Tag Archive | how to

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


Getting Technique-cal

Pencils to pixels

Over the past few months, I’ve been plotting and planning a video tutorial series, and getting that rolling. Wanting to make it as in-depth and as close to real-time as possible, it’s become a monster indeed.

The plan has been simple: Show the workflow, the art, the technique an all of the warts and whatnots that go into creating a rendering or illustration the “Problem Child Kustoms Way.” Suffice to say, it’s been a ton of work thus far, but very rewarding and eye-opening for me, both from a technical standpoint and as an artist. I’ve realized many key things about my work, as well as just how often I let a few f-bombs fly. Crazy how that can go.

how to render in adobe illustrator

I thought that it might be fun to show a few in-the-moment screen grabs from a couple of pieces here, as they represent a lot of what goes into these works. There’s a ton of hidden stuff and work involved in making vector art look like, well, not vector art. Not that the purpose of my technique or approach begins and ends with that in any respect… I enjoy the fact that I can use a program like Adobe Illustrator to continue creating, even after my hands have given out as they have. It’s a mater of holding on to the style I had developed before going digital, and the incredible tools afforded by the software to push it that next step. A melding of man, will and machine… Funny how those can come together so organically, while often being thought of as being so different.

Some pieces like this big rig tend to get very involved. While working on a segment highlighting graphics and paint, this particular illustration spent a ton of time under the microscope, not only for its very involved process, but because I had to make vector paths appear more like candy paint, with all sorts of transparent and translucent qualities, reflecting and refracting light. Fun times…


…and how it all comes together:


I had taken some time as well to show how to create realistic reflections using only the pen tool in Illustrator, which offers a lot of control when altering reality just a bit:

Reflections in Illustrator

And, of course, rendering from paper and pencil all the way through to digital:


…covering glass, paint, shading and more using only the pen tool in Illustrator (no gradient meshes, brushes or presets… Just hands-on dirty work).

vector rendering

Look for more soon, and be sure to check out my website at www.problemchildkustoms.com for more tutorials and sneak peeks. Thanks for looking in, and feel free to hit me with any questions, comments, suggestions…

Drawing FURY-ously

Hey guys. It’s been a while, and I apologize for that. Today, I’d like to roll out another tutorial, this time, drawing a slick, slammed Fury. This will be an analog (or “traditional”, whichever you prefer) piece, so bust out the pencils, paper, and markers of your choice (I’ll be using Copics, but virtually any marker will do here), and get drawing!

Laying out the guidelines… At this stage, some loose lines to place the key parts of the composition are all that’s needed. Perspective lines give us an idea of where things will be placed, and give a general feel for scale and proportion as well.

car drawing tutorial

I start to tidy-up the car at this point, bringing in a little marker to darken-up the shadow areas, and make permanent those lines I wish to keep:

vehicle rendering tutorial

Blocking-in some gray tones. Just some loose grays to start giving the piece some depth. Key here is deciding which forms will recede in space, and which will be left up front. I also spend a little time defining the car’s shadow:

marker rendering tutorial

Cleaning-up some of the stray sketch lines, and adding some color to block in some lighting for later. I like the work to appear translucent, versus having just color planted atop more color (which can get awfully muddy-looking), so a little color washing at this point pays off HUGE later on:

how to draw a car

I bring in some color to the car at this stage, tightening-up the shading and lines… While the whole image is loose, I like to have certain areas (like the wheels) show a bunch of detail, to draw the eye in and around the work:

car drawing tutorial

A ton of time spent blocking-in color, and implying some brick on the storefronts. Blending is the key at this stage, and using it in a restrained manner can help to give not only a nice, loose feel, but make the lighting and shadow appear more natural, versus blocked-in and forced. I tend to work from the lightest to darkest areas in stages, moving back over and into those areas that need richer or darker tones:

final rendering

This is another ‘static’ tutorial, meaning no video. I thought it best to present a few basic tutorials in this way to give you a reference, without any distractions, or need to search for a particular step. This just seems a better way to get you up to speed on the essentials, before we move full-steam into the more advanced tools and techniques. It’s a quick overview, but take your time, and work on controlling every stroke you lay on the page. It’ll pay off in the end.

It Takes a Crue.

Some moron once said that it takes a village to raise a child.

I say “bullshit”.

What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says village?


Exactly. Do you want an idiot raising your kid? I certainly don’t. And I don’t want one raising mine, either.

Henceforth, we have decided that our children will be raised in a progressive way, using music. Granted, there’s a lot to be decided here, at first glance, anyway. As we looked into potential sources for musical wisdom, we found that, for the most part, great songwriters are like philosophers and teachers, each expounding knowledge on situations you or I may run into every day. Bernie Taupin is a great example, as is Harry Chapin, Springsteen, and Dylan… All have a lot to offer in our musical child-rearing idea. However, amongst the good, we found some real crap, too.

