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Drawing comparisons

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technical & practice: First impressions are important so how do you chose between various styles of architectural illustration?

It is common for architectural firms to reach straight for their contact book of computer visualisers when thinking about ways to represent their design proposals to best effect.

The growth in virtual three-dimensional modelling packages has enabled many architects to prepare presentation drawings in-house beyond the wildest dreams of their own manual technical drawing skills.

Furthermore, the prevalence of visualisation companies producing dramatic walk- and fly-throughs has undoubtedly raised the aspirations of both designer and client alike.

So what of the other methods of producing graphic representations; what used to be called 'artists impressions'? Are clients forsaking handcrafted drawings and jumping on the techno-bandwagon? Here we look at the work of some 'traditional' artists and ask why they still do it.

Wash and brush up

Gerald Green is a watercolourist - an artist and architectural illustrator - who sees his illustration work as a bridge between fine art and technical drawing. Trained as an architect, Green has been working in illustration for 18 years, during which time the computer has clearly come to dominate the market. Green is circumspect: 'If an architect has the technology in house, then it's common sense to use it.' But he warns that many finished computer renderings can have a certain sterility about them.

This is why he is so keen on his watercolour approach; even though he acknowledges that it is a dying art, he believes strongly that it provides a more human, emotional angle on architecture. He considers his finished images to be part of the process; part of the development of the architectural realisation - a working drawing but also 'something which has a little of me in it'. He most enjoys his work when he feels engaged early into a project, able to participate in discussions about how to present the finished artwork.

Computa obscura

'The advent of computer graphics is now posing a threat, in the same way that photography brought on painting a century ago, ' he says. However, similarly, it brings opportunities, so that even though there are fewer and fewer people working in handcrafted artwork, their services are at a premium. Green has more work than ever before, with a client base of architects, property developers and even contractors.

In the same school, David Hoare uses watercolours and soft pencils because he enjoys the 'less precise medium' to digital renderings or even pen and ink. He admits that the choice of illustrator is 'very much horses for courses - some computer images are terrific'. What he worries about is the fact that many finished images that purport to be illustrations have been carried out by technicians with graphics packages and which lack artistic influence - 'no brushstrokes, no character, nothing left to the imagination of the viewer'.

'The computer is not very useful for conveying a project that isn't fully designed, ' he says, even though Hoare also often works to architects detailed drawings. But he finds that quick sketch proposals are most rewarding, where the architect is framing out a vision in his presence; helping to create a photofit. 'A thumbnail with an instruction that this is glass, this is brick, or whatever, means that I can then be left to produce something that shows the embryonic building to its best advantage, 'Hoare says.

Even though a computer can churn out information, 'is there any real reason to produce 15 internal perspectives where one, well done, will do?' Imagine showing a boardroom with a particular table that has been in the company for 50 years. A computer cannot do that. It is more likely to produce a generic table from a library of Ikea standards'.

As with commercial artists, Hoare is concerned that the profession is disappearing, with very few new and experienced artists coming through.

In the course of our conversation, he mentioned 10 or more names of recently departed illustrators.

Caught in the net of architect and client deadlines, maybe illustrators do not have such a relaxing, carefree profession as I had imagined.

Illustrated guide

The Society of Architectural Illustration (SAI) was founded in 1975 to foster the use of architectural perspectives as a necessary communication medium between a designer and the public, using a variety of graphic media and artistic interpretations.

The SAI, which has charitable status and whose previous patrons have included Sir John Betjeman, Sir Hugh Casson and Gordon Cullen, is also a resource base to find illustrators in your area.

Tim Monk of the SAI said that at a recent illustration presentation (at a university that shall remain nameless), the students who were well versed in 3D CAD images - and slightly bored with the flashy digital renderings - sat up in amazement at the work of Don Coe, wondering how he did it.

As chairman of the SAI, and an illustrator of 23 years standing, Coe sees this as much an indictment of architectural education as of a blind acceptance of possibilities of technology. Coe's work is simply hand drawn with a quick wash render. 'It's called drawing, ' he says.

Daily sketch and mail

His style has developed as the true meaning of efficient self-employment; as the quickest way to make money and save the rest of the day to indulge his love of vintage motorbikes.

Until the advent of the Internet, he would visit the architect, talk through the scheme, sit in the office to draw it up and travel home in the evening.

Now he boasts that he can discuss the project on the phone, receive transmissions of the architects' drawings and fax back three rough sketches within half an hour. On approval, he will complete the finished work within two hours which he then e-mails to the client. His style is very illustrative, reminiscent of Quentin Blake, and is very distinctive to those versed in computer graphics. Many clients will actually send him the printouts of basic computer models and ask that he 'put some life into them'.

An illustrator who produces very different images is Iain Denby. Denby produces conceptual sketches from the architects' rough sketches and elevations, interpreting the concept without focusing on design details.

His work gives the appearance of an air-brushed painting. The image below, showing a modern showcase storage facility, has been created using digital techniques and a variety of programmes.

In his more detailed renderings, Denby aims for more than photorealism and says that being an artist is the 'key to superior digital visualisation.

Good software and technical knowhow are not enough'.


Society of Architectural Illustration, Stroud, tel 01453 766958, www. sai. org. uk

Gerald Green, Nuneaton, tel 024 7632 5059, www. ggarts. demon. co. uk

David Hoare, London, tel 020 8852 7508

Don Coe, Rotherfield, East Sussex, tel 01892 852584, www3. mistral. co. uk/ doncodes lIain Denby, Leeds, tel 0113 258 5585, www. idenby. co. uk

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