Tag Archive | hot rod

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.


When Did Hot Rodding Become Hip Hop?

bedalle hip hop rodding

A little piece I threw down for Tubbed Magazine. Stop by and enjoy the second coming of Pro-Street.

Think back to your first memorable experience that set your fate as a “car guy.” Don’t let nostalgia sway you, just blurt it out. Just roll with the first one that comes to mind.

I’d be willing to bet that it had nothing at all to do with what anyone else thought of you. Taking that a yep further, I’d sweeten that bet by adding that it had nothing to do with fame or money. While one or two of you may have though about the guy with the bitchin’ ride in your hometown that got all of the girls  or that every other guy wanted to be, that seems pretty normal, and had nothing to do with defining just who you were. It started with the car, right?

Along that patch of blacktop we all travel on our way to becoming full-fledged car guys, we all get a taste of the pride that comes with a thumbs-up at a stoplight, or the strangers wanting to discuss our cars and the one they had “just like it” back in the day. Ego always grows a bit to fill those freshly upholstered bucket seats, and it’s all fine if you know how to keep it in check. And if you had any car guy friends worth anything, they knew how to help you keep that in check. It’s what good friends do.

It’s a family.

Compare your memories to what any kid coming into what remains of the hobby today will know it as:
A bunch of posturing and ego-driven, money-hungry wannabe celebrities driving catalog-sourced vehicles destined to provide big returns at auction. In an entitlement-driven, fame-is-everything era, we’re losing the real car guys and builders to a steady stream of TV stars and project managers. It’s an awful lot like Hip Hop and reality TV: Just a load of “look at me” bullshit with no redeeming value. And having already conquered reality TV, it’s not a far stretch to see the whole thing sink to a level of commerce-driven stereotypes telling you what’s cool this week, and making everything so base and trend-driven that they’ll be left with little choice but to either cannibalize the damned thing, or just leave it to die and move to the next.

Let’s roll with the whole Hip Hop analogy. Let’s create a fictional car guy who maybe came into the scene in the late-1970’s. He’s stoked about these “Pro-Street” cars, and can’t get enough of the look. It becomes in his mind the right look: Big, fat tires out back, a rake, skinny tires up front, and perhaps some form of induction poking though the hood. The essentials are in place. Our budding car guy is exposed to cars like Joe Ruggirello’s Mustang II or Lisk’s Challenger or Kollofsky’s ’55 Chevy (side note: Anyone else find it coincidental that all of these guys have names befitting a cool character or bad-ass cop in a movie?) or any other of a series of killer, pro-style bruisers. And much as any fan of what would come to be called “Hip-Hop” would have heard Grandmaster Flash or the Cold Crush Brothers early on and been drawn to it for the unique approach and the imagery it inspired in anyone outside of the Bronx, what would come to named “Pro-Street” did likewise to anyone who never cruised Woodward.

While Hip Hop evolved by taking outside influences from funk and soul to new wave and even punk, Pro-Street did likewise, borrowing from Street Freaks and Street Rods and other places, always looking to raise the bar just a touch. And, like anything gaining popularity, each had a stand-out that came to be the face of the movement: Hop Hop had acts like Run DMC, and we scored with names like Sullivan, Dobbertin and Hay (they could play the law firm in that film idea mention earlier). And in that popularity of a select few, we can trace the evolution of each, mans see the ongoing influences applied to shape just where each might head.

Like anything that goes popular, there exists the danger of haven it buckle under its own weight. While Pro-Street suffered from a number of ills, we could blame the decline on magazine saturation and constant competition to be the next big thing, with cars adding more extreme power plants and detailing and so-on, that it just became a caricature of itself, and begged for something to step in and rebel against it. We wound up with Pro-Touring, which didn’t seem to heed its own warnings, and is finding itself on a similar path. As for Hip Hop, it changed from a creative ocean of experimentation and arrangement to a soul-less money farm in the 1990’s (oh, the similarities between Hip Hop and Pro-Street are many, kids), and eventually a sad joke with all of the “gangsta” posturing and crunk-style bragging. (Side note 2: Consider that Dr. Seuss coined the phrase “crunk car” back in the 1970’s, and you start to feel all lightheaded, right? Scary how that works.) Where Hip Hop and its offspring found their way into the mainstream via MTV and radio play, hot rodding was doing likewise via major events, magazines and videos. TV wouldn’t be far behind.