Enya, for instance. No way I’m allowing my kids to grow up thinking that world is made up of moody-ass sailors and stars and whatever the hell else this broad sings about in a mix of what might be French, might be Klingon. Any pop performer? No. Nothing you can learn about life from anyone like that. Lady Gaga? She wears ducks and telephones on her head, and even mentions her own name in songs as some kind of lyrical element. Any boy band? That’s just made-up shit there. My kids will have a sense of reality. Rappers? Let’s not go there. So we hunted high and low. Blues? Yes. There will be Albert and Buddy, and BB and Stevie Ray and others… loads of great information to be gleaned from their experiences. But we needed more… and in this modern age, it needs to be in one package, and FAST.

And then we found it.

In the bargain bin at the used record store.

Motley Crue is the band we have chosen. Their lyrics are incredible when you’re a teenager in the ’80′s…. And oddly cryptic now. We selected their “Dr. Feelgood” album as the new “Dr. Spock” of our home, and I’ll explain why (above and beyond the price, and excepting for a slight crack in the jewel case):

First, the album teaches music appreciation. Any band that yells “guitar!” before a solo is a huge help. Prior to hearing this album, whenever I heard a guitar solo, I’d think “harpsichord? tuba? bongos, perhaps? Convection oven? Auto-tuned tire noise from a freeway on-ramp?”  Yelling the instrument name (and occasionally, the name of the dude playing it) pays dividends later on.

Next, we learn about lyrics, mainly via bad examples. For instance, hoochy-cootchie is a phrase best left in the hands of Muddy Waters. In Crue Land, the women are beyond simple hoochy, and their cootchies are, apparently, legendary. In fact, they are basically cootchie squared. (…which led me to ponder the sheer logistical terror of any woman equipped with a square cootchie. I mean, beyond the simple “holy crap, what happened THERE?!” moment you’d certainly experience, is the nightmare of, well, for lack of a better description, pounding a round peg into a square hole. That just has bad night – or, at least, interesting YouTube video – written all over it. Moving along, let’s take this song-by-song. See that? we’re learning already! Rhyming is fun.)

It kicks off with “Terror in Tinseltown”, and drifts into the title track. Right there, you have your “drugs are bad” speech. It’s further defined in the title track, as we learn about a dope dealer and his tough times. He drives a shitbox, hangs with lowlifes and eventually meets his fate, imprisoned or shot, maybe both. Good lesson in there. Don’t be a douchebag.

Next on the list: “Slice of Your Pie”. Here we have a nifty metaphor about eating right, with a subtext that can be used for the “birds and the bees” talk. We learn about moderation, as Vince simply asks for one more slice… not three or four. We learn that even plain girls deserve attention in high school, because the gal in question apparently turns out to be quite attactive later on, and almost causes a neck injury when our narrator sees her later on. We also learn to appreciate women from all directions (“…always walk behind you for the rear view”). Powerful stuff.

“Rattlesnake Shake”. Beats the shit out of me. Could be exercise. Lots of posterior motion in this one. Good for the glutes. OK, then: “Physical fitness = long life”, even for hard-drinking, shallow, heroin-addled pop-rock bands. Works for me.

Moving along, we have “Kickstart My Heart”, which basically says “get yourself hobby that involves cars, and go fast a lot.” Amen. (until they use it in a Kia commercial, and ruin everything you ever hoped for with this song. WTF, guys??! At least it’s not for a Prius. And it has a grandstand full of bikini-clad women, which reinforces the concept that having a car will attract the ladies, even if it is, apparently, a foreign-made sedan. Chicks like the cars, apparently.)

“Without You”. Appreciate the people in your life. Otherwise, they’ll leave, and you’ll write a shitty song about it. Spare us that, at least.

In the catchy “Same Old Situation”, we learn that, in the opinion of a dude who just got dumped, and that you may find yourself thinking that all women are basically the same whorish succubi. We learn that some women, namely those in the life of this songs’ protagonist, anyway, say one thing, and do another. And we learn the value of safe sex, and that when you meet your lovely new bride’s old “friend” with the tattoos and long hair, that she probably didn’t learn that thing with her tongue from reading Cosmopolitan, and that if you forgo wrapping your little monster, that you’ll most likely catch hepatitis from that low-life, tattooed circus freak.

