With close to 180,000 visitors a month, this site has seen a lot of growth in the past few years. Because of this growth,  there were a couple of features and updates that have needed some attention to help improve navigation and accessibility. I'm constantly thinking about how to evolve and simplify things while remaining true to this blogs original intent. These are small changes, but steps that I feel have a lot of potential.


1. SITE GALLERY - I have created and posted many images since 2009, however there has never been an easy way to view them without searching through a ton of old blog posts. Therefore, I set up a gallery that lays them all out on a single page. If the thumnbnails are clicked, a link is revealed under the image that takes you directly to the corresponding post. This provides a different and hopefully easier way of experiencing the site.


2. USER GALLERY - I consistently have visitors sending me their illustrations, process work, and diagrams. It only made sense to embrace the large and growing community forming around this blog and start a page that aggregates illustrations from around the world. I think there is an opportunity to build a unique gallery that focuses on experimentation, different work-flows, and stuff that has never been seen before. Although there were a few directions I could have taken this, I ultimately decided on a Tumblr site to handle this traffic. I love the simplicity of these sites with their clean interface and beautiful galleries. Note that I have already added some of my own images to get the ball rolling. These will be removed later on. I will also be moderating the submissions so it may take some time before images are uploaded to gallery. You can submit an illustration by going to the Tumblr page and selecting "Submit an Illustration" at the top.


3. TWITTER - I have been putting this off for way too long. Although I am late to the game, I have finally set up a twitter account to offer up another way to keep tabs on this blog. With the kind of numbers this site is getting, it is becoming next to impossible to respond to all of the comments and emails that I recieve on a daily basis. At the same time, I want to try to remain as accessable to all social media platforms as I can. Its a delicate balance of creating content and responding to emails/comments and I'm not sure that I have it figured out yet.

So with that said, I hope to keep growing this site and build on the community that is already here. If you have time, post some architectural illustrations to the new user gallery, get some great exposure, and be sure to follow me on twitter.



The past week was a busy one at the office, hence I needed to play catch-up with a lot of non-website related things this weekend. I did find time to put together this illustration of the urban tower model as seen in the past few posts. The urban model lends itself well to this style of illustrations because of the amount of line work I have to work with which allows me to be more selective with where I add and remove detail. I also like the relationship between the large tower glass facade and the gridded punched openings of the surrounding buildings. 

To get a better sense of how this illustration was put together, take a look at past posts such as these: ABSTRACTING DEAD RENDERINGS , ABSTRACT ILLUSTRATIONS PART 2 , and PLAN OBLIQUE ILLUSTRATION  . 

Below are a few of the images that I used to compose the final illustration:

Above: Sketchup wireframe inverted

Above: Model Profile Lines inverted

Above: Exported Sketchup color image with the Photoshop "posterize" adjustment set to 3 levels

Above: Rendering with the Photoshop "posterize" adjustment set to 5 levels

The final composition with color overlays added. 



I have been using this technique to create frosted glass for as long as I can remember. The workflow is incredibly simple. Most rendering programs can generate frosted glass, but the setup can often be tricky. In the case of Kerkythea, these settings dramatically increase the rendering time. As with everything that I do, I prefer to use Photoshop because I have more control over the final outcome and I can quickly make adjustments to get the look I am going for vs. rerendering the entire scene.
The workflow can be broken down into 3 basic steps.
Above, the base image that I will be working off of.
1. Blur:

 I first copied the part of the rendering that I wanted to be frosted glass and applied the Gaussian blur filter. The glass was rendered clear, therefore everything that is seen through the glass such as columns, walls, and lights should be blurred. It's even make sure to blur the mullions outside of the glass. 
2. Lighten

To get that "Steven Holl" frosted glass look, there are some concepts to consider. The overall brightness of the surfaces should be much lighter than standard clear glass. In the video, this is where I adjust the levels and use the dodge tool to brighten the copied layer.