It’s not such a far reach then, to  compare Hip Hop and Hot Rodding. Each became a pale version of its former self once television became a part of the marketing. Hell, we could take this little notion on a whole other ride, but let’s settle on the marketing of each as being hand-in-hand harbinger of destruction forthe movement. Don’t get me wrong, I get the money thing… We all need to eat. But when the problems come banging down the doors, they usually look like the fresh-from-College guys from Marketing. And when they come visiting, even the goldfish stop swimming, if you get my drift. The dollar signs flash, and it’s off to the races. On the music side, it becomes about selling the image of what Marketing thinks that it should be, with reference to moving product (as Yogurt the Wise taught us so many moons ago, the real money is in merchandising). You craft an image, and get the kids to buy into that.  On the car side, it’s eerily similar: Craft an image of what someone outside of the whole thing thinks it should be (based upon what the data shows will sell), and run with it, facts be damned if need be. Understanding that, it’s not so difficult to see why we had shows like Orange County Choppers or, keeping with the theme, Pimp My Ride. On one hand, you had screaming and yelling and time crunch drama because, by golly, that has to be how it is in a real shop, right? The natural outgrowth was American Hot Rod, Wrecks to Riches and their ilk. They appealed to the “behind the scenes” exclusivity gene which TV inserted into the genetic code, and never mind how skewed from reality it might be… Just cash that check and find more shit to fight about. Take that a step further in the appeal to “you can sell these cars and make money!” idea, and by golly, the shows practically write themselves. I am convinced that there are but two formulas for any reality-based show:

1. The Shop as setting for drama (family, client/shop, contest, money or otherwise) formula,
2. The find it/buy it/fix it up/sell for profit/repeat formula

…each of which may be seasoned to taste by adding celebrity appearances, surprises, some form of competition, pranks or canned “tech tips” wherever holes appear in the story line. Take a long, hard look at Monster Garage and tell me it isn’t so. Shit, get a hold of a script from Lords of the Car Hoards, Unique Whips, Leepu and Pitbull or Fast N Loud, mix them all up, and I’d bet that a seven year old could put a season’s worth of shows together at random, and you’d never be able to tell the difference. You could do likewise with any current Hip Hop video premise. It’s not about telling a story or building a cool car; it’s about who can brag the loudest. And that opens the door to really scary things, and can usher outcomes like not unlike the Lucifer Effect, as postulated by Philip Zimbardo (aka the Stanford Prison Experiment), wherein the wheels can be put into motion that make a good person do some really twisted evil things. I mean, what would the dollar amount be for you to sell out and bastardize the car hobby you love? Roll with your first instinct. That’s a lot of fucking zeros, isn’t it? And that’s chump change when the Advertising Department bros get involved (and you thought that little fishie was holding still earlier? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet). And when the image consultants and writers come to play, you’ll hardly recognize yourself. It doesn’t take a lot to go from singing about your sneakers over a sampled loop to bragging about the women you slept with in the penthouse last week and how big the rims on your SUV are when the residuals roll in.

And that’s where we stand today: It’s not about some guy with a cool 1970’s action movie cop name building a kick-ass machine that will set your synapses afire, blazing a whole new path for thought across your brain or even mashing two things together that have never been mashed before. It’s about having some money guy or project manager (at best) playing the douche (OK, sometimes it’s not a stretch for the guy. As a wise man once told me, “Only two kinds of people wear sunglasses indoors: Rock stars and assholes. Be on the lookout for a guitar.”) and creating some filler to top with ad sales. It’s loosely connected product placement opportunities designed to make the numbers so that Trent and Blaine in the front office can keep that tee time. You don;t have the imagination or thrill of discovery involved with your entry to the hobby anymore. Instead, you have an image to play up to, and try to out-douche so that you can make your own mark and score that show.

