Visual Communication: From Artist Imagination to Project Proposal

Centerfield sketch
Sketch of proposed sculpture design by Riis Burwell.

Creating a sketch, rendering, model, or video of a proposed commission art project isn’t always just a good visual tool for the perspective client—sometimes it gives an artist the confidence he or she needs to try a new style or genre.

When sculptor Riis Burwell received a phone call from a consultant for T-Mobile requesting artwork for a new cell phone tower in Cupertino, California, he wasn’t entirely sure he was up for the job. “The consultant and city planner Colin Jung were interested in my work,” Burwell explains “but they wanted to take it in a slightly different direction.” Because the cell phone tower was being constructed near a little league baseball field in a public park, the planner suggested a figure of a ballplayer catching a ball.

“The City of Cupertino has an ordinance regulating the siting and design of cell phone towers, with one of the design options being to develop context-appropriate, artistically enhanced cell tower designs. [The city] expends a lot of effort trying to hide these cell towers, and we felt this highly visible location would be a great opportunity to go in a different direction.” –Colin Jung, senior planner (retired), City of Cupertino.

“Initially, I was skeptical about this idea because I do not make figurative work—I create abstract sculpture” says Burwell. “But Mr. Jung assured me that I was selected precisely for my abstract sculptural technique because they didn’t want the piece to be too literal.”

Burwell then created two sketches for his proposed baseball player, one of which was selected by Jung to be created as a maquette for the Planning Committee’s consideration. “I created the 21-inch model in bronze as it would appear in the 12-foot full-scale sculpture,” notes Burwell. “Because of the restriction of welding anything to the pole, I also designed a clamping mechanism that would reflect the diameter of the cell phone tower and allow the sculpture to be reliably secured to it.”

The artist admits the project was a stretch for him, but all parties, including himself, were pleased with the final piece. “I have no plans to do more figurative work in the future, but appreciated having had the opportunity to try my hand at it on this particular project.”

Centerfield sculpture
Centerfield by Riis Burwell, bronze, Memorial Park cell phone tower, Cupertino, CA. Commissioned by T-Mobile.
21″ maquette of proposed sculpture, bronze