It has been a while since I posted anything here to really do with the actual drawing of cars… I mean, shit, that is the name of this whole mess, after all. I suppose that I could throw a few doodles into the mix now and then, right?
Going through some of the older sketchbooks and whatnot, I’ve compiled a little peek behind the scenes; the stuff that goes on before the vector and digital voodoo-type sorcery. Let’s start with this piece:
I had wanted to do a cartoon-y piece for a while, and the opportunity presented itself back in ’08-ish, so I went at it with some gusto, and created the ultimate swap meet find moment, with this happy gent scraping his way home with a brutal ’55 Chevy in tow. From markers to the scanned and re-drawn, vector art, you can see the importance of staying as true as possible to the original work. All pen tool… no brushes, auto-trace, meshes or other preset nonsense. It’s all about retaining the original line quality, and saving that hand-drawn looseness, but gaining all of the good things that a vector piece can supply!
I do a lot of t-shirt work, and to be honest, I enjoy it a lot more than the hot rod work, especially as things progress with my neuromuscular condition (more on that soon), and it really gives me a chance to play around in my imagination. There are so many things you can get away with, stretching reality on a graphic, versus having to make things work on the street!
This piece was a fun one in so many ways:
My pal Jon had wanted a cool tee for his shop. He knew he wanted a pinup girl with a retro feel, but wanted to include two of the more well-known cars they’ve painted… However, those cars are decidedly modern Pro-Touring style rides, so the challenge was on to make these elements work. I decided that I’d use the opportunity to include elements from some of my favorite science fiction spacecraft, lending a little bit of a retro/space feel. And what space-age pinup would be complete without a glass dome helmet and a ray gun-turned-paint gun? Naturally. Sketch to color-blocking in marker took what seemed like forever as my hands weren’t cooperating too well at the time, but I had managed to bust this out over a couple of days (from sketch to final vector work):
Speaking of tees and posters, here’s a little one from 2012:
This is a peek at that weird moment where the sketch meets the digital work. For me, this is a bittersweet moment at times, knowing that some elements in the original design will probably change, be it to make things more print-friendly, of due to a client’s request… And some of the really neat little bleeds and whatnot in the marker stage will be lost forever to the super-smoothness of a vector curve. I pay a TON of attention at this stage to keep as much of that hand-hewn character and personality in there!
The completed vector art:
Let’s peek at the rendering side of things with a little ’50 Chevy pickup piece. Starting with a pencil sketch (you can find the whole process on this particular illustration as part of a quick tutorial, if you’d like), I refine it to a point where I feel confident that I have enough information to move into the digital side. This one got a bit carried away, as I was putting that how-to together, and thought I’d have an expanded version for the upcoming book:
Mostly pencils with just a touch of gray marker making its way in, just to nail down the shading.
Once it’s all vector drawn (again, I’m a strictly pen tool kinda guy on these personal pieces, as it’s more about getting m,y own hand and style into the art, versus banging out a piece to feed the kids. After a bunch of hours and hundreds of layers and detailing, we get this:
Sketching on-site is always fun, and this piece was the highlight of a fun weekend, hanging in Burbank. While the plan was to go full digital with this one, I decided that it just had too much going on to lose the feel, and decided that markers just fit the bill, and, well…
…it worked out pretty well! Experimenting sometimes with a technique or style that’s outside of your everyday working methods can often bring exciting results! In this case, I had really intended to keep it looser, and get that cool plein air feel… but in the end, I forced a bit of my tighter rendering style in there. Maybe next time!
I like looking at things from a decidedly different angle, and am often inspired to seek out the inspiration behind a trend, or a particular style… I’m a fan of mixing and matching themes, styles, whatever…and an even bigger fan of just having fun with whatever I’m doing, and often seek out things that reflect this attitude. Whether in friends, books, movies, or music. Occasionally, this leads me to seek out stuff that’s a bit off the beaten path. Such was the case here in the studio once again.
(Yeah, it’s gonna be another musical jaunt… and it’ll all wrap up nicely, as usual, with cars. Stay with me, I think you’ll dig this little side trip.)
