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!):
From paths upon paths to a detailed illustration:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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).
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…
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.
I see far too much of this bullshit on the interwebz:
“I’ll do your rendering for $100!”
With “rendering” meaning “a loosely cobbled-together bunch of photos I Googled and then made attempts to stitch together with the two tools I can sort of use in Photoshop.”
One last time, kids: NOT a rendering. Not on the best day of your life. And if you’re paying for, and supporting this crap, well, you’re not “on a budget”, you’re “A BIG FUCKING PART OF THE PROBLEM”. While it’s great that some cars have a huge-by-enormous budget for exotic and one-off parts, you simply need to realize that care and planning can make even a home-built ride a stand-out. If you’re willing to cheap-out on the very design of your project, well, it’s a given that you’ll do likewise in the build. And please don’t come to me in the eleventh hour of your SEMA proposal deadline with some fucking sob story about how you need a rendering, but you already threw money away on the photo-hack you just received from the kid on the forum. You knew going into it that some $100 rendering wasn’t going to make a manufacturer all hot and bothered, and squeeze out a new car for you. Too many things wrong with that mindset to even approach it here.
There are professionals out there who do great things in Photoshop, should that be the look you’re after… and plenty of other artists working in all media (should one of those be the look you’re after) who can craft something to actually be proud of, versus bragging that it only cost a few bucks. A rendering is a work of artistry and design, and a good one brings years of experience and knowledge to the table… Not simply some shit that your seven year old could pull off in 30 minutes. Keep in mind that the photo-hack of the Hirohata Merc will always be just a photo-hack of the Hirohata Merc and not YOUR Merc, no matter how many layers of flames or how big a set of smoothie wheels with poor camber and perspective some douche pastes on there. And for the record, you’re not “helping some new artist get a start”. You’re simply enabling yet another talentless hack with either a trial or pirated software to further soil a part of the industry that works its ass off to be continually undervalued. You deserve a series of ingrown toenails and festering boils on your heels, you dirtbag.
A rendering should represent YOUR vehicle, and showcase the pride and planning of your project. You know, thinking about it, maybe some projects are best left at this level anyway.
/drops knowledge AND the microphone; heads off stage.
Hey guys. It’s been a while, and I apologize for that. Today, I’d like to roll out another tutorial, this time, drawing a slick, slammed Fury. This will be an analog (or “traditional”, whichever you prefer) piece, so bust out the pencils, paper, and markers of your choice (I’ll be using Copics, but virtually any marker will do here), and get drawing!
Laying out the guidelines… At this stage, some loose lines to place the key parts of the composition are all that’s needed. Perspective lines give us an idea of where things will be placed, and give a general feel for scale and proportion as well.
I start to tidy-up the car at this point, bringing in a little marker to darken-up the shadow areas, and make permanent those lines I wish to keep:
Blocking-in some gray tones. Just some loose grays to start giving the piece some depth. Key here is deciding which forms will recede in space, and which will be left up front. I also spend a little time defining the car’s shadow:
Cleaning-up some of the stray sketch lines, and adding some color to block in some lighting for later. I like the work to appear translucent, versus having just color planted atop more color (which can get awfully muddy-looking), so a little color washing at this point pays off HUGE later on:
I bring in some color to the car at this stage, tightening-up the shading and lines… While the whole image is loose, I like to have certain areas (like the wheels) show a bunch of detail, to draw the eye in and around the work:
A ton of time spent blocking-in color, and implying some brick on the storefronts. Blending is the key at this stage, and using it in a restrained manner can help to give not only a nice, loose feel, but make the lighting and shadow appear more natural, versus blocked-in and forced. I tend to work from the lightest to darkest areas in stages, moving back over and into those areas that need richer or darker tones:
This is another ‘static’ tutorial, meaning no video. I thought it best to present a few basic tutorials in this way to give you a reference, without any distractions, or need to search for a particular step. This just seems a better way to get you up to speed on the essentials, before we move full-steam into the more advanced tools and techniques. It’s a quick overview, but take your time, and work on controlling every stroke you lay on the page. It’ll pay off in the end.
