I have taken several trips up to Maine over the past month and experienced some beautiful landscapes with stunning fall foliage. This has inspired the latest illustration for my Cranbrook project. Autumn scenes are not that much different from your standard landscape scene except for the warmer color tones of the trees and overall warmth of the image. 

On the other hand, bird's eye views are, in my opinion, some of the toughest views to illustrate. It is difficult to find Google images at the proper view angle of landscape elements, cars, buildings, etc. On top of that, this view reveals much more of the background requiring more modeling of surrounding buildings and landscape. In my case, it means more time Photoshopping these elements in. However, the extra effort can be well worth it because this view angle can provide a clear understanding of the relationship between the design and its surrounding context which was my main objective. The design sits adjacent to, and is heavily influenced by the Saarinen Museum. I, therefore, wanted to illustrate this relationship as clearly and dramatically as possible, but still keeping the focus on my design. The bird's eye view met this criteria. 

There was a heavy amount of Photoshop work that went into this illustration due to the amount of trees as well as the underdeveloped Kerkythea rendering. Below are the steps I used to layer in all of the key elements. I should note that although the steps seem clear and straight forward, there was actually a lot of back and forth between adding trees, grass, fog, textures, etc. While I used the overall structure of the steps below to piece together this illustration, it was very much an iterative process.

1. SKETCHUP TO KERKYTHEA: I spent most of my time on the design of the addition which left much of the context looking barren. I made the decision to not spend time modeling in more detail into the surrounding buildings and landscape but instead use that time in Photoshop. All that extra modeling would not show up in any other illustration views and I could Photoshop these elements in much faster. 

Above: Sketchup Model
Below: Kerkythea Base Rendering 

2. BACKGROUND AND FOREGROUND TREES: The landscaping was going to make or break this illustration. I Photoshopped in the trees starting in the distance and working my way towards the camera. I used several images to cut from so that I would have a good amount of diversity in color and avoid too much repetition. 

3. GROUND COVER: It is surprisingly difficult to find grass images at this angle. I tried to bleed as much color into the grass as I could because I was going for warm tones and didn't want to see too much green. I created a video tutorial a while ago showing the steps I use to add grass seen HERE.

4. ROAD TEXTURE: The only surface I haven't touched yet was the road. It's one of those subtle moves that you don't think will make a big difference. However, I have realized over the years that these are the details that bump illustrations to the next level. So spend an extra ten minutes and add a quick overlay onto the surface. I also added a few leaves on the ground to get that autumn feel.

5. BUILDING LIGHT AND SHADOW: With much of the landscape in, the buildings needed to be punched up. I adjusted the levels and used the burn tool to give more contrast to the architecture. I also increased the intensity of the interior lights. This process is similar to one I used in THIS POST.

6. DEPTH VIA FOG: Now come the big moves. Fog seems to be the most under utilized adjustment in arch illustrations. I even use it in interior illustrations. In this case, I really wanted to play up the depth between the background and foreground trees. It's a 30 second process but completely changes the mood of the scene. I give a more detailed description of adding in fog in THIS POST.

7. COLOR OVERLAY: While the fog is dramatic, it is also washing out the image. To fix this and bring all of the colors of the image into a similar range, I applied a color overlay. Since this is an autumn rendering, I went with bold reds and oranges. A tutorial on color overlays can be found HERE.

8. MORE LANDSCAPE COLOR DIVERSITY: The grass was looking a little too even in tone and I wanted to take on more complexity and color. I took the same grid texture that I have been using in the other illustrations for this project, adjusted the perspective to match the illustration, and overlayed it on top of the grass. I then applied a slight guassian blur which gave me the look I was going for.

9. DETAIL AND COLOR ADJUSTMENT: I tend to favor images with higher contrast and color saturation, so I jumped into the Photoshop plugin TOPAZ LAB ADJUST to increase the detail of the image and tweak the colors. I also duplicated the image and set the layer blend mode to "Overlay" for a little bit more contrast as shown in THIS TUTORIAL.

