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





I thought I would pull another move from the Bob Ross play book. He was always great at creating depth in his paintings by saturating and darkening the elements that were closest to the viewer and then lightening the hills and mountains further off in the distance. This move created a clear contrast between the foreground and background objects. Adding this atmospheric haze can be directly translated into architectural illustrations. I'm constantly trying to show tips on this site that have a high return on investment, and adding fog to illustrations is one of those tips. Fog only takes seconds to add but can can completely change the feel of the scene. Often with birds eye views, adding fog can also help transition from the ground to the sky at the horizon and also offers opportunities for blending into other images or backgrounds when working on portfolios and presentation boards.

Over the years, I have seen many different techniques to add fog. Sketchup has the ability to add and export fog. Most rendering programs can render fog as well. I go the really simple route. I just paint it in using Photoshop. It may not be the most accurate technique, but it is fast and very easy to tweak and adjust.

To add fog, I first create a new layer and move it to the top of the layers palette. I then select the "Brush Tool", choose a white paint color, select a soft brush at the top, and lower the opacity to somewhere around 10%. From there, I simply paint in fog with a higher density in the horizon fading away as it gets closer to the viewer. You can also see this done in one of my older videos HERE.

Below, I have uploaded some before and after shots of my old thesis renderings.



I have posted in the past on how to create interior elevations/sections by only using Photoshop, but I never posted on exterior elevations. The workflow that I use for exterior elevations really isn't much different than the workflow that I use for interior elevations. The only change is with the shadows. In my interior elevations tutorial, I gave depth to the illustration by selecting certain surfaces and painting in shadows and highlights. However, with exterior elevations, I streamline the process by exporting a shadows layer from Sketchup. With this shadows layer, there is a key move that I use which quickly and easily gives depth and clarity by utilizing the Burn tool. While I don't go into a great amount of detail in this post, the process of using the burn tool is more thoroughly explained in my "Ambient Occlusion" video tutorial. I would also suggest taking a second look at my "Interior Elevations" tutorial since the overall workflow of that video is similar to what I used for the above exterior elevations.

1. I began by exporting 3 images from my Sketchup Model: 1) Just the line work with the shadows turned off and the face style set to "Hidden Line". 2) Just the shadows with everything else turned off. 3) Just the textures with line work and shadows turned off.

With those three images, layer them in Photoshop so that the linework is the top layer with the blend mode set to "Multiply". The second layer should be the shadow image with the blend mode again set to "Multiply". Finally, the textures layer should be the bottom most layer and the blend mode set to "Normal". 

2. The next step was to take the shadows layer and began using the burn tool to create depth in the image. Like I mentioned above, I created a video tutorial a while ago that more clearly explains how this process works. To summarize, I selected individual areas of the shadow with the polygonal tool (you could also turn on the line work layer and use that layer to make selections with the "Magic Wand Tool"). With a selection in place, choose the "Burn Tool" and set the "Range" to "Midtones." Then, using a soft brush with 0% hardness, begin burning the shadow with the darkest areas closest to the object that is casting the shadow. The shadow should get lighter in tone as it moves further from the object casting the shadow. Another way to look at it is to burn a darker shadow wherever you see corners or where there is a change in depth.

You can see in the comparison below that the before and after shows a dramatic change in the quality of shadow. Even without the textures and background, there is a much clearer reading of the geometry.

I also did a quick comparison between the two different shadow options with the textures and background elements inserted. Again, there is much more depth and 3-dimensionality just by spending a little time with the burn tool.

3. After the burning was complete, I selected the texture layer and cut out the background using the "Polygonal Tool" then quickly dropped in some blue tone and faded out trees. Each elevation took about 2 hours to put together. The shadow burning, textures, and background elements took no time at all. Most of my time was actually spent experimenting with the glass. I have yet to come up with a good look for glass in exterior elevations. I ultimately chose to add a small reflection and curtains along with a slight blue tint.  I will have to revisit this area later on with a better solution.



I have always been intrigued by exploded axonometric illustrations. They add a kinetic aspect to what is typically very stagnate fixed objects. Even more though, I like how a successful exploded axon depends on a clear understanding of all the elements of a design, not just a single facade or dramatic interiors by themselves. Instead, this type of illustration emphasizes the relationship between the different elements and the role each element plays to the larger whole. I liked seeing these types of illustrations in presentations because it shows the audience that the techtonics of the design have been  thought through.

