Tag Archive | concept art

It’s Nothing Without the Paper

An interesting thought I’ve been pondering in the background for quite some time:
 
I’m sick and tired of hearing people bash digital artwork and conceptual work as being something less than a sketch on paper. Absolutely done with it. And I’m talking about the work involving creating that which doesn’t exist, not hacking two photos you found on Google together to put another pony car on a set of off-the-shelf rims. I’m talking pure conceptual work here.
 
Let’s consider a pencil and marker sketch versus one created on a tablet using pixels, or even a photograph: It’s not as though a photograph is providing you with a small, actual landscape or an 8×10-inch person to tote around; nor does the marker rendering, or even the digital sketch/painting. All are artistic REPRESENTATIONS of something, and require a certain set of skills to create with any success. Don’t get me wrong, there is a HUGE gap between the good and the terrible, and that comes down to knowing the tools (doubly-so for a digital artist seeking to emulate a traditional tool or media, as that artist needs to have experience in physical AND digital media) and using them as a craftsman should. There is good art in any medium, be it sculpture or painting or drawing or photography or motion pictures and more. Ability and drive and vision aren’t limited to one tool, and if you think that they are, then you are severely limiting your outlook.
 
The digital stuff suffers because it’s created using a bunch of ones and zeros and can be wiped from existence with a key stroke, but it has the ability to exist everywhere. You can scan an analog piece and share in that instant, global sharing, much as you can with a digital photograph… And you can lose the original by spilling coffee on it as well.
 
Oddly enough, each is nothing without the paper it’s presented upon. So do tell me again where digital art is some lesser form because doesn’t exist until it’s on paper. And good luck sharing that original analog piece on social media without scanning it into bytes of data. Tell me how digital “ruins” the art. Go right on ahead.
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Put Down the Frosting and Start Designing

show me
I have always been baffled that anyone who has no real experience building a car could ever consider customizing (or “designing”) one. I mean, consider the engineers who worked on the first computers. Guys like Gordon Bell or Alan Kotok who, having worked on the earliest computers like the TX-0 and so forth, and called upon their experience with the limitations of that machine when designing future machines (like the PDP-10 for example). They understood the machine. They had a grasp on the engineering behind the very function of it, and could utilize that experience in the trenches to craft each newer and better iteration. They found limitations in the machine. Weaknesses. They sought answers to the question “How can I make this BETTER?” …and they did so from the bones outward. They were connected to the very ideas behind what they worked on, and could thus move in new directions in an intelligent manner.
 
Being a custom car designer is no different. Without having an intimate understanding of the design and engineering of the systems which comprise the machine as a whole, it’s virtually impossible to “design” anything for it. Oh, sure, you can decorate that cake and put little frosting flowers all over, or plop a neat-o dingleberry or put some twist on an existing part, but you’re not really DESIGNING anything. If you’ve never torn a car down and then repaired things and put it all back together, you’re ill-prepared to hot rod anything. If you’ve never diagnosed an issue and then found a way to REPAIR a component (NOT simply “unbolt-and-replace”), or given thought to a shortcoming in the performance of or a component on said vehicle, and then engineered a fix, you’re not prepared to design ANYTHING custom for one. Even if you can imagine the shapes and flow of lines, or draw them in stunning detail, without that understanding and experience, you simply cannot effectively design fucking anything. You may be able to alter the look, but you sure as hell cannot design a better one.
 
This truth laid out, I find myself in an industry wherein I’m constantly reviewing and revising “designs” conceived by some talented illustrators, but the ideas presented lack application in any real-world scenario most times. And while I can’t blame these guys for trying, and certainly cannot fault them on creativity, I am forced to battle uphill, working through a pile of dreams and hopes that have gelled when met with the cold, hard truth of ENGINEERING. In almost every case, the pitfalls presented could have been avoided by having had some time in a shop, building and engineering solutions to the very design problems faced on each project. I’m forced to ask once again: How in the fuck can you DESIGN a complex machine when you LACK THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW THE DAMNED THING WORKS IN THE FIRST PLACE?! In many cases, I’d bet that it’s innocent omission… But every now and then you come across a blatant slap in the face, wherein the “designer” doesn’t give the respect to understanding the very thing he’s working on in the first place.
 
Is it too much to ask to have armed yourself with core fundamentals like basic suspension geometry or structural engineering or even chassis architecture? I’m not asking for someone to know it ALL (shit… there’s ALWAYS something to learn), but if you’re “designing” a wheel arch or opening, and you give little or NO thought to the wheel/tire combo and the resulting radius needed to clear that nifty new fender lip and avoid rubbing, or are slicing into a panel to move it with no thought of how that will affect the understructure (or how changing THAT will affect the vehicle in terms of strength or handling dynamics, and where plumbing or wiring will need to be re-routed), then you’re doing it wrong. Grab a fucking crash book, or spend a day in the wrecking yard. Do your homework. Measure things. KNOW that car, and design it INTELLIGENTLY. “That door handle is sure slick, buddy… but you have left no room to utilize any sort of MOUNTING HARDWARE.” From the simplest things to the more complex, I find that some guys pass by function and go straight for “wow” factor.
 