Also, as objects get close to the frosted glass, their shadows become darker, and less blurred. That is why I darkened the diagonal columns and shadow under the mullions in the video.
3. Sharp Mullions

The final step is to add sharp mullions over the blurred glass layer. There are a couple of ways that I could have done this, but in this video I used sketchup linework for the mullions. Another path that I could have taken would have been to select the mullions from the original rendering using the "polygonal" tool, copy them to there own layer, and then move them above the frosted glass layer. 


I've been wanting to do this illustration ever since I first built the Sketchup model a month ago. A couple of areas that I focused on was the semi-transparent glass in the tower and activating the streets down below. I set up the model last night and let it render in Kerkythea over night. I began post processing in PS this morning and finished about 8 hours later. In terms of time spent on post processing, this image is up there as one of the longest that I have done. I also chose a view that is somewhat unconventional in the sense that both the top and the bottom of the tower are cut off. I wanted the shot tighter on the tower facade focusing on the semi-transparent glass. The image is broken down further below.

Because of the size of the model and the amount of lights, not to mention the weak processing power of my computer, the Kerkythea rendering took all night to finish and then some.

Sketchup Linework

Kerkythea Initial Rendering

Once in Photoshop, I first looked at creating a semi-transparent glass for the tower. I wasn't real sure how it would turn out, but after some experimenting, I was able to get the look close to what I was imagining. The workflow is incredibly easy. I will see if I can put together a detailed explanation in the near future.

Once the glass was looking half way decent, I moved to finding the correct textures for the background buildings. I used Google street view to find most of the building facades. Because the buildings are so small in the background, I didn't need high resolution images. Therefore, the street view screen shots were more than sufficient.

I next moved to the street. I have created only a few urban illustrations in my day, but I have found that the key to a successful urban rendering is having an active street life. In other words, adding brightly lit streets with lots of activity and movement. I ran out of time towards the end of the day, but I would have liked to add loads of people to complete the "active street life" vision.

The final step involved me spending hours painting light in all of the windows. With the computer that I have, there is no way that I could have rendered light using Kerkythea. Not only do I not have the computing power, but it would have taken me forever to prepare the Kerkythea model and place all of the lights within the buildings. Instead, I just painted in the lights one by one. Luckily, it's mindless work which means I was able to watch the playoffs and paint at the same time.



I thought it would be interesting to put together a timelapse video showing the basics on how I built the urban tower seen in the past few posts. A couple of things to note about this video is that I didn't spend a lot of the time with the finer details such as placing every single mullion or fully finishing the roof. Instead, I focused on building a good base from which I could later make alterations or add more detail. Whenever I begin building a model, my primary focus is to have an editable model. Everything in the model is grouped and then placed in subgroups. This is important so that I can move sections of the model out of the way to get to other parts, so that I can isolate certain elements, or so that I can quickly make selections without fear of selecting things I don't need. I also make extensive use of components such as the case with the columns, floor plates, and mullions. 
I consider this a "finish" model meaning a lot of the decisions have already been made concerning form. Prior to this model, I created a series of massing studies testing out different design concepts and structural ideas. Once I've honed in on the final form, I then rebuilt the model investing more time into the details.
The video can be broken down into a few steps:
1. Import Geometry 00:07
Typically when I am building a "final" model, I am working off of a floor plan either developed in CAD or Revit. You can see in the video that the floor plan that I imported had some elements separated so that I could easily group and mass them out (such as the elevator core). A few other things to note: I have to downsave the CAD file to 2004 to import into Sketchup. Also, double check that the units all match before importing. Often in the office, we have projects that are both in Metric and Imperial and I am always catching myself importing with the wrong units.
2. Build the Structure 00:16
In the case of this tower, I started with the columns. I grouped all of the columns together, and then created subgroups separating the perimeter columns from the interior columns. All of the columns are components so that I can quickly change their size or profile later on if needed.
3. Floor Plate 00:40
Next came the floor plates which are grouped separately from the columns. Because the floor plates don't change much from floor to floor, I turned them into components. This will save me time later on when I start to cut openings for elevator cores and stairs as well as adding details in the ceiling soffit and floors. 
4. Core 02:57
In this video, the cores are simple extrusions which again are grouped separately from the columns and floor plates. Later on, I will play with the massing by cutting openings and adding curtain walls. The columns, floor plates, and core are all relatively simple elements in and of themselves, but by combining them the model is already gaining a decent amount of complexity in a short amount of time.
5. Envelope 05:42
This is always my favorite part. For this model, the envelope is simple; glass. The envelope is made up of two different forms intersecting each other and therefore will be grouped separately. When I use glass, I don't give it thickness. Instead, I build it as a single surface which makes editing much easier later on and also simplifies the rendering process. Besides, in the next step, I will be adding mullions which will give depth to the skin.
6. Detail, Detail, Detail 08:17
With the bones of the building complete and the skin added, it's all detailing from here on out. This is the part that could go on forever, and where it can get a little fuzzy deciding when enough detail is enough. At this point in the video, I add elements such as the building base and mullions. Some things I still have left to model are interior walls, doors, ceiling soffit, and other minor details. Expect to see more renderings with this model in the future.


