Digital vs. Hand-Rendered etc.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GRAPHICS Digital vs. Hand-Rendered etc.

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    I’d like to get some opinions and feedback regarding the apparent surge of digital representation in architectural rendering and the place of more traditional media such as watercolor, graphite, pen and ink.

    Are we, as designers, stifling our ability to conceptualize by relegating ourselves to the computer? Or, is there hope for an intuitive form of digital concept graphics and illustration?

    Is hand-drawing becoming a lost art, or obsolete in the face of digital graphics?


    My thought is that we need the connection of our hand in direct connectiction between mind, body, and medium in order to intuitively and effectively convey ideas. I, personally, still use hand sketching as a means of “notating” my ideas before illustrating on the computer in various software programs. At the same time, I look at concept artists for Pixar and various other entertainment industry production companies for an idea of where we could be headed in terms of digital conceptualization. There are some great video samples at under 2D artists.


    Hi Nick!

    Great topic! I am a firm believer in hand graphics and believe that anyone who loves to design loves to sketch……With the introduction and implementation of new computer based technologies many people have developed some amazing graphic abilities that would have otherwise not been explored had there not been computer technology…..and these technologies become even more powerful with the ability to hand sketch and create hand graphics…..

    That being said, I still think that hand graphics should be a continued art and should be developed more, especially by students, new graduates, and anyone else in our profession…..It will always be a benefit to someones resume and abilities to have good hand graphics……I am yet to see a firm not need an employee who had great or even mediocre hand graphics….

    Digital graphics have there place, but I think that all of the truly great designers have had the ability to express themselves through hand sketching…..There is nothing more powerful than being in front of a client and sketching out an idea right in front of their eyes…..Creating something in a matter of minutes that would otherwise had not been explored because there was not a computer available…..

    In conclusion, I think that any new technology that can be developed to continue to allow us(landscape architects and designers) to express ideas and more fully to our clients is a good thing…..

    I love technology, but still think that hand graphics should be the foundation by which we base all of our technological advances off of……

    Just as a side note, as a reference point…..Who would want to go back to hand drafting Construction Document Sets of Plans? I know that I wouldn’t, not in a million years, but when it comes to developing concepts and ideas and exploring ideas, hand graphics should always be applicable……

    james fink

    There is no right or wrong tool to use in design. The importance is what tool can best communicate your design. Some people can effectively communicate their design through hand drawings, but I am finding that the number of people who can do that are very few. I think that using the computer has opened a door to a new breed of designers. Many people who in the past would not have succeeded in the profession can now express there ideas to others. I personally use 3D Studio Max and I think that I have an even stronger connection between “..mind,body and medium” however you want to say it. A pencil and paper can be a very limiting medium with a very definable universe. Inside a computer, I can model exactly what it is I am thinking. And to top it off, I can immediately see how that design looks at night, underwater, in the winter, etc…

    Noah Billig

    Check out the November 2007 Landscape Architecture Magazine for a good article on hand drawing in a digital age.


    About the extant of my hand drawing these days..


    I agree with the simple sketch for the client (even for someone with mediocre hand graphic skill!)
    – the plan made the sitting wall look flat-but the sketch helped them see it


    Here’s the graphics

    Chris Sparnicht

    This link looks like a cybersquatter. Are you sure it leads to the videos you’re talking about?

    While I express myself well enough verbally, my hands tend to express my thoughts better than my speech. In other words, touch typing has extended my ability to nail exactly what I mean efficiently. Maybe it’s a question of which medium allows you to best express exactly what you want, combined with the need for efficiency. How many of us haven’t first done a quick 3D sketchup and then traced it and hand colored for a more organic visual effect?


    Just wanted to share a cross sample of my work : Check out my slideshow of photos that i finally got around to adding……

    I tend to touch everything with the computer eventually but there are hand graphics in some of the ones that scream digitally intense.
    Obviously not in the PARTI below or my “sketch-up person avatar” who I used to draw by hand quite often but now has been apparently demoted…

    I envy my mentor’s marker skills and he somehow thinks I’m a computer guru… (I’m guessing this is an all to common relationship these days.)

    So for the record now, I want to keep my hand working but my fingers need to get out of the way… or off the keyboard perhaps.

    Greg Bish

    one element of the argument is time…I believe I can get can get reasonable representation of my ideas faster and cheaper (a more easily distributed and edited!) with some help from technology.

    but take a step back. why am i drawing?