“Sticky Sweet”. Again, moderation. But we learn that a “fire in my pants” perhaps isn’t always a good thing, and that longevity in the sack is a part of any healthy relationship. (furthermore, replace the lyrics with “she’s got stinky/got stinky/she’s got stinky feet”, and we learn that parody is fun, too)

In “She Goes Down”, we learn that, sometimes, life is misery, and the grass IS, in fact, greener on the other side.  We also learn that any girl who goes down this much will sleep with all of your friends. Sure, they’ll appreciate it, but see “Without You” above for the generally accepted outcome.

“Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” teaches us that not everything lasts forever, and that hanging out with your buddies can solve any relationship issue (unless, of course, the little lady in question is the one from the previous song, and she’s doing what she does while you’re in the same room.) It teaches us that, in a delicate, nowhere situation, it’s OK to say “fuck it, just please get out”.

Last in line, we have “Time For Change”. This will be left off of our “Crue Raising Mix Tape of Life”, as we cannot begin to fathom what idiot kid would have been telling Vince that they “lost all faith in the world”. Unless they mean “there are no more hot chicks to discover, you had them all during your ’87 tour”, or that ‘holy shit, you got really fat, dude… and that means if a heroin junkie can get puffy and weird looking, so can anyone. Look at Val Kilmer… maybe not so much heroin, but he was Batman. The fucking BATMAN!!! Of course, HIS Batman is now fat, and looks like a hamster…’ then we could understand. But, instead, they act as if this guy, at one near-bottom point in his life was going to solve the world’s problems. Perhaps. Just maybe, if we all head to the bar and land some hotties, it’d be a better place. Time to change the track, if you ask me.

In summary, this is our choice. What have we learned? That it takes a Crue, not a village to raise my kids. And at just under $4, it’s money well-spent, being just shy of seven dollars cheaper than a Dr. Spock book.

And that by golly, you may just want to keep your children away from ours a little later in life, should you choose some other, less testosterone-driven alternative.

How to: Hire a Hot Rod Designer

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

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

custom big-rig

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

car design rendering

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

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

The end goal of selecting your custom car designer is:

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

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

1. Pick a Designer Whose Style You Like

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

Torino design

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

truck and wheel

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

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

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

2. Find A Designer You Get Along With

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

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

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

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

falcon design ideas

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

concept car colors

3. Understand The Designer’s Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

custom tail light design

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

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

custom camaro concept

5. Don’t Fall Victim To Trends

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

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

dashboard designs

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

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

custom nova concept

Drawing Unplugged

Fact: Your rendering style will inevitably be determined and recognized by your unique talent and drawing skill… or by the software you bought. Not a tough decision to make.

When it comes to creating something, it pays to know a little bit about what you are aiming to make. With illustration, namely vehicle renderings, it’s not only helpful, it’s imperative. After all, how can you visually describe something if you don’t understand it?

Taking that a step further, knowing the tools and mastering their use will only make the work that much better. I’m going to share a bit of what I’ve learned. Granted, it all starts somewhere, and to me, the most important part of being an artist is developing a unique style, a way to have your work stand out. Even if you trace a Picasso, it will have your own style integrated somewhere, so why not just do it in way that is all yours? If thirty people all use the same filter on a photo, you have thirty filtered photos that all look alike. Boring!

That said, for this tutorial, we’re working on drawing, using your own abilities, and I’m simply guiding you in applying those abilities in the methods I use. They may not be for everyone, or they may be the spark that gets you rolling. In any event, I’ve been asked to break-down the technique I use, and here it is.

Any drawing should start with an idea. Hopefully you have one of those. I’ve decided, for the sake of this introductory tutorial, that I’d run with a 1950 Chevy pick-em-up… Coincidentally, I happened to keep step-by-step images from the original drawing… lucky you!

Hopefully, you have some basic knowledge of drawing, as these won’t be entry-level tutorials here on this particular go-round. If, however, you do need some help with the basics, grab a copy of the DVD Special Edition of How to Draw Cars Now. The tutorials included will have you swinging some lead in no time! If, however, you’re ready, let’s nail the basics.