I started out with the above illustration not really knowing what the end result would look like as is typically the case. I explored different ideas such as separating the building more horizontally or going with a simplified diagrammatic look. I then decided on placing the complete design at the bottom with a copy of the exploded elements above, located at eye level. I went this route for two reasons. First, this  allows the viewer to relate the exploded elements to the unexploded design clearly and easily. Also, by placing the unexploded building at the bottom of the page instead of to the side,  the focus remains on the exploded elements at eye level.

I broke the rendering up into two images so that I could render at higher resolutions. I also did this because I rendered a ground plane in two areas. If I would have rendered everything together, the unexploded building would have been completely in shadow by the ground plane above it.  You can also see that I did two shadow styles, one with soft shadows and one with hard shadows. Like I said at the top, I wasn't sure where the rendering would go at the beginning of the process, so I wanted to have both options to experiment with. In the end, I combined the two which allowed me to extract detail in areas where the other was to dark or didn't render correctly. 

Exploded axons are easy to create if the 3D model is built correctly. When I build my models, everything is grouped. There typically isn't one surface in the model that is not grouped or not made into a component. I also have a clear hierarchy of groups so that large systems such as walls, roofs, or the structure can be moved out of the way for easy editting. If I have any advice for creating clean models in Sketchup, it's to group like crazy. Using layers is not the same as grouping either. I usually only use layers to quickly turn off and on large group items to test out different scenarios or to temporarily turn off poly heavy objects such as trees while I model. However, I don't use layers to call out different elements such as windows, doors, walls, etc. Back to the exploded axon, once the groups are established, exploding the geometry for the illustration takes no time at all. 

Because the model didn't have any materials or a ton of geometry, I was able to render at much higher resolutions without extremely long render times. I'm guessing each rendering took about 20 minutes.

Exploded axons have a lot going on, so it didn't seem necessary to have a busy background. Instead, I focused on color and less on content for this aspect. The site is very serene and I like the idea of just seeing the unexploded building at the bottom sitting quietly in the field with all of the action happening above it via the exploded elements. I didn't want to see the horizon so I washed out the background and made it appear as though there was a large sun glare which helped tie all of the elements together.



I spent this past week and weekend cramming for the LEED GA exam and luckily was able to pass it and put it behind me. Because of that, I wasn't able to get much work done for the blog. However, I have been getting a lot of questions asking what kind of computer do I use to create my illustration. 90% of the images you see on this site were created by the laptop I have now. The fact of the matter is, I could probably get by with my old laptop that I used in undergrad which is much less powerful. The techniques that I present on this site are focused on originality and not on Ultra realism. Instead of building huge models and rendering at high resolutions for days on end (which require lots of processing power and graphics), I have always chosen the route of quick base renderings (or no renderings) with most of my time spent in Photoshop. Now, don't get me wrong, having a faster computer like the one I have now still speeds things up in some areas. I also still need the speed in areas outside of architectural illustrations such as when I am working in Revit or other power hungry apps. The point is, for what I do on this site, an expensive computer with a lot of processing power is not a necessity. 

So, what kind of computer do I use? It is a Vaio F series that I bought my last year of Grad school. It has an Intel Core i7 processor @ 1.60GHz with 4 GBs of Ram (I will be doubling that here shortly). There is a GeForce 310M graphics card which is relatively weak at only 512 MB dedicated memory. Its not a gaming laptop by any means but it gets the job done.

My biggest mistake when buying this laptop was not putting enough focus on the screen. The viewing angle on the Vaio F series screen is horrendous. If I move my head up 2 inches or down 2 inches, the screen goes from washed out to brutally dark. Using a screen with great color reproduction, wide viewing angles, deep blacks, and high contrast rations is often overlooked or low on the priority list. If I have any advice for an architect student or professional when buying a laptop or desktop, its not to overlook the screen. I have since bought a second monitor with better specs but that doesn't help me when Im on the road.  I hope this answers a lot of your questions and let me know if I missed anything.



I randomly decided this weekend that I wanted to go all out on a building section. I have been spending a little of my free time detailing an old studio project just to have some new geometry to illustrate and present on the site. I really liked some of the interior spaces and thought it would make for an interesting building section illustration. I was also debating whether or not to keep the illustration abstract or to keep things clean and legible. In the end, I took the legible route but threw in some twists. I also applied some HDR effects to bump up the drama of the image. One thing I want to emphasize is that there wasn't a clear linear path in terms of workflow. I went through many different iterations before I arrived to this final result. 

