It has been a while since I posted anything here to really do with the actual drawing of cars… I mean, shit, that is the name of this whole mess, after all. I suppose that I could throw a few doodles into the mix now and then, right?
Going through some of the older sketchbooks and whatnot, I’ve compiled a little peek behind the scenes; the stuff that goes on before the vector and digital voodoo-type sorcery. Let’s start with this piece:
I had wanted to do a cartoon-y piece for a while, and the opportunity presented itself back in ’08-ish, so I went at it with some gusto, and created the ultimate swap meet find moment, with this happy gent scraping his way home with a brutal ’55 Chevy in tow. From markers to the scanned and re-drawn, vector art, you can see the importance of staying as true as possible to the original work. All pen tool… no brushes, auto-trace, meshes or other preset nonsense. It’s all about retaining the original line quality, and saving that hand-drawn looseness, but gaining all of the good things that a vector piece can supply!
I do a lot of t-shirt work, and to be honest, I enjoy it a lot more than the hot rod work, especially as things progress with my neuromuscular condition (more on that soon), and it really gives me a chance to play around in my imagination. There are so many things you can get away with, stretching reality on a graphic, versus having to make things work on the street!
This piece was a fun one in so many ways:
My pal Jon had wanted a cool tee for his shop. He knew he wanted a pinup girl with a retro feel, but wanted to include two of the more well-known cars they’ve painted… However, those cars are decidedly modern Pro-Touring style rides, so the challenge was on to make these elements work. I decided that I’d use the opportunity to include elements from some of my favorite science fiction spacecraft, lending a little bit of a retro/space feel. And what space-age pinup would be complete without a glass dome helmet and a ray gun-turned-paint gun? Naturally. Sketch to color-blocking in marker took what seemed like forever as my hands weren’t cooperating too well at the time, but I had managed to bust this out over a couple of days (from sketch to final vector work):
Speaking of tees and posters, here’s a little one from 2012:
This is a peek at that weird moment where the sketch meets the digital work. For me, this is a bittersweet moment at times, knowing that some elements in the original design will probably change, be it to make things more print-friendly, of due to a client’s request… And some of the really neat little bleeds and whatnot in the marker stage will be lost forever to the super-smoothness of a vector curve. I pay a TON of attention at this stage to keep as much of that hand-hewn character and personality in there!
The completed vector art:
Let’s peek at the rendering side of things with a little ’50 Chevy pickup piece. Starting with a pencil sketch (you can find the whole process on this particular illustration as part of a quick tutorial, if you’d like), I refine it to a point where I feel confident that I have enough information to move into the digital side. This one got a bit carried away, as I was putting that how-to together, and thought I’d have an expanded version for the upcoming book:
Mostly pencils with just a touch of gray marker making its way in, just to nail down the shading.
Once it’s all vector drawn (again, I’m a strictly pen tool kinda guy on these personal pieces, as it’s more about getting m,y own hand and style into the art, versus banging out a piece to feed the kids. After a bunch of hours and hundreds of layers and detailing, we get this:
Sketching on-site is always fun, and this piece was the highlight of a fun weekend, hanging in Burbank. While the plan was to go full digital with this one, I decided that it just had too much going on to lose the feel, and decided that markers just fit the bill, and, well…
…it worked out pretty well! Experimenting sometimes with a technique or style that’s outside of your everyday working methods can often bring exciting results! In this case, I had really intended to keep it looser, and get that cool plein air feel… but in the end, I forced a bit of my tighter rendering style in there. Maybe next time!
Hey guys. It’s been a while, and I apologize for that. Today, I’d like to roll out another tutorial, this time, drawing a slick, slammed Fury. This will be an analog (or “traditional”, whichever you prefer) piece, so bust out the pencils, paper, and markers of your choice (I’ll be using Copics, but virtually any marker will do here), and get drawing!
Laying out the guidelines… At this stage, some loose lines to place the key parts of the composition are all that’s needed. Perspective lines give us an idea of where things will be placed, and give a general feel for scale and proportion as well.