The Final Illustration



KROB 2013

This is a friendly reminder that the KRob competition entry deadline is quickly approaching on Monday, Oct. 28th. The competition is one of my favorites because of the fact that it encourages unique and expressive illustrations with a wide range of representation techniques. The competition looks for both hand and digital entries. I visit the past winners on a regular basis for some great inspiration. I will also be on the jury this year along with Perry Kulper and Stephan Martiniere. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the great entries!



I don't use blurring techniques that often but every once and a while, I come across an illustration that needs a little extra kick. This was the case with the interior illustration introduced in the last post. The shot was looking down a long and narrow space with all of the lines converging to the center.  I've never used radial blur before in an illustration but I had seen it done in the past and the effect seemed appropriate in this situation.

The breakdown is as follows:

1. As always, below is a screenshot of the Sketchup model line work and the base rendering. I looked at a ton of views before I settled on this one. Instead of fighting the long and narrow space, I embraced it by looking directly down the center. I liked the idea of having the lines converge in the center of the image. It encourages the eye to start in the center and spiral outward from there which I thought was a great way to read the illustration. 

Sketchup line work.

Base rendering done in Kerkythea.

2. Once in Photoshop, there was a lot of work to be done. I began with the lighting, adding a little glow and adjusting the fixtures. I also tweaked the colors, punching them up in some areas and toning them down in other areas.

3. Next, I used a Photoshop plugin called "Topaz Adjust". It's something I'm starting to use more often in my workflow for color adjusting as well as bringing out detail in the image. In this case, I added some warmth to the color tones and gave it a subtle HDR effect.

4. This was the point that I thought the image needed something extra. I like the idea of creating the feeling of moving through the space in which case I would typically use the motion blur filter. However, motion blur doesn't work in this situation since everything is converging into the center. This is where radial blur comes in. There are a couple of things to note in the settings. Be sure to duplicate layer that is being blurred so that the original layer is left untouched. To get to the filter, go to "Filter>Blur>Radial Blur." In the "Radial Blur" dialogue box, be sure to select "Zoom" under "Blur Method". Also, the center of the blur may need to be adjusted as was the case with my illustration. The center of the converging lines is not directly in the center of the Photoshop canvas. You can move the center of the blur by clicking and dragging inside the "Blur Center" box. Depending on how much blur you want, you will also need to adjust the "Amount" slider.

5. There are a couple of ways to tone down this affect and apply it to the original "unblurred" rendering. Since the original rendering layer was duplicated, you could simply lower the opacity of the blurred layer and let the original rendering layer show through.  Instead, I erased  the center of the blurred image with a soft brush so that the blur was stronger around the outside (it's always better to use a layer mask instead of erase, but for simplicity, I'm showing the eraser tool). I then set the layer blend mode to "Overlay".

The final effect is subtle, but adds a nice kick to the illustration. Its one of those tricks that only takes a few seconds to try. If it looks good, you keep it. If not, at least you didn't waste a lot of time testing it out.




The Cranbrook project spreads are starting to come together. I spent some time composing the section and floor plan spreads which meant moving away from the abstract diagrams and into more traditional architectural drawings. I also developed an interior rendering of the space in an attempt to better explain the ramp systems inside and what I was envisioning for colors/material. I decided to go bold with the colors since that seems to be the theme for this project. 

Below are the spreads up to this point:

I am struggling with the last spread in relation to the others. It still seems a little foreign in my opinion and lacking the graphic language set up in the others. It could be the lack of the grided texture or simply the color tones of the page, or both. As I develop the final illustrations of exterior/interior shots, I may try inserting other graphics into this spread to see if they transition better.

This will have to be a short post this week since most of my time went into the actual making of these pages. However,  I will see if I can find time to break down the interior image so check back soon. 



When I originally designed this project back in undergrad, I put a lot of time into the design of the section. It's an important illustration and I therefore wanted to move away from the abstract illustrations described in the previous posts and move towards a clearer reading of the actual architecture. I didn't want the move to be too extreme so I kept remnants of the same gridded texture used in the other illustrations. Below I break down the image to show the steps taken to get to this point. 

