Learning illustration methods, Where should I start?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Learning illustration methods, Where should I start?

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    Joe Larson

    In December I will graduate with my undergraduate degree in Environmental Design, which at the University of Minnesota is the undergraduate lead up to an MLA. Because of my financial situation I will be unable to study for my MLA, even though my dream is to be a landscape designer. One of the ways I see that happening with an undergraduate is to be killer at illustrations.

    What would you suggest I start honing my skills on? I have dabbled in both hand and computer, but don’t have a preference between the two, but rather like using both of them together. I am thinking of investing in either a CS4 suite, watercolors, colored pencils, or markers to start out with.

    Any advice coming from your individual experiences would be greatly appreciated.


    And I have already read most of the discussion on hand versus digital, but am looking for more advice on my personal situation.

    Bob Luther

    Why do you feel you need a MLA to become a Landscape designer, or even a Landscape Architect? Don’t focus on graphics skills, focus on being well rounded. If you must insist on being a standout graphics individual start with hand graphics, look at Mike Lin’s workshop or Richard Scott’s workshops for the best Landscape architectural graphics skills. If you master hand graphics you can transition into digital graphics much easier, all firms have some kind of hand rendering but not all have advanced to the point of embracing digital technology.

    If you truly want a job, understanding how things go together and Autocad skills are a better foot in the door advantage. Most students are disappointed when they get their first position in a firm and they are modifying details and doing data entry on redlined grading plans rather than being handed a design problem for them to solve. Graphics do help to get you into some firms but if you look at a lot of posts on this website graphics people have been the ones getting cut as of late and most firms make their money on construction documents not preliminary design graphics.

    To answer the original question i would prioritize graphics skills and media in the following order…

    1) hand sketching in pencil or ink
    2) perspective drawing skills
    3) Marker Skills
    4) Color Pencil
    5) SketchUp
    6) Photoshop CS2 or higher
    7) Illustrator
    8) Corel Painter
    9) Piranesi (if you have a background in SketchUp)
    10) advanced rendering engines – VUE, 3d Studio Max, Viz, etc.
    11) hand painting (watercolor or acrylic)

    Again you do not need great graphics, they definitely help but the industry has many opportunities for you to start working and then learn new skills from a wide range of talented designers in your firm.

    in my humble opinion.

    stephen carreker

    You will find that most firms hire people for their particular needs. If they need someone with grading skills then illustrating capabilities would not help. If they need a Manager then he would supervise an illustrator. Get the picture?
    If you can find the money, take one of Richard Scott’s Color Mastery courses. As a student of his I find his techniques quick and very effective. Will change your life! Money well spent!!!
    I wouldn’t waste time on a MLA at this point in time. Experience with a firm will be time better spent.
    A few books you should own are: Color Drawing by Doyle, Plan Graphics by Walker and Perspective Sketches by Walker.
    You can always pick someone’s techniques and just master them.
    SketchUp is pretty easy but, I much rather see someone draw their concepts by hand.
    Good luck,
    stephen carreker, asla

    Joe Beck, RLA


    I agree with what Bob and Stephen has recommended! Sound advice. I also suggest pursue what you love, and you will never work a day in your life. There are many games, one is being licensed which has a set pathway, but our professions is very broad and many pathways can fulfill your personal passions and goals. Be creative, more about that later.

    Master something you love. I love drawings, therefore I have become a master at sketching. Get a sketchbook and draw, draw, DRAW! Look at my sketchbook stuff. My first boss, Laurie Olin, FASLA instilled in me that the essence of a designer is in their ability to inspire others though drawings. Mastering hand drawings and perspective is the foundation. In my sketchbook, I draw where I am at, what right in front of me, I draw in Restaurants, bars, parks, Street scenes, etc. The subject matter not important, what important is drawing in perspective.

    Pursuing what you love and you will attract others like minded professionals or professionals who are looking for you, and your skill set.

