Sketching with Sketchup
Jan 02 2012

Ever heard of the free 3D program Google SketchUp? A couple of months ago I ran across the term in the description of work on deviantart which sparked my curiosity and lead me to the SketchUp blog. Apparently illustrators are catching onto it like wildfire. The GS blog recently featured a prominent illustrator in the field named Harold Belker who describes how he uses the program to aid him in the creation of his jaw-dropping work. He states: “I literally use SketchUp the way I used to sketch with a pencil”. When I read that I thought to myself, could working in 3D really be faster than working traditionally? Any tool that can increase my productivity is worth trying. And free too? Sold.

Images Created Using Sketchup

Not bad, eh?

The Benefits of Sketchup

Now I’m no 3D expert but even I can work my way around the program. The software isn’t bloated and the tutorials are easy to follow. I can mock something up fast and use it as outlined perspective reference instead of having it do ALL the work for me like other programs. After all, as a concept artist there is a limit to how much work I should be doing in 3D when the point of a 2D concept is to help the 3D artist anyway. Otherwise, why not just be the 3D artist. Am I right?

Sketchup’s greatest advantage–it’s an excellent time saver. Back in my college days, we had to draw things by hand using the see-through construction drawing method, but these drawings take precious time when you have a deadline to make.



Did I mention we had to do these with no rulers? Brutal. So when I had the chance to mock up a lovely tank for a book cover I jumped on it. I was able to move to the painting stage much faster. Now I still have a lot to learn about Google SketchUp but once I get past the learning stage this program will become an even greater efficiency booster.



Sketchup in Action


Remember my article about DAZ? Since then I have been getting better with the program every time I open it. Except for it’s massively high crash rate (save frequently folks), it does a fair job of capturing great angles I couldn’t otherwise capture. AND I have just learned how to put GS models INTO DAZ and incorporate them into scenes. Not bad huh?

A Word of Caution

So far, I prefer using these tools as a means to an end–in other words, I am not going to be jumping into 3D work any time soon. I prefer 2D and I prefer drawing things out by hand. I don’t have a problem occasionally painting over things I have mocked up in Sketchup because I have built the shapes myself from the ground up and they are unshaded and simple outlines, but I don’t over-paint DAZ figures. I think that would limit the gesture and grace in my work. I don’t want my skills going dull on me. So yes, I suggest these programs but I do so with some fine print attached.


Don’t let any artistic tool become a crutch.

I am a firm believer that one should gain all the basic skills of art before taking any shortcuts. This is why when people ask me for advice on learning how to draw I always suggest working from the ground up in traditional medium. First learn the principles and elements of design, then learn perspective by doing construction line drawings, then learn value and light-sourcing by drawing spheres, cones, blocks, and eggs, then draw objects from life, then faces, then figures. Then learn to paint still life and landscapes, then faces, then figures, then illustrative scenes, AND THEN move to digital medium.

I highly recommend art school for anyone who is serious about becoming a professional artist. The amount of time, devotion, and guidance needed to achieve a professional level in a portfolio is nearly impossible to attain on one’s own in the same amount of time. Yes, there are many self taught artists out there who do fairly well but they will always be limited by what they don’t know. Landscape artists may have trouble painting a realistic figure with accurate proportions, portrait artists may find that creating a scene from imagination is difficult, etc. These artists are perfectly fine when they don’t step out of their box but someone in the commercial art field is required to draw just about anything from nothing. You don’t have to be limited. It is up to you to know your weaknesses and decide to fill them. I find that most people who ask me how to draw don’t really want to know the truth. They want a quick and easy solution to being a professional. There isn’t one. The portfolio speaks for itself.

So while I advocate DAZ studio and Google SketchUp, it is not meant to replace the valuable process of learning construction drawing and figure drawing but serve as a tool to enhance what you already know.

What programs and tools do you use to help your art?

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One thought on “Sketching with Sketchup

  1. The tools definitely enhance a persons work if they are gifted in art. But for most who are not artistic, the tools provide a simple way to realize concepts before going to a professional artist.

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