Archive | July 2012

How to: Hire a Hot Rod Designer

Over the last decade, we’ve seen explosive growth in the hot rod and custom car industry and hobby as a whole. This can be attributed to the popularity of television shows like Overhaulin’, American Hot Rod and others, as well as Powerblock TV, the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Events, and of course, access to great personalities like Chip Foose, Stacey David, Tim Strange and others. This brings in new enthusiasts, and naturally, more project cars!

Not since George Barris snapped thousands of photos and wrote hundreds of articles promoting the hobby back in the 1950’s and ’60’s have we seen so much attention on our hobby, and it’s amazing to witness. Yet, while there’s all of this excitement, many of these new fans and participants are feeling lost when starting a project. It can be a daunting task to say the least, but when taking those first steps, having the right footing can make all the difference in the world.

custom big-rig

Naturally, any success in a project requires a plan, and building or modifying a car requires very careful thought at this stage. I’ve often heard guys say “I just build as I go… no plan, just what feels right”, and sadly, it certainly doesn’t look like it must feel in many cases. Disjointed design, half-assed “fixes” to make parts fit, and often unsafe “engineering” (engine-beering, most likely) have sent many a project to an early grave… and I don’t think we need to dive too deep into this subject to discover why it’s “wrong” from any angle.

car design rendering

The best advice would be to bring on an experienced designer to help guide you along. As a professional hot rod and custom car designer with over twenty years experience in the auto industry (from parts and service to body repair/customization and after-market accessories), as well as training in design and fine art, I’m here to offer some advice on taking those first steps. This isn’t an advertisement for my services, but a primer for anyone going at this for the first time. I share my experience because I love this industry, and want to see anyone new to it have a blast, and keep coming back for more. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of being an ambassador for my industry. That said… let’s get at this.

The importance of having a vision on paper, especially when working with shops and others on a team, can’t be overlooked. Often times, you’ll run into an individual who perhaps lacks that key “visualization” ability, and can’t form a mental picture… or worse, they can, but it’s nothing like yours. Communicating these visions can prove difficult, and as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” (or, in the case of project vehicle sponsorship, that picture may be worth thousands of dollars)… and in many cases, much more… often, they are invaluable.

The end goal of selecting your custom car designer is:

* A vision of the finished product for everyone to work from
* Avoid gaps, miscommunications and errors in describing idea
* Get what you want for your custom car dream!

Certainly, this isn’t the “end-all, be-all list, and isn’t intended to be. It’s merely a primer to get you thinking in the right frame of mind when heading into that first project. When it comes time to shop for a designer, keep at least these five primary items in mind:

1. Pick a Designer Whose Style You Like

Not only are you hiring someone to assist in laying the groundwork for your project, but the designer must also be able to convey your ideas and tastes, as well as create a piece that will inspire your build team. Often times, these drawings will set the one for a build. A bad-ass street or race machine deserves some nasty, double-bad-ass, throw-down art and setting to make everyone involved “feel it”. A surf wagon, naturally, deserves a more sedate look to the art… Setting this tone early on will bring HUGE returns later on.

Torino design

You’ll want some “wow” factor, but also be sure that your designer draws with proper scale and proportion! Taking a cartoon-like image or shoddy “Photochop” to an experienced builder will get you laughed out of the shop. The kid you hire in a forum might make that ‘58 Edsel bumper look like it fits your Monza in the drawing, but in reality, would it? And, are you looking to blow your budget on wild changes before the car even hits primer? A cartoon-y image serves a great purpose in creating some energy, or for getting the juices flowing, but you’ll need something a little closer to reality to keep everyone on the same page… unless you’re building real-life cartoons… which, come to think of it, would be a blast!! I’d love to do that… Yet for now, I digress.

truck and wheel

Look around, and study the artist’s styles and prior work.

An important note: Do not call an artist that draws in a particular style, and ask them to mimic or ‘draw it like’ another artist. Seriously, this is flat-out stupid and classless. You are looking for a particular style, not some imitation of it. On that note, beware of the ‘artist’ who will mimic another artist’s style, ‘but like way cheaper’. This is a small community, and when word gets around, well, good luck finding anyone worthwhile to draw your project. You’ll be digging through the bargain bin, and very unhappy with the results. Approach the design part of the project with the respect it deserves, and grant that same respect to your designer. They have worked and gained experience and developed their approach over many, many years, and you’re paying for the privilege of not having to be a part of their learning curve. Select a designer with a style that appeals to you, and enjoy the ride.