After all, it isn’t about the cars anymore, unless they’re a prop for your bitches to lean against while you pose with jewelry and assorted gold-plated handguns. While I can appreciate how anyone uninitiated into the family that is hot rodding can fall for this, you can bet your ass that I’ll be stepping into frame and doing my best to drop knowledge on Quick Mix Theory and Bill Jenkins’ Pro Stock Vega.

Erasing the Sexiness of the Design Process

Design is sexy. Really, it is. It’s the foreplay of a build. There’s still some courtship happening, and everybody is excited to be on board. You go into it thinking that it’s going to be everything you’ve heard it can be (the good parts, anyway), and can’t wait to show your stuff.

The process of design, however, is very UN-sexy to say the least. And the necessary evil of selling design – that creeping reality of design – can prove downright repulsive. Hot rod design is like a strange or taboo sexual fetish. This weird fringe interest that you see sometimes in public when it sells a magazine, or promotes a project just enough to score the builder sponsorship for parts, but never really can wrap your head around just what it does behind closed doors.

That being said, working as a a hot rod designer is like having to force your creative soul out on stage to perform that strange, ritualistic fetish fantasy act for some self-absorbed, ego-maniacal, overgrown man-child seeking to show just how big his dick is to the other deviants he keeps close (and locked in perpetual competition with); and finding out midway through that it’s a snuff film.


– excerpt from my forthcoming book I Left My Name Off of the Cover Just to Keep Things Consistent With The Other Projects I’ve Worked On – Drawing Cars for Disappointment and No Profit: Introduction to a Career

Cyber Monday Print Special


print sale

Every Cyber Monday, we have a cool deal running, and this year, we’re proud to present a Poster Print Blow-Out.

We’ve selected five prints, and knocked the price well below half, and are blowing-out these five tremendously-detailed pieces for only $10.99/ea! That’s a ready-to-frame, 18×24-inch, full-color print, signed piece of collectable art for less than dinner.

Buy four of the prints included in our sale HERE, and we’ll throw in the fifth for nothin’

Here are the prints we’re featuring:


fury-ous print


desoto print

Again this sale is on HERE through Tuesday, 11/27/12 at noon.

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

Think FAST.

hemi A-100

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

Think Fast.

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

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

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

hot wheels

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

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

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

dave bell poster  cartoons

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

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

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

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


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

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

How to Draw Cars

I’m asked quite often how I create a drawing or rendering… what the technique is, what tools I use, and so-on… But the most common question and comment seems to fall back on “What programs do you use? How can I get my work to look like yours?” There’s a simple reply to that:

The secret isn’t in software. It’s in the sketches that come well before that stage. I was taught early on that observational drawing is the greatest skill any designer or artist can have, and I took that to heart. I took a number of life drawing classes, and sketched a LOT as a kid, and later in life. Developing this skill makes any software use in your tool set that much more fun and effective. The sketches you lay down before hitting the digital side will have a profound effect on what your artwork looks like in the end.

After many, many emails, phone calls and requests on the Facebook Fan Page, I’m putting a few “overview” tutorials up here, just to give a sneak-peek at the full-tilt versions that I’ll be releasing soon. Again, these are by no means full-on, “learn-to-draw” lessons, but a glimpse into my process, and a means to show the basic skills you’ll get to grips with prior to moving on with the more advanced techniques that I’ll be sharing. (This is a sample of the “static” tutorials. Video and audio-enhanced versions to follow.)

That said, let’s draw a deuce three window, shall we? (these images are saved from my time on Dave Lane’s project, which went on to win the 2011 Goodguys Street Rod of the Year award, Dave’s THIRD, BTW!) The ’32 is an iconic design, to say the least, and one of the most popular hot rod platforms of all time, and certainly one to pop-up time and again if you begin a career as a hot rod artist or custom car designer. Besides, it’s a fun car to render, with a great variety of planes and shapes to capture your attention and time on, and a great way to hone your shading and highlighting skills!