This all brings us back to our pal Leepu. The guy has a TV show, and in a bio it is stated that he had visited GMI (General Motors Institute), and I quote from that: “However, he was put off studying there by the volume of technical work therefore he decided to open his own workshop to get some practical experience.” VISITED a school. Put off by technical work. This may explain why he’s so willing to slice into a main structural component on a vehicle and compromise the very bones of the car, or ignore things like aerodynamics or suspension or even pesky trifles like wheel fitment. Effectively, we are presented with a hack… a 1:1 scale kit basher. Don’t get me wrong, it takes some skill to weld two things together, but it doesn’t impress me when you have no fucking plan or explanation for just WHY you’re joining those things in the first place. And you lose all respect from me when the combination of those parts you’ve created is questionably functional at best, and marginally pleasing to look at on the best of days. I bring this guy into our conversation here because he illustrates, nay, REPRESENTS everything that is wrong with what is sold as “design” in many cases.
 
Our industry sees a few shining stars each year, build-wise… Cars that look great and perform just as well. Yet for each of those, we have a handful that are loaded with “custom” touches applied simply for the sake of applying them, and can barely tolerate a drive from the trailer around the fairgrounds and back. The price tags are high, yet the engineering level is limited. And therein lies my frustration: We have at our disposal some of the finest engineering with regard to components… Bolt-in ready chassis, near-1000 HP engines and transmissions that can live behind them. Wiring systems that allow for plug and play performance and luxury accessories in hours versus days. Everything engineered to free up time to ENGINEER. We have the perfect storm of self-perpetuating design advancement, yet we lack the manpower and the fortitude to raise the fucking sails and capture that wind. The work involved in hoisting those sails is metaphorical, of course, it being more a case of learning vehicle systems and construction, and then applying that knowledge to DESIGNING versus simply decorating another theme cake.
 
Yet, here we are, sitting back while the world consumes shitty TV show after shitty TV show that do nothing but slap what I and many more have fought to make a legitimate industry of… Watching two-bit hacks run around like primates, pantomiming to some “drama” written by someone outside of the industry, and playing up the “grease monkey” mentality. I don’t see this industry as a soap opera. I see it as the means by which I feed my family. It’s about passion and intellect and talent and drive. Applying experience, knowledge and a desire to not just hang a scoop or bolt some large-by-fucking-hugely-oversize rims to a car, but to change the game and dig deep into that original hot rodding ethic of working to make something better in all ways than it could have ever been imagined when it rolled off of the assembly line. And as I see it, if you lack the fundamental knowledge and skill set to be a true custom car designer, then you are nothing more to me than some panel-banging monkey on a reality show, and my sworn enemy in the business.
 
Don’t get me wrong: If the TV shows like the one mentioned above are some sort of satire, at least have the courtesy of mentioning that in the credits or opening sequence. Give a disclaimer before some idiot attempts to mimic this crap, or worse, walks away with the feeling that this is what our industry is all about. Over the course of our history, we’ve had enough black eyes handed to us courtesy of a few miscreants. We stand at the crossroads of becoming the legitimate powerhouse of creativity and engineering that can push us well into the next century, or we can become the punchline to a joke on some poorly-produced cable TV show.
 
That said, ask yourself the next time you sit at the drawing board if you’re a designer or a decorator. And don’t get me wrong, there is a place for both… But know that if you’re the latter masquerading as the former that while I’m laughing at your shit, I do sincerely appreciate the check that came with the job of actually making your flourishes into something that works… even if two-thirds of it wind-up in the trash. And if that doesn’t get you angry enough to step up your game, you can always get a TV show and blow signal flare smoke at that rear spoiler. Some people like to watch that crap, and with your TV money you can open that bakery and really decorate some stuff, cupcake.

Art of the Hot Rod: Weaving a Tale With Cars

street machine illustration

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.

40 merc rear
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.

merc story illustration

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.

Game on.

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.

v2-boxster

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.

custom miata

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:

zombie hunter van

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’.

cab's coupe

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.

kustom desoto

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.

buick

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.

drawing cars

Case in point, that Merc from earlier:

kustom merc

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:

tense2

…and the polar opposite:

western effie

…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!