    1) Am I sorting out design ideas for myself? (sketching/thinking out loud)

    2) Am I creating a visual that I hope will be a starting point for discussion? (opening the door)

    3) Am I creating a visual that will put an end to “stakeholders'” doubts? (closing the deal)

    Ideally, I wouldn’t approach all three of these problems in the same way.
    To each his own. I’ve seen plenty of napkin sketches that achieve one or more of the above aims, and I’ve seen plenty of elaborate hand renderings and computer visualization wanking that achieves none of them.

    the first question is how to reconcile the above aims with an ‘economy of graphics’. This leads you to the choice of tools which is a secondary consideration.

    Ryan Sand

    I have done a school project that we had probably 1-3 hours to get a site and finish a conceptual design for a transit stop, ill post the sketches when I get my hard drive back.

    One tool that I used for an existing site is google earth and the street photo images. you can set up a plain view perspective or set up an aerial view. Connected to a printer I could find a view then try drawing and developing from a new perspective in less than 2 min. Its really helpful and the only digital work i would apply for the design process.

    I was wondering Brian how many drawings were in between the 3d max model and the finished graphic because that is always when the most interesting drawings and turns for design are made and when drawing really shows its true potential. Like you said its a quick difference in time, when one draws and pulls and pushes the design.
    Really cool drawings Brian i really like the axon especially.

    Lisa Town

    Hand drawing is definitely not a lost art. As long as there is design, there will be hand drawing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t even think through a problem without drawing on something. It’s almost as if I am handicapped without a pen.

    The computer is too confined and doesn’t allow for that free flowing thought of really connecting yourself with your thought process. You could be too busy trying to figure out just HOW to draw that perfect curve instead of just letting your hand flow and rework it till it’s perfect and then before you know it, you’ve lost that creative moment.

    This actually reminds me of some exercises we did in our office retreat where we spent time each day with large crayons or paintbrushes over a huge pieces of paper just doing these flowform designs that were focused on getting us to connect with our minds and find balance through our drawing.

    Drawing is such an important step…far beyond making a pretty drawing.

    Ben Yahr

    digital rendering is a superb tool for visualizing multiple iterations, alternatives, and views of a project. there may be additional setup time, but once you have a digital 3d model, the viewing possibilities are endless and changes are simple.

    i disagree that computers are confining and limit free flowing design. personally, hand-rendering is not a strength and i can get much more consistent and high quality results digitally. digital rendering is a very effective way to capture and visualize the thought process, but the thought process has to be more complete before you start than traditional methods. i go through a lot of trace paper in my head! visualizing a design solution in mentally is no problem, but i find it frustrating to try to share it with others (especially clients) via pen and paper. guess i need some more practice…

    its ironic that people like myself spend a significant amount of time trying to make a precise digital drawing look natural and hand drawn. pen envy??

    Lisa Town

    The key is really to understand when you use the pen and when to use the computer. Ultimately everything done by hand will be transferred to the computer for those fancy presentation drawings, cad sets, etc. Also it depends on what you are designing. Sometimes taking something into cad to work out a problem makes sense and sometimes doing something in Photoshop is easier to keep things vague if that’s what you want. Personally I think it really depends on the problem that you are trying to solve and what your desired outcome should be.

    The other key is to understand your client. In the beginning of project, if you show them a polished 3D model they might panic and think the design is done when they were just expecting some hand sketches. But other times, you might have a client that expects fancy photorealistic perspectives before the design is even done. Or maybe you need to come up with some nice Photoshop plans and vignettes for a public park in search of funding. Or perhaps you are doing a planning study for a very sensitive group and you want to do some hand drawn perspectives because the more real it looks, the more worried the neighborhood is about every detail and you really want to keep it vague.

    As far as making digital drawings look hand drawn, this is actually a useful thing. Getting back to client expectations of drawings in the conceptual phase….if you draw up multiple concepts in cad, all with the same layer names, then you can just throw those drawings into a program like Impression or M-Color and quickly churn out multiple hand-drawn concepts with the same look in a short amount of time. This keeps drawing time down in the concept phase and allows the client not to feel locked in. Another reason clients don’t favor too much computers in the beginning is the fear for the budget and the idea of using up too much money in the beginning.

    If you are spending tons of time trying to create hand drawn looks then I’m guessing you are creating something more than a concept or SD drawing. Many designers and clients like hand drawn effects because it brings a certain feel of richness and life that computer generated renderings sometimes lack. It’s amazing though how you can really create some cool things with a hybrid of the two. I saw some awesome perspectives from Foster and Partners that used this cool hybrid of watercolor and ink but it was obviously done in the computer and it was so rich that the client loved it.

    Another cool effect I saw was a presentation from an architect that started out looking like a hand drawn plan and then the view zoomed into it while it tilted and become a hand-drawn looking model and then the camera flew through it. That one really wowed the crowd.

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