Let’s start with the standard box method. We know that a three-window will have a top, the main body, and some fenders, so a typical two-box, profile view will do great for this exercise. Let’s get the roof pillars in the correct locations, with reference to the length of the body, taking into consideration how long the hood is, and how short the deck appears.

sketching box technique

Simple? Yep. The idea here is to break even the most complex of shapes into their most rudimentary forms. In “art-speak”, we’d call these primatives. Your goal here is nothing more than figuring out where the car will exist on paper, and then plotting the main shapes, placing them in the proper proportion. I use a straight edge for this on occasion, as shown here, simply because the sketching will get a bit messy moving forward, and if I build on a clean, solid foundation, I can be certain that I’ll keep that in mind when finishing everything.

From here, let’s throw in some guide lines to act as landmarks. We’ll get an idea of where the windows, doors, hood and wheels will go. Keep it gestural and loose, and simply mark the areas that these elements will live in the drawing. Too much detail here will cost time, and lead us to re-working if the placement is off even just a bit. Let’s start tightening the sketch up, once we are sure of where we’re placing things… Use your landmarks to judge where lines will be places, like the belt line, window reveals and so-on:

refining basic shapes

With the general guides in place, let’s figure out where those windows and other elements will appear, always keeping it light and paying close attention to the proper proportions, so that our rendering will look right:


Doesn’t look like much here… but as we continue to add the windows and door lines, it’ll all come into view, and you’ll be thankful that you gave yourself some sort of guidance:

refining the sketch

I’ve begun to throw in some curves, keeping it all freehand. As we begin to tighten things up, reach for your French Curves, which will be tremendously helpful in laying out the guides…

adding panels

…not to mention using a circle template to rough-in the wheels. Pay close attention here to the scale of the wheels. I often place a center line in, just to help envision the stance. As you can see, I adjusted this one a bit, getting that front end nice and low, almost menacing! I’ve even thrown some thought the way of the door handle and belt line at this stage. I’ll lower that hood just a touch… The importance of sketching comes to light! Better to see it off just a hair at an early stage, versus re-drawing the whole thing later on.

Let’s start to darken-in and clean up the lines that we KNOW we’re keeping…

sketch character

At this point, I often throw in a shadow. It grounds the drawing for me, and helps later on as I add shading. My reason for this is balance, pure and simple. I want to keep the dark areas visually equal with lighter areas, and use those dark fills to balance-out openings like windows, negative space and so on.

PCK TIP: Remember, it’s not just a sketch, it’s a composition unto itself. Many times, a rendering will help to sell the job. The better the drawing looks, the more excited the client will be. Capitalize on that energy all the way through.

sketching a shadow

I’m going to throw in some wheels now, just because. As they’re wires, well, I have some work ahead… so I’ll figure out the basic lacing pattern, and give myself a road map to follow when I get to tightening things up later on. I’ll thank me then… By the way, notice my draw-erase-redraw on that rear wheel. Ick.

drawing wire wheels

Let’s darken that shadow a bit, and start cleaning up those stray guidelines and original sketch marks… We don’t want to trap an unused line under anything, and ruin a clean look, or even worse, confuse ourselves moving forward.

drawing a hot rod

We’ll begin figuring out our shading at this point, as well. Throw a few guides in, indicating where the shadows, highlights, and even some hot spots will go. As always, go loose, and remember to use your observational and reference materials… keep it real, but feel free to add your own artistic spin to it.

A good starting point, for me anyway, is along the side flanks of the car. Find the largest surface area that would reflect something back, and start planning just how light and shade will work off of that. In this case, we have the hood sides, doors and rear quarter panels, and they’re relatively flat, yet have a slight bow from front to back (with the apex of that curve just about in the middle of the door), and everything curves ever-so-slightly from grille shell to trunk. Try to mimic the look of a slight arc to give the car some realistic dimension.

We can do that by bringing the line of our shadow/reflection up just a touch on the ends, and allow it to drop a bit through the door. Remember, we’re aiming for visual excitement here, so allow your lines to be loose and have character.

shading the drawing

Don’t go overboard here… we only need a few basic lines to indicate where our shadows and highlights will fall. I’ve moved mine a couple of times here, seeking to not only render the panels in a realistic fashion, but taking a small amount of artistic license to help balance the composition. I’m seeking to make the coupe look low and aggressive, and that means drawing the eye a bit higher on the body to emphasize the car’s proximity to the pavement… Raising the eye will only serve to make it appear even lower… and when drawing a sinister hot rod, it’s a damned good thing… Make it look sneaky!

