What is an architectural collage?
An architectural collage is a no-render method of creating an image that conveys your ideas. The best thing about collages is that they are often much easier to do than final, detailed renders and illustrations and can be done in the space of a few hours (provided you have the work thought out beforehand). These can be as abstract or as detailed as you want which means they are great for when you’re in the middle stages of a project and just want to experiment with the ideas you have. Most firms are also turning to these kinds of images for ease and better understanding. A render can take hours to make and actually render, plus post-production will increase the time it takes for you to finish just one.
Essentially, it’s a bunch of shapes, images and textures carefully put together to create a seemingly coherent collage that conveys ideas of space, materiality and much more. There’s no real method to creating a collage since everyone will have a different approach, method, and style. We would suggest for you to have a look at existing collages out there like on our Pinterest board. There is so much inspiration out there and it doesn’t even need to be a collage. Look to Architectural Digest or other magazines that have stunning images. Usually you can get a sense of the composition, materials and lighting this way.
So obviously creating a collage is great for time constraints but also informal crits or presentations where you don’t want to keep rendering an image to show you tutors every week. To get your ideas across it can sometimes be better to do so in a minimal way. There’s also an increasing number of tutorials online on YouTube and other course websites. But we truly believe, once you practice a couple of times, it’s only a matter of building on the skills you already have. Another great thing about collages is that with the right resources and preparation you can get creating in a matter of minutes.
Prep / Things you need
In terms of the way to go about making a collage, you could absolutely do one by hand (usually this is done during the start of a project to get ideas flowing) but this could take some time. We like using Adobe Photoshop for this. If you’re not familiar, check out our ‘Getting Started’ series. You could also use Adobe Illustrator if you’re going for a very simple and graphical look but if you wanted to add textures and shadows, you will end up in Photoshop eventually so you might as well use that in the first place.
If you have no idea where to start, a good thing to do is to find collages out there that appeal to you. They might have the same kind of colour palette, use of textures or an interesting composition. Check out help-me-draw on Tumblr who explains composition techniques in much more detail. In this case, and for more detailed drawings, composition is quite important. Looking at photography tutorials online might help since a lot of the preparation beforehand includes composition and lighting.
After a few goes, you will see a major difference in your images and how a little bit of extra space can make an image look completely different. Next, you can come up with a quick sketch of what you want your collage to look like. Remember that this needs to be your work, relating to a brief or set of key drivers. Think about what you want the image to convey to the person looking at it and why it encompasses an element of your design.
If this is your first time practicing, find and use a photograph with bold features as a starting point. Try and recreate it as a collage but use elements that suit you or ones you might want to use in your own drawings later on. After some practice, you’ll find it much easier to come up with scenes on your own. As well as having a reference image, you may need to consider some other components that will accompany the architecture. Textures, furniture and even people can be sourced online. In the long run, if you want to have details that make sense and for your accessories to fit your drawing, you may want to model them first or create your own which is great.
But realistically you can’t do that for every single sketch, collage or render which is why people usually turn to pre-made packs that you can download and use. A great example is our own Indoor Plant Pack that has 100 cut out plant images that are ready to add into your drawings. With a bit of image manipulation in Photoshop, you can edit the sizes, perspective and even colours to suit your collage. There are also some great free texture packs that you can find online, but even a good high-quality image of a surface can work well.
Here are some we love:
We would also suggest you have a folder of the stock images or textures you use because they will come in handy over the years. You could sort these into folders and create your own organisation method. Then you can add them in whenever so you’re not always creating the same ones over and over. Remember, being organised is key when it comes to working efficiently. Really, there’s not a lot you need to get going. A collage is all about experimenting and coming up with something that has enough to give you more ideas going forward. If your first try doesn’t work, try a different combination, or just go crazy with it. Sometimes, the weirdest of things you might come up with on the fly can become the one thing your tutors end up loving.
