By Melody Harclerode
I led a technological revolution at the three-person firm where I worked after graduation from architectural school in the 1990s. My boss hired me to draft architectural drawings by hand with a pencil and parallel straight edge rule, yet I convinced him that we should produce our work with a computer.
The new technology using a large pad called a digitizer tantalized me.  With the promise of faster production, most architectural firms switched from hand drafting to computer aided drafting for their architectural drawings a few years later.
Today, many firms use computers to even create architectural presentation drawings, or renderings, for clients. Computer renderings can be cheaper than hand-drawn ones, especially when a firm outsources this service to a foreign company, but can’t compare to the ethereal beauty of the hand-drawn renderings from artists such as Barbara Ratner.  She spent the early years of her career as an architectural renderer for a local firm.  Now, numerous architectural firms along with other clients hire her to create stunning artwork.
Some of her most noteworthy watercolor renderings feature the High Museum addition, the Atlanta Symphony project and the Institute for Advanced Vehicular Systems, one of her personal favorites. Observe her illustrations at
The American Society of Architectural Illustrators recently selected Barbara’s watercolor of a proposed building at Woodward Academy as best sketch illustration.  Her rendering, which she completed under the competition guidelines as a quick, suggestive image, is on display this fall at the 24th World Congress of Architecture in Tokyo, Japan.
I asked Barbara for some helpful tips to achieve more beautiful watercolors. She recommends first having a color scheme in mind thinking about the tone of the image.  Is the tone of the image happy or more seductive? An artist may use colors for a happy tone, such as a chartreuse yellow-green for portions of the grass.
Barbara also advises artists to avoid flatness by shunning black and grey color for shadows.  Instead, vary the darker values of the color for an object as the color of the shadow.
Finally, express the nuances of color with an object.  Adding visual excitement to an image, the light blue sky, for example, should be painted with more than one color.
So often, we crave the newest computer software as I did once I graduated from college, yet architectural renderers like Barbara remind us about the immeasurable value of time-honored, sophisticated and hand crafted artwork.
Melody L. Harclerode, AIA, a local architect, promotes the power of architecture and design as a Board Member of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Principal of Harclerode Architects ( For more information, check out

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.