Those of you who have followed my site for a while may remember that I created a winter scene post last year right around this this time describing how to turn any rendering into a snow scene. It was one of the few snow scenes that I had ever created. Since then,  I have yet to produce another winter scene so I thought I would start a tradition. I have been working on a new sketchup model (seen in last weeks post) which still needs to be developed further but decided it was far enough along to be used in this winter scene illustration.

I initially didn't have any idea what look/atmosphere I was going for. That may explain why I started out with just a typical daytime kerkythea rendering.

However, once I entered into Photoshop post processing, the illustration moved to a darker, overcast scene. Since the illustration was essentially going to be a night scene now, I started a new Kerkythea rendering with my tower design lit up from the inside. I didn't even try to light up the surrounding buildings because I knew that it would significantly add to the rendering time. 

If you look at the above two renderings, you will notice that I rendered the daytime scene with full reflection in the glass (just for the tower), while I rendered the night time scene with almost no reflection. This allowed me to combine the two and give me full control of how much reflection to add to the tower. I did this by cutting out the lit tower, and copying it to the daytime rendering. I then adjusted the opacity of the lit tower layer  until I found the right balance of reflection and transparency in the glass.

Once I had that down, I began painting in light to the surrounding building windows and doors. I then did a second pass highlighting the surfaces on the stone that were being lit by the windows. I also made sure to keep some of the reflection in the windows to add another level of depth to the glass. Also in this image, I began adding snow to the ground. This was much easier than it looks. I did some google image searches for "snowy roads" and then cut and paste.

I knew that I wanted to add some snow covered cars to the illustration. It was surprisingly hard to find cars at the correct angle with snow on them for this illustration. I also spent some time painting in snow on some of the ledges of the buildings and adding local Boston lamp posts and traffic lights.

Finally, I added falling snow to complete the winter scene. You may also notice that I corrected the verticals so that the buildings no longer lean into the center of the image. As mentioned above, I created a tutorial on creating snow in last years post which can be found HERE. These winter scenes are easier to create than you might think. I strongly suggest experimenting with these techniques and seeing what you can come up with.

Happy Holidays





I have been spending my free time lately designing and building a new Sketchup model located in a dense urban environment. I thought it would be interesting to do a quick post on the progress of the model before I go into illustrating it. It is probably important to note that this design is not for a competition, but simply to be used for this site and hopefully for more tutorials. I have noticed that very little content on this site focuses on an urban setting and I have been wanting to dive into this area for a while now. While there are challenges that come with illustrating this type of environment, there are also many opportunities. This Sketchup model will serve as a way for me to experiment with some different situations such as night scenes, glass reflections, camera views, etc.

The model is still a work in progress with much of the context yet to be detailed. Components (not to be confused with groups)  have been a life saver.  Most of the facades of the neighboring buildings are symmetrical and repetitive, which allows me to build simple sections and then copy to form an entire facade. If I have more time later on, I can continue to build in more detail in one section which will then update all of the other sections. 

The main glass tower design is made up of many groups within groups. This makes for a really clean model but also allows me to move large sections of the building out of the way for easy editing. I also took advantage of the component feature when it came to the columns, floor plates, and mullions. For example, if the mullions are appearing too thick in the renderings, I can thin down the profile of just one and the hundreds of other mullions will update as well. You can obtain different lengths of a single mullion without changing the lengths of all of the others simply by scaling the component vs. extruding it.