First step: Grab some reference material. Unless you know the subject of your sketch by heart, well, you’ll need a point of reference for the overall scale, proportions, dimension and details. Lacking the real car or truck, photos and books are your best friend.

reference material

I like to give my drawings a little bit of energy and action… so I’m going to work with the truck’s overall dimensions, and tweak the proportions just a hair on this one… I’m going to freehand a quick box layout, just to get an idea of where everything will “grow” on the paper. Working with a standard 2B pencil, I’m going to keep everything very loose… Don’t worry if all of your lines aren’t perfect, or if all points intersect or not… we’re simply figuring out where this beast will live on our page, and get the stage set for our drawing.

box method for drawing

From here, let’s start figuring out where the main parts of the truck go, with reference to our general boxes.

creating panels

Think of it like sculpting. At this stage, we’re simply removing everything from those first boxes that isn’t a ’50 Chevy. Essentially, we’re laying in some guide lines to start fleshing-out the truck. We’ll do this in a few passes:

adding features

Let’s look to our reference material, and begin rounding the boxes to match the correct profiles. I tend to work freehand at this stage, and will break out the sweeps and French curve later to tighten-up the radius on all corners… but for now, we’re keeping things loose:

adding detail

I’ve used the sweep a bit here, tightening-up those corners just a bit, but not quite completely. I’ve also begun to block-in some areas to delineate where the grille openings will go, simply because I want to be sure that everything is staying true to scale. In my opinion, there is little worse than screwing up the scale or proportion in a rendering. Cartooning is the place to go wild… for project cars, keep it grounded in reality to help your client and builder…

using scale in drawing

We’ll start cleaning-up some loose, stray lines at this stage, trying to keep everything clear, and prevent confusion as we start to lay in a couple of details. This leads me to a VERY IMPORTANT TIP:

Observation is your BEST FRIEND. Pay attention to details, and, possibly even more important, observe where lines and points intersect. Get an idea of where one line is in relation to another… think in terms of “if I put THIS body line HERE, where does that trim part line up, and will it be in the right place on my sketch?”

We’re going to start tightening up the lines and overall sketch at this point, so try to keep your lines deliberate… but don’t become afraid of allowing them to flow, and vary in pressure and stroke. Line weight is where the real secret to a lively drawing lies… While we’re adding some observational power here, let’s drop in a little hint of the shadow under the truck… Consider where your main light source will be coming from, and drop a shadow on the dirt. I keep mine tight to the vehicle, especially when they sit low, simply to emphasize just how low they are. In this case, we have a light source coming in on the left side, front quarter, which will allow some fun shadows and highlighting later on to play in that rounded body

At this point, just roll with your own natural drawing style. Your style and technique are what will give your artwork a signature look… like a fingerprint for your drawings. Ever look at an artist’s work, and just know who drew it from the line work or the shading? Ever looked at a rip-off or copy of a know artist’s work, and just know it was a rip-off? You have a unique style, even if you’re just starting out. Celebrate that, and refine it. You’ll reap the rewards of that as your career progresses and people seek out your signature style. I’ve been working on mine for well over a decade, and am just appreciating it’s unique character.

Back to blocking-in some dark areas. Let’s get the shadow in place, and really start to define the grille openings. These are major pieces of the puzzle, and having them in place will help us to define the parts AROUND them, and will get everything where it belongs.

first shadows

Let’s bring our eraser out to play, shall we?

We’ll knock a little out of that shadow, and make some room for the wheels and tires… Think ahead here, and plan for reflected light from the ground onto your tire sidewalls… this will serve to anchor the car, and prevent it from looking as though it’s floating on some black cloud…

line quality

We’ll knock-out some more room for those wheels and, why not, some wide whitewalls… and dust a little kid-tone on the body. Why not? This will help

shading the sketch

Let’s continue, shall we? We have the basic lines dropped in, we’ve cleaned up some stray lines, and even started to describe some surface curves… Look at you! Keep it up!

From here, we’ll keep shading in those small areas that the light source is turning dark… Just imagine how a panel like that front fender, for instance, will drop a small shadow on the door… how the cab, where it’s wider than the bed, will drop the leading part of the bed into shade… And so-on, and just roll with it. Have fun at this point!

Remember: this is a work of art, and the goal is to have fun while describing something without words. You are in control. You can use shadows and highlights to emphasize a part of your drawing, or tuck it away to draw the eye… it’s YOUR call. (BTW– next tutorial will be all about using shadows and highlights, so stay tuned!)

roughing-in wheels

Note that I’m throwing in some wheel shapes here, as well… As I drop in a few more detail lines, I’m working the ENTIRE drawing at this point… building it all over to keep the look consistent throughout. By this point, I usually scan a drawing, and move to Illustrator, but, damnit, I’m having too much fun. And, again, that’s the name of the game: HAVING SOME FUN. When it strops being fun, it should all just stop, because it begins to look forced… and cold, and sterile and machine-like, and that’s not art. That’s rote production, and while it hyas a place, that place shouldn’t be in your sketch pad or even in your creative client work. This is the place to get everyone involved with the project excited and crystal clear on the direction. While that’s a HUGE order, it should be those things, no more and no less. And it all starts with how you sketch the subject. Everything else is being built from there.

