Daniel Ewald, landscape architect MNLA

Visualising landscape architecture: Combination techniques


Perspective from in-progress proposal for the new harbour-front park at Sandvika.

How is your workflow when creating visuals for your project? Through a range of projects I’ve explored several approaches to visualisation, and presently I feel most comfortable with the combined use of traditional techniques and available software. The reason for this is the desire to add a personal depth to the image, which, in my opinion, is harder to achieve solely through the use of digital renderings. This post will explain the steps used in creating the perspective image above.

What techniques we use to communicate our projects visually is a matter of experience, personal preference and tools available to us. What do you want to show, and to what audience? Establishing a style of presentation and workflow to create convincing visuals is fundamentally important for us as landscape architects, and there are as many approaches here as there are creative minds.

Today I use a mix of hand drawing and computer rendering to create visuals for our office. The process usually starts with a 2D plan.


Plan drawing. Autodesk AutoCAD exported to and coloured with Adobe Illustrator.

When imported to a 3D-modelling software, this plan can be draped onto a terrain surface and establish the foundation for a perspective render. In this particular project, we had access to terrain and building data in 3D, which was used to create a mock-up environment in Autodesk Infraworks.


Perspective from Infraworks with 2D-plan draped on surface.

In this particular case it was important to also include the environment in the background. This is where Google Earth comes in handy.

perspektivgrunnlag google earth

Environment from Google Earth.

The aerial perspective from Google Earth was then combined with the Infraworks render to create a basis for hand rendering.


Combined render. Adobe Photoshop


Hand render. Technical pencil on A1 paper.

Note: The process of establishing the basis for hand rendering can of course be shortened. In most projects, it is not desired nor required to create a huge mock-up model of the surroundings. The reasons for combining Google Earth aerials and Infraworks perspectives in this case was due to perspective limitations in Google Earth. For more detailed perspectives, Google Earth’s 3D environment quickly becomes too crude to work with. In these cases, it’s both quicker and more favourable to create a Sketch-Up model of the project.


Colouring of hand render in Adobe Photoshop.

When complete, I scan the hand render to high resolution and start colouring using a predefined palette.



Complete rendering with layers for shadows, highlights and atmospheric effects.

I find the discussion between choosing hand renders as your final output (or in this case, a combination) rather than digital renders very interesting. To some people, the process I’ve just described may seem awkward. The result is something that can be described as a hand render due to its appearance, but truth be told it is just as much a digital render. More than just a discussion of choosing the right tools for the job, it becomes a discussion of how you want your image to be experienced by the audience.

In his excellent book on visuals for landscape architects, Edward Hutchinson (2011) says this about a plan his office created using combination techniques: “The freehand quality of this drawing softens its impact and gives it an approachability. It was felt that residents who knew the area might have been alienated if presented with a colder, more overtly machine-made image”. 

I think Hutchinson makes a critical point. Today where digital plans and renders are abundant and most offices know how to create them, it’s worth reflecting on how things may be perceived by the audience – what resonates with people, what distances them – and what looks just like everything else.


Hutchinson, Edward. Drawing for Landscape Architecture. From Sketch to Screen to Site. London, 2011.

Filed under: Illustrations, Photoshop, Projects, , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Knut Andreas says:

    Veldig bra post, Daniel. Inspirerende å se bruken av håndtegninger i slike perspektiver.

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Magasinet KOTE
BIM for landskap


April 2016
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