Monday, 1 March 2010

Sketchup & Photoshop - using for design.

Thought I'd write a post about how I go about creating my designs, the drawing techniques & software that I use. When I left college I was armed with some Google Sketchup knowledge and over the last couple of years I've developed a technique where I use it & Photoshop to create all my drawings (concepts, 3D models, final client presentation and all the files a landscaper needs to price the build). The case study below was very early in this process and I've refined it quite a bit, but thought it'd be a good place to start. The garden was 10.7 x 8.5m in size, the client wanted a dining patio, some lawn, and lots of colourful planting - the garden only got sunshine until tea time and the large shed (2.5m x 2.5m) was to stay. The process of design then is as follows:
1) Survey - carry out a radial survey (requiring dumpy level, compass, tape measure and a helper). All the points can be easily plotted into Sketchup (using the protractor & measuring tape tools). In it's simplest form you'd end up with an outline of the garden to scale:
2) Concept sketches: This is then used to start the design process - the only part of the process where a paper and pencil are used. It's a form of bubble diagram/concept drawing. These are scanned and imported into Photoshop where they can be edited and shifted around a little. So go from these pencil sketches:
to coloured in concepts that form the first phase of discussions with the client. Once they're in Photoshop, they take virtually no time to firm up - can change material palettes, shapes, colours, positions of sheds with ease. I hand draw all the assets using a Wacom Cintiq 21UX graphics tablet:
3) 3D models: along with the above concept models I more often than not take 3D models of the garden designs. Because I'm using the layout I created from the survey (which was also the basis of my concepts) much of the hard work is already done. I normally pick what I think is the strongest design to model, so in this case I chose the first concept from above and it took about an hour to model: 
4) Client presentation: I take the concept drawings and Sketchup models on my laptop to present to the clients, barely a piece of paper in sight. It's usually then very straightforward to agree a final design based on this modular approach. In this example, the client had asked for the shed to remain in its current location despite it being in a dominant position in the garden, not a very nice focal point - these models helped them see what would happen if we moved the shed over towards the house. Another hour or two using Photoshop allows a bit of further tweeking to create:

5) Final design: The drawing for the client is easily finished off (plants, label & logo added), printed and delivered. They very much have a hand drawn unique style I think, but as this process has developed I have created all the stone, gravel, lawn & brick textures as well as a variety of trees, shrubs & herbaceous plants. They're stored in a master file which allows me to simply drag them into each new drawing, saving even more time. More on this in a later blog methinks (again).

6) Getting quotes/The Build: The great thing about Sketchup is that once the design is modelled you can re-use it to figure out all your Sq. M and measurements. I use these for a Spec/Bill of Materials type document that I give the contractors (in an Excel spreadsheet so they just need to fill in the costs) to get a price. It's also great when it comes to building the garden - to create a Laying Out drawing is a doddle! I've thrown my scale ruler away....


James Todman said...

After reading your blog post it makes me question why at College we still persist in learning the painstakingly slow process of measuring and drawing everything by hand.

I realise it's an important skill but your method looks far simpler, more accurate and better presented.

Great blog post- thanks.

Tracy McQue said...

Hi James, thanks very much for that. Yup, I think the colleges and us as designers are missing a trick by not using technology more. All the contractors I've worked with have been so happy not to have to get scale rulers out. Because it's been done this way for so long, it's hard to see any other. I just want a more efficient and easier way of working, whilst still providing a unique hand drawn look. If I hadn't been taught how to hand draw at college I couldn't have done what I do now, but think it's important to move on like many other industries.

Rosalind Rosewarne said...

Great posting Tracey. Good to see how professional Sketch up can look - my versions have a ways to go before they look this good!

I am glad I have learnt to hand draw as well because it means I understand how/why SketchUp is useful, I also understand their tools better, can make survey measurement more intelligently and if technology fails I can draw it by hand!

That said I get my plans into a modelling prog as soon as I can because it makes seeing mistakes so much simpler when you can spin round it in 3d.

Are you running full photoshop?

I'd be interested to know more about how you created your textures which look great.

Looking forward to your next post!

Tracy McQue said...

Hi Rosalind, cheers for feedback, good to know folks are reading! I agree - 3D modelling not only helps my clients understand the design better, but it helps me verify if I've got it right (especially when you're a new designer and trying to learn about space v mass, balance, symmetry and the like).
I am using Photoshop CS3, but only use a fraction of its functionality (my husband uses it for work and taught me how to use it), so the much cheaper Photoshop Elements would do the trick. Costs about £60 I think.

SketchUpArtists said...

Hi Tracy , really like this article. Very interesting to see how you use SketchUp within the field of landscape design and your business.
Nice images too.

Tracy McQue said...

James, thanks for the comment. Bit embarrassed now at poor quality of Sketchup model - they get a lot better as I figure out how to use it properly!

Anna @ Lush said...

Nice article - we work in much the same way, except we use Illustrator more than Photoshop.

When I was at college we were taught old fashioned draftsmanship, and also VectorWorks, but the learning curve and engineering basis for Vectorworks made me come up with my own techniques. Glad to see I'm not the only one!

Tracy McQue said...

Hey Anna, thanks for that. Yup, learned to draw the old fashioned way (without which I wouldn't be able to do this!), but like to make life simple and this process saves tons of time (and paper!). Like your portfolio/blog.

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