With that in mind, let’s place a few guides down to plot where our shadows and highlights will appear. Keep it loose, and keep it realistic, at least with reference to where the darker areas, lighter areas, and, possibly most important, where any light will reflect back onto a surface (whether off of adjacent panels, the ground, or something else that will appear in your drawing). This will help to “sell” the idea that your drawing is representing a three-dimensional object, versus simply being some lines on a flat plane.

plotting light source

Let’s continue to build those shaded areas, paying close attention to where light will bounce and fade, and perhaps not even reach with much intensity:


Let’s bust out that eraser again, and knock out some highlights… We’ll start to give ourselves some guidance for later on, at least for knowing where the light is really playing-off of the panels, and start making the fenders and hood and cab look more lifelike, and give them that rounded character! Again, just play in here, and use your reference materials to guide you on the general shapes and volumes you’re rendering… A light touch is preferable here, no doubt… We’ll blow in just a hint of color here, too, adding a little bit of a coolness to the panels. Visual temperature is something we’ll cover later on, but for now, just remember that this thing is, in reality, made of steel, and steel is often seen as “cold”. Let’s give reality a win here, and play up to it for a bit (and before we haul off and break all of the rules a bit further down the tutorial path).


Continue building up the blue, bit by bit. Again, a light hand here will pay dividends in the end… While we’re here, let’s start blowing in just a HINT of orange.

TIP: Always work in complementary colors when and where you can. The contrast will create instant visual drama, and really add some “pop” to your drawing. Besides, how cool is it to get a little instant gratification when you’re neck-deep in a project?!

working in complementary colors

Continue to build the oranges and blues, and stop every now and then, and darken up some shadows, tighten any stray lines, and again, keep it loose overall, but start tightening your touch in areas that should be showing some edges. This will only help to reinforce the perception of the shapes later on, and prevent the finished piece from looking “drawn over”.

defining surface in the drawing

We’ll lightly touch on chrome and trim here. I say that, as I’ll cover rendering chrome and glass (and other reflective materials) further down the road… After all, this is simply an introductory tutorial… Just giving you a taste of what to expect.

rendering chrome

Let’s blow in some dark and light tones, simulating the bumper and window trim, and start making that big old grille look nice and shiny. The key here is almost thinking in reverse. Consider how the dark pavement under the truck will show up on the round bumper, and then consider that, no matter how dark the tarmac is, that light will still reflect off of it. So… Where logic says “it’s rounded, thus the area closest to our eye SHOULD be lighter”, we say “screw you, logic… that area will be somewhat lighter, but we’ll underscore that light area with a dark line, and go with another dark line just above it…”. Why? To mimic the pavement’s slight reflection on the chrome, and then to provide the eye with a reference point of the horizon. This looks much more natural in a drawing, and we’ll get into the how’s and why’s in a future lesson… We’ll now start to blow in some white (with a slight blue tint) to mimic the highlighted areas of our drawing. Be sure to mask the areas (i.e. the rest of the paper) with some Frisket or other material to avoid over-spray.

Adding the blue here may gray a few areas on you, but don’t worry… we’ll get the color to pop in a future step. The goal here is just laying in color as a guide.

masking the illustration

The idea, at this point, is to start showing where the light is hitting the panels… just play, and let your eye and reference materials guide you, if you’re not familiar or comfortable rendering light just yet…

We’ll start blowing in some more blues, a hint of green (let’s work that glass to look more, well, like glass, shall we?), and continue playing up the oranges (again, complementary colors!), and I’ve dribbled some, so I’ll make those into a nice ground texture, and, after masking (much more on that in the future), I’ve even blown some “behind” the truck. Anything to make it leap from the surface of the paper is a good thing here.

reflected light

Some cleaning-up, and we’re almost there… this is where the REALLY advanced touches come in… and we’ll cover them all as we put the series together for you. We’ll hit on highlights, hot-spots and reflections as shown in the image below… Here’s hoping you enjoyed this intro and over-view, and look for much more soon!

reflections and hot-spots

In the meantime, keep sketching, and observing. Study cars, get to know how light and shadow play off of surfaces, and what makes some colors appear warm, and others colder. Here’s a sneak-peek at where we’ll take all of this sketching and shading nonsense:

finished rendering

To reiterate, relax, observe, and always, always HAVE FUN! Stay true to the fun, and you’ll enjoy the time working, and your work will improve and show how much fun you’re having. This isn’t about layering one filter on top of the next, or trying to hide some referenced photo or model with cliche’d distractions and light flares… it’s about rendering a vehicle in a visually striking manner… making the most of what you have available observationally, and transcribing that in your drawing. More soon, and thanks again for looking in!