It’s a lot to think about, but try to keep an idea in your head of where the drawing is going, and what you hope to convey through the drawing. I try to set the tone, to give voice to the personality of the car. Your job, as an artist, is to stir an emotion through your pictures. Always think of ways to do that!

Once we have the guides, let’s fill-in, very lightly, where our shaded areas will be… play with different pressures and strokes here, and work up tonal values gradually. A light hand, again, will pay off tremendously later on. Give thought, too, to the final color that your rendering will be. Darker colors can benefit from using more light or white space (to mimic reflections), and lighter colors can benefit from a little more darkness. Yellows (where we’re headed here) can be a bit trickier, and require a bit more thought, especially with regard to how light disperses in the pigment, and how reflections will scatter… MUCH more on that in upcoming tutorials… For now, let’s allow our reference materials and observational skills guide us.

Keep things loose but controlled at this stage. We’re thinking about where light is hitting and shadows are formed, but, at the same time, we want to keep a fluid, organic look to it. Too mechanical, and the drawing will processed and cold… too loose, and things will start to look very sloppy. We want it to look almost natural. Keep your strokes consistent.

highlight and shadow

Ready for color? Let’s lightly add just a touch of yellow here… if for no other reason than it looking cool. Seriously, though, this will give us an idea of how successful (or not) our shading efforts have been. I start by blowing-in some hue, whether I’m working in analog (like in this example, with pencils, paper, etc) or digital (in Adobe Illustrator, 99.9997% of the time) to get a feel for how to proceed.

If you’re working on paper, grab your airbrush, and thin-down some color. Hit the image with just a light, translucent coat. We don’t want to bury anything, just get the color showing over our shading efforts. If you’re afraid to mess with your sketch, grab some vellum, and paint on that, OVER your sketch, much as you’d use layers in Illustrator or Photoshop or Painter. Choose a hue that’s close to your final color choice… I usually work a shade or two lighter at this stage, painting it like a candy color. It will add tremendous depth later on.

coloring a hot rod

Once we’re happy with the shading and color test, we’ll start blowing in some saturated toners… play in ALL areas of the car, and give everything some thought… Where can we use this base color? In the glass? Hell yes, The wheels? Definitely. In the shadow? Why not?

PCK TIP: a touch of a warm color on the outlying areas will help to blend the shadow to the fore- and background, and look more realistic!

shading with color

While we’re here, let’s follow my usual plan, and darken-up any lines or blacks… We don’t want to do this last, as it will leave our work looking sloppy, and force an air of “overworked” and “afterthought” all over. Not a good thing. Work tight, but nimble.

PCK TIP: Always, ALWAYS give some thought to line weight.

Alter you line widths to simulate where the eye will be drawn back, to mimic what areas will be closer to the eye and so-on. If you’re new to drawing, please have a look at my primer on line weight. It’s loaded with tips on effectively using different widths and strokes of the hand to not only create the illusion of space, but to add visual excitement to your renderings. One stroke can draw attention to a particular detail, or guide the eye around the piece… and, in many cases, help it to “pop” off of the page! Have fun with this, and go at it with a plan. Give the drawing a nice visual rhythm, keeping the viewer entertained, but not confused.

line weight

Once we have the tone figured out, and those areas we want dark and saturated looking right, we’ll bust out the white. The idea here is to slowly, ever-so-carefully build up highlights, Keep your technique loose but controlled. We want the highlights to scatter a bit… no harsh edges just yet. The white will also act to blend any “sketchy-looking shaded areas. It’s a great two-for-one bonus step. Allow the light to look as though it’s dispersed through many layers of paint… Think “candy” at this point, and you’ll do fine! Again, we’re building in layers, as mentioned earlier. We want some depth in our rendering, not some flat doodle!

color tone in drawing

As always, I suggest some use of a complementary color. We’ll drop in some purple for visual pop, and get just a bit of drama and spice in there… A touch in the shadows, as well as into the yellow hue will help to define the shading, and create some… wait for it… depth! It contrasts beautifully with those greens in the glass, and can add some great taste in chrome. Don’t be afraid to experiement with this. After all, it’s art, and you can have a few freedoms, creating and tweaking realities to suit the look you’re creating.

