SketchUp: Down and Dirty
I’m always impressed by the wonders that Tim Killen and Dave Richards can create using SketchUp. Unfortunately, I’ve never taken the time to master the program. Even so, I still find it a really useful tool when sketching out design ideas.
I use the program in much the same way that Michael Fortune, a fantastic furniture designer and builder, uses perspective charts: As a foundation for quickly rendering ideas that are proportionally correct.
I keep a bunch of sketch books handy for jotting down project ideas. I don’t look for the sketches to be really accurate, but I try to capture the basic idea of the piece. The problem is that the proportions of the sketch may not work well in reality. If I jump right from a pencil sketch to a measured drawing there is often too much of a discrepancy between the original inspiration and it’s final proportions.
To help me dial in the design before drawing up a plan, I turn to SketchUp. Even with my limited skills, I find it easy and intuitive to construct the basic form with a bunch of boxes. To define the overall size of a piece, I’ll create a rectangle the size of the footprint, then extrude it up to the correct height. With just a couple of clicks, I have a basic box that I can spin around until I have a nice view. I’ll print that out and overlay tracing paper to refine the sketch.
When I’m feeling more ambitious, I’ll create the individual components of the piece to give me a better head start on my sketch. Even so, it typically doesn’t take more than a half hour or so before I’m back at the drawing board.
This is a quick sketch of a tansu-style credenza. Nothing pretty but it captured the idea before it got away.
To get an idea of how the piece would look with correct proportions, I created a basic full-scale model in SketchUp.
With the SketchUp model done, I threw on a piece of tracing paper. The result gives me a more realistic idea of how the design will translate to the real world.