Catch you soon, and keep an eye out for the next installment… and check out my other drawing tutorial as well as my primer on line weight, and be sure to check in on my Facebook Fan Page! Thanks for reading and drawing along, and feel free to leave a comment or questions below…

The Heavier Side of Line Weight

One of the greatest perks of my job is having fun. I get to have a blast when I’m drawing, even during the late-night thrashes, and times when it stops being “car drawing time” and becomes “let’s see this doodle pay a bill”. I hadn’t realized, or consciously thought about the fun part of the equation before… It just never really occurred to me to consider it. It was simply sit and draw, erase, draw again, keep drawing until cross-eyed, rest, draw more… And then it hit me.

When drawing, rendering a project, or sketching a few thumbnails to feel out a logo or whatever, it’s not all about the final product. I’m having a blast in each line I’m placing on paper. Every last one of them, in fact..

…and I know them ALL by the time I’ve set pen, pencil, stylus or brush down.

Continuing our discussion from last time, I received a number of great comments and emails regarding the obsessive detailing that seems prevalent among we car-drawing folk. It just seems to be a natural part of it all, and it’s logical indeed. Consider just how complex the machines themselves are, and then imagine having to convey that complexity in some lines and pigment. A daunting task indeed!

Yet… somewhere between those strokes of a pencil and color work, we have this absolutely enormous area to play in! We can take any number of roads to reach the finished product: Will it be a straightforward portrait, in which we choose to portray each and every line in a rigid, photo-real way? Or go minimalist, and work from that one body line that offers so much energy? Do we find an area in-between? Man… this is where the fun meets panic on some pieces!

I was asked more than once to describe my technique, and I’ll try over the next few installments, and use this as a primer for the upcoming tutorials, if that’s OK.

I try to convey some sense of the vehicle’s personality. Not to humanize things too much, but I look for what makes a particular car or truck jump out at me. Of course, in the case of design renderings (for custom car and hot rod projects), I need to work with what’s existing in some cases… in others, I play creator, and select what stays, what goes, what gets modified… And on those projects, it’s all about giving the thing a personality! Now we’re talking fun.

I’ve found that the best way to do this is often the simplest, most direct route. Let the drawing speak for the car.

Wait… what??!

One element that seems lost with today’s crop of computer-driven artists is the one thing that “drew” me (sorry) to drawing in the first place:

Line weight.

Consider just how expressive a line can be when you drop some character into it:

line weight

Pardon the sloppy pencil guides and inking, but look at the fun that a few lines can have on paper… the way you can describe depth, add some heaviness to an area, even whittle a surface as it rounds or blends into another. Simply altering pressure or lifting or rolling the pencil or marker away from the surface can create an almost unlimited number of effects… and you can do this on the fly! (New to drawing? Check out the pulley on the sewing machine, and compare how thick or heavy the line that makes it up is along the bottom… describing gravity… and then compare it to our rabid ram’s tongue. You immediately feel that one is going to weigh more than another…)

sketching a car

I do this on purpose with each piece. When starting, I grab some reference material, and study the lines of the vehicle I’ll be drawing (especially so if we’re leaving some original panels, doubly-so when really cutting one up). From there, I look over any notes, and collect my thoughts on the project in heavy detail. I try to get a bit of the owner’s personality involved, as, after all, the car tends to be an extension of that. This part of the process can really alter my approach. Are they mellow? Does the owner project an aggressive vibe? Should the car be low and slow, or angry and loud and always at full-bore? My sketch will often go along with my feelings on that (and, on occasion, the music that’s playing).

As the sketching starts, I use the box method to place each major component, and figure-out the space I have to work in. As I begin to rough-in the panel shapes, I start to make a few lines heavier, some lighter, and some more lively than others, varying in width and cleanliness. My goal, at this stage, is to have a visual cue for later on. I want to remember where my head was at when I put each line in there. After all, keeping the mood and personality consistent will make a more cohesive design in the end. And keeping that initial energy alive, whether it’s going full analog or digital is what makes the work unique. My style always builds from this starting point.

