Tag Archive | custom

Behind the Scenes Again

behind the scenes illustrator

Having gone well off of the beaten path again lately, I thought it would be nice to revisit the original theme of this blog for a bit, and look behind the scenes of some renderings. What do you say?


A peek at the process:
Starting with the tried-and-true box method to nail perspective and proportions, I sketch the essential shapes and components (taking time to design a wheel, too!), and then scan the sketch, and begin the heavy lifting in Illustrator. Around forty-nine layers in total, this one is relatively straightforward, with only minor custom changes, allowing for a little more time to play in the details.

No presets, meshes or brushes, just paths and pen tool. There’s a lot to be said for using the basic tools, and I find it to be a very Zen experience; it becomes the art of massaging your brain while working. It can get tedious, but the key is in finding a rhythm, wherein you can alternate between left and right brain, solving little design and engineering issues as you make everything look “right” or “cool.”

My goal is a smooth, clean piece which retains some of the raw lines, but with a heavy focus on getting the little stuff in all of the right places:


Speaking of playing in the details, lets’ take a peek at the hundreds of paths that sometimes need to be squeezed into a fraction of an inch with some custom ‘Cuda tail lamps. In this case, we were looking at creating the concept art to show the customer what ’71 Charger lamps would look like in his ’70 ‘Cuda (see here for more on that!):

vector paths

From paths upon paths to a detailed illustration:

detail of vector illustrtion

A behind-the-scenes look at the rendering for the project, working from a loose box guide to sketch, and then into Illustrator for around forty hours of pen tool work, this time strictly using the mouse as my hands weren’t cooperating:

behind the scenes illustrator

One more piece for this installment, and a rendering that was a big challenge and a ton of fun at the same time, as it required creating something that didn’t yet exist, and finding a way to create a unique spin on the classic belly tank-based land speed car:

conceptual art

Working with just the basic plan, it was a matter of packaging everything neatly and orderly, and then making the aesthetic work. Starting with the tried-and-true box method, I git the perspective working in my favor, and worked to get the parts and pieces that my client wanted showing, and then built upon that foundation once the loos sketch was scanned and in Illustrator. The post work in Photoshop brings the whole thing to life, and it took  lot of restraint to avoid losing the original hand-drawn feel. I think it worked out in the end:

land speed car rendering


Thought-Process Thursday

custom car rendering illustration

It’s been a while since we’ve touched upon the actual theme of this blog, that being the drawing of hot rods and all…

That in mind, I thought that you may enjoy a peek at a current project, which is nearing completion after a few years on the board and in the shop. It’s a full-custom 1970 ‘Cuda, and I literally threw everything I had at this one, working with a very skilled builder who shared my vision, and really made it a fun and collaborative project to play a part on.

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.

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

Angelo Gets Down

working dog

Almost 30 years after the service body was installed on this very truck, I took a job working for Auto Safety House in Phoenix, a work truck and bus outfitter with a long history in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona. It was during my employment there where I met Sam, the owner of the truck featured here. We hit it off immediately, sharing the old car hobby and many other interests, and have remained friends since, through changing jobs, raising children, relocation and more. This friendship, and the place we met would tie in more times over the years than either of us can count, but one of the coolest stories to come from it involves this 1968 C-20, named “Angelo”.

lowered work truck

While attending the Goodguys Southwest Nationals a year-and-a-half ago, Sam stumbled across this green and ivory truck in the swap meet, and sent me a picture, asking my thoughts.

I was interested immediately.

After all, here was a solid truck with some obvious local history, and it presented a great foundation for another project. A deal was struck, and Sam was the proud owner of a truck that had done some hard-working days, helping to build the East Valley. We were going to go to work on a work truck.

work truck

The unique truck was originally purchased as a two-tone cab and chassis (now here was a work truck with some style!) from Chapman Chevrolet, and outfitted with the McCabe Powers “Service Master” utility body by Auto Safety House. It would work daily in the desert sun for the next twenty years as the main work vehicle for Angelo as he crafted sheetmetal for ductwork and other construction projects, playing a role in expanding the East Valley area of Phoenix. Truly, this truck has some tales to tell, and represents the entrepreneurial and hard-working American spirit. We were slowly crafting a plan to give this hard-working ride a fun second life as a cool cruiser. “Angelo” had paid its dues, and it was time to give back.


We threw some ideas around during free moments, and plotted a course for the truck as Sam finished updating his ’58 Apache. Originally, the plan was to swap the work body for a short bed, and create a clean cruiser with a historical theme… Yet, the more we talked, the more we couldn’t get past the truck’s history, and the unique, well-preserved nature of the truck as a whole. As Sam specializes in insuring contractors, the pieces kept falling into the “wouldn’t it be neat if we left it alone” category. Besides, we had a number of connections with the truck, and where else would we find something with such perfect patina? There was no faking it, this truck had some soul, and all signs were pointing to a resto-mod work truck. That’s pretty unique indeed.

