Pros and Cons of Hand Drawings and Computer Graphic Permaculture Designs

Somewhere near the early 2000’s I was co-founder of an architectural rendering firm that specialized in creating 3D renderings for architects using a computer graphic software called 3D Studio Viz. This was a specialized 3D animation software that was geared specifically to the architectural industry and was offered around the time that software giant Autodesk (who owns autocad) bought the 3D Studio company and started marketing 3D Studio under the Autodesk brand. Viz was essentially 3D Studio Max missing many of the robust features. I do not believe they make Viz any longer.
I spent the next decade or so diving deep into graphic design and 3D rendering. I am sure that has something to do with my preference of hand renderings over computer aided design. Before I go a little deeper into my thoughts on the pros and cons of both, it is wise to state that the advances of 3D computer software is outright amazing and the ease of access obtaining it is a reality the home user can seriously pursue. One of the key features to computer aided software for permaculture is the ability to give walk through animations of farms or homesteads before they are built. This alone is awesome!

A 3D rendering using 3D Studio Viz from autocad files circa 2000 for a church build proposal in Forth Worth, TX. The rendering helped secure funds to turn the proposal into a reality (photo).

Some PROS and CONS

  • Permaculture designs are usually implemented in stages over months or even years. Hand rendering offers the flexibility of thinking in strategy and time because your senses (hands and eyes) are involved in a touchable creative process and not just merely pointing and clicking which has the tendency to mundane the brain.
  • I would not say I am very skilled at hand renderings, especially compared to professional artists, but when I am drawing by hand it puts my mind into a thought process of connection and creativity. For instance – drawing a series of keyhole gardens by hand allows my mind the time it needs to reason where the irrigation will be placed and also how it will connect to the water source and/or other elements. Thus building the links and connections from element to element rather than quickly placing something in the computer.
  • The ability to drag and drop already created elements such as trees, rows, and garden beds is done very efficiently and quickly in computer programs. However, when doing this the brain tends to focus on finishing the computer task or what command comes next rather than creativity and connections.
  • Computer software does allow for elements to be placed easier, moved, and deleted in a much easier way than erasing and redrawing. To me that is a small plus compared to hand rendering that stretches the brain to the actual build out of the element/s. Placing the pencil to paper puts the mind into an architect AND builder mode, helping bring the design to a reality.
  • Pencils and paper come from trees which conventionally have a negative impact on the environment. However, with appropriate permaculture technology,  sustainable timber and fuel forests can be designed into systems which will produce wood that produces paper and pencils perpetually forever. Not only that but computer graphics are limited and attached to very high carbon credit computer manufacturing.
  • Hand rendering forces the mental processes to take the much needed time to clearly think through and design both the system and elements inside the design appropriately and thoroughly (often times with much erasing), thus both the designer and client win!
  • I almost always give a client a walk through on site design with either pencils or dry erase board during the first day of a consultation so they can gain a better understanding of what is being suggested. This also illustrates what and how some of the overall installations will be placed and look like. This is almost impossible to do with computers the same way as drawing it.
  • Not often discussed and one of the reasons I am writing the book “How to Plan and Develop a Permaculture Site” (fingers crossed for this year’s release), is that the design is really only a part of a consultation or install. The design’s great importance is one of connection and high quality brain storming, and also serves as a visual place mat that makes sense of everything, but it is the strategic implementation plan that is the meat and potatoes.
  • Computers definitely have a place in today’s world but may not be around or usable forever. Some type of hand drawing will always be relevant for as long as there are humans.

    Like this design information? Learn more in depth permaculture design in my Online Permaculture Design Course.

    ~Nicholas Burtner

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