To generate the above illustrations, I rendered multiple views in Kerkythea using different shadow settings and section cuts (each took about 10 minutes to render). I did this partly because I wasn't sure what the final look would be but also so that I would have multiple styles at my disposal to test different ideas. I ultimately used all of them layering them together which added depth to the image while still maintaining clarity in the overall composition. 

Above, Kerkythea rendering with soft shadows.

Above, Kerkythea rendering with strong shadows.

Above, Kerkythea rendering of the exterior elevation. 

I exported a CAD floor plan and used it to inhabit the blank space below the building section. This is a technique we use a lot in the office because it not only adds interest below the ground plane but also explains where the section is cut and how it relates to the floor plan. 

Above, Sketchup export of the roof plan in x-ray mode. 

Above, Sketchup export again in x-ray mode. I like to use these types of abstract images subtly to give another layer of information and texture.

Final Illustrations



I wanted to go into more depth about how I created the sketch look. Images like these depend almost entirely on the textures you use. I spend a lot of my time scavenging images online as well as creating my own to get the exact style that I am looking for. Along with good textures, another key component to sketch illustrations is the subtle imperfections. Sometimes, the textures that I use have enough blemishes and flaws that nothing extra is needed. In the example below, I did spend some time adding smudges and details that help blur the edge between computer and hand drawn.

I started out creating a video tutorial but soon realized that there was too much custom editing done that was unique to this illustration and probably would make things confusing. By this I mean, there was a lot of erasing and altering of the textures that wouldn't carry over to other illustrations. Instead, I tried to break the work flow down into basic conceptual steps showing the hierarchy of the layers as well as the types of textures that I used. As a supplement to this post, I would suggest looking at both my Blueprint Tutorial and my Plan Oblique Walkthrough which explain in greater detail a similar workflow.

1. As with many of my illustrations, begin with exporting images from Sketchup as well as generate a clay model rendering shown below.

2. In Photoshop, combine the exported layers by setting the clay rendering as the bottom-most layer, and the line work and xray exports above the clay rendering layer set to "Multiply". You may notice in the image of my layers pallet below that I have layer masks applied to the SU exports. I don't want the line work to be too clean, so I erased or dulled certain areas to give the effect of an imperfect/ hand-drawn line.

3. The grass is made up of a few textures that I found online. There was a lot of scaling, cloning, and level adjusting that went on here to get the final result. The layer blend mode was set to "Multiply" and I wasn't real precise with how I erased the grass around the building. Again, the imperfections help to add realism.

4. After the grass, I added the sky. I found a typical sky, then desaturated the color and washed out the image by adjusting the levels. I wanted the sky to be light as to not compete with the design. This is typical for most of my illustrations. I then set the layer blend mode to "Multiply" and used a layer mask to set the sky behind the building.

5. The background trees were again made up of multiple textures. When I created hand drawn illustrations in school, I always experimented with different styles and rendering techniques for trees. One of my favorite styles was using a parallel bar to draw many closely spaced vertical lines coming to a rough end at the top. I tried to emulate that style here as well as adding another tree texture on top of that.

6. At this point, all of the base elements are in and I want to add an overall texture to the image. This is done by finding a large sketch texture like the one below and draping it over the entire image. This is one of the only times where I used the layer blend mode "Overlay" instead of "Multiply". If you look at the image of my layers pallet, you will see that I used the sketch texture twice. One of the layer blend modes was left at "Normal" but with a low opacity (in this case the opacity was set to 36%). This was done to give the entire image a soft gray tone. The other sketch layer was set to "Overlay" to bring out the texture grain.

7. The image looks relatively good at this point. But, this is usually the time where I focus on adding details and subtle imperfections. In some of the shadow areas of the illustration, the shading seems a little too "clean". Here, I added textures with a strong grain to combat the flatness.

8. Graphite is synonymous for smudging and was something I learned to embrace when learning to draw at a young age. It takes incredible hand-eye coordination to shade a perfect gradient. Even then, it's not perfect like a computer generated gradient. That's why I spent some time adding smudges and splotches to give another layer of realism. I simply use the brush tool with a soft tip and low opacity, and paint areas to break up the perfect gradients. Leave the layer blend mode set to "Normal".

There is obviously a lot of manipulation done to each layer that wasn't shown here, but that will change from illustration to illustration. On another note, for those who don't want to spend time generating a clay model rendering, another option could be to follow the steps outlined in my Ambient Occlusion Tutorial which, for this illustration, could have generated a similar result.