Much like you choose a car that excites you, be it for nostalgia reasons, a certain feeling it gives you, or just the fact that you liked it overall, you’ll be miles ahead by selecting a designer in the same way. When the car is torn apart and looking bleak, the artwork will serve as an excitement generator. Those cool lines and the energy and style projected by the artist’s hand will translate into actual energy in the shop.

2. Find A Designer You Get Along With

Spend some phone and email time talking with designers. Do you, “get along”? Can communicate freely? An open exchange with your designer will pay off in a HUGE way during the project.

Look for a custom car designer who can help guide you if asked, but also take an idea you have and run with it. Simply hiring a “wrist” to make some lines based only on what you say is boring, and will leave your design “flat”. Look for someone with great communication skills (i.e. listens as well as they talk). Nothing can be more disappointing than a guy who doesn’t listen, or worse, who misinterprets what you’re looking for. Is the designer looking to create a portfolio piece on your dime? You’re looking for a piece that conveys the project vision, not some stand-out eye candy for this guy’s website.

You have a responsibility here as well. Do not offend the designer or artist by down-playing their work. If you can do it yourself, then hang up the phone, and go do it. Chances are, you’re seeking the talent and experience of a designer, not merely someone who will be impressed by your knowledge of Pantone colors that you gleaned by reading a Facebook post that morning. Give the artist or designer the respect they deserve as a working professional, and you’ll see that same respect given back… And when you share mutual respect, great things start to happen.

You’re looking for someone who is more than just a talented artist. Look for design sense… balance, ability to make things “work”, to ensure “flow”. You’re also looking for integrity and a solid work ethic… a willingness and eagerness to create something fresh and unique. You want a guy who is creating YOUR art, not re-tracing an old piece, re-coloring in Photoshop or simply re-hashing the same model or drawing their last 40 customers got (but with different paint and wheels) because, you’ll get, well, the same car as those other 40 guys! If you’re this far along, chances are you’re not cloning another car, but going after your dream.

falcon design ideas

Beware of the guy who simply cannot follow your budget. This should be made known and understood on the first or second consultation. Make this a clear as possible. At the same time, make sure that you make your shop of choice or build skill known. Make it an open exchange where ideas can flow freely, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how an idea can grow or be refined to mind-blowingly cool in the right hands. If you’re an experienced fabricator and painter, and aren’t afraid to tread new ground, run with it! If your skill level is pushed opening a glove box door, or maxes out at peeling the backing off of double-sided tape to slap fake port holes on a fender, they can design to that level, and create something that you’ll not only be able to accomplish, but be proud that you did. If you’re a sheetmetal fabricator and machinist who can make anything, then tell your designer, and show a few examples of your work. In either case, be honest, and spare yourself the inevitable let-down of never being able to realize this dream that your designer penned. Sometimes, a simple twist on a classic idea can look fresh and exciting. Short version: Look at your budget and talent, and be honest about them. Set the bar for the plan where it truly belongs.

concept car colors

3. Understand The Designer’s Terms

Get the terms and details of the design ironed out immediately. How many revisions will you receive? What’s the cost for additional revisions? How will the work be delivered? Hard copies? (one for you, the shop, and maybe for promotional purposes?) Digital copies for magazine ink? (how about sponsorship proposals?) Can you use the artwork to promote the car? Who owns the Copyright?

Respect the terms, and don’t start asking for things well above and beyond, and then complain when you don’t receive them. If your original contract grants you five drawings with two revisions, then expect five drawings with two revisions, not unlimited drawings with unlimited revisions. This is hard work, and very mentally and physically draining. It’s not coloring in some pre-drawn lines, this is actual creation. Understand that, respect the terms, and receive amazing work. Having the terms and conditions clearly communicated up-front will make for clear communication down the road, and help the process flow smoothly.

A professional designer will provide a contract explaining these important terms allowing for worry-free design time. Pay attention from step one, and you’ll avoid starting over when your forum buddy disappears with your PayPal payment. Understand, too, that “you get what you pay for” applies with car designers (even more so for lunch). If you want your designs quickly (or just on time) and at a high quality, be prepared to pay a bit more, and respect the time required to perfect a design. Much as you wouldn’t rush a surgeon reconstructing your body, give your car-body the same consideration for equally functional results! If you call three times a day, looking for sketches, or worse, haven’t given any direction since the last batch, and are just looking for more ideas and art, you’re going to see the project start to move slower. Communicate. Be patient. Let the designer think and design.

