Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Low-tech tricks for drawing your edible garden ideas into reality

The only reason people let me make gardens on their land is that I show them a picture of how it will look. They get captivated, they find the resources, and it all becomes real. 

I drew this self-watering useful swamp for a Tokyo Rail platform garden.  I imagined irises, purple asparagus, lotus, thyme, taro and some lovely bullrushes, for thatch.

Someone then got inspired to actually have a go at making it. Its not at a train station, and not the plants I chose, but its a really good start.

Learning to draw better is not hard.
Its just like a language nobody has taught you.  Its more fun than meditating, and you have something to show for it afterwards.
You will freak out at how you have never looked at ANYTHING until you have tried drawing it. Even the face of your most loved person - you will see it for the first time.

If you can draw on paper a garden you imagined, you have done most of the work.  The garden already exists, in your mind and you desire. Maybe it starts existing in the desire of the viewer as well.
This newly-conceived garden of yours is just waiting for a day in the diary, a shopping trip, a planting party, and these events are jumping up and down to happen.
Its a bit like those first kisses that are so good, making children is semi-inevitable.

I used to run workshops on drawing up balcony gardens, and I will again. My students improved so quickly, we all got a surprise. There are all these tricks, someone just has to show them to you.

Easy way to draw a garden

1. Take a photo of a place you wish to make lovely.

Asaba Art Square garden, before.

2. Get it up on your computer screen. Or if its a hard-copy picture, tape it under a glass table, and put a lamp underneath.

3. Put paper over the top, turn out the lights, trace over the structural things - trees, walls. Use your brain so you don't hurt your computer screen, or make anything catch fire. If you can't work out how to do this safely, its not a good idea for you to become a designer.

In my fantasy, I opened up the drains as rivers of stepping stones.  I had wall-mounted tanks and sun-catching wall-garden. The heavy bridge, I ignored. Compass on the right shows where sun will shine.

4. Erase what you don't want.

5. Now, do a Google image search of plants you think would suit. Trace them, separately.

6. Practice drawing them freehand, by looking at the simplicity of your  tracings, and the subtlety of the original photo. Do this three times, and watch yourself improve as you 'get intimate' with how this plant is shaped. (added bonus: You will have a deeper love for this plant for the rest of your life. Seeing it will give you a pang of friendship)

7. Freehand draw or trace your plants in. If tracing, copy and shrink them first in a program that gives you control over size, like Word or i-web.

Asaba Permaculture Garden color version with dachshund digging area

8. Your pencil sketch is finished!

Tips to make your tracing and 'pasting' look good

Now make it look good, in pencil or in color.
Pencil is usually enough to get a garden started, if you finish it nicely.
To add color, I put my pencil drawing back on the light box, fresh blank paper on top. I trace its outlines in Copic fine liner pen, then color in with marker pens, blending colors as I go.

Marker pen is not erasable, so I work slowly, deciding easy colors (green) first, commit to important colors last, kind of holding my breath till the end.
Just like my life.

Add contrast
Light things on dark, dark things on light, or else they all blend into shapelessness.

Make it friendly:
Can you see elements that look like they might be family, or at least friends? The orb of the passion fruit echos the sphere of the pink snail. The possum winds up the spring of his curly tail to fit in with the the passionfruit tendril. Emphasize these similarities. This brings connection and love to your picture, and keeps you entertained.

Use minimum image to achieve maximum communication. Don't draw ten leaves when three will do the job.

Get Appreciative
Adjust things so that negative space looks good too, so that there is no rejected, leftover, useless thing in your picture. Value the marginal. Its better to use up 'unemployed' space by exaggerating the size of plants and objects, so they can express themselves to the viewer.  You make background space smaller, like a halo. Other space can be made bigger - not unemployed, but a place for the eye to rest.
Again, get decisive.

Design for my business card. Not very business-like, is it? Me neither.

Check Perspective
You don't have to use perspective, you can draw things flat, like a medieval tapestry, or a kindergarten painting.
But be decisive, don't half-use perspective, it makes the viewer uneasy. In Perspecive, all horizontal lines, like the edges of these square tins eventually converge to a point in the distance. Find that point. Check that ALL the lines converge. Check that as distance increases, objects get smaller in the right proportions.

Vanilla, Rose, and  Blueberry Tea window box garden

I didn't trace this one, so had to work the perspective out myself. Its not too bad, but not good. 
The hand-drawn lines allow me to be forgiven - everything is wonky.
Except the idea. Nothing wrong with that.
Growing your own Vanilla, Rose and Blueberry tea window-box garden: its completely possible.

Somebody please have a go and bring this picture to life for me.  

Cecilia and Kohei working, July 2010
Permaculture workshop July, with concrete wall making

Asabas garden November 2010

Asaba's garden after declutter but before construction June 2010

With a vision, the energy to create just appears.


Øyvind Holmstad said...

Your drawings are so full of the 15 properties of life, like alternating repetition, thick boundaries etc.

I just started looking into Nikos Salingaros last book, Twelve Lectures on Architecture, it's fantastic! The 15 properties are described here, together with hundreds of other techniques and calculations needed to make things beautifull. The book is like a big tool box.

Sarah said...

Thanks for these tips. I love your artwork and always wish I could do the same, to bring to life the vision in my head so I can show people then they can fall in love with the potential garden.
You've inspired me to give it a go rather than saying it is my mother and sisters with the creative genes

Gayle said...

I am totally in awe of your talent - your drawings are absolutely beautiful. Your business card is wonderful too.

Do you sell your illustrations?

Em said...

Thanks for another great post! I am almost finished my PDC and preparing to start my own business so these tips will definitely come in handy! Just a quick question - do you have a particular favourite brand of markers and what sort of paper do you use? One thing I adore about your illustrations is the colours and the almost waterpaint-like blended effect. I would love to be able to do something similar!

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Gale, thankyou! I have a set of 8 postcards and stories, which I sell when I do presentations. I wonder how I could sell them on the internet? Right now I'm working on some illustrated How-To minibooks, but I don't know where to find a pretty bok designer. Any introductions and advice very welcome : )

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Dear Sarah and Gale,
I'm so glad this post was useful. I use Japanese Copic pens on humble photocopy paper. Someone once asked why my colors are restricted to just pink and green. I said its because the pens cost $12 each, and I have to saving up to add a color. But because they are refillable, and blendable, I've been using the same ones since I started drawing in 2003.

I will be running workshops later this month, in getting started as a drawing, working permaculture designer. Every street needs one.

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Oyvind, its always great to have your comments. Im thinking, the reason we admire Alexanders thinking is because he describes things that as lovers of beauty and life, we already know. I wonder why we do? Early exposure, maybe? I grew up in an Edwardian Era-Farmhouse, it was beautiful.

Gayle said...

Hi Cecilia,
Regarding your garden illustrations book designer - here are a couple of links you might have a look at:

As far as selling them on the web - I have a gardening website. Maybe we could do something together? I'm at if you want to take a look.