Drawing Unplugged

Fact: Your rendering style will inevitably be determined and recognized by your unique talent and drawing skill… or by the software you bought. Not a tough decision to make.

When it comes to creating something, it pays to know a little bit about what you are aiming to make. With illustration, namely vehicle renderings, it’s not only helpful, it’s imperative. After all, how can you visually describe something if you don’t understand it?

Taking that a step further, knowing the tools and mastering their use will only make the work that much better. I’m going to share a bit of what I’ve learned. Granted, it all starts somewhere, and to me, the most important part of being an artist is developing a unique style, a way to have your work stand out. Even if you trace a Picasso, it will have your own style integrated somewhere, so why not just do it in way that is all yours? If thirty people all use the same filter on a photo, you have thirty filtered photos that all look alike. Boring!

That said, for this tutorial, we’re working on drawing, using your own abilities, and I’m simply guiding you in applying those abilities in the methods I use. They may not be for everyone, or they may be the spark that gets you rolling. In any event, I’ve been asked to break-down the technique I use, and here it is.

Any drawing should start with an idea. Hopefully you have one of those. I’ve decided, for the sake of this introductory tutorial, that I’d run with a 1950 Chevy pick-em-up… Coincidentally, I happened to keep step-by-step images from the original drawing… lucky you!

Hopefully, you have some basic knowledge of drawing, as these won’t be entry-level tutorials here on this particular go-round. If, however, you do need some help with the basics, grab a copy of the DVD Special Edition of How to Draw Cars Now. The tutorials included will have you swinging some lead in no time! If, however, you’re ready, let’s nail the basics.

First step: Grab some reference material. Unless you know the subject of your sketch by heart, well, you’ll need a point of reference for the overall scale, proportions, dimension and details. Lacking the real car or truck, photos and books are your best friend.

reference material

I like to give my drawings a little bit of energy and action… so I’m going to work with the truck’s overall dimensions, and tweak the proportions just a hair on this one… I’m going to freehand a quick box layout, just to get an idea of where everything will “grow” on the paper. Working with a standard 2B pencil, I’m going to keep everything very loose… Don’t worry if all of your lines aren’t perfect, or if all points intersect or not… we’re simply figuring out where this beast will live on our page, and get the stage set for our drawing.

box method for drawing

From here, let’s start figuring out where the main parts of the truck go, with reference to our general boxes.

creating panels

Think of it like sculpting. At this stage, we’re simply removing everything from those first boxes that isn’t a ’50 Chevy. Essentially, we’re laying in some guide lines to start fleshing-out the truck. We’ll do this in a few passes:

adding features

Let’s look to our reference material, and begin rounding the boxes to match the correct profiles. I tend to work freehand at this stage, and will break out the sweeps and French curve later to tighten-up the radius on all corners… but for now, we’re keeping things loose:

adding detail

I’ve used the sweep a bit here, tightening-up those corners just a bit, but not quite completely. I’ve also begun to block-in some areas to delineate where the grille openings will go, simply because I want to be sure that everything is staying true to scale. In my opinion, there is little worse than screwing up the scale or proportion in a rendering. Cartooning is the place to go wild… for project cars, keep it grounded in reality to help your client and builder…

using scale in drawing

We’ll start cleaning-up some loose, stray lines at this stage, trying to keep everything clear, and prevent confusion as we start to lay in a couple of details. This leads me to a VERY IMPORTANT TIP:

Observation is your BEST FRIEND. Pay attention to details, and, possibly even more important, observe where lines and points intersect. Get an idea of where one line is in relation to another… think in terms of “if I put THIS body line HERE, where does that trim part line up, and will it be in the right place on my sketch?”

