I wanted to take advantage of recreating the linear process that every city goes through, especially earlier ones like New York. New York is famous for its rigid grid structure and straight, long streets. This was intentional and part of the original plan. The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 was proposed by the New York legislature for the orderly development and sale of land of Manhattan. It is different than L’ Enfant’s Beax-Arts style plan in DC where diagonal streets cut across the city with avenues and parks taking dominance. The layout of a city defines the future soul of the city.

I’ll go into more of my vision for Autumn’s urban planning further down the road, but for now I’m working on the actual foundation, the land itself. Once I started to plan the road widths, lot sizes, and other surveying necessities, I looked to real structures to model. The USGS is a wonderful resource, providing topographical maps and other terrain information. I’m spending some time scouting specific locations, building terrain in 3d space, and double checking to make sure my scale is accurate from the start. From here I can draw a plan with roads and buildings and then let the story grow from there.

This is yet another juggling act. I’m working on some historical back story, geographical construction, and city planning – all with a vision of where the city needs to go in the future. More to come…

Fire Simulation Tests for Fireplace Scene

As you can see, I’ve been playing with fire. I do not mess with fire in real life, never have. This type is completely safe, though!

After Blender 2.71 came out, I decided to try the new fire and smoke features. I put my fireplace on hold for this very reason. Now that it’s out, I’m going to work on the mansion and room at the same time.

I spent way too much time on these fire simulations, but I wanted it to look right. I also wanted it to be accurate. I educated myself on the characteristics of fire – the color range (blackbody radiation), min/max temperature for wood fire, types of firewood, how a flame reacts during its lifetime. I also changed many of the settings in the simulation to mimic the behavior of wood burning, the way the fire coats the log.

This image shows my progression from the top left to the bottom right. Things got a little crazy halfway, as you can see. I had to tone down the blaze!

Now that I have the look and behavior of the fire down, I’ll go back later to improve the fire logs, the way they glow during a fire, and generally place the scene a bit better. These tests just have the walls in place without the accessories I modeled previously.

I would love to see this animated, but with the long render times, I need to move on. As Blender continues to improve and become faster, I’m sure I’ll be able to watch this fire become animated in the future.

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Second Empire Mansion Estate – test7

Moving back to the front of the house, here are the edited porch steps. I thought they were looking too similar to the rear steps with the balustrade continuing down to the ground level, so I converted the railing to a stone-like design and lowered it close to the steps. You’ll be able to notice it more clearly when the materials are applied.

I made a change in design for the newel (decorative pedestals at ground level) to better match the proportion of the railing. Another detail I added, one that adds some visual complexity to the house, is the lattice (the criss crossed area underneath the porch).

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Second Empire Mansion Estate – test6

This is a view of the back porch for my mansion design. I still have some details to throw in as it’s pretty bare at the moment. I think it looks like it just snowed.

This is a pretty big wrap around porch so I’ve thought about adding an opening at the section closest to the camera, between the two columns at the corner. I’ll have to take a look from further away later on to see if it’s aesthetically pleasing (it would definitely be functional).

I apologize for the snail paced updates, but I’ve been spending most of my time organizing my studio space and trying to bring in new fans to the project. I guess that’s the big goal of using Patreon, to get away from the financial burden to actually work on the art! You guys are lifesavers =)

I’m also continuing to add and revise the broad storyline so I have set “moments” to depict in my scenes. Let me know if you all are interested in me adding some posts about that in addition to the visual updates.

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Second Empire Mansion Estate – test5

Next stage of my Victorian mansion. Here’s the first closeup shot of the porch and small architectural details. Some of the placement may change over time, but I’m happy with the direction it’s going.

I have to admit that it’s been difficult to jump right back into this specific model. I took another temporary detour and started mapping out the city terrain. I’ll post some example shots soon to show you what I mean. I wanted the environment to be based on real terrain so I surveyed the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia on a map and imported real topography – very exciting (only I know exactly where the city is, though!).

Next up will be the porch that wraps around the back of the house.

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Second Empire Mansion Estate – test4

Almost two months have gone by since my last post because of my busy move from Charlottesville, Virginia to El Paso, Texas. What a change!

I’m looking forward to returning to the mansion design so here is a small update that I worked on before the move. The front porch is mostly complete with the balustrade, columns, and ceiling. I’ll show a detailed view in the next post.

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Second Empire Mansion Estate – test2

You can see here the red brick and white trim color scheme for the Second Empire mansion estate that I mentioned in the last post.

I’ve cut open the windows in the exterior wall as well as adding molding trim near the roof. If you look closely you can see the “stick” figure standing in for my human scale. He’s floating at the moment, but there will be a veranda (porch) added underneath him soon. It’s still early, but if you squint you can imagine the house coming together.

For this render I used Blender 2.70 and the Cycles render engine.

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