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Painting Tutorials

How-to watercolor and sketching tutorials demonstrating tips, tricks and techniques used in the Procreate app, using Apple Pencil and iPad Pro. Also, thoughts about life and architecture in NYC and the Berkshires, MA

Fast, Low-Cost Architectural Sketches Help Realtors and Prospective Buyers Study Design Options Before Buying

As an architect who specializes in early-stage concept design, architectural sketching and rapid visualization, I get to serve as one-stop shop for realtors, developers and prospective homeowners wanting to study their options before committing to buying an important property, or before engaging a "high profile" architect who, given the pressures of running a large practice, might just assign the exercise to a couple of talented in-house designers anyway.

In the collaboration posted here, I worked with a Boston developer to sketch (in a fraction of the time required by a larger firm) the look and feel of a 120-unit, future-looking condo project in a prosperous Boston suburb. 


Early study based on SketchUp massing study: the Idea of pre-fab, stackable units enters inWe used a combination of traditional and digital architectural rendering techniques to explore her options, culminating in the simple black-and-white digital renderings at the end. Unfortunately, the banking meltdown of 2008 nipped the project in the bud, but...

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Gettin Phunky With Photoshop Hybrid Renderings

The old Fairgrounds in the town where I live have seen brighter days. Nearly destroyed in the great tornado of '95, they fell into a state of extreme neglect when the former owner, angry that he was refused permission to develop year-round off-track betting on the site, allowed the facility to fall apart as an act of spite.

As it turns out, I was invited by the wonderful couple who just bought the Fairgrounds to help communicate their vision for a "gateway to southern Berkshire county" to potential investors. Using their back-of-the-napkin list of vignettes as a guide, we developed a series of hybrid Photoshop renderings, fusing photos of the existing conditions with...

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James Akers
House Portraits: The Realtors Secret Weapon for Closing Deals and Creating Happy Referrals For Life
Everyone knows that house portraits in watercolor, pen and ink or pencil make striking and memorable gifts. Think of the people you know who have either commissioned or received house portraits. Chances are they hold pride of place in their picture galleries, and they've probably been inspired to print them on holiday cards and stationery as well.

House Portrait of Guest House, Easthampton, NY (w/ Clark Smith)

What is less well known is that house portraits in watercolor, pen and ink or pencil have measurable value when it comes to selling your home. They capture your home in its best light, grabbing attention over the repetitive photographs that fill the storefront window at the realtor's office, or blur together in the the real estate section of the paper. 

Vignette: Main House, Easthampton, NY (w/ Clark Smith)

The modest cost of a high quality house portrait--or its cousins: the architectural rendering of an apartment, or the interactive 3-d model of a NYC loft built in Sketchup--is a drop in the bucket compared to the
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How House Portraits Help Sell The World's Most Beloved Listings (i.e. yours!)
Using a house portrait (or architectural rendering of your building) instead of a photograph for your real estate listing can make the difference between capturing a qualified buyer's interest in the heat of the moment, and disappearing into the background noise of everyday real estate advertising.

Next time you walk by the storefront of a real estate office, look at what's going on. Prospective buyers, shy about going inside and committing to a relationship with a stranger, can be seen...
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How To Create A Kickstarter Video To Explain Your Startup
Kickstarter is all the rage, but don't bother to apply for crowdfunding on the site until you have created a video that explains your idea in a brief engaging way. How do you do that? Well, I recently found at least one satisfying answer to that question in the form of a video made by my favorite illustrator (and frequent contributor to the New York Times), Christoph Niemann. As the story goes, Niemann was in his car en route to picking up his young daughter at a party when he randomly caught the last few minutes of a Terry Gross interview with Maurice Sendak (click link below). He was so moved by the segment that he went home and...


It delivers a world of infinite convenience and selection to our fingertips...



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My Friend Tom Is Cool
My friend Tom Schaller is cool. Back in the 1980s, he just about single-handedly brought back the tradition of architectural watercolor rendering (it had long-since been replaced by pen-and-ink) when he wrote a book called Architectural Rendering in Watercolor. Along with Steve Oles' books, they were mandatory reading for any aspiring architectural illustrator at the time, and for a lot of architects, too.

I remember going to the bookstore at the Helmsley House on Madison Ave. to get my copy in 1990. Clark and I used to keep it open on our desks when we were working together like I told you. Tom sort of blew everyone's mind because he did these images for himself and for his books, with no client involved. Did you ever have friends like that? That's when you know a true artist. So there we are trying to figure out how this guy does these amazing architectural renderings in watercolor and these amazing watercolor techniques, and just when you think you may have figured out one of his moves, like underpainting, which sounds like "underpanting" but isn't, which Tom, because he is actually a pretty wild and crazy guy would probably laugh at if you did it to somebody, he...

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James Akers
A Great Book To Read For People Who Love Understanding The Underlying Structure of Things, Including Designers, Architects and Architectural Renderers
If you like learning about the underlying structures that shape the physical, economic and political landscape of our country since day one, then I have a book for you: Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 by John Stilgoe. As alluded to in an earlier post, the book provides timeless insight into the collisions of culture that continue to shape the contemporary American experience, right up to yesterday's 2013 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, and, I dare say, the most recent TV or newspaper story you watched or read today.

