Truck and SUV sketches

I tend to draw the same kinds of cars over and over again, and it’s really hard sometimes to break free of that and try new things. I’m so entrenched into a single style, as a matter of fact, that even my “new things” end up looking like the same kinds of cars I’ve been drawing for years!

Right after I posted a summary of my recent car drawings last month, I took notice how similar they all looked. I’ve known for years that I tend to draw the same vehicles over and over again but seeing everything together in a single image was really eye opening! Therefore, I decided that I would focus on drawing and sketching sport utility and crossover type vehicles for the next few weeks – just for a change of pace.

And you know what? Even my trucks still look like that two-door sport coupes that I typically draw! I think what I really need at this point is one of my transportation design professors from design school to make and appearance and ream me out for being too predictable and not pushing my design explorations far enough. I remember how crushing that felt to be ripped apart during open critiques in class, but you know what? I learned from that experience and I could definitely see myself growing as a designer while I was in school. But here I am, 20 years later (with very little practical industrial design experience under my belt) and I am finding myself wedged deeply into a safe and predictable style of design.

One of these actually morphed into a station wagon of some sort, so I just ran with it.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. After all, I have absolutely no change careers and design cars for a living. That ship has sailed – at 41 years old, I’m not what the design studios are looking for. So what if I have a predictable style? More than anything I just want to refine my technique and be able to draw and illustrate cars in a way that makes people say “wow”. Do I need to be a cutting edge designer to do that? It would probably help I suppose, but I guess I’m not overly concerned about it.

More sketches coming soon!

Some of my car sketches from the last few months

Long periods of absence are becoming an issue – I know! But once again I’ve returned from the darkness with this quick little update on my sketch progress. Long story short, I started drawing cars with a vengeance this past summer and I was actually starting to feel like that I was making some real progress before I hit a creative wall in late September and called it quits for a bit. I knew that I wasn’t going to stop drawing cars for good, but sometimes I feel like I can’t draw anything no matter how hard I try and the frustration grows to be too much.

But I’m back! I’m feeling the itch to draw again and I’ve been doodling a bit over the past few days trying to get back into the swing of things.

Since my last post, I’ve grown to like Photoshop for these kinds of sketches quite a bit. I feel like I can lay down thicker and more solid lines than I can with Sketchbook Pro, and since it’s the program I’m most familiar with than anything else, it’s easy for me to move quickly and do what I want to do without struggling trying to find the proper tools. The only thing that I don’t like (that I’ve talked about before) is the awkwardness of drawing circles and ovals for things like wheels and headlights. Sketchbook Pro is much (much) better for that kind of thing.

I’ve also given up slightly on Manga Studio. It is a really good sketching and rendering program – but to be honest I don’t think it offers anything more than Photoshop or Sketchbook Pro for the money. If someone gave it to me for free I’d certainly use it, but at this time I don’t think there’s enough of an advantage for my drawing style to make it worth it.

Anyway, the sketches at the top of this post are some of the cars I drew over the summer. I’ll be posting more recent stuff in the coming weeks as I get back into a rhythm and start drawing again. Even though I feel like I’ve taken a slight step back by taking a break for a few months, I can see definite progress from where I was at a year ago. That’s encouraging!

Manga Studio for drawing cars?

Despite my lack of posts here, I’ve actually been drawing quite a bit lately. I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is for me to find the time to draw, and I’m here to tell you that finding additional time to keep this website up and running is even more problematic. My free time is sparse, and lately I’ve decided that I’d rather keep my sketching and rendering practice going rather than trying to focus on this website. Someday, when I win the lottery or something, I’ll have more time to dedicate to this place and fill it with lots of cool car sketches and renderings.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to shut this place down! I created scottdesigner.com to be my digital automotive sketchbook – a tool that I could use to track my drawing and sketching progress over the years, and I fully intend to keep it going like that.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been experimenting with over the past few weeks is different software to help me develop my line work. Sketchbook Pro is pretty good, but I can never seem to get the sharp black lines that I like so much. Photoshop is a bit better in that regard, but it lacks the softness and pressure-sensitivity details I can get with SBP. That desire for clean inking lead me to try Manga Studio – a software package I’ve heard a lot about but never tired, and I think I like it. I think. To be honest, I haven’t spent too much time with it yet, but it’s a pretty good inking tool for my style of sketching. I just wish that it had more rulers and guides (specifically ellipse guides) that make drawing mechanical objects such as cars much easier.