Some years ago, I was introduced to the work of a journalist named Hunter S. Thompson. Bear in mind that this “introduction” came at a pivotal point in my creative career, and I was completely drawn to his style of not only writing, but his almost renegade technique of forming a story. Here was a journalist who not only covered the news at hand, but worked in a personal angle, often thrusting himself so deeply into the event he was covering so as to alter its outcome! “Absolute brilliance”, I thought! Not mere “coverage” or “reporting”, but LIVING it! This was just too much… This guy GOT it! To a student of Fine art, this was the epitome of creating anything: the EXPERIENCE… being a PART of what you’re creating!
Thompson’s style of news came to be known as “Gonzo Journalism”, and the name packs the energy rightfully reserved for this all-out, sensory attack, in which the writer himself becomes an integral part of the story. Somewhere between the facts, self-interjection and commentary, the truth lay in wait. This was the sort of writing I had done since I could first form sentences… I had found someone who had paved the way before me, and man, I was digging this. Taking something that has always been deemed as objective, and beating it into something much cooler and entertainingly subjective… showing that a subject or event could have an effect on the writer, and then, at times becoming a part of that story was just simple logic to me… After all, how interesting is just blowing some facts all over a sheet of paper or computer monitor?! Stirring in (or up!) some emotion is key to creating compelling content. Anyone can say “gee, Stan… there was this one guy, and he said this, and the other guy said that. Then they shook hands.” Wow. Not sure about you, but I’M drained from that story. What a cathartic experience… or NOT. Thompson would become the center of his work, very often blurring the line between “reporting” facts and “influencing” a story. He interjected opinion, an energy, and most of all, an experience.
That said, I began to look at this field of automotive art that I work in, and feel a bit depressed. It’s gone from the fun, energetic industry to a machine full of photo-real, computer-generated imagery lately. The landscape is littered with photochops, rehashed 3-D models, and tracings of the same-old, same-old. My work was similar… the same tired, old recipes for stance, wheels and tires and paint jobs that lacked inspiration. I had fallen into a void of using a ‘recipe’, rather than being inspired.
My work was starting to suffer and suck. I was relying, like many others, on the tools, not the skill or vision I had originally worked o hard to develop. I was neglecting my training and the very thing that got me into it all to begin with. I hated what I was doing… but not with a passion. That part was gone.
Why am I not simply DRAWING anymore?!
The creative projects… the REALLY wild customs and out-of-the-box hot rods are the ones that inspire and push the hobby to that next level… they’ve become fewer and further between. It’s become… well, “safe”. We’re flooded with near stock-looking blah-mobiles drawn with a lack of personality, often with the actual car being just the same bland cookie-cutter crap over and over again. Wow… a photo-real rendering of a pro-touring car on aftermarket wheels… Where’s the excitement? You could take a photo of one of hundreds of similar cars on custom wheels at any car show, and have the same effect. When I look at a rendering or illustration, I want to see the artist’s style, the technique, the energy! What the hell happened?! It was as though someone started the rumor that renderings needed to be sterile, lackluster depictions of some uniform style, and by golly, the whole group jumped the bandwagon, eating up the words and carrying it right into the common belief system they’d developed. Worse yet, I saw it start to occur in my own work as well from time to time, and it made me take a step back, and in doing that, I had a moment of absolute clarity.
I took the past couple of months and began heading back to what made this whole automotive illustration gig so appealing to me at the start: The ENERGY!! I pondered just what makes a rendering so valuable to a project, and beyond the financial (sponsor opportunities, press, etc) and communication (illustrating the modifications) value, it all boils down to CREATING EXCITEMENT! Simply looking at a photograph of a car can be cool, sure, but you’re seeing something COMPLETE, FINISHED… and it removes the emotional response, the natural impulse to IMAGINE… To look at the idea SUBJECTIVELY!! By leaving just enough to the imagination, just enough room to interpret something, some part as YOUR OWN, you don’t just LOOK at the work, you EXPERIENCE it!!
