Model Breakdown: Underwater House
Digital Watercolor-Style Tutorial
This tutorial covers the steps to quickly turn a basic SketchUp/VRAY view into a watercolor-style drawing. While there is no substitute for the real thing, the effect can be easily applied to give a drawing a softer and more conceptual or artistic feeling in contrast to the clean and perfect renderings that are now commonplace in our industry.
The example below uses a SU model that I created for the Los Angeles Civic Center Master Plan project in case you recognize LA City Hall.
Before getting started with your 3D model, it’s important to find an inspirational image to help guide the process along the way.
Here’s an aerial from a traditional watercolor artist I’ve had the pleasure of working with named Martin Kyle-Milward from Portland, OR. Traditional watercolor renderings share common traits that we can try to replicate in the computer. In this example, we’ll look at 4 key features for inspiration:
- background color wash
- landscape/tree variation
- level of architectural detail
- line weights
The layers and files used for post are listed below and are available for download to follow along:
- Watercolor paper texture
- Color wash (created w/ Photoshop)
- Watercolor tree PNGS (found online, used as components in SU)
Here is what the model looks like with watercolor trees and illustrative plan used as ground plane prior to rendering:
Export a VRAY render with default lights and settings.
Turn the tree layers off and export a clay render.
Export PNG of view as “hidden line” style from SU. (NOTE: Match VRAY view dimensions though some distorting may be necessary to get everything to line up) exactly.
Open all exports and source files in Photoshop and layer together.
Set gradient wash layer to overlay blend mode. Play around with transparency. Depending on how saturated you want your wash to be, anything between 30 and 70% could work. (NOTE: If you want to boost a particular color, do your gradients on separate layers so you can control transparency separately).
Select the VRAY clay render layer and adjust the levels to blow out the model detail leaving just colored shadows remaining.
Adjust the hue-saturation to give shadows a purple-blueish tone. This will give added color contrast to our shadows that would otherwise be lacking in just a VRAY render.
Set opacity around 40%.
Notice below how the shadows pop compared to without this layer.
Add any additional shadow details you want at this point. Since my trees were 2D in SU, the sun angle did not provide a nice shadow so I just stamped a few using a tree brush and set layer style to multiply.
Image above is starting to come together.
Turn on your lines layer and set layer style to multiply.
Adjust transparency or lighten lines till they fade and are just barely noticeable.
View with lines overlaid.
Turn on your paper texture layer. Set layer style to Multiply.
Adjust transparency to 60%.
This is sort of an optional step but if your view is still looking too crisp to feel like a convincing watercolor, duplicate your VRAY color layer and go to Filter/Artistic/Drybrush. Set size and detail to 10 and texture to 1. This blurs the image a bit and gives it a more painterly feel. (NOTE: Careful not to use too much as it begins to negate the effort of creating a nice VRAY render).
Adjust transparency to taste. I set mine at 20% so it just begins to soften the crisp VRAY edges and colors.
Last step is to any final clean up or edits like adjusting brightness and contrast. I also boosted the green grass a bit so it pops better. I also added a border around the view as if I just peeled the drafting tape off my recently painted masterpiece.
Here’s a detailed view of the final render. Total time from start to finish = less than 30 mins.
Feel free to try this method out. I would love to see any examples of someone trying this out on their own work so please send me samples if you have them.
Tutorial – Photoshop Basics PT5 – Custom Brush Textures
This tutorial covers adding organic textures such as shrubs and groundcover over your base layers in order to achieve a loose and soft effect. Use of repeating textures works for ground planes but not plant material. Custom and special effect brushes also work well for other ‘organic’ content such as water, rocks, flowers, etc…
Tutorial – Photoshop Basics PT4 – Patterns & Textures
This tutorial covers adding pattern images and textures to your drawing in order to create a sense of depth and detail it would otherwise lack. Different methods include non-seamless patterning using ‘paste into’ or layer masking, and seamless patterning using the ‘pattern overlay’ layer style. Tutorial also covers how to create custom pattern presets using seamless texture images that can be saved and reused over and over again.
Tutorial – Photoshop Basics PT3 – Adding Shadows
This tutorial looks at creating shadows for different objects using different methods, including: drop shadow, custom shadow brush, and shadow offset using layer copies. Other features covered include blend mode, blur, and dodge and burn tools.
Tutorial – Photoshop Basics PT 2 – Adding Entourage
This tutorial covers adding and manipulating entourage from outside sources to add to your drawing. Techniques include: background eraser, select by color range, transform (scale & rotate), multiple copy, and transparency.
Tutorial – Photoshop Basics PT 1 – Setup, Layers, Color
This tutorial cover the basic features of getting a drawing open and ready to color in Photoshop. It covers importing PDFs, layer set up, naming, and grouping, selection tools including lasso and magic wand, and finally filling with solid gradients.
Tutorial – Plotting PDFs from AutoCAD Using Plot Styles
This tutorial covers the process for loading custom CTB (color dependent plot style) files which give line thickness and color attributes to your CAD linework. After loading CTB files, tutorial covers the basics of plotting to PDF (*note: there are some, mostly visual, differences between CAD for Mac and PC so if you have trouble locating a button or setting, search for your specific question online and solve before continuing on).
Tutorial – AutoCAD 101
This tutorial covers several important drafting techniques in AutoCAD, including: drafting methodology, layers, blocks, UCS, ortho, grips, match properties, distance/measure, offset, trim, extend, poly lines, explode, fillet.
Tutorial – Exporting GIS Data to Adobe Illustrator
This tutorial looks at the process of exporting GIS shapefile linework from various sources from QGIS to Illustrator. Once in Illustrator, this tutorial covers layer management, stroke and fill settings, and editing linework. This process is used to quickly create detailed and accurate vector base maps for analysis and context mapping and diagramming.
Tutorial – Exporting GIS Data to DXF / DWG
This tutorial covers export options from QGIS to DXF format. Troubleshoots potential problems and provides work around in case export fails. This process comes in handy when needing to edit or manipulate linework in a program outside of GIS. Once in DXF format, data can be plotted to PDF or saved as DWG which can be read by other programs such as SketchUp.
Tutorial – Slope Analysis in SketchUp
This tutorial provides an overview of the Color by Slope Plugin by Chris Fulmer. This tool comes in hand for creating simple slope analysis in SU.
Download plugin her: extensions.sketchup.com/en/content/clf-color-slope
Tutorial – Creating Contour Lines from Google Earth in SketchUp
This tutorial looks at the method for creating quick contour lines in SU from imported Google Earth terrain. This feature comes in handy when no topo or survey data is available for a site. Contours can then be flattened and exported to Illustrator or CAD for further refinement and integration into other drawings.
Tutorial – SketchUp to Photoshop Basics
This tutorial covers the basic methodology for approaching entourage, texture and color edits to an exported SketchUp view using Photoshop. The tutorial looks at three different examples of views that need post production edits in order to be more technically accurate and visually appealing. These view are: 1. ground-level perspective view, 2. section cut, 3. plan view shadow study.
Some of the post production techniques covered here include: distorting textures to match perspective, adding people and shadows, adding and manipulating background sky textures, using brush presets for shrubs and clouds, adding atmosphere to give sense of distance, and much more.