In Memoriam: Eric Brightfield


It is with the most heartfelt sense of loss, I share this recollection with ASAI members, colleagues and friends about the whirlwind we called Eric. His whirling world seemed to operate at 78 rpm, while the rest of us were sloshing along at 33 or 45 rpm. In all his activity and associations, he was a man of constant motion and energy; but in being engaged with him and revolving in his orbit, he was lovable in the process.  “Eric was easy to be around – he was so comfortable in his own skin. You never had to guess what he was up to, and he was always up to something, because he was right up front about sharing everything. Smart, funny. He lived life large” President Emeritus Henry Sorenson stated.

Eric seemed to be devoid of filters, unbounded by convention, and seemingly unmindful of consequence. He was never at a loss for words, or opinion on any subject, or finding the humor in any situation, or extracting the most from the moment, while sharing the better parts of himself in unexpected ways. The unexpected was his forte, and he brought us all along for his ride. He was a persona one could not forget, and he added a spark and laughs and an alternate dimension to any gathering. His generosity, sometimes dis-arming, was also one his trademarks.

Eric was multi-talented in his illustration, photography, graphic design, and image-making, among many abilities. “He was truly a gifted visionary artist that combined all of the best attributes in an architectural illustrator…he was truly a gifted visionary artist that combined all of the best attributes in an architectural illustrator” reflects David Csont. Noted P.E. Rael Slutsky, fellow Chicagoan, “Eric was valued and respected as Chicago’s pioneering – and preeminent – digital architectural illustrator who was always moving forward, always leading and always learning.”

He saw opportunity for applying these skills in unusual ways, and created work (and revenue) for himself and his family and staff. He found old posters, including some old baseball posters (or created new ones), that he could likely sell for a good return on E-Bay. His hand would likely be in many fires, stoking the embers of many an idea to a most fruitful conclusion.

He loved baseball and relished this year’s Cubs World Series victory. Always stoked with fan fervor, he had taken his two sons, Luke & Evan, to all the major ballparks in the country over the years; making for their unforgettable memories – a feat any father would envy. He trumpeted his sons’ abilities, and was proud that they could help him with various tasks at the office, including the recent use of drones to document sites for his projects. Eric was an inveterate photographer, and for many years had taken on himself the useful record-keeping task of photographing the awards ceremony of the ASAI banquets.

After what can only be described as a first encounter, I bonded with Eric in Chicago during the 2002 AIP 17 conference, and during which I had piqued his interest in ASAI, the professional organization for illustrators. He soon thereafter became President, and had been a staunch supporter of the Society ever since. He went over the top, as every ASAI president has done, with arranging an outstanding AIP 21 Conference in 2006, the third in Chicago. From the elegant reception at his office, to Millennium Park, to Dirk Lohan’s office (where he had worked on staff), to seeing Bono & Oprah at a Mac Store’s Michigan Ave. and the AIP opening event at the Architecture Foundation Gallery, he proudly showed us Chicago. Raising more eyebrows, Eric triumphantly arrived at our first outdoor meeting on a Segway. Henry (and many others) “will never forget his tour to the city’s sights…riding a Segway.” He also arranged for a memorable walking and sketching tour of Oak Park, with stops to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and many of his other houses. “We enjoyed mementoes of that wonderful time at AIP 21 in Chicago a decade ago, under his ebullient presidency”, recalls Steve Oles.

The elegant banquet at one of Chicago’s historic Banquet halls, President Eric, handsome and dashing in black tie tuxedo, only thinly disguised himself when he threw a white towel over his forearm and nonchalantly, but briefly, began serving as a waiter, drawing a huge laugh from the packed room.

In his initial remarks at the banquet, he could not restrain himself in his own edited re-telling (and at nearly every subsequent conference) the stories of “The Walk” & “The Change” from the Providence AIP 19 Conference – which had brought him into the circuit of ASAI. During the seminars hosted at RISD’s Architecture School facilities, I had asked him outside, behind the school on a high plaza overlooking the downtown, to gauge his interest for being on the Board as Vice-President. In Eric’s inimitable re-telling of course, he recalled the honest meeting as the Godfather taking his consigliere for a “walk” to make an offer he couldn’t refuse; which of course brought guffaws all round.

He also told the tale of really getting to know me when I had asked to use his Biltmore Hotel room to change for the banquet, and Eric offhandedly agreed. On that occasion Eric’s comedic re-take was that when he came back to the room to change, he “saw this guy in his skivvies, and wondered what close encounters might be next; how could I have known that the Founder was maybe something else…”; which story also brought down the house.