1. Export Line Work

I exported several line work images from Sketchup. I typically export many line work options whether I know I am going to use them or not. It only takes seconds and gives me more options to experiment with once in Photoshop. In this case, I exported images with the face style set to "Hidden Line", then with "Hidden Line and X-ray", and an image with only the guides turned on.

2. Clay Rendering

Next I did a quick clay model rendering of the Sketchup model. I used Kerkythea to render the image below but really any rendering program will suffice just as long as the rendered image aligns with the Sketchup exported line work. I also tweaked the levels and desaturated the rendering to get the image below. See this tutorial on CLAY MODEL RENDERINGS and also this post on ADJUSTING THE LEVELS . I should also say that I used the Zorro Plugin to cut the model which allowed me to render the section.

3. Poche the Cut

I wanted the cut geometry to be graphically strong, so I shaded it red. Nothing fancy here. I used the polygonal tool to select the cut areas and used the paint bucket tool to fill the selections with red color. This process is described in more detail in the QUICK SECTIONS tutorial.

4. Tone

The image at this point is too stark and needs more color. I want the ramps and three structural elements to stand out in the section. An easy way to solve this is to add some warm tone overlays. With this illustration, I'm not concerned with materials. It's still diagramatic and I plan to have the perspective illustrations later on to provide that information.

5. Interior Depth

The design contains many ramps as well as layers of translucent materials but this is lost in the illustration. To fix this, a light blue paint with low opacity representing the translucent material was added above the ramps. I then copied this layer two more times to give a better perception of depth and layering between the ramps.

6. Texture

In the previous posts, I have been overlaying a graphically strong grid pattern over the illustrations to convey the idea of shifting organizing grids. The concept still follows through to the section, however, I want the texture to be toned down. I took a texture of different colored squares, stretched it to give more directionality, and then scaled it to work with the column spacing of the architecture. I next duplicated the texture and rotated to match the second grid system. Both layers were set to 20% opacity. 

7. People

The section was populated with people to give a sense of scale. A quick way to change the people into silhouettes is to go to "Image>Adjustments>Hue / Saturation". Then move the "Lightness" slider all the way to the left.

8. Contrast

At this point, I am happy with the illustration. But, the image still reads a little flat for my taste and is lacking hierarchy. More contrast helps to move the eye around the image. To do this, I duplicated the final image layer, desaturated it, and set the layer blend mode to "Overlay" on top of the original layer. This deepens the shadows and brightens the highlights. It's similar to adjusting the levels or curves, but gives a slightly different look. A similar workflow can be seen in the IMAGE SOFTENING tutorial.

Below, the final image




This week, I put together some diagrams that build off of the language of the first illustration created last week. As mentioned in the last post, the intro page illustration was designed to be a "teaser" for the pages to follow and get the viewer interested in exploring the the project deeper without giving too much away. The site analysis drawings produced this week are meant to bring some clarity to the underlying concepts of the project and help make sense of the intro illustration. 

Many of the formal moves in the design are related to the shift in the grid system which are derived from the major axis of the campus. This idea therefore took hierarchy graphically in the diagrams by using cool tones set within the warm background. I also wanted to emphasise the spatial relationships created by the placement of the new design so again I used cool colors to contrast the warm tones. I tend to layout all my project pages by moving from a macro view of the project (site plans, diagrams, process work) into more specifics and details of the project (floor plans, sections, vignette renderings) as the pages progress. For this diagrams spread,  I began with a macro view of the site with several diagrams overlayed on top of each other. I then broke down the overlayed diagrams into each individual diagram. I finished with a zoomed in view of the design explaining the proportional relationships. The next few spreads will look at the floor plans, sections and elevations continuing the idea of getting deeper into the details as the viewer moves through the pages. 

