Not everyone has the capabilities to render huge models with a ton of lights. I am one of those people where more times than not I have to manually add light to my illustrations because I don't have the computing power. At first, this method can seem tedious. But, when you think about the time that it takes to insert lights into a model and then the time that it takes to render so many lights, knowing how to do this in Photoshop can be a great resource to have as a backup. There is a typical workflow I use that consistently yields clean, realistic results without much effort. I am using the urban snow scene that I posted a few months back as the base case for this tutorial. The model was large, and there were way too many windows to try to render. The steps I used to Photoshop the light are outlined below.

1. SAVE THE REFLECTIONS - For scenes like the one above, I rendered the glass of the surrounding buildings with a strong reflection. This allows me to copy the reflections to their own layer and use them later on as an overlay. To copy them to their own layer, select the "polygonal tool", then select the glass of the windows you intend to light. Right-click on the selection and choose "Layer via Copy".


2. PAINT IN THE BASE LIGHT - Next, I created a new layer called "glass light". Again, I selected the glass part of the window. To speed things up, you can ctrl+click the reflections layer in the previous step instead of using the polygonal tool to reselect all of the glass. With the glass selected, choose the "Brush" tool, select a soft yellow paint color, select a "Soft Round" brush, and lower the opacity of the brush to around 15%. Begin painting color with most of the light at the bottom of the window fading away as you move towards the top of the window.


3. HIGHLIGHTS - This is one of those steps that is easy to forget or to treat as not important. In reality, it is the most crucial step in creating successful lighting. Without it, the light looks flat. Begin by creating a new layer and setting the blend mode to "Overlay". Select only the surfaces facing the window that would be hit by the light coming through the glass. A good way to determine this is by looking for surfaces that are 90 degrees to the glass. With the selections made, choose the "Brush" tool, select a soft yellow paint, select a "Soft Round" brush, and set the opacity to around 35%.  Begin painting in the highlights. If the highlights seem weak, you can amplify the results by duplicating the highlight layer.


4. SOFT LIGHT GLOW - Another subtle, but important step. Create a new layer and choose an off white paint color. Choose the "Paint" tool, select a "Soft Round" brush, and set the opacity really low to something like 12% to 15%. Begin painting around the window edges being careful not to overdo it. 


5. BRING BACK THE REFLECTIONS - The last step is to retrieve the reflections layer created in the first step. Bring that layer to the top of the layers pallet, and set the blend mode to "Screen". This will amplify the reflections since they were most likely diluted from the painting in the previous steps.







I came across the concept of "quilling" a few weeks back and instantly began thinking how could I translate this digitally to generate a unique architectural illustration for marketing or portfolio purposes. The style had a great look to it and I knew that Sketchup had some plugins that could make the workflow really simple. All you need is Sketchup Pro so that you can export and import AutoCAD files, and the "TIG" plugin called "Extrude edges by Vector".

1. The first step is to export a view of the sketchup model as 2D AutoCAD line work. As I mentioned above, you need Sketchup Pro to be able to export  AutoCAD files. In Sketchup, choose "File>Export>2d Graphic". In the export dialogue box, set the export type to "AutoCAD DWG" and then export.


2. Next, start a new Sketchup model and import the AutoCAD file that was just exported in the previous step. Choose "File>Import". In the Import dialogue box, browse to the location of the AutoCAD file making sure that the file type is set to "AutoCAD Files". Then import the file.


3. Once the geometry is imported, the next step is to extrude it vertically. Sketchup does not extrude lines, therefore a plugin is needed. There are many out there, but the TIG Extrude Edges by Vector seems to work really well. This plugin allows you to select many edges that are not connected and extrude them in any direction. 

Once the plugin is applied, the result is a series of planes resembling strips of paper.


4. The last step is to set the view to "Top" and render the model. I then tweaked the colors in Photoshop and added some light textures to achieve the final look. 



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.