PCK TIP: Build your complementary colors up in the same way you’ve been building the body base color. This will keep everything looking uniform. Again, a little depth here goes a long way later on for visual appeal. Keep it tight in this stage. Sloppiness kills a great piece.

complementary colors

From here, we’ll concentrate on tightening up the little details, and throw in some blues and purples to get that pop and dimension… Not to mention some green in the glass (it’s my trademark touch, and looks “right”, so why fight it?).

PCK TIP: When rendering any reflective surface, try to use a slightly cooler color. Think in terms of blues and some greens. This will read, to the viewer, as having a slightly smoother and colder feel, just as glass or chrome does in the real world. I tend to work a lot with classic cars, and many of these came from the factory with a slight green/blue tint to the glass. In my mind, it just looks right, and offers just one more place in your rendering to play with reflections, as blues and greens can often reflect light and objects around your subject in a different way than the paint would. We’ll cover this in a much more in-depth way in the near future, but for now, I just wanted to explain why I did that in this and many of my other drawings. Observe how glass reflects its surroundings in the real world, and draw it!

adding depth

At this stage, keep everything clean, and make sure that all edges are sharp, and that any guides or original sketch lines are gone. Play with detailing, and use some pure white to create hot spots, and draw attention to some areas. As always, just HAVE FUN in there. Let it build, and you’ll enjoy the realism and artistic look that your work will pack.

Whatever you do, though, do NOT over-work an area at this stage. Trying to correct a piece that wasn’t right four steps ago will just look ugly. It’s the equivalent of piling white-out on your term paper… it’s an afterthought and looks as such. If you find that one of these “mistakes” is too noticeable, work an area around it with a little highlight or a hot spot to draw the eye away. Chances are, you’re the only one who will see it anyway.

reflective surfaces

Finally, we’ll blow in some toners and shades of the body color, as well as just a hint or purple to create a background texture (I know… “wow, Brian… splatters… who’d have thought?” but it’s my work, my trademark thing… I enjoy it.), which is a major tutorial coming soon. Give your rendering a place to “live” on the paper. As tempting as it may be, keep it fairly toned-down. Granted, I go a bit crazy with it sometimes, but each piece has its reasons, and this one is begging for it…

finished rendering

Thanks again for looking in, and following along! Please let your friends know if you found this useful, and be sure to share your work and progress, as well!

Let’s go over a few points one more time, just for good measure:

Keep your drawing clean. Erase stray and guide lines as you go. You don’t want to trap a line under some ink, as it will show up at the wrong time, and be almost, if not impossible to remove. Work from observation. As you walk from the parking lot to your job, the supermarket, wherever, pay attention to how light reflects and plays on different cars, surfaces, colors… Get an idea of what shapes and panel contours pick up the most reflected light from the ground, adjacent panels or other objects around the vehicle. Get to know what looks warm and what looks cold, and what colors are in play to make that happen.

Always give your work some CHARACTER! Play with line weights and vary the strokes and directions of your strokes to make things come alive! Above all, just have some fun. Don’t forget the FUN. If little details start to become tedious, you’re either tired, or over-working (and over-thinking) them. Step back, take a break, or simply move on to something looser in the drawing to freshen-up your attitude. It’ll happen from time to time, and on a last-minute deadline rush, well, it happens even more often. Just roll through it!

Catch you soon, and keep an eye out for the next installment… and check out my companion tutorials on our Facebook Fan Page! Thanks for reading along, and feel free to leave a comment or questions below…

Step Into My Time Machine

car culture

There was a time when I swore that if I ever heard the Beach Boys’ 409 played at 80 decibels again, I’d have killed myself. You see, I was a product of the 1980’s car show revival scene. My parents were REALLY into cars, and if there was a show, we were there… in my younger days as a spectator, and as participants later on. I’ve seen more wide whites and fuzzy dice than I can count with all of the fingers and toes that I have available in my immediate family, neighborhood and the surrounding towns. That’s a lot of damned dice and tires. Consider, then, just how many folks interpret that era through those items, and you begin to see a pattern in the custom and classic car communities. There’s obviously a lot more to it than simply “well, those are the only available accessories for anyone to use on an era-specific car”. And man, I think I figured it out.