Even when drawing from life… find something in the subject that excites you… that gets you going, and capitalize on it. Make that the inspiration for your work. In the piece below, I was standing in the Old Crow Speed Shop, which is like a living museum. It’s packed to the gills with artifacts, parts and history from hot rodding’s roots. There’s a certain roughness about the place… It’s old and weathered, and has just that right amount of patina to be loaded with character. I wanted my line work and coloring to portray and carry that.
This is why I leave some loose lines among the tightened concepts, some free-form areas to chance… I’m not nailing down parts, bit by bit from some “rule book” (“18’s and 19’s? Check. Suspension lowered exactly like every other car on that forum? Check. Billet parts here, here and here? Check. Correct valve covers so as to avoid the wrath of the “Traditional Police”? Check, check!”), I’m inventing a concept to be shared, interpreted… EXPERIENCED by not only the owner or builder of the car, but anyone who happens upon it. I want the viewer to feel some of what I felt in the moment… that connection of having been there. Anyone (and I repeat ANYONE… you, your kids, your neighbor’s Grandmother) with access to a stock model, or some tracing paper and a few pencils and markers, or worse yet, Photoshop, Google and some time can bash out a car illustration (or ‘rendering’ as the common term has come to describe any altered image of a car today). But the ones who can hammer down a concept, and show some life in the lines, some ENERGY… man… those are the pieces that stand up to time, and drop their pants at the lesser crap. Compare a Dali sketch to some photochop or traced (‘vectorized’, ugh) image. Name your three favorite Harry Bradley renderings, or Steve Stanford concepts, or Larry Wood designs. Easy, right? Now try to do the same for three photochops, or vector tracings. That’s a pretty tough one, huh?I’m betting the latter list is shorter. I’m betting that you recall work because it brought out a response in you. Art is like that… it breeds a response, some sort of an emotional reply to the art and artist that says ‘Hell YES!!” It’s that unconscious, natural response that makes art so enjoyable… not some sales pitch or a popularity contest or post count.
That all out there, I’m adopting the “Gonzo” style, and going at it with the passion that brought me here to begin with. It’s just me, my art, and the drive to push it higher and higher until the son of a bitch breaks from the altitude. I’m not about to fall victim to trends… or to fall back into ‘lazy mode’ again. I enjoy the whole work part of creating artwork.
Our pal Hunter (from the start of this whole mess) stated that “he that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master”. Grand advice… and a central theme here in the Studio. Draw inspiration from as many sources as possible! I’m often looking to objects or art forms so removed from cars that even I begin to wonder how they’ll apply… and it’s a blast! I’ll look at a painting and consider the brush strokes, and experiment, seeing how they might work in a current or future piece. Perhaps there’s a rhythm in a song that just makes sense when laying down the lines on some graphics… It can come from almost anywhere. The key here, though, is KNOWING YOUR SUBJECT.
Simply hacking a few photos together, or painting some digital model or tracing a picture doesn’t grant you any more knowledge of designing a hot rod or custom car than does accidentally bumping a car in the parking lot with your shopping cart. When you take time to know the car, to understand the parts and pieces that make the whole… to look into the designer’s mind and grasp where he was going and WHY, well, you’re starting to grasp the idea. You’re in no position to modify that car until you understand it. Going back to Dr. Thompson for a second (after all, he’s the reason we got rolling on this anyway), he once wrote that “Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it. ” Incredibly wise indeed, and the big “why” that so many of these sterile, cold “renderings” lack that “punch”… the thrill, the excitement of a GREAT piece… the ones that make you take a step backward and yell “BITCHIN’, MAN“!!
I began applying that energy to my work, both traditional as well as the digital stuff… Even airbrushing and sketching back over pieces after print. I was aiming to bring things full-circle. After all, digital art is only a collection of electrons to represent that creative thought which created the image to begin with. It only exists after print. If I could sketch a car, make it digital, enhance and change it all in the virtual world… Then bring it back into reality, and put my hand-drawn work back into it, well… Then we’d be talking! And away I went.