I start to tidy-up the car at this point, bringing in a little marker to darken-up the shadow areas, and make permanent those lines I wish to keep:
Blocking-in some gray tones. Just some loose grays to start giving the piece some depth. Key here is deciding which forms will recede in space, and which will be left up front. I also spend a little time defining the car’s shadow:
Cleaning-up some of the stray sketch lines, and adding some color to block in some lighting for later. I like the work to appear translucent, versus having just color planted atop more color (which can get awfully muddy-looking), so a little color washing at this point pays off HUGE later on:
I bring in some color to the car at this stage, tightening-up the shading and lines… While the whole image is loose, I like to have certain areas (like the wheels) show a bunch of detail, to draw the eye in and around the work:
A ton of time spent blocking-in color, and implying some brick on the storefronts. Blending is the key at this stage, and using it in a restrained manner can help to give not only a nice, loose feel, but make the lighting and shadow appear more natural, versus blocked-in and forced. I tend to work from the lightest to darkest areas in stages, moving back over and into those areas that need richer or darker tones:
This is another ‘static’ tutorial, meaning no video. I thought it best to present a few basic tutorials in this way to give you a reference, without any distractions, or need to search for a particular step. This just seems a better way to get you up to speed on the essentials, before we move full-steam into the more advanced tools and techniques. It’s a quick overview, but take your time, and work on controlling every stroke you lay on the page. It’ll pay off in the end.
A quick pick-me-up for the start of your week, with a bold, bad Dart…
I had gotten the call from Tommy at Musclecar TV to sketch some visuals for the pro-street Dart they were planning, and got all sorts of psyched. After all, here was a (mostly) overlooked car, being built in a style I love… Throw on some plans for a blown Hemi, and I was lost in thought. Here was a shot to work with a good friend AND throw down some Dodge muscle with a historical twist! The very stuff I live for anyway!
The starting point was a decent little 1974 Dodge Dart…
…not too shabby, considering. This was, in fact, the very sort of car my friends and I had in (and just out of) High School! A mild street machine with some hefty goals.
Tommy and I decided early-on that the car would be bold, and we’d rely on classic Rapid Transit System colors, and some form of a Hemi billboard graphic. I had suggested keeping that graphic simple, so that any enthusiast could create a striking call-out at home. After a ton of deliberation and experimentation, I arrived at a mix of retro cool and modern style (with just a little pop) that could be replicated by hand, or by use of an inexpensive vinyl mask, which could be made in any local sign shop, and provide professional-looking results at nearly all skill levels. Here’s a peek at the colors we were narrowing-down:
…and the final decision? Sublime Green, of course:
It was a blast to explore the potential of the car, and to call on the storied history of Dodge with such a fun car. After all, when you drop the name ‘Hemi’, ears perk up. When you add ‘blown’ to that word, it gets even more interesting… and when you decide to wrap it all in a bright green, pro-street Dart, well… Need I say more?
Be sure to check out the build episodes here: Big Bad Dodge, and dig the way the guys incorporated my drilled bumper idea!
Speaking of Dodge, I have a shot at winning a gig writing for Dodge on their blog! I was selected as one of five finalists, and flown to NY last month (read more about that HERE if you’d like!) to wander the New York International Auto Show with representatives from Dodge and Ignite Social Media (thanks again!), and film a walk-around with the just-debuted 2014 Dodge Durango. The competition is in the final leg, and I hope that you’ll take a moment to vote for me (Brian S.). You can do that here https://bit.ly/XUMXLO through May 7… And you can vote once per day, every day, and I truly appreciate your support in helping me to not only get a great break, but bring the passion to a HUGE audience each week, and win some great prizes, as well!
Thanks, as always, for looking in!
Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with cars, photography, and motion pictures. Cars were something I had no control over being into. I was simply born with that gene. On my build sheet, someone checked the RPO for Car Nut, and the deal was sealed. But photography… capturing a moment in time… man, that sparked something in me. And motion pictures? Well, damn. Telling a story with a photo narrative, and having it grab that in an animated sequence? I was sold.
I studied Fine Art, and honed skills like drawing and painting, design… And then went further, studying animation and digital art, and finally working to apply these diverse techniques for creating imagery in one piece.
