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“I bumped into SketchUp at version 5!”

Paul Hensey is a specialist in design, horticulture and construction techniques. He is the Principal at Green Zone Garden and Landscape Design, Midhurst, West Sussex. Paul is a Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers and former Vice Chair, Member Chartered Institute Horticulture, Member Garden Media Guild & a Technical Journalist and Author specialising in Construction techniques, materials and Computer Aided Design. A landscape & garden designer since 1999, with numerous awards, inc Gold & Best in show and Most Innovative Garden at RHS Tatton, Hampton Court and Chelsea and an SGD Award winner 2019. A frequent lecturer on construction detailing and an educator and trainer in SketchUp, he enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge of the world’s favourite 3D modeller and we’re delighted that he’s guest written an article for our Blog. You’ll also be able to come and see Paul in person at our upcoming SketchUp event at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge where he’ll be sharing valuable insights into his use of SketchUp, particularly LayOut.

His new book “Construction Detailing for Landscape and Garden Design Volume 2 – Water Features” is out now.

I bumped into SketchUp at version 5, shortly before Google acquired it. I was returning from living in Scandinavia and needed a cheap and simple software solution to support my new business as a landscape and garden designer. I had been used to high end 3D CAD systems, working as an industrial designer and I was struggling to make anything fit the way I worked, whilst being on a scale that I could manage as a one-man operation.

SketchUp was somewhat simplistic at that time, but then so were my designs, it was a good fit. I have been a loyal user, perhaps even an evangelist ever since.

I am now based in West Sussex, designing landscapes and garden schemes throughout the South of England. I work on intimate back yards, roof terraces through to large country estates. Because of my engineering background I have a passion for solving three dimensional problems and construction detailing is where I am happiest. Whilst I can visualise how everything fits, I need to communicate it to those who will actually do the work, so everything gets modelled. If two or more things come together then the has to be a drawing and for there to be a drawing there has to be a model. I do it well enough that I am employed by many other designers to do the detailing and problem solving on their projects and it now forms a significant portion of my business. Encountering so many aspects of construction inspired me to record the solutions to typical situations and I have two books published on construction, all of the illustrations were of course created in SketchUp.

I work almost exclusively in SketchUp and where I do step outside the software to develop images or presentations in particular; I am working on geometry that has been exported from SketchUp.

I have a pretty robust workflow. At the start of a project, data can arrive in several ways: whether as a .dwg plan of the site from an architect or surveyor, through to a doodle on a scrap of paper indicating a designer’s vision; many designers use CAD to capture their idea but have no wish or interest in driving the software to work out the details and anticipate problems. Its important to get an accurate representation of the existing site or space and so I always create a reference model of the space or terrain.

Early stage design work can be on paper or directly in SketchUp. I use whichever tool best facilitates quick exploration of ideas. Communication with clients and contractors is always through SketchUp models, even if they sometimes take a trip through Photoshop or one of the filter software plugins.  In the early stages these are always mass models, developing the space and helping visualise scale, proportion and positioning. Good quality textures help enormously. The design process is iterative, and I have found that going in too early with realistic images can close down design options and manoeuvrability as compromises and changes have to be considered and introduced as reality and budgets kick in. Once a design is approved the fun really begins. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy the creativity and development of concepts, I love the problem solving and detailing that comes with resolving the constructability of a design.

This requires new models. Each element, junction and assembled item is modelled from its constituent parts These are saved as separate models both within the project but also within a separate parts library. They now become an asset for future projects. Whilst the 3D models are created in SketchUp, Layout is the window through which I present images and drawings to clients and contractors. So long as a model has a logical layer structure then Layout will readily allow the composition of 2D and 3D diagrams. I add all dimensions and drawing labels here as well as importing reference images. So long as the project file structure is set up correctly, any changes made to the model are reflected across all associated drawings. This saves a lot of time and head scratching. I keep the Layout files updated and referenced to the parent SketchUp model and save out each up-issue as a PDF, giving me a record of the issue history.

Planting plan created in Layout

I learnt pretty early on that you need to name and store files in a consistent and methodical manor: A naming convention like: “Mr & Mrs Smith final site plan” is going to lead to problems when the approved plan ceases to have the finality you had hoped.

Layout isn’t just a subservient tool to SketchUp. I create a lot of original content within it (it’s a vector based drawing tool after all) from electrical and irrigation symbols, plant and tree icons to entire drawings of common details. The library within Layout (called Scrapbooks) is customisable and I add an ever-expanding collection of drawings that are immediately accessible and can be dragged onto project specific sheets. Layout is a seriously underused aspect of SketchUp. You can read about it, but nothing beats being shown. Professional looking drawings take practice but if your SketchUp model is good then you are almost there.

Top tips for Layout:

Save your layout file as soon as you create it, in the folder location you want. This will save references becoming “detached” later on.

Set up a range of templates (i.e. drawing sheets) to your design and with your logo etc. A3, A2, A1 etc

Create a custom Scrapbook of the symbols and graphics that you use all the time: plants, trees, scale bars, north etc. It will make creating drawings so much quicker and you will have a consistent style.  You can import “Cad-blocks” for a lot of line work (e.g. vehicles)

Before I start any detailed design, I story board what I want on each output sheet and how many sheets I want. This keeps me focussed and helps a lot when quoting for work.

Set up your Scenes in SketchUp to give you the best view/ representation. You can add graphics such as cross section hatching as an overlay in Layout if required.

Be consistent in your Layout style. Look at other people’s drawings. For example, I mostly use iso views for “engineering” drawings as perspective can be visually jarring sometimes.

When you have “sent to Layout”, set up your view with your preferred scene and scale. Copy and pasting the viewport means that you can add multiple views per page, even across pages and change to different scenes without having to go back and send each scene to Layout. This was a revelation to me when I first found it!

Come and see Paul and other esteemed SketchUp experts at Kettle’s Yard on Thursday 20th June. Space is limited and tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long to get yours. Get your FREE ticket(s) here