The goal was to create with the tools… not just because of them.
I wanted to stir excitement with the subject matter… to be one of those artists who get you going on what they’ve created, and then have you step back and wonder just how in the fuck they did it.
I kept yelling at myself that I want MY work to be like that!
I realized in attempting to reach that level that it all went back to the basics, the fundamentals. Know the subject, know the tools, get comfortable in a technique, and then break free of the comfort zone and create something NEW. Pushing the boundaries, and doing things that others haven’t, or better, have said that you can’t do. Analog to digital and back to analog art? Heck yeah. Got that ball rolling in the Studio, and am discovering a whole new set of challenges and inspiration. Next step? Who knows. I’ll discover it when I get wherever it is.
What I’ve learned so far: Push yourself. Forget what makes you comfortable, and lose the fear of the unknown. Above all, study, study STUDY. Look at the masters in your craft. See what they do. Pick apart the technique, see what makes it all tick and come together. You need a pep talk? Here you go:
After all… ‘How are you gonna learn to be great if you don’t study greatness?!’ Brilliant.
With all of that strewn on the table, I’m going to go back into the Studio and tear the next project a new one. I challenge you to go and do the same in the shop, and wow the snot out of everyone who experiences your Gonzo build.
Had the opportunity to play a little this year with some good friends on a ’51 Merc project, offering little detail and color options and opinions.
Suffice to say, by that time, Max had the build in some firm control, and Jerry’s Reprise was nearing the end goal of a debut at SEMA, and finally seeing the streets again after some long years of re-design, re-build, re-imagine. One of the projects I took on, then, was to create some artwork to celebrate the completion of the project… and here it is:
I had also whipped-up a t-shirt for the gang:
Our pal Dino throws an all-Chevy bash leading into the Goodguys Southwest Nationals, and I’m stoked that he calls me to create some art for the tees and posters each time.
Being a great friend like he is, I always take it to a new level, and to to theme the artwork in some way (and, as tradition dictates, include his face with a quote from the months prior; this latest being from a great road trip last March with Dino, Sam, Broey and myself heading to Burbank with Sam’s ’69 Camaro project in tow).
That said… here’s what I developed for this go-round! From the first color stabs to finished art, it was, as always, an incredibly fun project, to say the least!
First round, full-color, feeling a few ideas out:
The tee, back-side:
…and the front:
…and the final poster. We went with a more spartan color scheme, and I love the ‘pop’ it has:
Over the last decade, we’ve seen explosive growth in the hot rod and custom car industry and hobby as a whole. This can be attributed to the popularity of television shows like Overhaulin’, American Hot Rod and others, as well as Powerblock TV, the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Events, and of course, access to great personalities like Chip Foose, Stacey David, Tim Strange and others. This brings in new enthusiasts, and naturally, more project cars!
Not since George Barris snapped thousands of photos and wrote hundreds of articles promoting the hobby back in the 1950’s and ’60’s have we seen so much attention on our hobby, and it’s amazing to witness. Yet, while there’s all of this excitement, many of these new fans and participants are feeling lost when starting a project. It can be a daunting task to say the least, but when taking those first steps, having the right footing can make all the difference in the world.
Naturally, any success in a project requires a plan, and building or modifying a car requires very careful thought at this stage. I’ve often heard guys say “I just build as I go… no plan, just what feels right”, and sadly, it certainly doesn’t look like it must feel in many cases. Disjointed design, half-assed “fixes” to make parts fit, and often unsafe “engineering” (engine-beering, most likely) have sent many a project to an early grave… and I don’t think we need to dive too deep into this subject to discover why it’s “wrong” from any angle.
The best advice would be to bring on an experienced designer to help guide you along. As a professional hot rod and custom car designer with over twenty years experience in the auto industry (from parts and service to body repair/customization and after-market accessories), as well as training in design and fine art, I’m here to offer some advice on taking those first steps. This isn’t an advertisement for my services, but a primer for anyone going at this for the first time. I share my experience because I love this industry, and want to see anyone new to it have a blast, and keep coming back for more. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of being an ambassador for my industry. That said… let’s get at this.