It takes a lot more time than you’d expect to craft something unique. A little patience here can mean the difference between ‘take this and go away’ and the best effing thing you’ve ever seen. That’s worth a few days without looking at sketches you’ll shoot-down anyway, isn’t it?

4. Don’t Be The “I’ll know what I want when I see it” Guy

That guy is the enemy of designers, and it translates to “headache” to any pro. He is the same guy that ruins a project. Have an idea at the first consultation, even if it’s vague, and ask for direction/advice if needed (see step 2). Know what you’d like to do with the car. Will it be restored? Modified? A combination of the two? Something wilder? A professional designer will offer examples, and throw ideas around with you, hitting on your likes and dislikes before pencil hits paper. Many great cars develop during these “bench racing” sessions, and you’ll save a ton on revisions. A few bucks and some time consulting will pay off, literally, hundreds of times over.

Communication is your best friend here. Simply jumping from style to style will burn you and your designer out, and close doors on really creative ideas. Occasionally, you’ll get into a great flow of ideas, and the project grows organically, and takes you into uncharted and amazing territory. Ask for ideas, and creativity flows. Confuse the heck out of the designer with ‘gee, I like this and this and this and this and this, and those cars, and ice cream, and blue and red and…’, or worse, ‘I can see it in my head bu can’t explain it’ (translation: ‘I have no clue what the f**k I’m hoping for, but it better be cool’) will breed absolute hatred for you in your designer. Seriously. We hate that a lot. Do some research. Get to know what you like. Know thyself. Then express those likes to your designer.

custom tail light design

Research the hell out of your project and ideas. Go to shows, cruise nights, rod runs… Pick up magazines, books, videos… Look around at what’s been done, and find a style that you like. Ask your designer what he or she is into. Who knows? Perhaps they dig a certain style that isn’t well-known to you… or maybe they have a whole new spin on an old idea? (Scott Sullivan is the master of this approach, and I use that inspiration daily. Trick is to keep a VERY open mind, and use your imagination like a blender, and mix and match until your head spins.)

Make a list of things that you enjoy about cars and save pictures that remind you of those features. Perhaps you enjoy good handling, or maybe straight-line performance is more your thing. Maybe it’s all about the look of the car, and you’re after a show car that will make people stop and drool. It’s during this hugely important stage that you and your designer will determine a “direction” for the project. You should have a list of your dreams for the car, as well as a list that is more realistic, taking into consideration the reality of the car you’ve chosen. Approaching a professional designer with these ideas in place will save time, frustration, and above all, help to nail your “perfect” concept.

custom camaro concept

5. Don’t Fall Victim To Trends

If you’ve seen a teal green and gray car with a tweed interior and 15-inch billet wheels lately and thought “wow… the 1990’s called, and they want their car back”, imagine what response a car built in a trendy style today will elicit in ten or fifteen years.

Simply shopping from magazine features and completed cars on forums will inevitably breed you a cookie-cutter car. Simply saying “oh man, that car that won Street Machine of the Year had a cool hood, so I want THAT hood, and the same wheels, and the same paint, and then that car that won the year before had those seats… I want THAT interior…” and so-on, will not design or build YOUR dream car. Instead, you’ll assemble an abomination that would make Frankenstein appear slick and suave. The key is working to put everything you like together properly. A trained designer can do this… it’s what we’re paid to do. Much as you may enjoy looking at some supermodel on TV, would you marry her based on a few glances at a few physical attributes? Chances are, you’d be much happier if you sought out someone who fit your life, who matched that often undefinable set of criteria that just “did” something for you. This project car should be no different. It should be a unique reflection of YOUR style, and a talented designer will help you to make that happen. Look around at EVERYTHING. Take stock of the things that appeal to you… whether it’s furniture design, a style of architecture, an old train… anything at all. “Build to THE CLIENT’S taste, not that of someone else” is my credo in the studio. I always ask my clients a series of questions to discover exactly what they like, what their tastes and interests are. As any professional designer should, I’ll help you organize those individual items, and create a cohesive package. Look for that personal interest in your designer. It should be a team effort… not a battle.

dashboard designs

Seek out a designer who understands the style you’re planning to build your car in, and can offer unique approaches to design problems that not only make your eyes pop out, but will prevent your hard earned dollars from doing likewise from your wallet. Approach modifications tastefully, respectfully, and with the thinking “how does this change affect the rest of the car? What purpose does it serve?” If it makes sense, do it. If it’s questionable, then be sure to question the hell out of it!