Oddly, it’s taken me twenty-some odd years to arrive at this conclusion, not because I’m slow (I hope not, anyway), but simply because I’ve never really taken the time to figure it all out.

Or perhaps… I just wasn’t mature enough to do it before.

I’m banking on the latter, and gratefully so.

I’ve been into cars since, quite possibly, conception. My father is a car guy through and through. He’s been in the industry since his teen years, and is the one responsible for my automotive affliction. And witnessing his tastes in cars, and learning from them as a young lad, I formed some opinions on stance, style, colors and more from our time together. Naturally, as a teenager, I threw in my rebellion, opting for some styles that weren’t his idea of “cool” (or “intelligent”, “responsible”, and so-on), but the foundation he laid in my brain was always there, waiting for the next version of my Temple of Automotive Style to be built upon the ashes of youth and stupidity.

It hit me while going through some boxes in the Studio recently. I found the materials I’d been collecting for a book project, took a break, and looked through some of the photos. This turned out to be some of the best time I’ve spent in a long time in that lair of automotive art. I not only found a historical reference for a current project, but took a moment to rest my brain… And in that moment, it all made sense to me. I understood why people cling to nostalgia.

Now, I’m not talking about the “Traditional Hot Rod Police”, or the guys who are such complete sticklers on how your car should be built or enjoyed. Those guys need to take a break, and get over it. I’m thinking along the lines of the couple who, after raising the kids, paying off the house, and having slaved in the workforce for years, are looking at some free time, and are getting back to knowing one another as they once had in younger years. Perhaps they’ve decided to pursue some hobbies or interests that took a back seat for decades at a time. For car people, this means building a car to enjoy… maybe even finishing off a project, whatever. Either way, they’re going to do it for the fun.

I talk with a number of these folks each year, and just enjoy sketching up mild versions of their cars, and they always ask for items that, to me, anyway, seemed cliche’. Looking back, I’ve been ignorant.

Granted, I’ve already expressed my youthful feelings on wide whites and whatnot, but never gave thought to why anyone would use what I had thought of so long as the same old stuff. Putting myself in their shoes, I began to ponder what I’d build in twenty years, realistically. And you know what? To someone who shared a similar time frame in their teen years, parts on my dream ride seem pretty cliche’. You know why? Because the car is based upon my lifelong visions of the coolest cars I’d ever seen during my most formative years! The very same cars that a contemporary of mine would have seen and been influenced by.

Common ground.

Consider that, in the 1950’s and ’60’s, the major feature cars all had some similar traits. They followed certain trends, with the stand-outs re-interpreting those standards in some unique way… but the basics were in place: Wide whitewalls (for status), pinstriping, a cleansing of visual barbs, and an attempt to make the whole car look more sleek and modern. If every cool car you ever saw during your formative years had that stuff, by golly, so would your dream car.

It’s not about using the same old stuff. It’s about chasing that dream.

And that’s where the car thing really becomes so cool. It’s not just a physical form of transportation… it’s a freakin’ temporal transportation device. A literal time machine if ever there was one. Think about it: you fire that bad-boy up, head out for a cruise, and instantly, you’re transported back in time. The memories seem just a little more recent and real, and, in a lot of ways (budget permitting), you’re able to get a re-do with that car! You’ve done things to the car that perhaps you couldn’t back then. I can’t think of too many other things in life that you can say that about, and arrive at the same exact conclusion, or grant yourself that feeling of accomplishment and happiness. Try that by going back and playing High School football at age 50. It’s not going to happen.

It’s in that “re-do” that so many folks choose to really play it up. As I’ve learned, it’s their moment. They’ve re-captured something lost. It’s a lot like collecting movie memorabilia or tikis or antiques. Sure, you’ve collected the items you were after, but there’s always that extra little something that catches your eye, or that one trinket that just brings one more element of fun into it all. It might be that shot glass from Trader Vic’s, or that R2D2 keychain… or those fuzzy dice.

