Drawing the Plan. part 1

pls8xxAugust 31, 2008

Many homeowners come to this forum seeking help. Some have a question so simple as to not be a design consideration. But there are many who's goal is a major improvement to their property. For the later it's important to consider the whole of the property while they improve each piece.

Years ago only a few came here with photos in hand. It was much harder to understand the situation the poster described. But now people are much more computer literate and photos are an accepted standard. And this year I am seeing more with some sort of sketch or plan view of their property. Maybe the posters who come here are ready for the next step up in landscape design.

Computer literacy for photo editors has also mushroomed. But photos will never take the place or provide the benefits of a plan drawing. It's not that a photo editor can't be used to do a plan. I've used a photo editor for over 10 years and I love it. It's a great communication tool. But an altered photo is not a plan. It is the ability to draw lines on a screen that is needed, and most modern photo editors can do that.

From time to time the subject of magical landscape software comes around. And then we have to explain that it doesn't exist. You have to do the design yourself. There are professional drawing programs that speed up the process of making a drawing. The good ones are expensive and take a lot of time to learn.

Which is why we sometimes suggest that a homeowner use a sheet of grid paper and pencil. It's low tech, but it works. The only problem being that Wally World doesn't sell the big size sheets needed.

What's needed is a no cost, simple solution that a homeowner can do. I think that solution lies in using a computer to duplicate the grid and pencil method.

I will leave it to others to explain the benefit of completing a plan and when a plan can be worth the time and trouble to do.

I will provide a grid ....

You have to provide your own pencil. If you already have a photo editor or some other software that can draw a line, use that. There are also some free drawing or paint programs available for download.

If you have a windows based computer you already have a basic line maker in mspaint. Maybe the macs have something similar.

To use the grid with mspaint, download the grid graphic, start mspaint, then under "File" open the downloaded blankgrid from where you stored it.

Next you will select a scale for your drawing. If you think of each square as being one foot, then the grid as downloaded will cover an area of about 25ft by 35ft. If each small square is 2ft then the grid covers 50 by 70. If you need a bigger grid or you start your drawing and then find you need more room, I'll deal with that and some advanced tricks later.

It's time to try the tools along the left margin. Click the pencil icon and you can then draw a thin free hand line. The only option for this tool is the line color. In the lower left corner of the screen the current color is shown on top of the background color. You can click any of the colors to the right to make a change.

Beside the pencil icon is a brush icon. It works like the pencil, only the width and shape of the line can be controlled. Notice at the bottom of the tool selections is a box where tool options appear. In the case of the brush, several widths and shapes are available. Can't draw a straight line? Not to worry, there are other tools.

Two icons down from the pencil is a diagonal line. Select it for simple straight lines. Move the mouse to where the line should start. Depress the left mouse button and move to where the line should end and release.

Before I spend any more time on this, I think I should ask if there is interest. It could be I'm designing a can opener when no one has a can that needs opening.

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Well, I do my plan views on scaled graph paper using pen and color pencils. I finally got a scanner, so I can digitize those plan views into Jpegs. I also like to use the kids crayons, so many color choices in the 64-count box.

I don't see the advantage of drawing in MSPaint, as the pencil or crayon is easier for me to use than a mouse.

If you showed some examples of how it can be used or the advantages of it would be easier to provide a recommendation.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:36PM
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There is not one thing wrong with pen and paper. I wish I had a dollar for every sq ft of vellum I've used, both plain and grid. If I could combine that with every sketch I've made on a lunch sack and handed up to heavy equipment operator I would be a rich man. Nor do I suggest any one in a career situation use mspaint as a means to do drawings. This exercise is pointed at the homeowner who lacks any drawing skills and needs to do just one functional plan; his own. And the key word here is not efficient, nor pretty, but functional.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 10:21PM
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I'd be interested to read more about what is being drawn and why vs how to draw it - there are probably be a zillion tutorials out there on mspaint basics.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 12:36AM
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I'll add a question that arises from my own situation: if the yard is large, which details would you leave out of the simplified plan?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 5:06AM
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Most of the regulars to the forum know that my career has not been in landscape design, nor do I aspire to that end. But my life has been filled with design duties out of necessity; mechanical apparatus, building additions, civil projects, computer software applications, and complex digital electronic devices, for a few. There are similarities to the design process for all of these, especially at the start.

The design process for all things generally begins with three things ....

1. An assessment of the current situation.
2. A defining of what would be a successful conclusion.
3. An assessment of the resources available

Though the design process may not always involve a graphic, the majority do. Consider the schematics of electronic design or the flow charts of software design.

In landscape design, the traditional graphic is a scaled plan view drawing, for good reason. Landscape design is all about the utilization of space. A photo does not define space, but a plan does. A scaled base map carries one through the assessment of the current situation. Those who skip this step short change themselves in the design process.

The next error that many amateurs make is that of focusing on a perceived solution to a problem rather than the broader study of what would be a successful conclusion.. An example of this is one seeking to keep mulch on a slope when the rain is continuing to wash it away. This is a wrong statement of the problem. The problem is that the landscape is unstable and requires constant maintenance. The successful conclusion is a landscape that is stable, however that might be accomplished.

For landscape design, an assessment of the resources available cannot be completed without quantifying the
the available space. And there is no better tool for this than the scaled plan drawing.