That said, head on out and explore… look at work, compare styles, and talk with designers. Your decision should go beyond price, and be the RIGHT FIT for your project. Seek out a designer that can listen, offer ideas, and above all, nail your design. After all, simply setting sail on the ocean might take you SOMEPLACE, but is it where you WANTED to go? Hiring a designer will help chart that course AND reach the end of the journey. When plotted correctly, your designer will have you itching to hoist the sails again, and that’s what this whole car thing is all about anyway… feeding that passion!

custom nova concept

The Art of the Special Feature

A good two-disc set is always a special treat. Consider a new DVD release of a feature film, especially one loaded with extras and behind-the-scenes features… Whether it’s commentary from the director or writer, offering you some insight to the big “why” questions, or a peek at the cast, it’s just cool to be a part of the action. Prior to DVD’s (and their subsequent “special features” menus and full discs), seeking out those behind-the-scenes features required a little more effort. There were magazines, certainly, and the occasional “featurette” on TV, but in the earliest days, looking into the meat and potatoes required some serious digging, if not inside connections. It was much the same for custom cars and hot rods in the early days. Before there was Powerblock TV and Overhaulin’, getting that in-progress glimpse of a build was a rarity, and required a trek to a local shop, or that rare tech article.

Enter two gentlemen who had a profound impact on their respective industries, as well as on me: Forrest J Ackerman and George Barris. These guys virtually refined the whole concept, and in a number of ways invented it for their particular places in the cosmos. Buckle your belts ‘cuz we’re going to mix and mash two seemingly different things once again, and hopefully leave you with some fresh insight… and don’t worry, this one will be quick and painless!

About the time that George Barris was born (in the mid-1920’s), Forrest J Ackerman was reading his first sci-fi tale in a copy of Amazing Stories. While Forry’s interests were writing fiction and celebrating the genre and its writers, George and his bother Sam were customizing cars. Forrest was hanging with friends the likes of Ray Bradbury and Henry Kuttner, starting magazines like Futuria Fantasia (which would be a killer name for a bubble-top custom, mind you), The Barris boys were learning tricks of the trade from masters like Dick Bertolucci, and bolting together a slick ‘36 Ford which was used as a calling card, attracting paying customers. Keeping with our “parallels” theme, at around this same time, George founded a car club named “Kustoms Car Club”, reportedly the first use of “kustoms” with that “K”… Meanwhile, Forry and his friend Myrtle R. Douglas attended the first-ever World Science Fiction Convention, dressed in space suits, setting off a chain-reaction of future comic and Trek convention costumed attendees. Trendsetters indeed! Add to the parallel that all three were in Los Angeles in these times, and, well, it just couldn’t be any cooler had it been written that way. (oddly enough, Sam Barris and Forry Ackerman were both enlisted in WWII… coincidence?)


Throughout the ’40’s and into the ’50’s, Barris continued building custom cars, and making a huge name in the industry, guiding it, in fact. It was during these years that George saw the potential in magazines, and was instrumental in documenting literally thousands of cars, and in the process virtually invented the modern “tech article”. His photo essays in the popular car magazines of the time chronicled trends and techniques for customizers living outside of the California hotbed of activity, and offered that all-important “behind-the-scenes” insight, probably providing countless would-be customizers with some inspiration. Barris is often credited with inspiring many modern day customizers to practice their craft, and his efforts with his unique brand of Public Relations certainly has been a driving force behind the continuation of this industry into the twenty-first century. Consider just how many articles he had published showing metal shaping tips, or paint how-to’s… Then, take a gander at his articles, and compare the layout to today’s tech pages. He literally paved the way, adding another dimension to car features, promoting the hobby and inspiring at the same time. Look through some of these old issues, and you’ll be amazed at what faces pop up, and even more so, who was working in who’s shops, or had a hand in some of your favorite cars.