He thoroughly enjoyed his ASAI colleagues at the Conferences; and even at his last one in Boston, he arrived in mid-afternoon after a 3am night of work, undeterred from having his usual fun from the get-go. He shared time with numerous friends at the AIP events, at meals, at the banquet again as photographer of record, and at a post-banquet gathering sharing jokes, drinks and numerous laughs, before bidding us his last goodbye.

Eric was a man full of life, and did things at full bore, and loved every minute. He was a most special individual, who endeared himself to everyone with his high, constant energy, & vibrant, fun- loving approach to life. He was my close trusted friend & an invaluable asset for ASAI for so many years. With many former Presidents and members of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators who were so taken by this original whirlwind of a man, I share this profound loss. He leaves a huge crater in so many hearts. Much more needs to be recalled and said about Eric who left us too suddenly & too soon, but left everyone with indelible memories of times well spent.  Time does indeed seem shorter for all of us, but memories of Eric will be of a very lengthy kind.  We will all miss him greatly.

Frank M. Costantino, Boston, MA
Co- Founder & President Emeritus (P.E.)
American Society of Architectural Illustrators

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In his deep ASAI sphere, Eric was held in such high regard by so many people that it can be felt in the following sentiments. I hope other members and friends can get a lasting sense of how he affected so many so well.

Co-Founder Steve Oles, Santa Fe, NM – “In a time of political shock, this unexpected and profoundly sad personal news deepens the heartache in our Society. …we’ve lost one of our very finest.  We enjoyed mementoes of that wonderful time at AIP 21 in Chicago a decade ago, under his ebullient presidency.”

P.E. Rael Slutsky, Chicago, IL – “I just learned of Eric’s sudden passing. My deepest condolences to the Brightfield family at their tragic loss of husband and father.  Eric was inspirational and he seemed unstoppable – his energy and enthusiasm were extraordinary. Eric was valued and respected as Chicago’s pioneering – and preeminent – digital architectural illustrator who was always moving forward, always leading and always learning.  He also gave back with service to ASAI, and as President very efficiently organized the successful Chicago convention in 2006.”

P.E. Tom Schaller, Venice, CA– “I was so shocked and saddened to learn of Eric’s sudden passing .A really good man with a razor-sharp mind and wit. He will be deeply missed. My sincere condolences to his family…and wish them comfort in a truly difficult time.”

P.E. Dario Tainer, Architect, Chicago, IL– “Extremely saddened by the news.  Eric was one of the first to recognize and utilize the power of the computer and digital imagery to create wonderful works of art thru architecture. His enthusiasm and unbounded energy was contagious and will be truly missed.  My sincere condolences to his family.”

P.E. Richard Sneary, Kansas City, MO My deepest sympathies to Dawn, Luke, & Evan. Eric was always full of life and genuinely fun to be around. Conversation was never dull when Eric was part of it. I always remember his amazing energy and ability to get things done with virtually no time to do them, and yet he would still do them well. He left us too soon!”

P.E. Robert Frank, Novato, CA – “Very sad news, what a shock. He had so much energy and was a joy to be around. Will always have very fond memories of Eric. Deepest condolences to his family.”

P.E. Richard Chenowith, NJ – “I was devastated and deeply saddened to hear of Eric’s sudden passing.  What a guy, what a dad, what a husband… the incredibly talented, wild & crazy, extroverted lover of life and all its possibilities.  We and his family are all terribly cheated to lose him like this.  It hit me hard enough that I even dreamt about him that night of the day I heard.  The past few years on Facebook were a riot with Eric.  I feel like I knew his whole extended family, and now we all are mourning deeply. We all must seize the day. God bless Eric and his family.”

P.E. Henry Sorenson, Bozeman MT – “Eric was easy to be around – he was so comfortable in his own skin. You never had to guess what he was up to, and he was always up to something, because he was right up front about sharing everything. Smart, funny. He lived life large. My Father died from a heart attack at 54 – also very young. Nothing is given – except today. Embrace it – Eric did. As I get older and closer to the edge, I am more and more cognizant of my mortality – and it is not a bad thing.”

P.E. Prof. Mark Nelson, Madison WI –“It is quite sad. Eric and I lived for many years in the same professional and geographic world (I lived a few miles away from him for years) and had a lot of shared experiences. He was one of the most inclusive members, and was always in touch one way or another. I will miss him.”

P.E. David Csont, Pittsburgh, PA – “I am stunned by the news that we have lost our dear friend Eric. He was truly a gifted visionary artist that combined all of the best attributes in an architectural illustrator. In addition, he successfully navigated his firm through good times and bad, which is no small feat in hindsight of the last several years, and vast, sweeping, digital images. Beyond this, I will always fondly remember Eric as a devoted father and husband who always took time to celebrate life and live it to the fullest. He will truly be missed.”        