The majority of my commissioned work happens to be renderings, which, by nature, require strictly static images to supply some direction for a project. As a fan of both animation and painting, as well as someone who has always enjoyed writing and the thrill of crafting a narrative, well, you can imagine the turmoil which surfaces each time I grab a pencil or stylus or brush.
There’s always the drive to take the subject that extra step… to get something to move in the image, to put it over the top. Some time back, I experimented with backgrounds in my renderings that included scanned and reworked splashes and splatters. They had that ‘frozen in time’ feel I was looking for, and allowed me to play with contrasting colors to get some visual pop and movement… And that laid the groundwork for future pieces, sparking inspiration to play with textures, atmosphere, and finally, crafting a story.
The idea, in and of itself, was straightforward. Simply create the setting for the story, and shove the car in there. Right? No… in my world, things have to be a bit more complex when weaving the tale or painting the image. I began taking notes on cars I’ve drawn, would like to draw, and those I simply find interesting.
I began to imagine where these cars might turn up… who would drive them.
Why they would drive them there in the first place. Inspiration began to strike.
There was a way to connect all of the images, but have these little sub-plots running, and even include a car in each of these unique stories. I’d build the stories individually, but have some underlying theme carrying throughout an
entire series, or even a few series.
The example above, showing that blue Merc was bouncing in my head for some time. I always saw the car as a bit sneaky-looking, even when designing it. I imagined the kind of guy who might drive it, where he’d go… inventing little stories as I sketched ideas and details, keeping those notes handy.
Right on about this time, I took on the AutoWeek Magazine/Rad Rides by Troy 2012 calendar project. Twelve cars to be illustrated, creating some bad-ass, modern hot rods from new cars. Here it was: the opportunity to play with narrative, and work to tie a dozen cars, all different in their inspiration and beginnings, but having some underlying story, a connection that went just a step beyond simply being some cars I was designing and illustrating for a calendar.
The challenge became finding a way to make them all work together, yet retain some unique identity. Then it hit me. A calendar helps to mark the passage of time. I would mark some passage of time with the cars, as well. I would break the year down as if it were simply one day. I’d tweak the colors to represent the cycles of the sun, the passage of seasons, and yet, do it in a way that presented itself as a single twenty four-hour span. I’d move around a fictional region, from urban to dry lakes and everything between, and pass time from dawn through nightfall. Each vehicle needed a place, a setting to complement its purpose, and needed to make sense with that particular time of day.
What a can of worms that was. Light shifting throughout the day, atmospheric changes filtering intensity of light, I had even considered altitude of each setting, plotting how the air molecules might scatter the light. I became almost obsessed with color and light theory. But I managed to pull it off.
But the work that led to that grand project only sparked a deeper need to weave some tales. I experimented relentlessly. I dragged old work out of the archives, and played and tweaked and painted and scanned and printed and brushed and sketched and repeated the process for months. I was on to something.
…of course, there were a few pieces that played to my inner nerd:
We all need to hunt a zombie or two now and then… and at this point, I was finding ways to craft an entire tale in one shot.
There’s a LOT going on in this image, from the lighting to the smoke and atmosphere to texture… But the key was in making it look simple.
Note taken:When creating the narrative, find the central theme, and work to craft a setting that slips the drama in almost secondary to the drama created by the car. One should brace the other, and tell the tale, but not completely. Leave a few gaps in the story. Allow the viewer to ask ‘how did the vehicle end up at this particular moment, and what’s around that corner?’ Misdirect on occasion, especially on two-panel works. This could be fun.
My little notebook speaks to me sometimes, and those late-night scribbles tend to be correct more often than not.
Additional note: Sleep-deprived self may be smarter than well-rested self. Definitely finds farts funnier.
Oddly enough, the images didn’t make it into the final calendar in the order I had hoped and presented, but the idea seems to have played off well enough. I was approached by people who caught what was going on, and were excited to have felt a part of the narrative and understood the story. Now we were moving into part two of the plan:
Involving the viewer in the tale.