Another key component you may or may not need is a 3D model of your design. There is no specific modelling software needed, use what you know and are comfortable with. In this case, Sketchup Pro / Rhino work great because you can export lines and use them as a base for your collage. But you don’t even need a 3D model. If this collage is about exploring ideas in the early stages, you probably won’t even have one and so the alternative might be to use a sketch or compiled sketches to understand the scene. If you’ve got a complicated scene, you could simply export the rough baseline of your building and sketch on top and scan it in.
Once you have imported your sketch, line drawing or reference image, set it on a white background and either lower the Opacity or use the Multiply blending mode. Don’t forget to lock the layer if it is an image so that you don’t accidentally select it. Now you’re ready to add in elements and start rendering the collage. Start with the actual architecture, think about what kind of materiality you want to showcase as well as the overall design. At this stage, don’t worry too much about colours or extra elements like furniture – those are simply accessories to your design. You can do this by drawing out shapes using the Pen Tool (P) or the Wand Tool (P) and fill it in. If you’re going off a sketch with no real line work, try and map out the different areas in transparent coloured layers which you can then add texture on top of and mask.
You can also edit photographs; add in models you’ve made and use parts of reference images since this is a collage of different works. Think about a main driver for this collage and stick to it. Every now and then, step back (take a break) and think about whether it is conveying that message or not. This is really the time to experiment with different textures, perspectives and basically the way in which certain components work together. Ideally, you should have a set composition, but if you’re not happy with it and need to make your canvas bigger or smaller, use the Crop (C) tool to adjust your artboard.
Make sure that as you add more elements, you’re constantly editing layer names and sorting into groups. It’ll make the way you work much more efficient if you try and stay organised. Remember to also work in a non-destructive way. This basically means that you don’t directly edit an image or paint on top of it in the same layer, thus destroying the original image. Similar to how you would separate out your line layer and your colour layer. Later on, if you make a mistake or decide to change things completely, you don’t have to start from the beginning, and it will allow you to experiment more.
Then, when you have all your elements together, you can start thinking about adding textures to certain areas or putting in detail with the Brush (B) tool. It’s completely up to you how detailed you want to make this. If you’re adding in realistic elements that you’re editing out and pasting in, it will be a good idea to transform the image to suit the perspective and scale. You don’t necessarily need to worry about colours yet. Sometimes, if there are details in the background that won’t be immediately visible to the viewer, you could paint these in yourself and add textures, highlights, and shadows. This can either save you the time of trying to find it online and editing it or take you longer if you decide to be extra detailed about it.
Try and remember that this is a collage and not a finally perspective illustration or render. The whole point of this is to get across ideas so if you make little mistakes to begin with it will only help you later on when you try tackle the big drawings. If your collage is specifically about creating the atmosphere of the space then think about extra details like sun-rays, fog, smoke to add a bit of liveliness to the image. Adding in people always helps too.
Usually adding in people is done towards the end to add life and show how the design will interact with people. If the main focus of your design involves a person doing an action then you might want to think about this much earlier on. There is no rule on what kind of materials, textures, or people you want to use. Think about the context of the drawing. For example, if your collage shows a nursery, you will obviously want to include children and think about soft, light colours.
Lastly, a good idea might be to edit the image as a whole. We like colour grading – which means adding a sort of filter on top so that the collage feels a lot more cohesive and the colours merge well together. This can be done really easily, and we suggest you watch this tutorial by PixImperfect (all of the tutorials on that channel are brilliant!).
Inspiring images can be a very powerful tool when it comes to creating collages. Often, we don’t know where to start and how explorative to be but if you have a reference image or just something that you think you would like to try and emulate, it will give you a direction. We would definitely encourage students of all years to give collaging a go or even build upon previous projects in this way. If you’re regularly creating and practicing it will set some key habits that can be useful later on in your projects. For first and second years who might be a bit intimidated by large-scale, detailed drawings and illustrations, think of collage as a stepping stone and once you’ve accomplished one, there will be no stopping you.
We’d love to know your favourite collages so be sure to send them in to our Instagram and we might just feature your work!