February 13, 2011

“Just because we live in the age of the machine doesn’t mean we have to be ruled by the machine”  

                                                                                                                                                                                                              –  Frank Lloyd Wright 

Hand-drawn and colored landscape plans give you a sense that what you are doing is art, not just drafting.  Frank Lloyd Wrights’ famous house Falling Water in western Pennsylvania was hand drawn in just 3 hours.  This drawing was the concept plan, complete with section/elevations that conveyed his ideas to the client.  I have little doubt that had Wright had access to computer aided design, the construction documents would have been finished in that manner, combining two art forms. 

If you begin your career as a landscape designer/architect by working for a design-build firm or by drafting plans in an architect’s office, it will be absolutely necessary for you to be thoroughly conversant in CAD.  Auto-CAD and VectorWorks are the two most commonly used programs although there are many others.  Firms tend toward moving projects through quickly, making CAD design the only way to go.  Changes to a project are much simpler to deal with using a computer.  There is also the benefit of being able to send plans wherever they need to go in an instant via e-mail.

At the CSGD, we look at the hand-rendering vs. CAD-produced design plan this way:

Everyone going to art school learning to become an artist is first taught to draw in the classic style – for example, drawing the human form or landscape in a life-like way in charcoal from live models.  Once the student has a firm grounding in how to draw and paint, they can then spread their wings and try more “modern” techniques with full confidence.  It’s understanding the basics – how shapes relate to one another!

In other words, starting out by learning to draw and color-render plans by hand will give you a firm foundation in design.  Nothing feels the same as using pen-and-ink, colored pencils, pastels and/or markers on a pristine piece of paper, drawing to scale by hand using techniques, a drafting compass and your own neat lettering (neat lettering?this could be a blog in itself!).  Once you master these simple skills, if you eventually decide to try your hand at learning to design in CAD, the knowledge of how to design will still be with you.

No matter what anybody tells you, there is a difference – landscape plans done entirely by CAD can seem quite one-dimensional and, well, soulless.  The essence of the designer, of you, doesn’t necessarily come across.  One way to counteract that one-dimensional effect of CAD designing is to hand-color your master plan before presenting it to the client.  It is good to remember that CAD stands for Computer Aided Design (we could insert Drafting here).

 At the California School of Garden Design, we look to combine these different techniques by offering students a 2-day intro course in Google SketchUpSketchUp is a three dimensional presentation software – sort of CAD-lite.  It is a powerful and fairly easy to learn program – it does takes time to completely master, but is extremely “user-friendly” to the first time user – but once you do, you can take your clients on a 3-D tour of their proposed garden so they can see what their completed project could look like in various perspective views, including the views out of their windows.  For those clients who have difficulty visualizing their project when looking at a simple plan view on paper, this is an incredible help to them (and you). 

I feel that, at the design stage of a project you need to convey your ideas as effectively as possible – producing hand drawn sketches on site, creating perspective drawings in the studio (even as a wire frame and then hand rendering) and preparing a Mood Board are all techniques that help to sell your concept.  Hand drafting is a way of working with your initial ideas throughout your scope of work.  I truly believe that as you develop your ideas, by working initially on paper with pencil you tend to look at the entire landscape more effectively. Almost like the potter working with a lump of clay that they mould into their finished product.  In spite of CAD, there is still a demand for well-built, 3-dimensional models. 

Those who are familiar with history know that the Arts and Crafts movements in England and America evolved from a rejection of mass production, soulless architecture and the machine – returning to a love of hand crafted homes, furniture and gardens.  Genius Loci.  Let’s use all our talents in creating gardens for our clients and heed Wright’s quote from the title of this article.

One final quote from Wright

“There is the fluid, elastic period of becoming, as in the plan, when possibilities are infinite”

Above is an example of a hand drawn and colored plan on a Mood Board by Marcia D., one of our Beginning Design students.


  1. Judy Nauseef Says:

    Great post. I agree with Rob about the importance of learning to draft by hand and rendering computer drawn design concepts. Although I come from a fine arts background and learned to draw plans by hand, I still feel the need to draw more, which I do not do as often as I should. But I know it would only improve my designs. I had a famous drawing instructor who told me I needed to draw all the time, just scribbles were fine.

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