After all, as a kid, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Brilliantly written in that you felt a part of the action, and a certain excitement at uncovering some side story or alternate ending that your friends may have skipped over. It was that personal involvement, that ‘look what I just found’, eureka moment that attaches someone to the art, versus simply saying ‘wow… neat wheels’.
I began to find ways of making the cars live and breathe. Illumination of lamps, the light trace of exhaust… Those little things that allow your mind to fill in the blanks, to become a part of the story. After all, I wanted the work to become an almost captured memory. And memories play off of little sensory grabs: A scent, a picture, a sound, the feel of light mist as rain begins to fall on a cool evening. I wanted to offer art that was something more than simply a car in a picture. It needed to be a conversation piece. It needed to spark someone’s imagination much the same as it did mine.
I had always made a habit of photographing odd things while on trips or vacations. I’d see things that interested me: Cobblestone streets, a tree, a lamp post, an alley, a door… I had a large archive of reference photos to draw from, and began to arrange and categorize them, and make notes, find uses for them. I’ve always hidden little things from my past in my work, from license plates to buildings, and so-on. I have even gone as far as sketching a city map, designing the layout of the main streets, side alleys, parks and neighborhoods where my tales would play out. A series was born.
Like any tale, the players (both main and secondary) would cross paths. There might be drama, there may be harmony, but there would be interaction. I began to work with environments where I could present multiple angles and viewing points. I found that I could move this fictional camera around, and find another car hiding in the shadows, or show it from the reverse, and complete one small tale in two images.
Case in point, that Merc from earlier:
First frame: the car in an urban, industrial environment. A simple photo-perfect opportunity? Sure. But when we see the rear view, we learn that the car’s owner is on a late-night visit to a lady friend. Each piece can stand alone… but together, we have a tale!
Taking this idea a big step forward, it only made sense to completely narrate the scene, and add as much drama as possible:
…and the polar opposite:
…a quiet moment before that storm we see brewing in the background. A little foreshadowing of drama can have just as much impact as an all-out gunfight. All of those years spent studying Hitchcock are paying off: The trick isn’t always in heaping the big stuff into someone’s lap… occasionally, all you need to do is hint at it.
That all said, I hope you enjoyed a little back-story to the, uh, stories I’m trying to tell in the art. Look for more in this series soon, as well as prints… and a behind-the-scenes look and tutorial on making one of these. Thanks, as always for your time, and I look forward to your questions, comments and more!
Some years ago, I was introduced to the work of a journalist named Hunter S. Thompson. Bear in mind that this “introduction” came at a pivotal point in my creative career, and I was completely drawn to his style of not only writing, but his almost renegade technique of forming a story. Here was a journalist who not only covered the news at hand, but worked in a personal angle, often thrusting himself so deeply into the event he was covering so as to alter its outcome! “Absolute brilliance”, I thought! Not mere “coverage” or “reporting”, but LIVING it! This was just too much… This guy GOT it! To a student of Fine art, this was the epitome of creating anything: the EXPERIENCE… being a PART of what you’re creating!
Thompson’s style of news came to be known as “Gonzo Journalism”, and the name packs the energy rightfully reserved for this all-out, sensory attack, in which the writer himself becomes an integral part of the story. Somewhere between the facts, self-interjection and commentary, the truth lay in wait. This was the sort of writing I had done since I could first form sentences… I had found someone who had paved the way before me, and man, I was digging this. Taking something that has always been deemed as objective, and beating it into something much cooler and entertainingly subjective… showing that a subject or event could have an effect on the writer, and then, at times becoming a part of that story was just simple logic to me… After all, how interesting is just blowing some facts all over a sheet of paper or computer monitor?! Stirring in (or up!) some emotion is key to creating compelling content. Anyone can say “gee, Stan… there was this one guy, and he said this, and the other guy said that. Then they shook hands.” Wow. Not sure about you, but I’M drained from that story. What a cathartic experience… or NOT. Thompson would become the center of his work, very often blurring the line between “reporting” facts and “influencing” a story. He interjected opinion, an energy, and most of all, an experience.