We’re going to start tightening up the lines and overall sketch at this point, so try to keep your lines deliberate… but don’t become afraid of allowing them to flow, and vary in pressure and stroke. Line weight is where the real secret to a lively drawing lies… While we’re adding some observational power here, let’s drop in a little hint of the shadow under the truck… Consider where your main light source will be coming from, and drop a shadow on the dirt. I keep mine tight to the vehicle, especially when they sit low, simply to emphasize just how low they are. In this case, we have a light source coming in on the left side, front quarter, which will allow some fun shadows and highlighting later on to play in that rounded body

At this point, just roll with your own natural drawing style. Your style and technique are what will give your artwork a signature look… like a fingerprint for your drawings. Ever look at an artist’s work, and just know who drew it from the line work or the shading? Ever looked at a rip-off or copy of a know artist’s work, and just know it was a rip-off? You have a unique style, even if you’re just starting out. Celebrate that, and refine it. You’ll reap the rewards of that as your career progresses and people seek out your signature style. I’ve been working on mine for well over a decade, and am just appreciating it’s unique character.

Back to blocking-in some dark areas. Let’s get the shadow in place, and really start to define the grille openings. These are major pieces of the puzzle, and having them in place will help us to define the parts AROUND them, and will get everything where it belongs.

first shadows

Let’s bring our eraser out to play, shall we?

We’ll knock a little out of that shadow, and make some room for the wheels and tires… Think ahead here, and plan for reflected light from the ground onto your tire sidewalls… this will serve to anchor the car, and prevent it from looking as though it’s floating on some black cloud…

line quality

We’ll knock-out some more room for those wheels and, why not, some wide whitewalls… and dust a little kid-tone on the body. Why not? This will help

shading the sketch

Let’s continue, shall we? We have the basic lines dropped in, we’ve cleaned up some stray lines, and even started to describe some surface curves… Look at you! Keep it up!

From here, we’ll keep shading in those small areas that the light source is turning dark… Just imagine how a panel like that front fender, for instance, will drop a small shadow on the door… how the cab, where it’s wider than the bed, will drop the leading part of the bed into shade… And so-on, and just roll with it. Have fun at this point!

Remember: this is a work of art, and the goal is to have fun while describing something without words. You are in control. You can use shadows and highlights to emphasize a part of your drawing, or tuck it away to draw the eye… it’s YOUR call. (BTW– next tutorial will be all about using shadows and highlights, so stay tuned!)

roughing-in wheels

Note that I’m throwing in some wheel shapes here, as well… As I drop in a few more detail lines, I’m working the ENTIRE drawing at this point… building it all over to keep the look consistent throughout. By this point, I usually scan a drawing, and move to Illustrator, but, damnit, I’m having too much fun. And, again, that’s the name of the game: HAVING SOME FUN. When it strops being fun, it should all just stop, because it begins to look forced… and cold, and sterile and machine-like, and that’s not art. That’s rote production, and while it hyas a place, that place shouldn’t be in your sketch pad or even in your creative client work. This is the place to get everyone involved with the project excited and crystal clear on the direction. While that’s a HUGE order, it should be those things, no more and no less. And it all starts with how you sketch the subject. Everything else is being built from there.

With that in mind, let’s place a few guides down to plot where our shadows and highlights will appear. Keep it loose, and keep it realistic, at least with reference to where the darker areas, lighter areas, and, possibly most important, where any light will reflect back onto a surface (whether off of adjacent panels, the ground, or something else that will appear in your drawing). This will help to “sell” the idea that your drawing is representing a three-dimensional object, versus simply being some lines on a flat plane.

plotting light source

Let’s continue to build those shaded areas, paying close attention to where light will bounce and fade, and perhaps not even reach with much intensity:

intensty

Let’s bust out that eraser again, and knock out some highlights… We’ll start to give ourselves some guidance for later on, at least for knowing where the light is really playing-off of the panels, and start making the fenders and hood and cab look more lifelike, and give them that rounded character! Again, just play in here, and use your reference materials to guide you on the general shapes and volumes you’re rendering… A light touch is preferable here, no doubt… We’ll blow in just a hint of color here, too, adding a little bit of a coolness to the panels. Visual temperature is something we’ll cover later on, but for now, just remember that this thing is, in reality, made of steel, and steel is often seen as “cold”. Let’s give reality a win here, and play up to it for a bit (and before we haul off and break all of the rules a bit further down the tutorial path).

colors

Continue building up the blue, bit by bit. Again, a light hand here will pay dividends in the end… While we’re here, let’s start blowing in just a HINT of orange.

