The Story Behind Japan-inspired Architectural Illustrations
HOW #imadethat by Karina Armanda

If you are reading this, you are probably wondering how to make those playful illustrations for your final review or how to explore a slightly different presentation style and diversify your portfolio.  Well, you are already taking the first step toward learning a new technique by reading this and watching the video tutorial.  

My story of making those illustrations is very simple – I have never liked software-rendered images. Each time, I ended up adding so many Photoshop layers in the post-production phase that you could barely see the initial render. I just felt that rendered images looked so fake and plastic. Rather than faking the real in a rendering perspective, I use this illustration style, which shows that the design is a proposal. 

I only used typical architectural rendering software in the first year of architecture school for the very last review because it was a requirement for submission. From the second year until graduation, I was experimenting and developing other techniques. I used to draw by hand and later Photoshop some bits and pieces together. I also created collages and even printed out outlines of some technical drawings, adding color to them by hand with colored pencils and pens. The results were not always satisfying and I often felt embarrassed about my work on the wall. But at least I experimented, as this is what university is for! 

In my free time, I did a bit of watercolor painting and predominantly focused on Tokyo facades following tutorials by Mateusz Urbanowicz, whose work had a big influence on my style even if it is not that evident visually. Also, I have always been obsessed with graphic design and could spend hours and hours exploring the menus of different coffee shops or the business cards of handcraft shops. 

I did both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in architecture in the UK with an exchange semester in Kyoto, Japan. The breakthrough, both in academia and presentation technique, happened in Japan. One of the first things I bought in Japan was the illustration book Tokyo Storefronts by Urbanowicz which lay on my university desk and reminding me to develop the illustration style since I was finally in Japan! 

I spent my days cycling through alleys and over the hills of Kyoto, walking and absorbing the vibe of the city. I had a little sketchbook that I carried around but barely touched it. I just roamed around the city, sat somewhere, and inhaled the atmosphere. That’s when the magical “aha” moment happened. I finally stopped concentrating on the results and the work – the worries of the graduating student. I read, explored, photographed, and observed every detail of the city. The detail is what became a crucial focal point of mine. 

I started putting together those impressions of the city on the paper, slowly adding colour to them. For the first time, I didn’t like how the axonometric drawing looked. I made it look too sketchy and it really didn’t resonate with the image I had in my mind. I erased everything and started again. (This happened a couple of days before the final critique, of course.) So I had another iced coffee – I had so many that I almost lost consciousness from the amount of caffeine I consumed. As you can imagine, the transition from me chilling somewhere on the river banks of Kyoto and me in the studio just before the final crit was dramatic. 

So I opened Photoshop again, looked through some of my favorite photographs taken in Kyoto, inserted the color palette reference, probably gave an aggressive gaze to the Tokyo 

Storefronts book, and started again. As you can see from the video tutorial, I used a very simple technique of coloring a line drawing. However, I used the same approach in my third and fourth years of architecture, but the results were still very different and I wasn’t fully satisfied with previous versions. I think attention to detail makes all the difference and you can develop that through years of testing and experimenting.

I would like to end by saying that I don’t believe in “talent.” I only believe in hard and consistent work. If there is something that attracts you, but you are not able to create such work at the moment – please don’t get upset. It takes time to practice, practice, practice, test, and experiment before you finally become happy with your work. The main thing is to enjoy the process. And if you have any questions about my work please feel free to drop me a message on Instagram @karinaarmanda. Good luck with your studies! ☺

Karina studied undergrad and post-grad at the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh School of Architecture, UK. She did her exchange program at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, Japan. She is currently offering personal lessons. Reach out via Instagram or visit her website