That said, I began to look at this field of automotive art that I work in, and feel a bit depressed. It’s gone from the fun, energetic industry to a machine full of photo-real, computer-generated imagery lately. The landscape is littered with photochops, rehashed 3-D models, and tracings of the same-old, same-old. My work was similar… the same tired, old recipes for stance, wheels and tires and paint jobs that lacked inspiration. I had fallen into a void of using a ‘recipe’, rather than being inspired.
My work was starting to suffer and suck. I was relying, like many others, on the tools, not the skill or vision I had originally worked o hard to develop. I was neglecting my training and the very thing that got me into it all to begin with. I hated what I was doing… but not with a passion. That part was gone.
Why am I not simply DRAWING anymore?!
The creative projects… the REALLY wild customs and out-of-the-box hot rods are the ones that inspire and push the hobby to that next level… they’ve become fewer and further between. It’s become… well, “safe”. We’re flooded with near stock-looking blah-mobiles drawn with a lack of personality, often with the actual car being just the same bland cookie-cutter crap over and over again. Wow… a photo-real rendering of a pro-touring car on aftermarket wheels… Where’s the excitement? You could take a photo of one of hundreds of similar cars on custom wheels at any car show, and have the same effect. When I look at a rendering or illustration, I want to see the artist’s style, the technique, the energy! What the hell happened?! It was as though someone started the rumor that renderings needed to be sterile, lackluster depictions of some uniform style, and by golly, the whole group jumped the bandwagon, eating up the words and carrying it right into the common belief system they’d developed. Worse yet, I saw it start to occur in my own work as well from time to time, and it made me take a step back, and in doing that, I had a moment of absolute clarity.
I took the past couple of months and began heading back to what made this whole automotive illustration gig so appealing to me at the start: The ENERGY!! I pondered just what makes a rendering so valuable to a project, and beyond the financial (sponsor opportunities, press, etc) and communication (illustrating the modifications) value, it all boils down to CREATING EXCITEMENT! Simply looking at a photograph of a car can be cool, sure, but you’re seeing something COMPLETE, FINISHED… and it removes the emotional response, the natural impulse to IMAGINE… To look at the idea SUBJECTIVELY!! By leaving just enough to the imagination, just enough room to interpret something, some part as YOUR OWN, you don’t just LOOK at the work, you EXPERIENCE it!!
Even when drawing from life… find something in the subject that excites you… that gets you going, and capitalize on it. Make that the inspiration for your work. In the piece below, I was standing in the Old Crow Speed Shop, which is like a living museum. It’s packed to the gills with artifacts, parts and history from hot rodding’s roots. There’s a certain roughness about the place… It’s old and weathered, and has just that right amount of patina to be loaded with character. I wanted my line work and coloring to portray and carry that.
This is why I leave some loose lines among the tightened concepts, some free-form areas to chance… I’m not nailing down parts, bit by bit from some “rule book” (“18’s and 19’s? Check. Suspension lowered exactly like every other car on that forum? Check. Billet parts here, here and here? Check. Correct valve covers so as to avoid the wrath of the “Traditional Police”? Check, check!”), I’m inventing a concept to be shared, interpreted… EXPERIENCED by not only the owner or builder of the car, but anyone who happens upon it. I want the viewer to feel some of what I felt in the moment… that connection of having been there. Anyone (and I repeat ANYONE… you, your kids, your neighbor’s Grandmother) with access to a stock model, or some tracing paper and a few pencils and markers, or worse yet, Photoshop, Google and some time can bash out a car illustration (or ‘rendering’ as the common term has come to describe any altered image of a car today). But the ones who can hammer down a concept, and show some life in the lines, some ENERGY… man… those are the pieces that stand up to time, and drop their pants at the lesser crap. Compare a Dali sketch to some photochop or traced (‘vectorized’, ugh) image. Name your three favorite Harry Bradley renderings, or Steve Stanford concepts, or Larry Wood designs. Easy, right? Now try to do the same for three photochops, or vector tracings. That’s a pretty tough one, huh?I’m betting the latter list is shorter. I’m betting that you recall work because it brought out a response in you. Art is like that… it breeds a response, some sort of an emotional reply to the art and artist that says ‘Hell YES!!” It’s that unconscious, natural response that makes art so enjoyable… not some sales pitch or a popularity contest or post count.