The importance of having a vision on paper, especially when working with shops and others on a team, can’t be overlooked. Often times, you’ll run into an individual who perhaps lacks that key “visualization” ability, and can’t form a mental picture… or worse, they can, but it’s nothing like yours. Communicating these visions can prove difficult, and as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” (or, in the case of project vehicle sponsorship, that picture may be worth thousands of dollars)… and in many cases, much more… often, they are invaluable.
The end goal of selecting your custom car designer is:
* A vision of the finished product for everyone to work from
* Avoid gaps, miscommunications and errors in describing idea
* Get what you want for your custom car dream!
Certainly, this isn’t the “end-all, be-all list, and isn’t intended to be. It’s merely a primer to get you thinking in the right frame of mind when heading into that first project. When it comes time to shop for a designer, keep at least these five primary items in mind:
1. Pick a Designer Whose Style You Like
Not only are you hiring someone to assist in laying the groundwork for your project, but the designer must also be able to convey your ideas and tastes, as well as create a piece that will inspire your build team. Often times, these drawings will set the one for a build. A bad-ass street or race machine deserves some nasty, double-bad-ass, throw-down art and setting to make everyone involved “feel it”. A surf wagon, naturally, deserves a more sedate look to the art… Setting this tone early on will bring HUGE returns later on.
You’ll want some “wow” factor, but also be sure that your designer draws with proper scale and proportion! Taking a cartoon-like image or shoddy “Photochop” to an experienced builder will get you laughed out of the shop. The kid you hire in a forum might make that ‘58 Edsel bumper look like it fits your Monza in the drawing, but in reality, would it? And, are you looking to blow your budget on wild changes before the car even hits primer? A cartoon-y image serves a great purpose in creating some energy, or for getting the juices flowing, but you’ll need something a little closer to reality to keep everyone on the same page… unless you’re building real-life cartoons… which, come to think of it, would be a blast!! I’d love to do that… Yet for now, I digress.
Look around, and study the artist’s styles and prior work.
An important note: Do not call an artist that draws in a particular style, and ask them to mimic or ‘draw it like’ another artist. Seriously, this is flat-out stupid and classless. You are looking for a particular style, not some imitation of it. On that note, beware of the ‘artist’ who will mimic another artist’s style, ‘but like way cheaper’. This is a small community, and when word gets around, well, good luck finding anyone worthwhile to draw your project. You’ll be digging through the bargain bin, and very unhappy with the results. Approach the design part of the project with the respect it deserves, and grant that same respect to your designer. They have worked and gained experience and developed their approach over many, many years, and you’re paying for the privilege of not having to be a part of their learning curve. Select a designer with a style that appeals to you, and enjoy the ride.
Much like you choose a car that excites you, be it for nostalgia reasons, a certain feeling it gives you, or just the fact that you liked it overall, you’ll be miles ahead by selecting a designer in the same way. When the car is torn apart and looking bleak, the artwork will serve as an excitement generator. Those cool lines and the energy and style projected by the artist’s hand will translate into actual energy in the shop.
2. Find A Designer You Get Along With
Spend some phone and email time talking with designers. Do you, “get along”? Can communicate freely? An open exchange with your designer will pay off in a HUGE way during the project.
Look for a custom car designer who can help guide you if asked, but also take an idea you have and run with it. Simply hiring a “wrist” to make some lines based only on what you say is boring, and will leave your design “flat”. Look for someone with great communication skills (i.e. listens as well as they talk). Nothing can be more disappointing than a guy who doesn’t listen, or worse, who misinterprets what you’re looking for. Is the designer looking to create a portfolio piece on your dime? You’re looking for a piece that conveys the project vision, not some stand-out eye candy for this guy’s website.
You have a responsibility here as well. Do not offend the designer or artist by down-playing their work. If you can do it yourself, then hang up the phone, and go do it. Chances are, you’re seeking the talent and experience of a designer, not merely someone who will be impressed by your knowledge of Pantone colors that you gleaned by reading a Facebook post that morning. Give the artist or designer the respect they deserve as a working professional, and you’ll see that same respect given back… And when you share mutual respect, great things start to happen.
