Communicating intent as a garden designer with SketchUp & Twinmotion

Communicating intent as a garden designer with SketchUp & Twinmotion

John Wood is a renown garden and landscape designer, and specialist in architectural graphics and rendering. John's SketchUp training courses are sought after in the field of garden design and we managed to catch up with him during a particularly busy spell where he shared just how SketchUp and Twinmotion help him communicate his intent as a designer.


I came to garden design late in life having previously been a classical concert pianist. And retrained completely about 20 years ago and started by doing a show garden at Hampton Court and never looked back. I’ve been doing design and build ever since. In my training of 20 years ago it was all pen and ink, traditional drawing boards, Rotring pens, slide rules, working in and absolutely convinced by analogue media, I learnt to draw. I was actually quite allergic to the idea of ever switching to computer. An architect friend said things were changing fast and companies adopting CAD and I thought I would at least go on a SketchUp training course and see what it was all about, so I did and I loved it and what immediately appealed was its ability to communicate ideas to clients.


The beauty of SketchUp is to a large extent, what you see is what you get. Even at an early stage when my drawing and modelling ability was very crude, fire up SketchUp and it became very easy to translate in to 3D and convey those ideas to clients; as a communication tool, SketchUp is really second-to-none. It instantly gives people an idea of what one is talking about. It is so intuitive, but this does come with practice and familiarity born through frequent use.

With practice I can create ideas in 3D in next to no time. For example, if somebody reviews an element of design on-site and doesn’t understand that element or rationale, I can literally model in SketchUp and WhatsApp it over to them and it’s that very intuitive flow that just contributes to the many other factors that make SketchUp so easy to use.

There are layers of complexity of course, but you just need to grasp the basics such as those all important time-saving shortcuts, best practices for drawing efficiently in SketchUp (drawing basics, using inferencing, extruding profiles, the Push Pull Scale and Rotate when modelling organic and complex forms). Spending time learning SketchUp’s fundamentals will help users get the best out of their investment and this is what I teach on my training courses. Get to grips with the essentials of good practice in SketchUp, once these are in place you can begin to explore creativity in an intuitive, highly effective and efficient way; one learns through intuition and this is why it is such a natural programme to use.

When you start with a model, initially things can look a little harsh in terms of lighting, but with some patience and a question of understanding how to introduce subtlety in to your modelling, SketchUp’s native tools will enable softer and more appealing finish than the initial default settings. Geolocating your models also brings dynamism and accuracy to your modelling which is something I really like about SketchUp. You can locate your client’s house or landscape model and present a precisely geolocated scene with latitude and longitude coordinates to your model so sketchUp and other applications such as renderers can simulate where the model would be located, this is important for performing accurate sun and shadow studies within your SketchUp scenes and models. That a programme of this size and cost can do something so impressive is verging on magical; you can now understand shadows in relation to surroundings, terrain, mountains and landscaping, this is hugely impressive.

A chance remark made by a student on one of my courses, which was if you're making these models, surely you can model your own plants? And of course, I can, but it's just one of those things that never occurred to me.

Lot's of people model plants and you can find them on the 3D Warehouse etc and such things are key to anybody working in garden design, so through a lot of trial and error I developed a technique of making a botanically and horticulturally accurate  model of a plant in 3D, that I can use numerous times in my garden design and save it to a library and also share it to a common library in the 3D Warehouse.



I find that SketchUp’s ability to not only model structure but anything that one can devise, is amazing. Basically if you model it correctly and the fact that you can move around this model in 360, you're communicating precisely what you intend to achieve for the client, so as a communication tool SketchUp is second-to none. Like any toolkit, the features and extensions are all critical according to the project. SketchUp absolutely helps me communicate my intent as a designer. 

SketchUp does indeed play nicely with others…..

Twinmotion was a programme I was keen on learning more about and that’s why I got in touch with Nick at Cadsoft Solutions Limited who demonstrated some Twinmotion basics, how (well) it worked with SketchUp and what could be achieved off the bat. That was all I needed!