When I have the basic line work down, I begin inking, most of the time. I say this because there are times when the pencils are close enough to what I want, and I know that the final piece wis at a size that will not change. When I know (or fear) that I’ll be enlarging or separating a piece for tees or whatnot, I’ll skip inks, and just re-draw my pencils in vector. Look closely at some of my work, and you can pick out the vector lines versus ink lines…

Here’s one that saw ink AND vector (as it was to become a t-shirt):

blocking color

What’s interesting about this piece, at least with reference to our current topic, is that I was limited to one color, and thus had to really make every line count… to ensure that I conveyed depth, spatial relation, and shading. I love working like this, as it really stretches your abilities, making you think in two and three dimension, not to mention always having to think ahead, and in terms of how multi-subject objects (in this case, two bikes, a rider and a van, plus logos and text and an endless-line design) will interact, and, more importantly how we’ll describe that relationship with shadows, hot spots…

What’s even more fun is using line weight to describe motion! Putting some action into a drawing can be that little thing which puts your rendering so far over the top… Dig this little piece (same drawing as above):

action through line weight

Rather than clutter-up the space with motion lines and streaks, I opted for a more unconventional approach (conventional for me, anyway… I do this a lot). I hinted at a light blur on the spokes, and imitated a strobe-like effect, doubling a few lines, and then streaking a few knobs on the tire. But what I’m most proud of here are the chain and sprocket. Simply varying the line a bit (inked this with a Mack 00 striping brush, for those of you taking notes… oooh), and letting it get just a bit loose, I tried to create a feeling that the pedals were being pumped, and that we froze the moment… with the front wheel closer to us, we’d see the strobe of the spokes, and moving back through space, we’d lose detail in the cranks and sprocket, but still see somewhat defined shapes as they were captured.

They key here, as always, is employing your observational skills, and then putting your own artistic spin on what you see as it hits paper… Understand the physics of what’s going on, but have fun in there!

creating space with lines

Let’s show that drawing as it was printed, and move onto another quick point:

Defining space.

When painting, we have aerial perspective working for us, allowing the artist to show distance by blurring and shifting colors to blues, helping distant objects to recede…In a one-color t-shirt, by golly, we could forget all of that, and just draw, right?

Not me.

This goes right back to the last episode, and my obsessive need to detail everything. It doesn’t stop at things like trim parts and reflections and bolts… I have this need to have some sense of space… distance… an interaction of the forms with the plane they’re drawn on, and with one another. We can, fortunately, take a page from our painter’s handbook, and create a sense of aerial perspective, simply by detailing and defining objects closer to us, and letting things get looser as they recede on the plane. Here, I detailed the seat heavily, and got a little looser on the handlebars (and those Mushroom grips!), and simply hinted at the shape of the bubble port window, and going further back, the rear bumper just trails off… Showing just a hint of light bouncing off of the top. Doing this reinforces the effect of the van being back in the distance, as well as emphasizing that it’s parked at an angle, with the rear deeper in space.

Take this a step further, and pay attention to how you taper a line off, and you begin to create a visual guide for the eye… You create direction, and can move someone through your art, or direct them to an important object.

Always keep this in mind, especially if you, like me, work with both analog AND digital tools:

No brush or filter or plug-in can do what the team of your hand and eye can do together. None. Ever. Make the most of this, then, and put a truly unique spin on your art. Create a style, and build on that style, piece after piece. Pay close attention to the lines you draw, and your ability to react to what you see through those lines.

We’ve discussed the many ways to use a line to convey shapes, spatial distance and relationships, and even to describe motion and shading. We can also use a line with consitent width or stroke weight to provide a foundation, or to ground an element or composition. I used this technique in this design, as well, to draw the eye through the image in a set pattern, to make a sort of visual timeline for the action and still-life happening within the art, giving an illusion that many things are going on, no matter where you look. The endless-line running through the design looks groovy and retro, certainly. That’s why I chose it… But it also serves to anchor the outlined “BMX Challenge” logo and the “3rd Annual” text… and, perhaps more importantly, it frames a select few elements, allowing them to pop and recede in the space of the design:

van poster art

All of that by playing with lines. Cool, huh?

Keep in mind just how powerful a single line can be. It doesn’t simply create your art or define a piece or look pretty… the lines you draw are an extension of you. You are the only person capable of drawing a line in your own precise manner. It’s like your fingerprints or signature… Unique to you, and the basis for your style, and how you draw or paint. Refine it, work with your natural stroke. I found that once I stopped fighting the way I drew naturally, and dropped the methods so pressed on me in school, that I had something enjoyable in drawing. My own style became evident. Do likewise, and you’ll find your work taking you in all sorts of new directions.