Meanwhile, Ackerman was acting as a literary agent, representing hundreds of writers, and serving as “agent of record” for many more, ensuring that their work would be published in numerous anthologies, preserving the science fiction genre’s past in not only written form, but providing an entirely new facet for the then-growing motion picture industry. Consider that his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland exposed many aspiring special effects artists and film makers alike to those “behind-the-scenes” looks, and the parallels just grow stronger. It was these close looks at the men behind the special effects techniques that inspired such talents as Tim Burton, John Landis and Rick Baker, as well as countless other amateur home directors. Forrest truly created an industry that continues strong today, not only from the standpoint of the behind-the-scenes documentary, but for collectors of film memorabilia. He was also one of those rare “hands-on”, approachable figures, leading tours of the Ackermansion, his personal home and museum, packed to the rafters with his collection of movie props and memorabilia. He understood the value of preservation, historical record and collecting those odd bits and pieces to maintain some reference point when future generations might want to look back (much as we at Motorburg are striving to do today!). Ackerman had a keen insight and understanding of the magic behind the movies, and always managed to share just enough to get someone interested and thinking about it a whole new way… which, when you stop to think about it, is a common trait in these heroes of ours who forge a new path: They “get” it, and they SHARE it! When you manage to combine enthusiasm with knowledge and a great work ethic, you tend to become a part of the very thing you enjoy, and Forry is surely one of those important cogs in an absolutely huge machine.

In this same way, George is a common figure at car shows and events, as well as still working from his shop. It’s this accessibility that makes it all even more fun; having that opportunity to mix and mingle with the folks who not only “were THERE”, but helped to preserve our hobbies for future generations. While we unfortunately lost Forrest J Ackerman in 2008, the next time you load that movie into your DVD player and pop open the “Special Features” menu, give a quick “thanks” to the ultimate fanboy, and feel free to share your knowledge of where it all began. And while you’re at it, why not give a tip of the hat to George next time you’re browsing those back issues at the swap meet. Chances are, many of the photos in that issue are courtesy of the “King of the Kustomizers”.

Think FAST.

hemi A-100

Like any good disease, the car thing is hereditary, I’m positive of that.

Think Fast.

If I were to ask you to name the first car that really did it for you… the one car that sparked your interest in hot rods or cars in general, what’s the first car that comes to mind for you? I’ve asked this question a few hundred times in my life (conservative guess) to folks I know or meet in the car game, and one overwhelmingly consistent answer seems to be a Hot Wheels car (followed closely by either a neighbor’s bitchin’ street machine, a local kustom, and the always-present magazine feature car)

For me, there was always some interest in cars. It was and is in my blood. I’m convinced that it’s genetic. My kids love cars, and always have from the start. My parents were rabid car fanatics, and it was working with my Dad on weekends and summers that provided me with the skills to earn my own living during and after school in the parts and service side of the industry.

To look back on there being that one car that really sparked it all for me would be impossible. However, to pinpoint that one car that set in motion my love for a certain style of car, all memories lead back to my die cast car cases that I prized as a little kid.

hot wheels

It was in those cases that my imagination could just go haywire! Man… there was just unlimited potential in those vinyl, lift-out holders. Wild paint, huge engines, side pipes, mean, aggressive, almost profane stance… These were my inspiration. It was my time spent with these Hot Wheels cars that made me look at cars differently. Somewhere in my mind, a switch was flipped at that early age, and rather than just look at a car, I’d be mentally re-working it. Changing the paint, the body… altering the stance, just testing the limits of what could be done to make even the most mundane sedan riding alongside our car on the road into the baddest machine in the world. I’d escape into my own world of outrageous, fire breathing motor madness. And all was good in the world.

By the age of five, I was drawing a lot… I made it my goal to capture the mental images on paper, and tweak them from one extreme to the next. On paper, I could refine an idea, and learned the importance of stance, tire sidewall height to wheel diameter and wheel opening size ratios, the importance of color choices and more. I’d grab cues from these scale cars in my room, and just run wild. One idea would inspire countless others, and I’d go through paper as fast as I could get my hands on it. Where my neighborhood friends were content to collect and play with cars, I was happiest creating my own versions. I was hooked.