That all out there, I’m adopting the “Gonzo” style, and going at it with the passion that brought me here to begin with. It’s just me, my art, and the drive to push it higher and higher until the son of a bitch breaks from the altitude. I’m not about to fall victim to trends… or to fall back into ‘lazy mode’ again. I enjoy the whole work part of creating artwork.
Our pal Hunter (from the start of this whole mess) stated that “he that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master”. Grand advice… and a central theme here in the Studio. Draw inspiration from as many sources as possible! I’m often looking to objects or art forms so removed from cars that even I begin to wonder how they’ll apply… and it’s a blast! I’ll look at a painting and consider the brush strokes, and experiment, seeing how they might work in a current or future piece. Perhaps there’s a rhythm in a song that just makes sense when laying down the lines on some graphics… It can come from almost anywhere. The key here, though, is KNOWING YOUR SUBJECT.
Simply hacking a few photos together, or painting some digital model or tracing a picture doesn’t grant you any more knowledge of designing a hot rod or custom car than does accidentally bumping a car in the parking lot with your shopping cart. When you take time to know the car, to understand the parts and pieces that make the whole… to look into the designer’s mind and grasp where he was going and WHY, well, you’re starting to grasp the idea. You’re in no position to modify that car until you understand it. Going back to Dr. Thompson for a second (after all, he’s the reason we got rolling on this anyway), he once wrote that “Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it. ” Incredibly wise indeed, and the big “why” that so many of these sterile, cold “renderings” lack that “punch”… the thrill, the excitement of a GREAT piece… the ones that make you take a step backward and yell “BITCHIN’, MAN“!!
I began applying that energy to my work, both traditional as well as the digital stuff… Even airbrushing and sketching back over pieces after print. I was aiming to bring things full-circle. After all, digital art is only a collection of electrons to represent that creative thought which created the image to begin with. It only exists after print. If I could sketch a car, make it digital, enhance and change it all in the virtual world… Then bring it back into reality, and put my hand-drawn work back into it, well… Then we’d be talking! And away I went.
The goal was to create with the tools… not just because of them.
I wanted to stir excitement with the subject matter… to be one of those artists who get you going on what they’ve created, and then have you step back and wonder just how in the fuck they did it.
I kept yelling at myself that I want MY work to be like that!
I realized in attempting to reach that level that it all went back to the basics, the fundamentals. Know the subject, know the tools, get comfortable in a technique, and then break free of the comfort zone and create something NEW. Pushing the boundaries, and doing things that others haven’t, or better, have said that you can’t do. Analog to digital and back to analog art? Heck yeah. Got that ball rolling in the Studio, and am discovering a whole new set of challenges and inspiration. Next step? Who knows. I’ll discover it when I get wherever it is.
What I’ve learned so far: Push yourself. Forget what makes you comfortable, and lose the fear of the unknown. Above all, study, study STUDY. Look at the masters in your craft. See what they do. Pick apart the technique, see what makes it all tick and come together. You need a pep talk? Here you go:
After all… ‘How are you gonna learn to be great if you don’t study greatness?!’ Brilliant.
With all of that strewn on the table, I’m going to go back into the Studio and tear the next project a new one. I challenge you to go and do the same in the shop, and wow the snot out of everyone who experiences your Gonzo build.
I thought I’d throw down a quick, step-by-step peek into the process I use to start a rendering, tackling the basics from the sketch through marker shading. That said, let’s get right to it, and bust out some paper, pencils (2B and 4B, as well as some non-photo blue, should you be so inclined) and the trusty Copics (cool and warm grays, as well as a blending marker), and have at it!
From humble beginnings: Let’s start by plotting the angle of the car, and general proportions and perspective with some loose guidelines. Keep things very loose and general at this stage. All we’re looking to do is get an idea of where the car is going to live on our paper.