I learned to use Twinmotion in next to no time. My drive was to create scenes that were naturalistic, conveying softness and subtlety in my renderings of plants and organic materials. CAD programmes lend themselves very well to architecture, structures and sharp geometry. If you wanted to model the Shard for example, you could do so without much trouble, but a garden with an abundance of plants, textural diversity, organic surfaces and shapes, it’s that softness and subtlety I mentioned earlier that computers will struggle with because of the complex geometry. As you as you start looking closely at fauna and flora in detail your CAD models can then become very heavy ones and this is a constant challenge for garden designers.

In my opinion I think Twinmotion works amazingly well in that respect. I’m constantly experimenting with lighting and exposure and getting those just right to convey that subtlety and detail in a garden and landscape design. What I really like about Twinmotion is that lighting, exposure, weather, shadows, all of these critical parameters are controllable with sliders. It’s a brilliantly simple and effective user interface, one that makes a huge difference to the users’ experience and output. Without the demands of huge amount of data input required in other programmes. 

SketchUp and Twinmotion speak to one another incredibly well, since learning to use Twinmotion I’ve changed the way I model in SketchUp, I tend now that I more familiar with Twinmotion to actually do less of the surface rendering in SketchUp and more in Twinmotion simply because Twinmotion produces an almost hyper-photorealistic imagery it’s much easier within Twinmotion it’s better suited to producing video fly-throughs.


Workflow is I tell my students, entirely project dependent; computer programmes lend themselves naturally to almost obsessive behaviours because they can do the detail, encouraging you to do the detail so you can spend all day just modelling the garden shed if you’re not careful, so you have to take the considered view on it and not be seduced by the programmes flashing lights and fancy effects trying to suck you in, but asking oneself the questions 'what am I trying to achieve here?' and 'where do we need to be at the end of this process?'. It could be that all you to do is spend 30mins creating a sketch impression which SketchUp will do very well, so in terms of my speed of workflow I model very quickly in SketchUp not worrying too much about what it looks like at that point, drop an image into Photoshop, spend again not very long in Photoshop perhaps no more than 15mins just tweaking image, layers, softening few things, shadows and then I have a presentable image. Now that speed only comes as a result of practice and experience.


I have also used an extension called Ambient Occlusion which is a one-click renderer and that is another hugely useful extension available through the Extension Warehouse and there are so many plugins that speed up the workflow.  

It’s these kinds of supplements and the SketchUp extension ecosystem along with a global community of users and experts that make SketchUp ideal, particularly for garden designers. What I love about SketchUp is you can keep on personalising the software and that’s what I have set up on my system, SketchUp the way I like it and the way I need it. An architect or furniture designer for example would find my set up useless. They would be making SketchUp work for them in uniquely personalised ways just as I have.


SketchUp is amazing In terms of value for money; not only do you get the SketchUp 3D modelling software. you also have a technical drawing package that presents your models and plans and is such a powerful programme and while it take a bit of time and effort to get to grips with it, it soon becomes as intuitive as SketchUp itself and is amazingly powerful.

Layout is a whole course in itself and certainly worth getting to grips with for any SketchUp user. Less initially intuitive than SketchUp itself but once you’ve understood how it works it’s an amazingly powerful pice of software. I hated it at first really because I couldn’t get past how it operated, but once I got to grips with Layout I found it was just brilliant.

Working with your reseller

I’ve been a customer for over 4 years now; Nicholas has always provided outstanding customer service and technical support. I always recommend Cadsoft Solutions to people who are interested in SketchUp and CAD. They are knowledgeable and experienced which is invaluable when you are trying to make an informed decision about investment in software. Like anything, put the time in, practice, try new approaches and the fluidity and ease I've described above will bring its rewards; having a responsive and enthusiastic reseller there to advise and inform also makes a big difference.

Find out more about John Wood, Cadscape Services

John Wood's work can be discovered and followed on Pinterest and Instagram. 

Participants enrolled on John's SketchUp training courses are entitled to a special discount on a new SketchUp Pro annual subscription. Once you've completed your CAD course, you'll be shown how to claim your discount.


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