A Quick Sketch for a Private Garden

Private Garden for a Federal-era house in Boston

I got a call last month from Michael Weishan, with whom I worked on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite a couple years ago (see here).  He was looking for a quick impromptu sketch, nothing too involved or specific, which would help a client of his understand something they had been studying together extensively in plan, but which was difficult for his clients to imagine spatially.

It seems the existing physical space didn’t really permit a full-scale mock-up of the idea, and barring that there’s only so much hand-waving and word-picture painting one can get away with.  It quickly became clear though that just a simple sketch would be enough to allow his clients to understand the idea and decide if all was headed in the right direction.

Michael provided a concept plan with the structures defined and plantings roughly indicated, and he was ‘brave’ enough to include his rough sketch for my reference. He modestly poo-poohed it, but the reality is, designers and architects can all sketch pretty well on their own.  …of course, I don’t tell them that, or I’d be out of a job.

I modeled it up, roughly and quickly, using his plan as the ‘texture’ for the ground on which I built the stone walls and other structures.

A screenshot of the model, kept simple, with no textures other than the plan as reference.

I rarely produce models for quick sketches.  But there were some elliptical stairs , and a wide-angle which would flirt with distortion, so I wanted to keep the perspective in check. Accuracy was preferable too, since I was also expecting to take this to full formal-pencil.  More on that in a bit.

A quick render…

Model Shot from Camera 02

And then I simply sketched over it in Photoshop.  This was to only be a camera test, one of a few test views for Michael to pick from.

My camera tests are very quick digital sketches done over a digital render of the model, with comments and questions written all over them, so that a client like Michael can decide which view works best.  Then I take the selected view and develop it more fully in pencil (or watercolor, digital paint, whatever…), producing the final rendering. The first round of camera tests (often three or four at a whack) is less about drawing and more about “What do you think of this view angle, or this one?” and “I have some questions and comments I need feedback on.”  Like these examples, from some previous jobs:

Typical Camera Tests

There’s a freshness to camera tests brought about by the speed with which they are done, the small audience (me, the client), and because they are less critical.  You don’t have to get everything right.  Heck, you don’t have to get ANYTHING right.  These are essentially story-board sketches.  They serve a brief thumbs-up/thumbs-down check on the direction we are headed with the image.  And then they get redone entirely, finessed, and made more formal.

Except this one.

The freshness of it hit me, and I realized there was no need to gild the lily.  I didn’t think it needed anything more to tell the story. Sure, pencil would be nice, but what were we trying to do ultimately? Well, to communicate an idea, quickly, with atmosphere and a little inspecific ease.  It was doing that for me, so I sent it off to him and, shooting myself in the foot, fee-wise, I said “This might actually be all you need, let me know.”  We’d assumed I would do it in pencil, but both of us liked the simple test enough that we recognized ‘it’ when we saw it.  No need for Michael to double or triple his expense if this sketch would answer the need, and I had work that was looming which needed starting… And so that was it…  Pencils down, everyone.  I sent it off to Michael at a higher resolution, and we called it a day.

Detail at full resolution. Sure, there's not much 'there' there. But there didn't need to be. And it worked all that much more because of it.

You may know Michael Weishan from his time with the PBS’s “Victory Garden”, from National Public Radio, his books, or from his numerous appearances on the ‘Today Show’ and  ‘Early Show.  Michael is currently working on a new program for PBS called “Garden Earth”, scheduled to run in 2012.  He founded Michael Weishan & Associates in 1986. See more of Michael’s work at michaelweishan.com

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2 Comments

Filed under Commissioned Work

2 responses to “A Quick Sketch for a Private Garden

  1. Lyle

    A great example of how less is often more. I really enjoy reading the reasoning behind the why and how you approach your illustrations. Is the modelling done in Sketchup, or is it Cinema 4D?

    • Thanks Lyle.
      I find there’s a freshness to the more quickly drawn images that can sometimes escape from the more formal work. I have had many clients who ask initially for two or three ‘formals’ but end up realizing that, for the same time and expense, they can get six looser sketches that tell the same story, are less involved, and which help communicate even more of the project.
      Whatever gets the job done, in my book.
      Jeff

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