Moving along on the tutorial, let’s clean up some of those sketchy guide lines, and start roughing-in the parts that will make this a Chevelle. We’re plotting and planning a place for all of the stuff that will need to show later on, so take your time, but keep it loose yet.
Onward with the tutorial! At this stage, I like to add the wheels, and start tightening-up those lines I know will be staying. I pay some extra attention to the front wheel, and keep in mind the offset for the rear. Start by laying in an arc to figure-out just where the wheel face will sit in the rim, and set the stance. You can see in this pic that I’ve changed my mind a few times already. Remember: circular and ellipse templates are your friend. Invite them to play along. I like to lay in a few details as well, just to get an idea of where things like the lug nuts and any hardware might sit… And don’t forget the tire sidewall! This could drastically change the car’s ride height or the wheel’s proportion.
Tutorial continues: Made in the shade…ing. Let’s continue our theme of cleaning-up those stray lines, and get on darkening-up the shaded areas, lightening those areas that will get a blast of light, and, sadly, this pic doesn’t show it too well, but I’ve started loosely adding some rally stripes, per the client’s request. Again, we’re working a bit tighter, and slowly building the tones. Easier to add a little at a time, than to start over when it’s all blotchy and too dark. Still working with the Copics (neutral and toner grays at this stage).
Moving along in the tutorial, let’s get those stripes blocked-in (careful… careful!), and continue working the entire car. We’ll darken up some lines, and detail some reflections on the bumper and wheels, as well as blending a bit on the shading. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage, just needs to represent a light source, some reflected light from the ground, and show that the body panels have a slight curve. The tricks here include building the shading slowly in layers, and trying to imagine where the brightest areas of light may be hitting the car’s body. We’ll want to leave those lighter areas alone, and work a little bit more in the darker areas, for example, where the bumper has a small overhang, or just to the sides of the hood scoop.
At this stage, we’re simply tightening-up the shading, and continuing to clean up any stray lines or smudges. We’re starting to go over and darken-up some lines to bring that right front fender closer to the viewer, and making those quarters and roof sink back into space a bit. I’m also paying closer attention to the shadows cast on the wheels as they tuck into the fenders. This is where you can make the sketch a little more believable by creating the illusion of parts being in shadow, with light bouncing around a bit. Again, just have fun with it!
Close to finishing-up the ‘traditional’ part of the big how-to: Tightening-up those final details, lines and shading, blending in the tones, and adding a hint of color. We’ll drop some orange in those stripes (per the client), and drop just a hint of blue and green into the glass and chrome. Normally, I’d have scanned this in a few steps back, but for our purposes today, this way just works. Hope you dug this look into the process… Working on some full-on, step-by-step tutorials as time allows, and those will hit soon, in a handy, easy-to reference guide. Keep at it, and above all, have fun, and work to observe lighting, shadows, and reflections, and just play with them in your work.
Next, let’s start adding some color, and we’ll do this sparingly, with a little contrasting orange on the stripe border, and bring that color ever-so-slightly into the windows and some assorted small places, just to keep things visually consistent.
…and we’ll bring in some greens and blues, to contrast the warm orange, and give some ‘glassy’ feel to the windows. Bring a touch of blue into the chrome pieces, just to make the metal there look cool, temperature-wise, and reinforce that the body color, even though it’s gray, is warmer. Bring in a white Prismacolor pencil, and add a few highlights and spots where the lighting might be a bit stronger (‘hot spots’)… This brings a little more reality to what is, essentially a slightly cartooned drawing (in proportion, anyway). Above all, just keep having fun, and don’t over-do it. Less is very much more at this point.
Next time, we’ll get into the background, as well as some digital techniques to finish the rendering… Winding-up with something that looks eerily similar to this:
Thanks, as always, for looking in! I hope you find these steps and hints useful, and will apply them to your work. Any questions, comments, whatever always welcome! Hope you have fun, and keep at it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Like any good disease, the car thing is hereditary, I’m positive of that.
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.
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!
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):
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
From here, let’s start figuring out where the main parts of the truck go, with reference to our general boxes.
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:
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:
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…
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.
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…
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
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!)
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.
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:
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).
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?!
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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…