Anyway, I got to thinking, of all things, about Herb Alpert (not Marv Albert. That’d be weird.), and gave a listen to “Whipped Cream and Other Delights”… A far cry from what I was listening to a week ago, to say the least…. and by far much stranger cover art (if not quite risque’, considering its 1965 release date):
Granted, this album was released before my time (granted, there may be another me in some other dimension, hanging out in a lounge giving this a listen back in an alternate ‘65…), but man… how cool were these cats? If you’re not familiar with the Tijuana Brass, here’s a quick history lesson:
Herb Alpert was a trumpet player who developed a unique sound that was a mix of south-of-the-border, mariachi and distinctly lounge-y sounds, probably best described as Ameriachi (as I learned from a few sources). If you’re really lost here, think of the theme from the TV show The Dating Game, called “Spanish Flea”, which was a Herb Alpert/Tijuana Brass tune, and you’ll have an idea… or their version of “The Lonely Bull”.
Anyway, the ‘Brass cranked out a few albums in the ’60’s (even a cool Christmas album! Find a copy, and mambo your way through a Christmas Wonderland…), until Alpert called it quits, and took his (and business partner Jerry Moss’) record label A&M, and signed some heavy talent, releasing a few albums of his own along the way (out-selling Michael Jackson in the late-’70’s, which says a lot for that era, I suppose), before selling the company to PolyGram in the late 1980’s.
So what’s this got to do with cars? Think traditional lowriders. Bellflower custom style(named after the city in LA county where the look spawned). A mix of the lowrider and custom car, and you’ll see where I’m headed.
Consider Watson’s Caddy:
It is the embodiment of the Bellflower look… the low stance, simple (if often ANY) body mod’s, the bold, yet somehow understated paint technique (much like his T-Bird that came before), and those killer pipes. The East LA style, mixing elements from two cultures (like the Tijuana Brass did!), and coming out the other end with a clean, cool style. It’s all about class, luxury, and style. Just like a lowrider, but with custom roots.
Lowriders embodied Mexican tradition. Crusing in a decked-out ride to impress the ladies, and show off your skills was more than just about the cars. Cruising may be traced back to the “paseo”, where singles would walk around in the central plaza of the village, basically checking one another out. The idea here was to impress. Put these kids in cars, and it sure looks a lot like cruising… Which brings us forward a few years to the end of the second world war. Hot rodding was booming as young men returned from military service, eager to make creative use of their new mechanical skills. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mexican immigrants were making their cars look luxurious. It was style over speed… lowered stance, different hubcaps, an accessories like spotlights, skirts, pipes… many items shared in traditional customizing.
Fast-forward a few more years, and combine this look with the growing custom scene, and well, you got some clean, mild cars that made the most of the new styling coming from the factory… Apply it to a luxury car, and you’re well on your way to a crossover look beyond compare. Imagine in late 1957 (coincidentally, the same year Bellflower was incorporated as a city), a young Larry Watson cruising into the Clock Drive-In in his panel-painted T-Bird…
I have a soft spot for this look… A number of years back, I sketched up a modern take on the look, combining it with the pro-touring look — note pinstripe whitewalls on a 5-spoke as a nod to the classic “Supremes and pinners” look (OK, and a mild chop, extended quarters, relocated and shortened trim…):
The idea behind the Bellflower look is clean lines, cool, vibrant and rich colors mixed with just enough chrome to keep your eyes happy…Make use of some ‘flake or pearl, some striping… In other words, think mild custom, but dressed a notch higher. It’s a fun style, to be sure, much like Herb’s band of session musicians belting out Ameriachi cover versions.
And speaking of cover versions, consider how just a few fresh chords, or an alternate take on a solo in a cover song can change things up drastically, consider the lowrider style, versus the custom car style. One change can send the car from one camp to another… For instance, this pickup is pure lowrder-feel:
Yet, this ’50 has a distinct hot rod/custom feel:
Straddling that line, and walking a bit closer to contemporary style (yet still working-in some retro-style mods) is this unibody Ford:
Consider the Impala and Rivieras of the early (and even mid-to-late) 1960’s… the kind of cars that walk between street machine, muscle car, custom, lowrider… And never seem to get lost along the way:
Simply adding or removing an accessory can dramatically change things up (sort of like adding a horn section to your punk band can suddenly change things to sound much more like Ska…) :
Imagine swapping wheels on this beast… it can go from mild to menacing, and be equally at home almost anywhere:
A wheel and tire combo change on any of these could easily change the look and overall feel in a matter of minutes. It’s all in the vibe the vehicle sends… if you pay close attention to that, magical things start to happen, and soon enough, you’re leaving any ‘theme’ behind, and heading into that wild territory of making it your own. Take one thing, and spice it up with another influence, and man, you can’t help but feel the vibe, and nod your head approvingly as you smile.