John Stilgoe's Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845, is a classic book and required reading of all first year students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

John Stilgoe's Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845, is a classic book and required reading of all first year students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. I've got an architectural watercolor rendering to do today (Yay!) so I'll keep my part of this post short, but check out the excerpt below from the chapter on the history of schoolhouses on the subject of a book written by Jedidiah Morse in 1789 called The American Geography.The book was an off-the-charts bestseller which coincided with the growing movement, eventually mandated by the "tyrannical" federal government, to educate all American children in communal schoolhouses, almost always one-room affairs which have a fascinating history relative to where they were built (usually the most central place, or on a piece of waste land donated by a farmer, but almost invariably in the most difficult-to-get-to and foreboding locations within each school district). Due to its fortuitous timing, the book had perhaps a disproportionate influence on the opinions of generations of young Americans, and is even given credit for much of the misinformation which started the California Gold Rush of 1849. As Stilgoe sets it up: "Topographical knowledge no longer only derived from topographical experience: Morse filled his books with maps, charts and lengthy prose descriptions of states, regions, rivers, territories, forests, soils and agricultural and mineral riches...Morse emphasized that his information was scientific and reliable, and schoolmasters commanded students to memorize it. Scholars learned that New Hampshire was filled with mountains and cascades, that North Carolina "abounds with medicinal plants and roots"...and that the Spanish Dominions truly needed American improvement." Now here's where it gets crazy (and racist)...

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The Thing I Don't Get About The People Who Hate Clinton and/or Obama
One of the things that has always confused this architectural renderer is that the same people who hate Clinton and Obama tend to also be the same people who praise the virtues of hard work and independence. So which kind of a president would you rather have running things: the "hard working" George W Bush, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, ex-party boy and Yale frat boy class comedian who cynically "found" born-again Jesus to get more votes; or Bill Clinton, the son of a hairdresser who bootstrapped himself into Yale (and Oxford and Georgetown) by his own wits? Then there's Barack Obama, the black son of a single mom and Kenyan dad who got himself into Harvard. I mean, do conservatives who praise these traits of character see the disconnect?

Reflection in a puddle in the parking lot of Haven Restaurant in Lenox, MA. Did you figure out it's upside down?

Of course, it's not really about that, is it? It's not about preferring to have the guy in there who will be more thoughtful about the decisions he makes, from starting wars to repairing the nation's infrastructure to providing opportunity to the maximum number of people who, by no fault of their own get dealt dramatically different hands at birth. It's about conveniently forgetting the...

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A New Party Game

Here's an idea for a new game. If you're ever at a party and there's a lull in the action, pull out your smartphones and play "The Auto-complete Game." Here are the directions:

  1. Launch the browser on your smartphone
  2. type in a short phrase that contains one of the following words: who, what, when, where or how, as in "who played..." and then just end the phrase there (you don't have to add the ellipses)
  3. Look at the list of suggested answers that Google provides as a function of their "auto-completion" feature (note: the suggestions provided are based on Google's analysis of the most recent and most popular search queries in the world beginning with the phrase you entered)
  4. Ask the other party guests to...



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How To Weigh 200 Pounds (A New Way to Exercise)
But the thing is you always have this nagging idea that you aren't getting enough exercise because your pants are still getting tighter and also because you look things up on the internet, like how many calories is there in a glass of wine, or should I drink beer or scotch tonight instead. (The answer, disturbingly, is about 300) And how many glasses of wine are in a bottle (the answer is, there are supposed to be four. If you to a restaurant with four people and watch the waiter pour if you don't believe me you'll see that that's what they get taught) because I hope there's a lot of glasses supposed to be in a bottle because it seems like I just had two big ones and it hasn't even gotten to the rachel Maddow show yet and I'm down to about a third of that bottle left
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My Friend Clark Is Cool (Warning: this is a long post)

My friend Clark Smith is cool. Just look at his amazing watercolors below and tell me he's not. I call him my friend, which he is, but if you landed here from Mars right now, you would say "Why is he your friend? You haven't seen him in 5 years?" And I would have to say, well, true enough, but it seems like we just had lunch yesterday, and I don't think guys hold it against each other if their friendships lapse for, like, ten years at a time. They just pick it up again like everything was normal. Otherwise we'd have to gaze into the existential abyss and wrestle with some sort of deep feelings, and I like to leave deep things like that to the guy that makes the Hobbit movies.

traditional architectural rendering, digital rendering, architectural illustration and architectural sketching

Ok, let's start there. Clark likes tuna fish, just like I do. He used to eat it every day for lunch, just like I did. That way you don't have to make any decisions; you're just like, "Hi, can I have tuna on a roll with lettuce tomato and muenster cheese, please?" and the guy doesn't even say anything but just starts making it, and I think the deli guys actually secretly appreciate that. That way they don't have to think either.

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