When there was a way to scrape together a couple of bucks, I’d save for more Hot Wheels cars, or, once I’d discovered the madness between the covers, well, it was CARtoons or nothing, baby, even replacing my beloved MAD Magazine (we’ll get into my Mort Drucker and Don Martin fascinations some other time). Between the automotive insanity in CARtoons and the occasional Dave Bell cartoon I’d spy in the magazines at the barber shop, I just knew that there were others who shared my twisted fantasies and tastes. Guys like Trosley and Austin and Borden just pushed crazy physics and power to new levels, and Bell’s subtle tweaking and mastery of cartooned proportions folded my brain in exciting new ways!

dave bell poster  cartoons

Somewhere along the way, we all grow up, and our priorities change. We have things to worry about, like school, work, family… and in those changing time, we often lose sight of the little things we had as kids. The things that inspired creativity, filled our days and daydreams and got us excited for a ride in the car seem to take a backseat, and get lost in the day-to-day tasks we need to finish up. Our minds are clouded with lists, schedules, reminders…

We reach for techno-gadgetry to handle small tasks and make things quicker, and put our brains into overdrive, reserving those few down-times to have some television program provide entertainment for us. Quick wit gets replaced by repeating the one-liner from a sit-com, and creative tastes are inspired through advertising. Innocence and that “what if??” sense of adventure just seem to get swept under it all. We all go through it. I sure did.

I made a conscious decision some years ago, while driving in to my then cubicle-based land of employ. I resolved that morning to just let my imagination run wild on my 70-mile commute… Not to listen to the radio, or go over notes and schedules in my mind. Rather, I wanted to just stretch the right side of the brain, and see where it took me. I began looking at traffic with the same excitement I had in my youth. That econo-box next to me suddenly became this evil road racer, with IMSA-like bowed body panels and wild paint. The tow truck in the next lane took on some outrageous, CARtoons-like creation, with a huge blower and out-of-this-world size rear meats, with the tow boom swinging an over-sized, chromed hook madly behind. My own ride became a Mad Max-like, post-apocalyptic street machine, racing for the next fill-up. I had found my own nirvana again, and even the worst of days was made brighter. “Just like the old days”? Oh, Hell yes.

At lunch, on breaks, during meetings, conference calls, whenever, I doodled. I began drawing again after years of neglecting that once vital part of my days. I was drawing again! I was having fun with it, and it was going in a million new directions. I had re-discovered what it was all about so many years prior. The fun was back, and having absolutely no limits on what could be done on paper was a most welcome escape from what had to be done with paper each day.


Fast-forward a few years, and I was designing project cars for clients at night and on weekends, and managing them during the day at a new job. The work was taking on a realistic appearance out of necessity, but the wild style within still wanted to play. One day in late 2006, I let it out in the form of the A-Tona, which I sketched up for a Truckin’ Magazine Radical Renderings feature. This little Dodge A-100 has been the one piece of my work that gets me more emails, calls, letters and requests for re-prints than any other I’ve sketched. It’s just got that something that makes people grin, and everyone just seems to get it. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, it’s obnoxious… It sums up my earliest inspirations and daydreams in one bright orange, low-slung package, and looks like it just did something wrong… And, frankly, it doesn’t give a shit. It’s my inner child, street machine-style.

…and how about cars in action?! Here’s a little taste of what I’m playing around with (it’s an intro for some upcoming drawing tutorials):

Drawing Cars: It’s All in the Details

rendering chrome

An obsessive-complusive personality can be an advantage.

Salvador Dali once observed that “the true painter must be able patiently to copy a pear while surrounded by rapine and upheaval.” There’s a guy who knew how to put a thought on paper. And you know, it’s not just the turmoil and distractions of daily life that can throw off some artistic concentration, to me, anyway, there’s the constant temptation to get radical with every inch of the paper when drawing, and skim over some little details that could truly test my patience and skill.

Occasionally, the pens take on a life of their own, and the ink and pixels are flowing at an alarming rate, and the piece is getting a smooth, loose look, and all is well… but then something happens.

I just… well… stop.

Not because I’m tired, or unhappy with how things are going or anything like that… I just get drawn into some little detail. There might be a reflection that urges me on, or some tiny curve or indent or character line on whatever I’m drawing that makes me take an almost unholy interest.

…and this is where it all goes haywire.

You see, in my line of work, time is the enemy. There’s never enough of it. You can only create so many pictures in so much time, and time keeps slipping away from you. Oh, sure… you go at the day with the greatest intentions, but by noon, the day’s half gone (or even less on some more marathon days), and you’re three hours deep in rendering headlamps or hair.

Suddenly, the sun’s gone down, the DVD player’s been looping the menu for King Kong’s special features for three hours, the coffee is room temperature, the wife is mad, the kids are sound asleep, the dog is dancing around with crossed legs and floating teeth, and you’re… well, you’re adding digits to some gauge panel on an interior rendering. A detail that almost no-one will ever even see… but, by golly, they need to be there!

rendering lightsWhat drives me to do this, day in and day out?