And that’s how my mind works: From whipped cream to salsa, stopping in between for some quick history, and leaving you to consider mixing up some styles on your project…
Custom cars from the “right cost” here in America have always suffered from the stigma of being “un-cool”, or at best, unattractive. There’s always this opinion that seems to surface when talking cars (especially hot rods and customs from the “glory days” of the fifties and sixties) that East Coast customs and hot rods were “ugly” or lacked style. Granted, there are quite a few examples that support this claim, but, having grown up on the “right coast”, I have always felt a need to defend that side of the hobby.
The magazines of the time chronicled what was immediately available to them, and that meant, for the most part, West Coast cars. The few East Coast cars that were seen seemed to have cemented a certain image in most car guys’ heads… I’m not a fan of severely channeled coupes, but can appreciate the style and work that went into them, certainly. I’m also not a big fan of an overly-accessorized custom with giant skirts and a continental kit, but I do “get it”. I think it’s just got a lot to do with the times, the region, and the cultural differences. The East Coast has always been a bit grittier, relying on manufacturing, and with cooler weather, shorter summers and all, people just took a different approach to building, and making due with a smaller number of shops. Consider that there were much fewer shops, and that many skilled custom craftsmen went West (where the magazines and show coverage were), and you’re left with but a few builders, and thus, less ability to really push the envelope.
I’ve been working on a project for some time, and recently kicked it into a higher gear… My goal is to document the East Coast style, and, at the same time, chronicle the builders and their cars, and hopefully, shed some light on the little-known history from the region. I am fortunate to have grown up with some of the people who were “there”, and even call some friends. We have family friends that built customs and hot rods, raced in the region, and were, generally, part of the scene. As I compiled photos and stories, I was continually blown away by the variety of cars, the quality of the work, and the great stories that have been shared…
As it all comes together, I’ll share more, but wanted to throw at least one quick look at what’s going on in front of you.
Take a look at this home-built ’50 Ford. This is the kind of stuff that gets me going… a family project, and definitely something we can all relate to:
Wayne’s ’50 Ford is a piece of Western New York custom history, and, in his words:
Here are some shots of the car my Dad (William Carrig), my Mother (zelda), my four sisters and I built in his one-car garage in Kenmore, NY over a two year period beginning in 1964. This was my first car, bought it when I was 16 years old and my Dad who had a body shop at one point in his life fixed the body (it was a mess, rusted out floors, rocker panels, quarter panels, etc.).
We also customized i: frenched headlights, shaved hood, truck, removed side chrome, sunken antenna, custom grille, hand built taillights.
Everything on this car was done on a strict budget as I had little money. Grille opening was formed from electrical conduit, sunken antenna and handbuilt taillights made from brass kitchen drain pipe, taillights were red truck clearance light lenses, upholstery including truck except for the back seal and convertible top were all done by my Mother, Dad and me. Front seats were from a 65 Mustang and my Dad fabricated floor mounts so they would fit. I used 57 Oldsmobile turn signals as they looked like Lucas lights and I sure as heck couldn’t afford Lucas lights at the time! Grill was chromed metal mesh. It was flawless after many other hours of block sanding and my Dad put on many coats of Corvette Honduras Maroon Lacquer paint which looked a mile deep!! A true family project, my sisters helped and everyone in the family loved the car. Unfortunately I had to get rid of the car when I got drafted and joined the Air Force during the Vietnam era. I hated to do it but had no way to get the car from Buffalo, NY to San Antonio, TX. I did use the money from the sale of this car to purchase the Black 57 Chevy I purchased in TX and still have today. Even so….I still miss this car and would do about anything to have it back…”
It’s just one of those stories that make our hobby’s history so rich. There are a LOT of stories to be told yet, and I’m stoked to be compiling it all, and learning as I go.
If you’re an East Coast hot rodder/custom car owner or fan, and would like to share some history with the project, hit me up! I’d be delighted to make your car or story a part of this project, and will work to ensure that all proper credit is given where due. hit me up (see site link below), and I’ll get you the info you need to participate, and even throw a gift your way…