I have been in New York the past few weekends just to get a little change of scenery and to spend some much needed time with family. The posts have been a little light lately but I hope to get back into the groove here soon. Until then, I thought I would fill the page with some of my NYC pics from the past few days.  


Indesign: Why Use It?

I never really used Indesign much in school. However, we use it on a daily basis in the office. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have implemented it more back in school. Indesign is another Adobe product that serves as a powerful layout tool. The program allows you to link other native Adobe documents such as Photoshop and Illustrator files to it.  I’m not going to try to explain the entire program, but I will touch on some of the key points that I think really make the software a powerful tool for architects.

While many people actually layout images and text in Indesign, I prefer to create my layouts in Photoshop but then use Indesign as a way to manage all of the pages, such as for architectural portfolios. You can set up the initial document to be formatted however you want, i.e. portfolio, presentation board, etc.  For the example below, I set up the Indesign document to match my 6”x9” portfolio size. I also added an 1/8” bleed as was originally setup in my Photoshop files.  Finally, the document is setup for double sided printing and therefore displays the facing pages exactly as they would be printed.  The pages pallet (shown on the right) allows you to view thumbnails of all of the pages in the document, rearrange them, delete them, duplicate them, etc. At the top of the pages pallet are the Master Pages which allows for certain items such as page numbers, project names, background graphics and templates to be applied to all of the pages of the document.



For portfolios, Indesign is indispensable. I had originally created my graduate portfolio in Photoshop.  I still prefer to develop all of the graphics inside of Photoshop (others may prefer Illustrator). With Indesign, I can take those Photoshop files or Illustrator files and directly place them into the Indesign document. By placing the files, I am "linking" the Photoshop file to the Indesign file. If I make a change to the Photoshop file and save it, the change will automatically get updated in Indesign. For example, say I have my Photoshop files imported into Indesign and I want to add some shadows to the "Box Morphology" page shown below.

To make the change, I first open the linked Photoshop file that the image was created in, add the shadows, and then save the changes.

Once the Photoshop file is saved, I then go back into Indesign. In the links tab, I find the changed file (delineated with a yellow "!" next to the name), right-click, and choose "Update". 

The file will then update to the latest saved version of the file and the shadows appear in the Indesign file.

With the above example, you can see that the portfolio can continue to be developed in Photoshop or, if you prefer, Illustrator, but still be completely managed in Indesign. You are probably asking, "So what?" It wasn't until I started working in our office that I finally realized the value of this program. Architecture projects are constantly evolving, and therefore they are constantly changing and being updated.  There comes a point when documents start to become very large, as in the case of portfolios, while changes are still being made at a rapid pace. Indesign offers a simple way to manage all of the graphics and text in one place, review the document in its entirety, as well as the ability to export and print the final document with ease.


Often in our office, we are producing large presentation boards for clients. Every week, we will put together a series of updated floor plans and corresponding images based on previous meetings. Because the floor plan files and images are linked in Indesign, once the changes to the floor plans and images are saved, the Indesign boards are automatically updated. Even better, we make use of "Master Pages" that allow us to quickly update the page numbers, dates, etc. Below, I put together a basic presentation board similar in complexity to what our office may present on a weekly basis to clients.

The board is made up of a PDF or Illustrator floor plan, and some Photoshop graphic files. I also have a basic project name and date. In many cases, we will be presenting 5 to 10 boards at a time. With Indesign, we are able to keep an updated set of boards similar to the one above simply by updating the linked Photoshop, PDF, and Illustrator files as the changes are made throughout the week. 

When it's time to print, we open the master page and correct the date, in which case all of the boards get updated. We can then either save the entire set of boards as a PDF document for emailing or send everything to the printer. The process is simple and limits coordination mistakes from juggling multiple PSD and Illustrator files separately.