I have been making a big push to finish up this first series of portfolio pages before the end of the summer. Because of this, I haven't had much time to really breakdown the individual illustrations and explain the workflow. I plan to get a deeper into this stuff once the summer slows down and I get some more free time to allocate to this site. I am almost done with this portfolio (this being the last project) in which case I will start to look at finishing touches and printing. Stay tuned



The summer is coming to a close and I am making a final push to wrap up “Project Portfolio Upgrade”. I have spent the last two weeks developing a new 3D model for one of my old projects from undergraduate school. Some of you may recognize the design as it has appeared in many past posts and tutorials. The project was originally developed for a competition by Cranbrook Academy to design an addition to their art museum. It has always been one of my favorite projects and I was excited to revisit it and have a second go at it.  

I was in one of those moods to experiment and use more of the right side of my brain. The intro spread to this project seemed like the perfect place to do something a little different. The design has many  strong lines that at first glance don’t appear to relate to one another. There is also a grid system that influenced many of the big moves. With all of this complexity, the illustration needed to expose the rules of the design i.e. how the form responded to the grid systems as well as how the forms related to one another.  I wasn’t looking for a diagram though. The intro page should be strong graphically but at the same time be abstract, encouraging the viewer to investigate the rest of the project pages. 

Above, the new 3D model based on an old project from undergrad.

There was also an opportunity to use this illustration as a study for areas of the design that have not be developed yet like the roof garden and interior details. Breaking away from the 3D model and developing this illustration has spawned a few new ideas that I know I would not have arrived to had I not gone through this exercise. The complexity of an illustration like this really draws me into the project and gets me thinking about things that I just don't think about when modeling and sketching.

This illustration, like all of the other intro spreads, will set the tone for the rest of the portfolio pages of this project. Be sure to check back over the next few weeks. I plan to churn out a few more spreads and hopefully get out some new tutorials that are long over due.




I was able to develop a couple of illustrations this weekend to help illustrate some of the exterior spatial qualities of the theater design. The number of pages for this project are really starting to add up and I don't want to add any more than where I'm at now. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted this project to focus on process work and there are still some diagrams that need to be added. While I like the full page spreads of these perspective shots, I may end up combining them to a single spread to allow more room for process work.

These illustrations were extremely heavy in post processing. The outdoor theater perspective alone took a ton of Googling before I could find enough source images of crowds to cut from. Even with all of that time spent, you will still notice that the sun direction is off on almost all of the people. In this case, I put a higher priority on getting the right view on the people so that the perspective was correct which meant I had to sacrifice the correct lighting. 

Below are some of the screenshots of images as I worked in Photoshop. The Sketchup model is lacking in detail and textures not properly mapped which meant I had to spend a little extra time in PS to offset this lack of development.

Above, you can see the Sketchup model is not very well developed. However, this is more than enough information to allow me to get the illustration that I am envisioning.

The Kerkythea rendering provides the basic shading information for me to begin building off of in Photoshop. Any rendering program will work for this step. I use Kerkythea because it is free but it is by no means a requirement for this workflow.

I always start off in Photoshop by adding a background which, in this case, includes the sky and vegetation.  This step takes little time but adds a layer of completion that allows me to better visualize where I want to take this illustration. Plus, it's always a good rule of thumb to start with items furthest back in the distance and work your way forward into the foreground. Another one of those things I picked up from all my hours of watching Bob Ross paint on TV.

As I said earlier, I spent forever looking for images of people outdoors that I could cut and add to this illustration. It's really easy finding views of people from the back, but surprisingly difficult finding views from the front. It was also tricky finding the right density. I didn't want it to look too crowded, but also not too empty either. I ultimately used about 5 or 6 images to get the crowd shown above. Also, the perspective needs to match closely otherwise the whole shot will look off. The lighting for most of the people is coming from the wrong direction, but I wasn't too worried about that. I had to take what I could get. 

The problem with cutting people from multiple images is that there is a disconnect in color tones between my base rendering and all of the different images used. It's obvious that the people were cut from different photos and they just don't blend well into the illustration. A remedy for this is to use color overlays. In this case, I used a brown color overlay to blend all of the images together. Check out this tutorial I put together a while ago if you have no idea what I mean by "color overlay".