You’re looking for someone who is more than just a talented artist. Look for design sense… balance, ability to make things “work”, to ensure “flow”. You’re also looking for integrity and a solid work ethic… a willingness and eagerness to create something fresh and unique. You want a guy who is creating YOUR art, not re-tracing an old piece, re-coloring in Photoshop or simply re-hashing the same model or drawing their last 40 customers got (but with different paint and wheels) because, you’ll get, well, the same car as those other 40 guys! If you’re this far along, chances are you’re not cloning another car, but going after your dream.
Beware of the guy who simply cannot follow your budget. This should be made known and understood on the first or second consultation. Make this a clear as possible. At the same time, make sure that you make your shop of choice or build skill known. Make it an open exchange where ideas can flow freely, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how an idea can grow or be refined to mind-blowingly cool in the right hands. If you’re an experienced fabricator and painter, and aren’t afraid to tread new ground, run with it! If your skill level is pushed opening a glove box door, or maxes out at peeling the backing off of double-sided tape to slap fake port holes on a fender, they can design to that level, and create something that you’ll not only be able to accomplish, but be proud that you did. If you’re a sheetmetal fabricator and machinist who can make anything, then tell your designer, and show a few examples of your work. In either case, be honest, and spare yourself the inevitable let-down of never being able to realize this dream that your designer penned. Sometimes, a simple twist on a classic idea can look fresh and exciting. Short version: Look at your budget and talent, and be honest about them. Set the bar for the plan where it truly belongs.
3. Understand The Designer’s Terms
Get the terms and details of the design ironed out immediately. How many revisions will you receive? What’s the cost for additional revisions? How will the work be delivered? Hard copies? (one for you, the shop, and maybe for promotional purposes?) Digital copies for magazine ink? (how about sponsorship proposals?) Can you use the artwork to promote the car? Who owns the Copyright?
Respect the terms, and don’t start asking for things well above and beyond, and then complain when you don’t receive them. If your original contract grants you five drawings with two revisions, then expect five drawings with two revisions, not unlimited drawings with unlimited revisions. This is hard work, and very mentally and physically draining. It’s not coloring in some pre-drawn lines, this is actual creation. Understand that, respect the terms, and receive amazing work. Having the terms and conditions clearly communicated up-front will make for clear communication down the road, and help the process flow smoothly.
A professional designer will provide a contract explaining these important terms allowing for worry-free design time. Pay attention from step one, and you’ll avoid starting over when your forum buddy disappears with your PayPal payment. Understand, too, that “you get what you pay for” applies with car designers (even more so for lunch). If you want your designs quickly (or just on time) and at a high quality, be prepared to pay a bit more, and respect the time required to perfect a design. Much as you wouldn’t rush a surgeon reconstructing your body, give your car-body the same consideration for equally functional results! If you call three times a day, looking for sketches, or worse, haven’t given any direction since the last batch, and are just looking for more ideas and art, you’re going to see the project start to move slower. Communicate. Be patient. Let the designer think and design.
It takes a lot more time than you’d expect to craft something unique. A little patience here can mean the difference between ‘take this and go away’ and the best effing thing you’ve ever seen. That’s worth a few days without looking at sketches you’ll shoot-down anyway, isn’t it?
4. Don’t Be The “I’ll know what I want when I see it” Guy
That guy is the enemy of designers, and it translates to “headache” to any pro. He is the same guy that ruins a project. Have an idea at the first consultation, even if it’s vague, and ask for direction/advice if needed (see step 2). Know what you’d like to do with the car. Will it be restored? Modified? A combination of the two? Something wilder? A professional designer will offer examples, and throw ideas around with you, hitting on your likes and dislikes before pencil hits paper. Many great cars develop during these “bench racing” sessions, and you’ll save a ton on revisions. A few bucks and some time consulting will pay off, literally, hundreds of times over.