Consistency is crucial to a good presentation. For my portfolio above, I added all of my text in Photoshop, but this was back in school before I knew or cared about Indesign. Because text was added in Photoshop, making text style changes across all of the pages would be difficult and time consuming. The better way of doing things would be to build the graphics in Photoshop, but add the text via Indesign. This would ensure consistent text sizes, styles, and formatting as well as simplifying the process of making size and style changes across all of the pages if need be. Plus, Indesign is known for its powerful typographic tools allowing for a wide array of customization and manipulation. 

I'm not saying that Indesign will change your architectural life, but if you're looking for a way to add a little more efficiency into your presentation workflow, you may want to look into Indesign if you haven't already. 







Last week I posted some images on my Facebook page that were created for a competition our office was pursuing. I thought it would be interesting this week to break down the images and show the progression of post processing used to achieve the final composition. The steps outlined below are a cleaned-up version of the process that I used to better explain the overarching workflow.  For example, the color overlays in Step 5 are shown grouped together as if they were all applied in one step. However,  I probably applied 3 or 4 different color overlays at different times of the process when I was experimenting with different lighting styles.  While the steps below outline the foundation, it still very much remains an iterative process of trial and error as well as revisiting different steps for refinement.

The competition encompassed a huge site, so one of our strategies was to illustrate multiple vignettes throughout the design. Because the scope of the project was so big, we were not able to detail out every building and landscaping feature. This meant a lot of time would be spent in Photoshop to add another level of refinement and detail. 


The process began with a simple Kerkythea rendering.  Because the vignettes were focused on small areas of the model, I was able to delete most of the geometry that wasn’t in view to help shorten the rendering time. The water couldn’t have been easier to create. On the Kerkythea website, there is a free water materials pack that you can download and import into Kerkythea. Once the model is opened in Kerkythea, you can select the Sketchup water material and replace it with one of the water bump maps from the water materials pack.

2. SKY

I try to insert the sky as soon as possible once I'm in Photoshop because the sky defines the mood of the rendering from which the other Photoshop elements build off of. I normally don't use such graphically strong skies, but in this case it just seemed to work so I went with it. 


I like to follow the insertion of the sky with the insertion of grass. Something so simple as Photoshopped grass seems to transform the illustration and remove the "computer generated" look. From here, it is much easier for me to envision how to bring in the remaining landscape elements. 


Our 3-D model used very simple trees to help keep the file size down. At the same time, the simple tree place holders make it much easier for locating the placement of the Photoshopped trees as well as inserting them to the correct scale. I strategically placed a few trees to help frame the architecture and help direct the eye across the illustration. I also placed plants along the bank to create a cleaner edge as well as take advantage of the reflections. Note that all of the inserted trees were duplicated, flipped, and smudged to be used as reflections in the water.


You may have noticed that up until now, the image was reading extremely dark and cold. An easy solution to bring in warmth is with color overlays. I didn't want to over power the image with the warm tones, so I focused the color on the horizon and over the architecture. The top image is showing the painted in color before its layer blend mode was set to "Overlay", while the image below shows the layer set to "Overlay". There was a lot of trial and error and adjusting of the hue before I arrived at this color. While I am only showing one color above, I also used multiple color overlays around the trees and sky. At this point, I have a pretty good understanding of where the illustration is going and what the final look will be.


The landscaping is reading well, but the architecture itself still seems a little lifeless. With the brush tool, I painted in light to give the illusion that the building was lit from the inside. The goal here was to use the light to my advantage and provide a better understanding of the form. Again, I made sure to reflect the light in the water as well.


I usually save the Photoshopped people, boats and other supporting elements to the end. I didn't spend much time in this step, but these items are crucial in establishing a sense of scale and again adds life to the illustration.

8. HDR

I could have probably stopped at the last step, but I thought I would do a little more experimenting. Every once in a while, I like to test out some HDR techniques that bring out detail such as in the stone and water reflections. Typically used in photography, these techniques have been yielding some interesting results when I apply them to my renderings. 

The competiton that the above images were used in is now complete and was a collaboration between Paul Lukez Architecture, Carol Johnson Associates, and Green Design Union. Video editing was by Silverscape. You can check out our final video submission of the completed design HERE