Custom Car Renderings

Some of my recent concept renderings, designs, and pieces of hot rod art:

Playing with some color and texture and technique the past few days with this Buick. I was using it as a warm-up exercise, and it kind of snowballed into an experiment-fest. Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and a touch of Painter X, working from a drawing of mine and a plate shot on the Universal Studios back-lot, and a few one-off brushes I’ve been making:

custom 1956 buick

A custom 1954 F-100. I began with a pencil sketch, then scanned it to Illustrator, and re-drew and color-blocked using the pen tool. From there, I exported to Photoshop, and re-worked a plate I shot on the Universal Studios back-lot, and began rendering lighting and effects, completing the work in Painter:

1954 f100 rendering

Concept rendering for a SEMA Show project vehicle currently under construction by a friend of mine. The goal was to create an active lifestyle vehicle concept that would see just as much track time as it does hauling bikes and boards on the weekend.

A lot more time spent on getting the paint dialed-in than resorting to typical bolt-on gee-gaws that you’d normally see on the SEMA Show floor… it’s surprisingly mild, body-wise. Had a ton of fun rendering a car in snow for a change:

fr-s rendering

A concept design rendering for a one-off, custom 1962 Ford Falcon project. Creating some new surfaces, as well as updating the existing panel work with new materials to update the overall look. A cross between pro-touring and custom car. Eliminated the rear seat, added a pair of roll bars/frame stiffeners, floor-mount pedals, center console, and fresh seating created using custom-made frames and sculpted foam. Seating will feature leather surfaces, with that material used on door panel inserts and wheel tub covering, with hard surfaces being painted using a ‘soft touch’ satin finish. Polished accents throughout, and minimal switches. Instrumentation is located according to the vehicle owner’s sight line:

custom interior design

Rendering for a client’s project 1969 Camaro, currently under construction in my friend’s shop, and scheduled to appear at this year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas. A subtle car with lots of trick and one-off parts, it’s actually a brand-new car from the ground up, starting with a reproduction steel body. The background plates were shot by my wife, and the composite crafted in Photoshop, then worked in Painter and Illustrator to achieve the look I wanted. The car began as a pencil sketch, scanned, and completed in Illustrator.

1969 Camaro rendering

Playing with a more behind-the-scenes moment. A slick ’56 sits on a Western movie stage, clashing some styles, yet looking perfectly natural… Fun piece, hope you dig it:

1956 chevy artwork

Thanks for looking in… much more to come!

Keep up with the latest from my desk on Facebook: /PCKStudio, and on my site at www.problemchildkustoms.com

Gettin’ Some Action!

…at least some car chase-related action. Of the illustrated variety. But whatever.

I’ve been working and making time to work on a personal project for the past five years or so, which is part graphic novel, part animated short, and a mash-up of things I love and enjoy, like sci-fi, thrillers, action, comics, and, of course, cars. With a ton of thoughts in my mind, it’s been a lot of outlines, quick storyboards and scene mock-ups. Thought I’d share a few of those mock-ups here. For the most part, they’re freeze-frames, trying to set a tone, and playing around a lot with composites of my car art, background photo plates shot on vacations and daily travels (and then mashing those into one huge city that combines many other cities…. it gets confusing) and so-on, to achieve some sort of look and feel for the more action-packed sequences.

All of that said, here’s a few:

rendering action

street machines

classic car chase

chicago L car chase

…and the same main character car at rest, just for comparison:

road runner

I wanted to be sure to create some ‘character card’ art for the main players as I went along.

As things progressed, I played a bit more with the weather. I found it odd to have all of the action sequences take place in perfect conditions, and, as the story involves so many things going from bad to just plain horrifyingly terrible and then worse than that for one character, I decided that rain would certainly throw a wrench into a plan or two. From that came this:

rain and smoke

rain and lights

…and even some retro-looking themes were thrown around (much more on that later on):

old car chase

…and alternate colors and more graphic styles:

smoke show

pony car chase

..dramatic camera angles:

one way chase

mustang drift

…and some epic chase scenes that involved moving buildings, people, and more, just to get the level of drama befitting a city-wide pursuit sequence:

downtown car chase scene

Much more to come… just wanted to share some of the pieces that hit the cutting room floor, and those which inspired bigger and better things (as well as some serious head shaking and questioning of myself as to why I’d even thought something might work, much less warranted spending hours on). Hope you dig ’em. Had a lot of fun creating these overall!

I’ll share more about the story, if interested, and get into the fun of creating the characters and their cars, each of which have many, many connections throughout the twisting, turning plot. If you’d like a custom piece of art featuring your car in a Hollywood action blockbuster-style chase scene for a fraction of hiring Michael Bay and a stunt crew and location and effects, hit me up on my website at www.problemchildkustoms.com, and be sure to keep up with this and other vehicular artistry on my Facebook page at facebook.com/PCKStudio!

Thanks, as always, for looking in!

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