Why designers are afraid of showing hand sketches to their clients?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GRAPHICS Why designers are afraid of showing hand sketches to their clients?

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    Mike Lin

    Do you have this kind of problems and always try to find an excuse not to draw by hand?  But you know drawing by hand is very important to relate your ideas to your clients more efficiently, but you are just afraid of doing it.

    I am sure I can help addressing some of your questions or concerns as I have spent over 35 years of my life teaching people how to draw quickly and convincingly with great confidence. Looking forward to your reply and I hope I can share some of my experience with you.

    Mike Lin, ASLA, ASAI
    BeLoose Graphic Workshop

    Zach Watson

    I don’t know that I can speak for anyone else here, but as I am now in the midst of completing my final year of schooling, I have always been concerned of showing hand graphics in final presentations because in many ways they don’t look as ‘finished’ as computer rendered presentations.  


    Additionally, while I continue to look at ‘Professional’ art work (mostly just children picture books) that have the illustration drawn or painted by hand, they don’t look as perfect as I once thought that they were, which in turn tells me that my hand rendered work doesn’t have to be as perfect as I once thought that it did.  I mean I took a number of art/drawing/paint classes in high school and was quite often complemented on my work but my issue then was that the finished work did not look like I had pictured it in my minds eye.


    I guess now that I think of it maybe that is part of the issue also, if someone envisions a design one way in their minds eye and then is not able to replicate that in a hand drawing but is able to do so with the computer because of both perspective tools and the ability to edit if it doesn’t look like it should it can be easily changed to match the vision of the project.  What I can say though is that just looking at the artwork of other’s and critiquing it, drawing by hand is starting to become less intimidating.  

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    As someone with low end hand drawing skills, I can tell you why I do not show much hand sketching to my clients. It is a simple answer. It is best to work with your best and most effective assetts rather than working with a lesser skill just because it is industry standard to do so.


    I used to worry about it or was “afraid” as you say, but this was based on trying to play the standard role of what landscape architects are supposed to do. I left school in 1983 because I did not draw well and was advised that there was little chance that I’d be hired (before cad was a big part of the mix). I went back in ’94 to learn CAD and finish my degree. Between those times, I “design” landscapes, sold them, and built them with hardly ever drawing anything. I built an ability to overcome a lack of drawing skills. Of course my projects and clientele were limited.


    I went back to school, learned CAD so that I could have layout plans and construction documents. I am able to do the type of projects that I want to do without additional drawing skills. Would I like them? Hell yes. Do I need them – no. They are not a priority for me at this time.


    One person’s first hand answer. My excuse is “I don’t draw well”  and no one seems to mind at all.

    Matt Sprouse

    I think one of our biggest assets as a profession is the (supposed) ability to communicate with our drawings – especially hand drawings.  I understand that not everyone’s hand sketching skills are at the top of their game, but it is critical that we deliver to our clients images that show our creativity and inspiration.  Hand drawings are, in a sense, our first line of defense.

    Showing a client conceptual sketches and renderings has always seemed to put them at ease – like the design process is open and not etched in stone.  I have seen the opposite be true that showing a client a computer-generated image of the same conceptual work makes them uneasy.  It is as if there is no room for change or adjustment in the design.  When I have meetings with clients, i bring ALL of my trash overlays and sketches along with the ‘final’ presentation images.  I want them to see process and that I didn’t just pull the concept out of the sky.  It also helps in justifying fees that are associated with the design process.   I think the client needs to see the roadmap of how the design got there, not just the destination.

    As a final thought, when we have interviewed new designers (back when folks were still hiring), I wanted to see hand sketches over computer graphics any day.  In a portfolio, a polished image of a school project does not relay thinking skills.  You have to show your process.  Process, process, process!  


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    No arguement from me Matt. You are working with your strengths and graphic communication, especially instant (ie, hand) communication, is a skill that any employer wants to have in his employee. People without that skill (such as myself) are not very marketable as employees in this profession.