    Since graduations in 1989, the course that has provide the most positives impact in every area of my life has been the Landmark Forum. Before I took the Landmark Forum in 1997, I was a self-righteous, arrogant, SOB, who knew I was RIGHT in all my opinions, therefore everybody else was WRONG! Looking back, this was the major contributing factor in my early termination in firms such as Hanna/Olin and The SWA Group. Being talented got me in the door, but the day to day interaction with others cost me my career and the golden opportunity to learn from the best. In the Landmark Forum I discovered my true passion, my love for people and wanting to make a difference AND the Bad news…the conflict I had with being RIGHT. In the Landmark Forum typically there are 150 people from all walks of life in the course and everybody in their own way are trying to making a difference. I got a simple distinction….I could have love or Be RIGHT! I could have one but not the other…a Simple choice. In the Landmark Forum I gave up the right to judge others and this simple choice has transformed my life….now I have friends from all walks of life, I am not threaten by anybody, but accept everybody for who they are and what they can contribute… this is a two-way street. Since the Landmark Forum (1997) I have been able to pursue all my passions by inventing new ways of being free from the constraints of my past.

    I don’t know your situation. The greatest things in my life came form my participation with the Landmark Forum and my Sketchbook. I am free to be me an Artist, making a difference with everybody I come into contact with. Find more about the Landmark Forum in your area at http://www.landmarkeducation.com or call me.

    Best of luck!

    Joe Larson

    Thank you all so much for your advice. Your comments are invaluable to a student like myself who has little contacts within the field.

    Bob, I don’t want to get an MLA because I have already been in school for 6 years and want to get into the field and start doing actual work. I am determined to succeed without one but why I feel like I should is because of the advice of my professors who obviously are biased, but also because people who hold positions similar to what I aspire to one day hold also have MLAs.
    Your comments on the importance of AutoCAD skills is inspiring to me because I was in Mechanical Engineering for awhile and thus my Cad skills are very solid.

    I don’t insist on being a standout graphics artist, because that is not what excites me most about the profession. I just see it as a way to get noticed and get my foot in the door so that I can than prove my other skills that are less easy to prove in an interview.

    Stephen, your words, “I wouldn’t waste time on a MLA at this point in time. Experience with a firm will be time better spent.”
    validates many hours spent on that difficult decision, and thank you for the book recomendations, I am especially excited to get Perspective Sketches.

    J. Waldron, RLA

    For graphics, I really like the work of Mike Lin. I highly recommend getting his book “Drawing and Designing with Confidence”

    He also holds seminars and training sessions of varying lengths. They are costly, but worth it for the results. Check out his website at http://www.beloose.com

    When I render, I like to use AD Chartpak markers on vellum. For non-LA related graphics, check out the work of Chip Foose. He works with Chartpak’s and his illustrations are unreal.

    Ryan A. Waggoner

    Haha, I thought I was the only LA Chip Foose fan. He has great graphics and works very fast and loose. He has a show called “Overhauling” which shows his renderings at least once an episode.
    I like to use AD Chartpaks on Vellum as well, and to me Staedtler ergosoft colored pencils are hands down the best. Mike Lin does have great graphics. People that attend his workshops definitely make pretty considerable improvements, but it is really expensive for poor college students on a budget.
    My advice would be to start out by sketching at least 3-5 hours per week, and pick up a few books to give you some general guidelines (local libraries are a good source if you don’t want to buy any). If you do have the cash, check out the bookstore here, as they are some good graphics books that many LAs consider must-haves. It’s important not to be too critical of your work, but also to be able to critique it retrospectively. You should see considerable improvements after a few weeks and begin to develop your own style. Once you are comfortable with your sketches you should start practicing with the various mediums, i.e. watercolor, colored pencils, charcoal, markers, etc.
    That is basically how we began to build our skills in school. Getting basic sketching and rendering skills help you as you begin delving into digital media as well. Good luck Joe!

    Bob Luther

    I know a lot of LA’s who are not MLA graduates (most actually), and I know a lot of MLAs who are professors. if you want a job in teaching or theoretical design then a MLA is a great thing to pursue, I think you can always go back to get an MLA if you want the knowledge but I think that the others are right in saying to get your feet wet and start working, I also got to a point at the end of my studies (8 years) and loooked into MLA programs, I found that firms wanted “eager” students not “over-opinionated” grad students (no offense to MLAs just a personal observation) because of this I decided to enter the profession with my BLA and have never looked back. Try to find a firm that does work in the field of Landscape architecture that you are passionate about and you will learn so much so quickly.

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