1968 C-20

The logical choice for performing the hard work was Del Uschenko, as he had built the ’65 short bed that Sam owned for a while, and the man’s skill and attention to detail were the ideal fit. Besides, it doesn’t get any better than having a builder who “gets it” and strives for perfection, and is a guy you just genuinely enjoy working with! The plan was set, and the truck left its hard-working days, and headed for the glamor of Burbank. If you’re keeping score, add a few “coolness” points to the column, as Angelo wasn’t heading to just any shop… This was the fabled Old Crow Speed Shop, a place that has a ton of history between the walls. Hard-working history and hot rod history were about to meet in grand fashion. Consider, too, that the Old Crow Speed Shop is loaded with historical items from the post-war, early days of hot rodding. Military and racing relics are displayed everywhere, and it represents a time when men returning home from war were eager to start their new lives. A part of the American Dream lives on there. And here we had Angelo, a truck purchased to help build another mans dream of owning a business, from an era when we were deep into another conflict. The history and coincidence surrounding this truck were beginning to unfold like legend.

front suspension

Coolest. Project. Ever.

buffing paint

At this point, there were still ideas floating around, from wheels to interior, to even possibly replacing the door lettering… Yet, the truck kept speaking to us. Focus shifted to making it sit and drive properly, so Del crafted a plan to utilize CPP components up front, including tubular A-arms, 5-on-5 bolt pattern spindles, upgraded braking in the way of 13-inch rotors, and a healthy drop to give the truck the attitude of “I’m off the clock”. Adding to the plan, Del opted to C-notch the rear to provide ample room for travel, again, utilizing CPP components, and crafting a sound foundation and smooth, modern ride. 

Setting the truck on a set o0f 20×9-inch Centerline Smoothies was a given to get that “Delmo look”, and we wrestled with wheel finishes to complement the truck. We considered full polish to juxtapose the raw, work truck look, but thought that almost too easy… White centers? Cool, but just not quite “there”. I had suggested a gray center to bring in the interior color, as well as add some industrial flair, and Del knocked it out of the park with some light texture and those beautifully simple ‘49/’50 passenger car hubcaps. The look is modern, and the comment most often heard has been “is that a one-off wheel?” Brilliant. 

The stock engine and transmission had seen better days, and were replaced with a fresh 350/TH-350, backed with a C-10 rear. The name of this game was reliable cruising, and, as the work days are over, Angelo needed just enough power to be fun, but the old truck isn’t rushing anywhere, so the specs are fairly stock. It’s in the engine bay where more of Del’s supreme attention to detail can be seen, with surfaces cleaned and smoothed, and everything subtly painted and detailed for a near-factory, but still-custom feel.

The paint is still the original green and ivory, and the temptation to touch anything up (even on the work body) has been avoided. A light buff and polish brought the paint back from chalky, and provided that just-right gloss. Interior-wise, it’s all stock, save for the original owner-shortened shift lever. It’s a mystery as to why he shortened it, and is one of those cool features that make Angelo such a unique find.

smoothie wheel

350 chevy

slammed service truck

And there you have it… A hard-working truck with some great history in building the Phoenix area, brought together by some friends who met, oddly enough at the very place where the truck was outfitted before either was born (after each grew up a few towns over back in NY state, no less), and given new life in a shop loaded with some history of its’ own. If that doesn’t have “American Dream” written all over it, then I’m not sure what does.

The Specs:

1968 Chevy C-20
127-inch wheelbase
Front Suspension: CPP Tubular Control Arms, Lower 63-72 Control Arms w/new Ball Joints, CPP Adjustable Trac 24 Bar
CPP C10, 5-Lug Spindles
Steering: CPP 18” Steering shaft, nickel-plated
Front Brakes: CPP Modular ‘Big Brake’ Disc 13-inch rotors
Rear Suspension: CPP 4” Drop Heavy C-Notch Kit, CPP Shock Relocation Kit
Leaf spring w/lowering blocks
Positraction rear end
Rear Brakes: CPP Modular ‘Big Brake’ Disc 13-inch rotors
Wheels: 20 x 9 Centerline Smoothies
Tires: 225/35/ZR20 and 225/40/ZR20

Engine/Trans: 350ci Chevy, TH-350

Body: Stock, McCabe Powers ‘Service Master’ Utility Body  Installed by Auto Safety House in 1968
Door lettering by unknown sign painter in 1968

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