    It is a handicap that should be avoided, but as with most handicaps it can be overcome. Depending on the handicap and the intended activity, it can be well overcome or leave one totally ineffective. In my case, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with it only being an inconvenience that I can not whip off a nice sketch to communicate an idea instantly. I don’t advocate this, just answering the question posed in the title of the thread. Perhaps, if I can find the time, I will partake in one of Mike’s workshops. Right now, it is unnecessary for me, but so was using a tape when a laser was available. I get by, but it would be great to sketch effectively as well.





    Mike Lin

    Hi Zach,

    You should know the different between designers verse artists, please read the following link I posted a while ago:


    So you don’t need to draw well at all as a designer, you just need to know some basic skills to communicate your ideas with your clients.  Excited?

    ernie garcia

    I think a good deal of us already out of school are so ingrained in our CAD programs that we forget (or never learned) how to draw by hand.  After I was laid off from a company that did little to no hand drawing (unless I was asked to draw a perspective), I went back to doing my residential work by hand. 

    Here sketchup works as a blessing and a curse.  I use sketch up as an underlay for my drawings when I want accuracy but a bit of freehand as well.  It looks nice and it frees me from extruding everything by hand, but it always feels like cheating.  Still, clients have loved it and it gets my ideas across.  Plus, sketchup lets me choose wherever I want to place my view.  Recently, I have been walking around the city and trying to develop the ability to render on the fly with no back up.  It’s like any other skill.  You have to work it to get better at it, and if you stop doing it, your proficiency with it will diminish.

    Jose Garza

    I am a Landscape Designer and use a different approach to hand drawn designs. I normally sketch right in front of the client during our first meeting, by doing so it has help me understand what they are looking for and they can see that I undrestand their needs and expectations.






    I totally AGREE with you….that “hand drawing skills” are very important for Landscape Architects.  I earned my B.S. in LA back in 1977.  I have learned that even the TOP LA firms in the U.S. (i.e., EDAW, Belt Collins & EDSA)….produce hand drawn preliminary sketches and color renderings BEFORE they go autoCAD or any computer software programs.  Maybe I’m just (old school), but I still believe that “hand drawn color renderings”…if well done, are more impressive than Photoshop or computer software drawings. When dealing with clients, I show them original sketches, thumbnails and preliminary color renderings…this helps my clients “understand” there is a design process.  When clients see a Photoshop preliminary color rendering, it looks too FINAL….like the client doesn’t feel they can make changes to it.  Also, I’ve seen so many Photoshop or other computer software color renderings that look like “paint by number”…the colors look flat and many of these presentation drawings look very “elementary”.  Though, I’ve also seen some beautifully produced “computer generated color renderings”…but I know many of these types of drawings cost thousands of dollars. I personally feel that “graphic design” should be a stronger emphasis at university LA programs.  You can have a FANTASTIC design, but if the presentation is poorly done, you client may reject it.  AND, at the same time, you could have a FANTASTIC looking presentation drawing, but if the design is poorly done….the designer has not achieved success.  GREAT graphics and GREAT designs can NOT be separated.  I have also come across LA firms where young LAs are doing their design work right on their autoCAD programs…..because, they can’t do hand drawings…they don’t understand that you have to  be loose and use hand drawing skills to be “creative”….to think through the design process.  I understand the value of good autoCAD and other computer graphic drawing skills….but, there really is no substitute for GREAT “hand drawing” skills.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Plano, Texas


    Jose……Well, I made the MISTAKE of meeting with a (potential client) several years ago (he was an attorney)……we walked his property (a residence in the $600,000.00 price range)…as we walked, I gave him my thoughts, some ideas of what I might do with a design.  The day after we met at his home, I mailed him a “Landscape Architectural Design Services Proposal”….guess what, NEVER heard from him again…plus, he didn’t even pay me the $250.00 for my consultation (that we agree on).


    I just don’t think it’s WISE to give out ANY (design info.) to potential clients…..NOT until you have a “signed agreement”.  Even then, it’s not a bad idea to ask for 15% of the contract amt. up front – in fact, for residential projects, I have always requested 50% up front…the remaining 50% to be paid when the final drawings are delivered.  If you have a strong resume’ & portfolio to show your potential clients…you shouldn’t feel like you need to show “prelim. design ideas” to a possible client. 