And, as the name of this game is “personalization”, who cares if you have organ pipe speaker grilles or fuzzy dice or a fake drive-in speaker or tray of plastic food on your door or your high school sweetheart’s name on the quarter panel? Hell, you could have mannequins of the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens holding plane tickets in your back seat for all I care (that would be sublime and totally irreverent). The point is that it’s your choice, and you’ve chosen to accessorize your car in your way. And if you’re having fun, more power to you. However, if your whole reason for doing any of this is to have the biggest pompadour or the best starch job on your jeans, because you’re the most traditional guy on the fairgrounds, then you’ve missed the point, Squiggy.

Revisionist History

I think that there’s a flip-side to all of this, as well. I like to call it the “Revisionist Historical Build Style”, and I can see this catching on. Hell, in some ways, it’s been going on for years.

Next time you’re at a cruise night, a car show, whatever, take a look at the cars present, and make a mental list of the build styles. You’ll see restored cars, hot rods, street machines, pro-touring and so-on. But there are a few that really bend and tweak the styles they fall into. Perhaps it’s a sled with big, modern billet wheels, or a restored musclecar with modern running gear. Either way, there’s mixing and matching going on, borrowing parts normally reserved for street rods on kustoms, street machine parts under classics, it’s all fair game!

I’d like to take it a step further, and imagine a car built as though the owner, within a few years of the car’s original production date, had access to time travel. That he could jump ahead in time, and bring back with him the parts and pieces to create a radically futuristic car. I did this some time back in Rod & Custom with the ’53 Ford pictured above as a Dream Car of the Month. I imagined that this ‘shine runner had brought back a host of goodies, and developed the ultimate booze hauler. (this also inspired a graphic novel I’ve been working on, but much more on that…in the FUTURE! sorry. couldn’t resist.)

You’d be sure to have a car that mixed “futuristic” (for our temporal-twisting pal’s natural time, anyway) build styles and techniques, with some over-the-top performance. How cool would it be to even set these “future goodies” into the car, and utilize era-specific solutions to make things tie in or function? Modern seating frames with vintage materials, HID’s in stock housings and so-on… Imagine Mary Sue Creamcheese riding shotgun, and feeling the seat heaters kick in? Or explaining how the iPod works. We’re already there with some of this stuff, so a lot of the hard work is already done for you. It just needs the right integration!

Now, let’s take this a few thousand steps further, and, once we’ve built this car, imagine that it had been safely tucked away. Years later, it’s stumbled upon (we all love a barn-find story, right?), and behold… this old car sports wonderful patina, a great combination of styling and obviously high-quality bodywork… but yet… something’s amiss. It has a modern drivetrain, but the fittings and hoses and components all look as though they’ve been there for years. Now we’re on to something.

Lately, there are a ton of patina’d trucks and rods (and the occasional musclecar, too… those are cool!) at shows, sporting modern running gear. While I love the juxtaposed look of old and new, the contrast of fresh powder coating and old rust… I just think it lacks a bit of creativity. Make it ALL look old! Work to create those little details that just make things look at home. Imagine building a relay panel that looks like it has glass fuses in it… something that presents the feeling of our time-traveling friend having to make things work, versus simply opening a catalog. “Why wouldn’t he just go back and buy the right parts,” you ask? Perhaps he ran into himself. Maybe someone caught on to his use of vintage funds… perhaps Biff is still angry over the manure incident. Who cares? Play it up, and again, HAVE FUN! Build it as though you’ve never seen such cool, efficient and powerful modern stuff, but with the sense of utilitarianism that someone from an earlier time might have. With companies like Classic Instruments, you could even detail the gauges to perfection, and warp time there, too. And that’s just one suggestion. Interpret amongst yourselves.

Moving Forward… In Reverse

All of that said, I now look at everything with a fresh attitude, and look forward to talking more with folks about why they added the little things they did to their car. And whether it was to have that important re-do, or simply because their granddaughter gave them the fuzzy dice for Christmas, what’s important is that these things are there, adding that little extra to someone’s dream ride, and hopefully transporting them to a place that’s cool.

Thanks for cruising along.

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