Beats the shit out of me. I enjoy hiding the tiniest of details in a piece, and enjoy the heck out of it when anyone finds them or comments on it. But, it’s not about the recognition. For a while, I believed that it was. “Wow, Brian, you’re shouting ‘PLEASE LOVE ME!’ by drawing lug nuts and lamp filaments, you douche.” That wasn’t it, though. It was something else… something, well… More personal.

I was deriving a HUGE amount of satisfaction for the challenge of it all. It became a game with me. How far could I take a piece? What miniscule, insignificant detail could I make look cool, without attracting too much attention to it… Yet, if it went missing, would leave everything out of balance and unfinished-looking?

Again, on the flip-side, it’s this obsessive attention to detail that costs the extra hours… but, in the light of perceived value, I’m throwing in some hefty bonus features, and that, in some warped way, makes the cold meals and other, assorted lost time well worth it.

digital gauges  1950 merc dash

I mean, it’s fun to see a cool picture, but if you dig a bit deeper, does it still hold up, or is it a lot of smoke and mirrors? To me, it’s far more entertaining to see the little stuff that makes it all look, in the case of cars, anyway, put together.

fender flags

One of the greatest bits of knowledge I was ever taught was to observe.

Not to simply look at a subject that I’d be drawing, or even to study the nuances, angles, curves and so-on… but to pay attention to where it existed in nature (or within its plane of view), and, most importantly, how it interacted with the forms and objects around it. Precisely how it played off of the things around it. That little nugget of know-how permanently warped my sense of drawing, painting, artistic creation… even how I listened to music. It was the equivalent of telling an OCD-afflicted person to watch out for cracks in the sidewalk when walking on the wrong side of the street. I latched onto the idea, and never have been able to let go. For better or worse, it’s part of me.

It has its advantages:

rendering trim

I mean, man… it’s those little things, those weird, small details that bring a drawing up from just a few lines to some cohesive design… that’s fun to look at.

OK, so what’s the point here? To note how much crap I can pack into a sheet of paper that’s pretending to be a car? Sure. I mean, no… it’s a bit bigger than that.

I’ve been slowly making time to create some tutorials on drawing cars, and while handling the basics is cool, and probably the most logical place to start, I was noticing something… well… missing (see s trend here?). I took a step back, and realized that what was missing:

Actual content.

I mean, sure, you can teach someone to draw, or to paint, or to use software… but it’s those little life experiences that make it come together. Teaching someone to observe, and then to apply what they’ve seen, what they’ve witnessed in some way… that, my friend, is the shiznit. The part when it all comes together, and someone begins to develop a unique style, versus simply mimicking another, or rote-learning some pen strokes.

custom car drawing

With that in mind, I started to re-teach my kids to draw. To listen to music, watch film, read… and, even better, to create with an emphasis on the harmony of what they are doing and the things that are going on around them and their work. Hell, I’d be stoked if they mowed the lawn in interesting patterns and cut the wife’s plants into topiaries resembling mythical creatures locked in battle over the weeds they strategically left behind. Then again, perhaps I’m reading a bit deep into things here.

t-shirt design

I want my work to be a constantly evolving entity… To be a little more than the sum of its parts. And, perhaps more importantly, to pass that idea forward in the tutorials, and inspire someone to push themselves in the same way… How cool would it be to not only push an artist in their art, but have that very act come back and do likewise?

I really want to see my art pack even more detail. If there’s any truth to the old saying that the devil’s in the details, then I want my work to become some sort of twisted, demonic state of Mardi Gras, complete with a never-ending exchange of cool visuals for strings of “wow, I never noticed that before!”.

Here’s hoping I can finish up some tutorials, perhaps inspire a budding artist or two, and who knows… get to bed before dawn, or eat a warm meal sometime soon…

Hot Rodding History

One of the coolest places I have had the good fortune to visit in my lifetime has been the Old Crow Speed Shop. This Burbank, CA landmark is a living, working shop and museum. A true time capsule loaded to the rafters with some of the neatest hot rod and racing-related goodies you’ve ever laid eyes upon.

