Landscape Architecture Rendering with Eric Arneson

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Eric Arneson is a landscape designer at the San Francisco-based firm, Antonia Bava Landscape Architects. We’ve been following his short recorded videos on Instagram (@pangeaexpress) and marveling at how good he is at it. We asked him to document how he uses SketchBook in his multi-step, multi-app process. It results in vibrant and colorful renderings that are sure to win approval from both clients and the public at large.


SketchBook is a great solution for landscape architects and a designer who appreciate hand-drawn graphics but also relies on the speed and efficiency of digital programs. This tutorial will show you how you can use SketchBook Pro as an integrated member of your design workflow to create beautiful and functional hand graphics for a landscape plan. (For this tutorial, I will be using the mobile version of SketchBook Pro on a Microsoft Surface 4 Pro.)

Drawing Base Export and Setup

First I begin with a base plan, in this case drawn in AutoCad. You can use any type of program to create a base layer, with as much or as little detail as desired.


For my process, I export two separate PDFs from the same viewport, one with hardscape (structures) and the other with planting.



Creating Transparent PNG Files

I then upload these PDFs to Photoshop to save as a PNG with transparent backgrounds. This will allow me to color beneath the line work in SketchBook Pro. (When in Photoshop make sure to turn off the white background before saving the PNG format.)



Import PNG Bases Files

After creating the PNG files for the hardscape and planting drawings, I then open these files on individual layers in SketchBook Pro.



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Layer Setup

Before I begin the rendering I must create my layers. Layers are incredibly important in guaranteeing the drawing is neat and easily editable. Clean and organized layers will save you from immense frustration and headache if done correctly. (To add new layers click the “+” icon in the “Layer Editor” tab.)


The layers I will use go in the following order from top layer to bottom:

  • Reference: reference images, hardscape, planting
  • Plant Lines 2: tree outlines, tree details
  • Plant Lines 1: understory outlines, stippling, and various vegetation detail
  • Planting Base: The planting base will be used as a guide for adding detailed line work for the plants. LOCK THIS LAYER*
  • Hardscape Base: This hardscape base remains as the basic layout for the drawing. LOCK THIS LAYER*
  • Plant 3: tree color
  • Shadow 2: This will be the layer of shadow cast from the larger objects such as the trees and buildings.
  • Plant 2: shrub/mid-range plant color
  • Shadow1: This will be the shadow cast from the smaller objects, shrubs, fences steps, etc.
  • Hardscape2: This layer will be the concrete and other hardscape materials.
  • Hardscape1: This layer will be the wood.
  • Plants1: groundcovers, lawn, and various other vegetation color

Recommended Brushes

SketchBook has a great variety of brushes, and I highly recommend that you explore them to find your own preferred brush. For this rendering the following brushes were used:


Ink Pen, Basic: This pressure-sensitive brush is great for sketchy texturing and vegetation line work where inconsistent line weight is needed.


Ballpoint Pen, Basic: This brush is great for when you want clean and consistent line weights.


Conceptual 2, Artist: This brush is slightly transparent and blends very well. In my experience it behaves the most similar to a marker. It is perfect for filling in large areas and coloring plants.


Round Tip, Textured Watercolors: This textured brush is pressure sensitive and is ideal for creating  shadows with a watercolor effect.


Fine Tip Blender, Textured Watercolors: This brush is great for blending any hard lines when creating smooth gradations.

Reference Images

Once you have opened your design bases and set up your layers, the next step is to open any reference material you may have. This could include color palettes, hardscape and planting materials, etc.  For this drawing I have created an image board that includes the hardscape and planting materials so I can easily reference any colors I may need while creating the rendering. Add this to your Reference layer.


Creating a Color Palette


Creating a color palette for your rendering helps you maintain consistency and ensure your drawing is balanced and stays true to the design intent. One way to accomplish this is to create color swatches from your reference images that can later be used as when selecting colors. To do this you simply hold the (i) key over the image you want to reference and select various colors and shades of color from your source image. You can later use these colors when rendering the associated planting/hardscape materials.


Filling in the Void

With all the setup complete now, all the funs begins! I prefer to begin with coloring in all the empty/white space that will be filled in for the final render. I used a reference color from the lawn image since it is the largest area of the plan. (Using the bottom layer, Plant 1.)



You can do the same for the hardscape. Make sure to change your layers when switching coloring subjects. (Use the Hardscape2 layer.)


Fill in any other hardscape materials. For wood decking, you will want to fill in the base with the lightest color from your reference materials. Then you will bring in darker colors to add a more realistic effect. This will take some practice. (Use the Hardscape1 layer.)


Planting Texture

Next is to trace over the planting base to make it have a more hand-drawn aesthetic. You could keep the line work from AutoCad if you prefer and just skip this step. (Use the Plant Lines 2 layer for trees and Plant Lines 1 for shrubs, groundcover, and lawn.)


Fill in the Trees

After outlining your planting, you can begin filling in the foundation color for trees on the Plant 3 layer. Coloring in the trees first will save you time so you won’t fill in the shrubs and groundcovers that will be covered by the tree.



Fill in the Shrubs and Groundcover

Next you can fill in your Plant 2 layer by selecting a reference color from the shrubs. Do the same for your groundcovers on the Plant 1 layer.


Shading and Gradations

Now use reference colors from your tree image and begin to shade the tree as if it has a light source shining from one side, keeping the angle for the shading the same throughout. Use three shades of green: one dark, medium, and light. When done correctly the trees will “pop” off the plan and give a sense of three dimensionality. (Use layer Plant 3.)



Creating shadows is another step to make the rendering more three dimensional. To create a neat and clean shadow simply copy your Plant Line 2 layer and move/offset in-line with the shading you created for the trees. Merge this new layer with your Shadow 2 layer and begin to fill in with a slightly transparent deep purple/blue.


Copying Similar Objects

If you have many shapes that are very similar you can simply fill in one of the shapes and copy/move it to wherever you desire. (The move tool moves everything on the layer so you must copy one item at a time to separate layers to move them.)


Shading Shrubs and Groundcover

Adding gradations and shading to shrubs and groundcovers also adds more dimension. (Use Plant 2 and Plant 1.)


Line Work Detail

Lastly, add miscellaneous detail by stippling and texturizing materials/planting. Use Layer Plant Lines 2 and Plant Lines 1.


Layers Are Key

With proper layering management you will end up with a clean file that can be easily edited by yourself or your coworkers for revisions and edits.



When you are finished with rendering you can export your file from SketchBook to TIFF, JPG, PNG, and PSD for labeling, printing, and presentation.

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