It goes without saying, then, that your digital work will only be as inviting as the analog preparation that goes into it. This is why, for the most part (I’m discussing mechanical objects, as there are many gifted digital artists who can make creatures and humans and organic things look incredibly real and, well, warm… but more on that temperature thing in a second), pure digital – meaning vector and photo-edited (i.e. “Photoshopped” or “photo-chopped”)or 3D model-based car artwork looks colder. It has a definite visual temperature change when compared to a hand-drawn piece. It lacks, I think, the tactile, the hands-on touch of art media to the paper, canvas, board, whatever to bridge the realistic surface with the warmth of art that we seem to seek…

In my opinion (again, an opinion… I’m not knocking 3D models or vector or Photoshop-based work at all. I think that ALL ART is outstanding, and requires a TON of discipline and skill, and I use Photoshop and vector tools as part of my production, so I’m right here with you… just clearing that up before someone sends me an email telling me how they misread this and that I called anyone who build or uses Illustrator 3D models or Painter a hack, and I have to send them a link to listen to Carly Simon belt out Carole King’s You’re So Vain, and then re-explain that I was simply trying to describe the significant visual difference between pure analog and pure digital work, hopefully they can dig what I have to add here), what makes that work look so cold is that it’s not created by the human hand, but rather by math and machine. Math doesn’t observe an object like we do, and can’t put a personal spin on what’s being drawn or represented… Sure, you can program a filter or action to try and simulate the human action, but it can’t change it all up on the fly. In my humble opinion, again, for whatever that’s worth, what makes a work of art so interesting is the conflict and the way someone deciphers and then presents what they’ve taken from experiencing some object or event, using a pen, pencil, brush, whatever… That’s not to say that any one medium or technique is better than another, far from it. Each has its place, and each requires a ton of work to learn the tools to create with, and I’m simply seeking to express my perceived temperature of one medium’s result versus that of another. It’s a perceptual thing, really. You may see it differently, and again, therein lies the fun and experience of all art.

That said, consider just how powerful your initial lines and strokes of the pencil can be. Everything you build from that will still have that first line carrying its weight or direction. The first lines convey action, energy… or, they can be lifeless and flat. You decide!

rendering lines

Check out the detail above. You can see that this was the result of a very quick sketch that I continued to refine, choosing to build and build on top, versus stopping to create a new, perhaps cleaner version. I just kind of liked the energy that it packed. Funny thing is, the sketch was the result of some very angry drawing. I got myself good and mad, as I wanted to make the car look as aggressive as possible. Crank some Ministry and Black Flag for six hours, drink a pot of coffee, listen to some talk radio, and off I went. Add to that a certain distaste for some elements of the ’68/’69 Torino, and what did you think would happen?

What’s fun here is that the lines in the sketch define the widened fenders, and play into the shaded and highlighted areas in the drawing. That thick line along the rear roof line helps to emphasize the bulk back there, but draws the eye in to see that rear spoiler. Even the gestural, angry drawings have a plan.

george torino

All of my work has color built up over the original lines. This is, I believe, due in part to my studies and training in painting with oils. When applying paint to canvas, you build pigment in almost transparent layers, working from an underpainting, which creates the basic shadows and helps to define the forms. It’s this application, or should I say the technique and order of the application that allows me to play, visually, with depth. As I build the color, I’m constantly stepping back to see how each new shade or highlight will play with the setting I’ve chosen for the rendering. Am I conveying a subdued twilight moment, or the rage and action of an autocross course? I’m constantly figuring it out as I draw. In the Torino piece above, I opted for a more serene green with a tip of the hat to Monet. I felt that the combination of raw, energetic lines and a bold, aggressive gold could benefit from a little drama, resulting from the calm background. It’s this competition of soothing versus ready-to-strike coloring which reinforces the rapidly applied line work. Pay close attention in your work as you create, and consider how drama and conflict can work for you!

On the flip-side, look at this Buick:

custom buick rendering

A very mild, almost pleasant, laid-back color scheme in the greens and beige, but what’s that? Some red in the wheel and pinstripe?! Hell yes. Contrasting colors can add instant drama, and here it not only helps to emphasize the edge of the wheel lip and add some pop to the molding, but it hints at the performance lurking under the hood (in this case, it’s a twin-turbo Nailhead). When designing, consider the original car, and compare that to your plans for it. A mundane sedan can benefit from a great stance, but the right colors, and drawn loosely and at a dramatic angle, well… look out. The groceries have never made it home so fast, or with as much attitude!

rad rides buick

A last point for this installment (we’ll pick this up next time with a discussion of composition, and the elements to master therein) is working in a rhythm for your drawing. Much like the Beatles made a killing using a simple rhythm in their songs, the way those songs were written also showed a set rhythm. Your line work and color application should be no different.

From the first lines you drop in, get thinking about how the eye will move through the image. Make a mental list of the cool details in your ride that demand some extra attention, and build toward them, varying your line weight and direction to hit a crescendo at those particular features… Give a little action to your highlights, allow them to “dance” across the paint, flowing toward each perpendicular line (i.e. across the fender to the door gaps). This adds visual interest, and even hints at the setting of your rendering playing into the vehicle.

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…

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…

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