Communication is your best friend here. Simply jumping from style to style will burn you and your designer out, and close doors on really creative ideas. Occasionally, you’ll get into a great flow of ideas, and the project grows organically, and takes you into uncharted and amazing territory. Ask for ideas, and creativity flows. Confuse the heck out of the designer with ‘gee, I like this and this and this and this and this, and those cars, and ice cream, and blue and red and…’, or worse, ‘I can see it in my head bu can’t explain it’ (translation: ‘I have no clue what the f**k I’m hoping for, but it better be cool’) will breed absolute hatred for you in your designer. Seriously. We hate that a lot. Do some research. Get to know what you like. Know thyself. Then express those likes to your designer.
Research the hell out of your project and ideas. Go to shows, cruise nights, rod runs… Pick up magazines, books, videos… Look around at what’s been done, and find a style that you like. Ask your designer what he or she is into. Who knows? Perhaps they dig a certain style that isn’t well-known to you… or maybe they have a whole new spin on an old idea? (Scott Sullivan is the master of this approach, and I use that inspiration daily. Trick is to keep a VERY open mind, and use your imagination like a blender, and mix and match until your head spins.)
Make a list of things that you enjoy about cars and save pictures that remind you of those features. Perhaps you enjoy good handling, or maybe straight-line performance is more your thing. Maybe it’s all about the look of the car, and you’re after a show car that will make people stop and drool. It’s during this hugely important stage that you and your designer will determine a “direction” for the project. You should have a list of your dreams for the car, as well as a list that is more realistic, taking into consideration the reality of the car you’ve chosen. Approaching a professional designer with these ideas in place will save time, frustration, and above all, help to nail your “perfect” concept.
5. Don’t Fall Victim To Trends
If you’ve seen a teal green and gray car with a tweed interior and 15-inch billet wheels lately and thought “wow… the 1990’s called, and they want their car back”, imagine what response a car built in a trendy style today will elicit in ten or fifteen years.
Simply shopping from magazine features and completed cars on forums will inevitably breed you a cookie-cutter car. Simply saying “oh man, that car that won Street Machine of the Year had a cool hood, so I want THAT hood, and the same wheels, and the same paint, and then that car that won the year before had those seats… I want THAT interior…” and so-on, will not design or build YOUR dream car. Instead, you’ll assemble an abomination that would make Frankenstein appear slick and suave. The key is working to put everything you like together properly. A trained designer can do this… it’s what we’re paid to do. Much as you may enjoy looking at some supermodel on TV, would you marry her based on a few glances at a few physical attributes? Chances are, you’d be much happier if you sought out someone who fit your life, who matched that often undefinable set of criteria that just “did” something for you. This project car should be no different. It should be a unique reflection of YOUR style, and a talented designer will help you to make that happen. Look around at EVERYTHING. Take stock of the things that appeal to you… whether it’s furniture design, a style of architecture, an old train… anything at all. “Build to THE CLIENT’S taste, not that of someone else” is my credo in the studio. I always ask my clients a series of questions to discover exactly what they like, what their tastes and interests are. As any professional designer should, I’ll help you organize those individual items, and create a cohesive package. Look for that personal interest in your designer. It should be a team effort… not a battle.
Seek out a designer who understands the style you’re planning to build your car in, and can offer unique approaches to design problems that not only make your eyes pop out, but will prevent your hard earned dollars from doing likewise from your wallet. Approach modifications tastefully, respectfully, and with the thinking “how does this change affect the rest of the car? What purpose does it serve?” If it makes sense, do it. If it’s questionable, then be sure to question the hell out of it!
That said, head on out and explore… look at work, compare styles, and talk with designers. Your decision should go beyond price, and be the RIGHT FIT for your project. Seek out a designer that can listen, offer ideas, and above all, nail your design. After all, simply setting sail on the ocean might take you SOMEPLACE, but is it where you WANTED to go? Hiring a designer will help chart that course AND reach the end of the journey. When plotted correctly, your designer will have you itching to hoist the sails again, and that’s what this whole car thing is all about anyway… feeding that passion!