    Alan Ray, RLA

    I show hand sketches to clients almost daily….what’s the big deal?

    Of course, when I was in school, we had to take art appreciation, art design, freehand drawing, and 3D.

    It was part of the cirruculum….there was also a LA course called Presentation Methods…..no computers back then in the earry 70’s….it’s too bad hand drawing is no longer taught….I find it

    a very valuable skill…a skill any LA should have….

    nothing looks more artistic and natural than a freehand drawing.

    It’s really a shame that after 5 years of college some can’t draw except by computer….what are they teaching instead?

    I do use cad for my construction documents but all of my concepts and preliminary drawings are hand drawn.


    Alan Ray, RLA

    Robert, you may find it interesting that my Presentation Methods teacher was Harlow Landphair.

    We had him at MSU before he went to Texas A&M…he was a fantastic professor.

    Oh, and Welcome to the SEC…a great addition to the confrence.

    Roland Beinert

    I really agree with what Mike said about designers versus artists. One of my bosses would always visit clients and bring back sketches. They always seemed messy to me, and I had problems figuring out what things were when he asked me to redraft them. But they must have worked for the client. The important thing was that he was able to show his client what he meant rather than just talking at them and produce a record of what they talked about that could be easily translated into a refined plan. You simply cannot do that with a CAD program. My advice is don’t be afraid of sketching, at least in the beginning of the process, no matter what your skill level is.


    Hello Alan;

    Yes, I definitely remember Harlow Landphair…..and for several years (up until about a year ago, I had been exchanging e-mails with Prof. Michael Murphy).  Actually, I had taken my first architectural drawing course in the 7th grade (at age 12) & again in the 9th, 10th & 12th grades…plus, 3 art courses. I also had several design courses at The University of North Texas (3 semesters); then, spend 4 yrs. on an Aircraft Carrier in the Mediterranean Sea; then, onto Texas A&M for my B.S. degree in Landscape Architecture.  So, when I entered A&M, I already had a TON of art, graphic design & architectural drawing (by hand) experience…it really came in handy too!  Plus, my Dad was a professional Graphic Designer, as was my wife (the entire time I was at A&M)…she is incredibly talented…it was like living with a University Graphics Designer.

    Of course, back then (74 to 77), AutoCad wasn’t taught at A&M.  I spent 30 yrs. in my LA profession producing ALL documents by hand…never rec’d a single complaint from a client or a request to produce my drawings on CAD.  However, I am not doing a collaboration with a younger LA who is completely proficient on ALL of the various computer software drawing programs.  This is turning out to be a great professional relationship….his computer talents combined with my 35+ years of LA design experience.

    I STILL plan to do all “preliminary” designs…(by hand)….I present prelim. designs along with preliminary cost estimates to my clients.  After the client approves that design, I can proceed with final autoCad contract documents. 

    Well….I think we do “differ” a bit on showing clients sketches up front.  I have found that (some) clients will take your ideas…and go find a Landscape Contractor and have him/her install the plants, deck, etc….without having retained my LA design services.  So, when I meet with potential NEW clients, I tend to show them my portfolio & resume’…..and discuss their landscape architectural design needs…..their wish list.  If the client is a developer, we review the Architect’s & Civil Engineering Plans….but, until I have a SIGNED AGREEMENT…I tend not to offer ANY ideas.

    Yes…..GREAT that Texas A&M has joined the SEC!  Every Aggie I know is very excited about Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy….the great 2013 recruiting class and this upcoming football season…..should be another GREAT one!

    Alan Ray, RLA

    Hey Robert, the way I keep clients from taking my drawings to others and not paying is

    I don’t even make an initial  site visit for free. I explain over the phone that if I come to their

    place I’m working and expect to get paid for my time, including travel time. I find it to be a real good way to qualify the client….If they quibble over that, I don’t want to get involved.

    I don’t draw anything on site and have them agree to terms for additional work before I begin.

    I have found this works quite well and I always get paid for my time.

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