P.E. Jason Shirriff, San Leandro, CA– “My deepest condolences for losing such a friend and shining star. His light shone most brightly. I have not known Eric as long as many of you have. I felt our friendship was still in its infancy. I only just started using Facebook a couple of years ago… and Eric and I connected there, which meant a lot to me. He always came with an open hand and heart; an example for all to follow. He is foremost in my thoughts as are his family and those who knew and loved him.”

P.E. Jon Soules OAA, Toronto ON –“ I am still very sad by the news, and so happy that I was there in Boston, sharing a drink while he (re)told many of the stories…mentioned. I will remember that evening forever. Your descriptions of his speed, wit, number of revolutions per minute and talent are not exaggerations, but understated. The wonderful thing that I know about Eric was that behind the bravado, there was an extremely caring individual who secretly and quietly contributed to his colleagues and community. I saw him quietly buy up the last unsold drawings at the silent auction, and top up the Society’s funds to make sure it started the New Year running in the black. Only a couple of us saw him do these things. Fact is, pretty much everyone I have met that are part of the ASAI make me feel like I am home, and it’s a good home. Your words show me that is a true sentiment. My condolences to Eric’s family.”

P.E. Carlos Cristerna, Boston, MA –  “My condolences to all of you who knew him better and as a friend; I only had a chance to meet Eric in the last few years, I will remember him for his energy and as “the guy taking the photos” at the awards ceremony, bringing a smile to us.”

Past Board Member Wes Page AIA, Norfolk, VA – “Like everyone I too am stunned by this news. Eric was definitely a man who left an impression on all he came in contact with. Many good times and many laughs were shared for sure. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. As I thought about this last night my thoughts also began to turn to the many lasting friendships that I’ve gained through ASAI over what has suddenly become twenty years. So many. I missed this year’s conference because of the typical deadline ‘emergency’, rationalizing by saying ‘well, I’ll go next year’. I’m so sorry now to have made that decision. Take care my friends. See you in Houston in October and we’ll raise a glass to Eric.”

AIP 5 & AIP 17 Hugh Ferriss Prize Winner, Gilbert Gorski AIA, Chicago IL –“I’m stunned by the tragic news. I got to know Eric while serving as an ASAI jurist in his office. He was a gracious and attentive host. At that time he shared a viral You-tube rap video one of his sons made that was hilarious in its clever, fast-paced wit. I could tell how proud he was of his kids and how his own quick mind was part of them. Just a few weeks ago, Eric noticed my absence at the Boston conference and emailed to inquire about what I’ve been up to. I wish we could have talked in person.”

AIP 16 Hugh Ferriss Prize Winner Michael McCann, Toronto, ON – “Quite a shock to hear of Eric’s passing. He will be greatly missed by all who have crossed paths with him. My condolences to his family.”

AIP 20 Hugh Ferriss Prize Winner Chris Grubbs, San Francisco, CA- “Eric was a remarkable human being. My thoughts are with his family. I will remember him for the rest of my days.”

AIP 21 Chicago Hugh Ferriss Prize Winner, Dennis Allain, Lynnfield MA – “This is such a shock. So glad to have been able to see him at the last ASAI. He was larger than life and I will always cherish the times I was able to truly enjoy his company. A terrific talent and always an encouraging voice! My thoughts and prayers out to his family – my heart breaks.”

Charter Member Elizabeth Day, Austin, TX – So glad to see these great photos of Eric. Along with all of you I am shocked and saddened to hear of his passing.  It will be hard to visit Chicago or see a passing Segway without thinking of him — what a force of nature he was!”

Member Marsha Brown, Toronto, ON – “I’m…so glad I had a chance to spend a little time with Eric in Boston.”

Member Les Barker, Queensbury NY– “I…extend my deepest empathy to Eric’s family, friends and this professional family.  Three of the many lessons (gifts received) learned during my 17 years of end-of-life critical care giving in my “spare” time are – life can be very fragile, shocking at times & it is important to live each day fully.”

Member Jeff Stikeman, Lynnfield MA – “I met Eric a while ago…say Pasadena, but perhaps it was the Pittsburgh or DC conventions.  He had just gotten his Segway and was regaling us with stories of the airport inspection and traveling with it. He was a colorful guy, always seemed to be playing around and only letting us partly in on the joke.  I was saddened to hear of his passing.  I know that he had been ill, but 56 is too young.”