So why don't more people do scaled drawings. Perhaps it's like the person who doesn't dance that looks to those on the dance floor and says "I could never do that. And if I tried, I'd look clumsy and foolish." The hardest part of learning to dance are those first steps. The hardest part of drafting is drawing the first lines.

Let me say that I am not a fan of mspaint. Out of all the paint, drawing, and photo editing software, it would be hard to find an application that would not be a better tool than mspaint. The only good thing about it is that it's already on many computers and it can do the job. It can draw lines and add text to any jpeg graphic. You don't need to go to the store for paper and pens, or download software. You can draw those first lines now. Of course if you already have graph paper or a better software, then use that.

There are some advantages to doing the drawing on the computer. You can backup from mistakes. Even mspaint allows you to hold the control key down, press the 'Z' key and undo the last three operations. And it's easy to save copies of the drawing at many stages as you go along. It's in a file form that can be shown here for help and suggestions.

Let's look at the first lines. Note that a grid is a pattern of perpendicular lines. In order to relate what is in the real garden to what is on the plan one needs to identify an element common to both. Since the grid is made up of perpendicular lines, one should choose two perpendicular lines that occur on the ground. The most common available element of this nature is a building corner. Where no building is near the project, another straight line element can be used, such as a fence, walk, or property line. A perpendicular line must then be manufactured to the straight line object to mimic the grid of the drawing.

Here's a real example.

Note that the project area is a part of the backyard. I select the upper back house corner with its well defined perpendicular lines as the primary reference point for both the real and the plan. From this corner I measure the distance along the back of the house to be 33 ft to a jog corner.

Starting mspaint, I then open the blank grid graphic. Considering the area for the project I want to locate the primary reference point(house corner) in the lower right of the grid.

Note that the grid has a heavier line every fifth square. This helps one to count the distance across the grid by jumping in unit multiples of 5. Since the project will span around 50ft in width, I will think of each square as 2 ft, making the distance between bold grid lines of 10ft. The principle point is placed on an intersection of bold lines to take advantage of this feature.

Selecting the straight line tool of mspaint I click the house corner point at a suitable point on the plan. Holding the mouse button down, I shift left counting the distance measured of the house to the correct point on the grid and release. Repeating the process from that point I draw the 2ft jog in the house and repeat again to continue 17ft to the far house corner.

The first lines are drawn, the house is on the plan. Scaled drawings are not rocket science.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 3:08PM
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If the example above were in the middle of a 40 acre tract with nothing but bare land behind the house, then the base map would be done. This is an uncommon situation and not true in this case. The base map should include all things existing in the landscape.

Most landscapes will contain some elements that are sure to remain after project completion as well as some elements that might be removed. It's smart to draw those things that are likely to remain first and save a copy at this stage. When you identify things to be removed you don't have to then erase them, but go back to the point in the drafting where they had not yet been added.

Looking at the example photo, there are two trees in the back yard. A 100 ft tape is useful in making the measurements to locate elements in the landscape. Beginning with the larger tree to the upper right the zero end of the tape is placed on the tree and the tape is read at at the point that aligns with the side of the house as shown below; 6ft. With zero at the tree, the distance(32ft) is measured to the other primary grid line (the back of the house).

The same process is completed on the other tree as shown.

Back on the plan, using the grid I go up 32ft and over 6ft and mark the location of the tree with a spot of color. The second tree is done the same.

Up to now it's all been grunt work; nothing fun and I suspect that interest in this thread is rather low. Most of design is grunt work. That's life. But even with mspaint, you do reach a point where things get a bit better.

If you are working on real paper, you can now freehand draw a symbol for the tree at its location or use a plastic template.

On a computer you can freehand the tree with the pen tool, or you can import a tree symbol to use.

I like to make up symbols and then reuse them as needed. In mspaint, I begin the process by extending the drawing to have some white space to the right of the drawing as a place to park symbols. Under the menu "Image", I select "Attributes". In the drop window I increase the width by about 300 pixels.

Under the "Edit", I select "Paste from" and find the symbol I want. The imported symbol arrives in the upper left corner and I drag it to the white space for later use. I may repeat this for several symbols.

There are two tools for 'cut and paste' in mspaint: the two icons in the top of the tool menu. Notice that for these selections there are two options at the bottom of the menu box. With the top option, the background goes with the 'cut' and with the lower option, only pixels different from the background move with the cut. Use the latter for symbols. Another feature of cut and paste is that if the control key is held down to start a cut move then the original is left in place. Using this feature you can leave a copy of the symbol on your white space and also drop multiple copies onto the drawing. Using the corner handles of the 'cut' you can resize the symbol to a proper scale for the drawing.

For this example, I'll call the base map done. In a real landscape you would want to locate and draw everything; property lines and easements, utilities, and all physical features.

Now I get to have some fun. A big square of 'stone' is put on the white space and trimmed with the eraser to a patio shape along with some stepping stones. A stone wall is painted around the patio. Shrub symbols are brought to the table and placed as wanted.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 10:35AM
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This has been tremendously useful. Simple, yes- but every year, I end up printing a goofy grid I made in excel to plan out the veggies. This will provide me with a re-useable template -- simple, crude- but functional!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 2:52AM
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Thank you.
Great instructions.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 5:33PM
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Thank you from me as well. This will be helpful.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 5:50PM
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