With this image, I did some more color tweaking with software called Topaz labs. I have been experimenting with a program they just came out with called "Topaz Restyle". It's primarily photography software but has been great for my arch viz work too. And, it only costs $30. It's worth checking out.

With all of that color editing, the last step was to turn it into a black and white image. It hurt to do this but the rest of my imagery for this project was black and white too. Besides, I'm a big fan of black and white images and I like the reading of this perspective in grayscale.


The second illustration was a little all over the place. It started off as a daytime scene but then went to a night scene midway through. The workflow was the same as above but with a completely different final result.

Again, the Sketchup model was not fully developed and some of the textures were not mapped correctly. However, this was overcome in Photoshop.

I rendered the model in Kerkythea as a daytime scene but also added lights to the interior to give detail and life to the design.

In Photoshop, I first added the sky and the trees in the distance. I then moved to the grass in the foreground and combined a couple of different textures to get the "overgrown" look. This is also the stage where I added more texture to the building.

The camera is actually sitting in a heavily wooded area therefore I wanted to throw in some trees to give a better sense of the surrounding environment. Unlike crowds of people, it is very easy to find tree silhouettes. This step went quickly but yielded dramatic results.

At a certain, point, I decided I wanted this to be a dusk scene. To do this, a blue overlay was added and some vignetting around the edges which allowed the interior lights to really pop.

Similar to the other illustration, I turned this into a black and white image. In this case I think the image in grayscale is stronger than in color. The textures read really well and there is a nice contrast between the silhouette of the tress and the building behind them. Depending on time, there are a few more shots that I wanted to illustrate. However, I want to revisit a few other projects for this portfolio before the end of the summer. Much more later.




A couple of years ago, I posted this video by Alex Roman. It has been a while and I figured it was time to revisit it. A lot of people ask me where I get my inspiration from and this is one place I constantly go back too. It never disappoints.  More than anything, I try to study the way he uses light, applies textures, and composes the shots. The video perfectly illustrates many different lighting scenarios: day, night, warm, cool, overcast, etc. He also finds unique and abstract views of the spaces that help push me to rethink the way I compose my own shots. 

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.



The entire video is CG. Everything (modeling, textures, lighting, rendering) was done by Roman. Even the music was composed by him. He has uploaded some "making of" videos Here that help describe the process he used to complete the film. It also looks like he is coming out with a book soon about this video which I look foward to seeing.




Progress is being made on the theater section of project portfolio upgrade.  I put together some floor plans and sections/elevations of the design as well as compiled some of my past process work into another spread. I decided to group the plans, sections, and elevations into one spread because a) I want to leave more pages for process work and b) I like the visual relationship between the drawings. I typically don't render floor plans mainly because I prefer the clean, diagrammatic look of simple line drawings with poche walls. But, because I wanted to emphasize the geometric relationship of the plans ,sections and elevations, I therefore wanted to illustrate them similarly too. 

I have been designing and developing the 3D model as I put together this portfolio and I therefore haven't had time to fully resolve all of the geometry.  The 3D model was not in a place where I could cut a section and render the floor plans. Instead, I took the CAD floor plans that I had been developing along side the model and imported those into Sketchup and quickly extruded them. I now had something that I could throw into Kerkythea and render as seen below.

Above, A Sketchup model of just the first floor plan.

Above, A  base rendering in Kerkythea of the first floor plan.

To finish everything off, I took a site plan rendering that I had made previously and blended it with the floor plan rendering to add a some texture and give some context of how certain walls relate to the exterior form. I also took the CAD floor plan and overlayed it on top of the illustration to get neatly poche walls and edges.

This project section of the portfolio is almost complete. I still want to add  more site analysis diagrams along with some eye-level perspectives of what one would see when experiencing the different spaces of the design. The spreads are still lacking a sense of scale and place so I want to end with renderings that show people inhabiting the spaces, activities that will take place, and how this design blends with the site to generate a unique and exciting experience.


Below are the series of spreads developed so far for this specific project.