TIP: Always work in complementary colors when and where you can. The contrast will create instant visual drama, and really add some “pop” to your drawing. Besides, how cool is it to get a little instant gratification when you’re neck-deep in a project?!

working in complementary colors

Continue to build the oranges and blues, and stop every now and then, and darken up some shadows, tighten any stray lines, and again, keep it loose overall, but start tightening your touch in areas that should be showing some edges. This will only help to reinforce the perception of the shapes later on, and prevent the finished piece from looking “drawn over”.

defining surface in the drawing

We’ll lightly touch on chrome and trim here. I say that, as I’ll cover rendering chrome and glass (and other reflective materials) further down the road… After all, this is simply an introductory tutorial… Just giving you a taste of what to expect.

rendering chrome

Let’s blow in some dark and light tones, simulating the bumper and window trim, and start making that big old grille look nice and shiny. The key here is almost thinking in reverse. Consider how the dark pavement under the truck will show up on the round bumper, and then consider that, no matter how dark the tarmac is, that light will still reflect off of it. So… Where logic says “it’s rounded, thus the area closest to our eye SHOULD be lighter”, we say “screw you, logic… that area will be somewhat lighter, but we’ll underscore that light area with a dark line, and go with another dark line just above it…”. Why? To mimic the pavement’s slight reflection on the chrome, and then to provide the eye with a reference point of the horizon. This looks much more natural in a drawing, and we’ll get into the how’s and why’s in a future lesson… We’ll now start to blow in some white (with a slight blue tint) to mimic the highlighted areas of our drawing. Be sure to mask the areas (i.e. the rest of the paper) with some Frisket or other material to avoid over-spray.

Adding the blue here may gray a few areas on you, but don’t worry… we’ll get the color to pop in a future step. The goal here is just laying in color as a guide.

masking the illustration

The idea, at this point, is to start showing where the light is hitting the panels… just play, and let your eye and reference materials guide you, if you’re not familiar or comfortable rendering light just yet…

We’ll start blowing in some more blues, a hint of green (let’s work that glass to look more, well, like glass, shall we?), and continue playing up the oranges (again, complementary colors!), and I’ve dribbled some, so I’ll make those into a nice ground texture, and, after masking (much more on that in the future), I’ve even blown some “behind” the truck. Anything to make it leap from the surface of the paper is a good thing here.

reflected light

Some cleaning-up, and we’re almost there… this is where the REALLY advanced touches come in… and we’ll cover them all as we put the series together for you. We’ll hit on highlights, hot-spots and reflections as shown in the image below… Here’s hoping you enjoyed this intro and over-view, and look for much more soon!

reflections and hot-spots

In the meantime, keep sketching, and observing. Study cars, get to know how light and shadow play off of surfaces, and what makes some colors appear warm, and others colder. Here’s a sneak-peek at where we’ll take all of this sketching and shading nonsense:

finished rendering

To reiterate, relax, observe, and always, always HAVE FUN! Stay true to the fun, and you’ll enjoy the time working, and your work will improve and show how much fun you’re having. This isn’t about layering one filter on top of the next, or trying to hide some referenced photo or model with cliche’d distractions and light flares… it’s about rendering a vehicle in a visually striking manner… making the most of what you have available observationally, and transcribing that in your drawing. More soon, and thanks again for looking in!

Catch you soon, and keep an eye out for the next installment… and check out my other drawing tutorial as well as my primer on line weight, and be sure to check in on my Facebook Fan Page! Thanks for reading and drawing along, and feel free to leave a comment or questions below…

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About drawinghotrods

I draw cars. I also provide full-service hot rod design and illustration, custom car, graphic and web design tailored to the custom automotive aftermarket, including logos, branding, project planning and research, and even apparel design. Need an ad, some copy, or a jump on social media? I do that, too. My mission is straightforward: To consistently provide the ultimate in design creativity and customer service, with an experience and artistic vision that is second to none. While working to raise the standard of automotive illustration, I seek to educate the public with regard to the labor and sacrifice required to create a work of fine art.

2 responses to “Drawing Unplugged”

  1. Renee says :

    I love to see how these images progress step by step… It’s amazing!! I can only sketch a rough design of a car 🙂 nice work!!

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