It’s one of those places where you just wander around slack-jawed, just trying to take it all in. Rather than write a bunch of words, and make some scientific study of the shop and the incredible collection stored between the walls, I thought it better to just throw down some photos, as though you were there with me, wandering. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do…

old crow speed shop

old crow coupe

hot rod shop

old crow collection

old crow mementos

parts counter

old crow showroom

old crow speed nostalgia

nos stromberg display

belly tank cars

old school hot rodding

bellytank pedal cars

Much more soon…

Some East Coast Kustom Style

Custom cars from the “right cost” here in America have always suffered from the stigma of being “un-cool”, or at best, unattractive. There’s always this opinion that seems to surface when talking cars (especially hot rods and customs from the “glory days” of the fifties and sixties) that East Coast customs and hot rods were “ugly” or lacked style. Granted, there are quite a few examples that support this claim, but, having grown up on the “right coast”, I have always felt a need to defend that side of the hobby.

The magazines of the time chronicled what was immediately available to them, and that meant, for the most part, West Coast cars. The few East Coast cars that were seen seemed to have cemented a certain image in most car guys’ heads… I’m not a fan of severely channeled coupes, but can appreciate the style and work that went into them, certainly. I’m also not a big fan of an overly-accessorized custom with giant skirts and a continental kit, but I do “get it”. I think it’s just got a lot to do with the times, the region, and the cultural differences. The East Coast has always been a bit grittier, relying on manufacturing, and with cooler weather, shorter summers and all, people just took a different approach to building, and making due with a smaller number of shops. Consider that there were much fewer shops, and that many skilled custom craftsmen went West (where the magazines and show coverage were), and you’re left with but a few builders, and thus, less ability to really push the envelope.

I’ve been working on a project for some time, and recently kicked it into a higher gear… My goal is to document the East Coast style, and, at the same time, chronicle the builders and their cars, and hopefully, shed some light on the little-known history from the region. I am fortunate to have grown up with some of the people who were “there”, and even call some friends. We have family friends that built customs and hot rods, raced in the region, and were, generally, part of the scene. As I compiled photos and stories, I was continually blown away by the variety of cars, the quality of the work, and the great stories that have been shared…

As it all comes together, I’ll share more, but wanted to throw at least one quick look at what’s going on in front of you.

Take a look at this home-built ’50 Ford. This is the kind of stuff that gets me going… a family project, and definitely something we can all relate to:

customized 1950 Ford

Wayne’s ’50 Ford is a piece of Western New York custom history, and, in his words:

Here are some shots of the car my Dad (William Carrig), my Mother (zelda), my four sisters and I built in his one-car garage in Kenmore, NY over a two year period beginning in 1964. This was my first car, bought it when I was 16 years old and my Dad who had a body shop at one point in his life fixed the body (it was a mess, rusted out floors, rocker panels, quarter panels, etc.).

We also customized i:  frenched headlights, shaved hood, truck, removed side chrome, sunken antenna, custom grille, hand built taillights.

customized 50 ford

Everything on this car was done on a strict budget as I had little money. Grille opening was formed from electrical conduit, sunken antenna and handbuilt taillights made from brass kitchen drain pipe, taillights were red truck clearance light lenses, upholstery including truck except for the back seal and convertible top were all done by my Mother, Dad and me. Front seats were from a 65 Mustang and my Dad fabricated floor mounts so they would fit. I used 57 Oldsmobile turn signals as they looked like Lucas lights and I sure as heck couldn’t afford Lucas lights at the time! Grill was chromed metal mesh. It was flawless after many other hours of block sanding and my Dad put on many coats of Corvette Honduras Maroon Lacquer paint which looked a mile deep!! A true family project, my sisters helped and everyone in the family loved the car. Unfortunately I had to get rid of the car when I got drafted and joined the Air Force during the Vietnam era. I hated to do it but had no way to get the car from Buffalo, NY to San Antonio, TX. I did use the money from the sale of this car to purchase the Black 57 Chevy I purchased in TX and still have today. Even so….I still miss this car and would do about anything to have it back…”

It’s just one of those stories that make our hobby’s history so rich. There are a LOT of stories to be told yet, and I’m stoked to be compiling it all, and learning as I go.

If you’re an East Coast hot rodder/custom car owner or fan, and would like to share some history with the project, hit me up! I’d be delighted to make your car or story a part of this project, and will work to ensure that all proper credit is given where due. hit me up (see site link below), and I’ll get you the info you need to participate, and even throw a gift your way…

Thanks again to Wayne, and those who have shared already. I’ll keep you updated as we progress…

Demo Reel

A peek at what I do… Demo Reel-style!

Just a sampling of hot rod design renderings, illustrations, stills from the animatics testing on my long-term,. personal side project. Check it out, and let me know what you think! As always, sincere thanks for looking in!

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