If I decide to stick with Manga Studio, I’ll post some sample drawings here – and maybe even some tutorials as well.

Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus review

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy drawing on the iPad, but it’s not a totally perfect experience. The display is the main problem, in more ways than one. First, I find it to be a bit too small to draw from the shoulder. This forces me into laying down shorter strokes drawn with less speed, which translates to lines that aren’t as fluid and smooth as they are when I draw on my Wacom Tablet tethered to my desktop computer. Although annoying, it’s not a complete deal breaker. It would be nice if the drawing area were a bit larger, but I think the biggest problem for my particular drawing style is the fact that the screen isn’t pressure sensitive and it’s not easy to draw lines with varied line weight. I’ve tried lots of different techniques over the years to simulate the effect within the software (with less than ideal results), so I was pretty darn excited when Wacom announced the Intuos Creative Stylus.

In a nutshell, this stylus allows artists to draw on the iPad in a variety of existing applications (such as SketchBook Pro, Photoshop, and more) with full pressure sensitivity. The nib of the stylus is made of a soft capacitive rubber material that senses how much pressure you are applying as you draw, and transmits that data to the iPad via Bluetooth connectivity. The result is the ability to lay down strokes, lines, and airbrush fills with much more control compared to using a normal stylus or your finger.

wacom creative stylus protective case

Protective case for the Wacom Creative Stylus

wacom creative stylus case open

Close up of the open case

Disassembled Creative Stylus wacom

Disassembled Creative Stylus showing the required AAAA battery

I’ve been using the Creative Stylus on and off for the past year, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of what it can and cannot do well. It’s not the perfect drawing tool by any means, but it brings an entirely new drawing experience to the iPad that I had been craving since Apple released the first version back in 2010. Rather than type paragraphs of text describing each point, I’ll just cut right to the chase and list out the pros and cons of this device:

Pros:

  • Pressure sensitive drawing on the iPad that really works!
  • Nice heft and weight – this is not a cheap plastic stylus, and it feels really good in my hands
  • Works with a wide variety of drawing apps

Cons:

  • The nib is far too thick for precision drawing, and it still feels awkward even after a year of using it. Basically, it feels like drawing with a rounded-down Crayola crayon. Note: this applies to the first generation stylus only – the latest version (Creative Stylus 2) features a much smaller drawing tip which should help the experience tremendously.

So, looking back on this purchase, do I have any regrets? Not really. Despite the awkward (huge) tip, the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus has greatly elevated my enthusiasm for drawing on my iPad. It definitely isn’t good enough to be considered one of my go-to drawing tools when I am at home and have better options available (like my full size Wacom tablet connected to a desktop computer), but it does offer the best option for satisfying my craving for drawing while I am traveling or away from my desk. And it’s certainly good enough for me to want to try the second generation model, which I hope to get my hands on soon. Once I do, I’ll be sure to report my findings here.

Practicing car sketches with thick and thin lines

I’m in far too deep now…despite a busy schedule with work and family life, I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to feel anxious if I haven’t drawn any cars in a while. I think part of the reason is because I’m finally starting to see some real progress with my sketching technique and I’m totally afraid to lose any of the skill I’ve picked up over the past few months. I declared way back in January that I had decided to become a great automotive artist, and despite a slow start, I feel like I’m making some real progress. Of course I’m still far from “great”, but I’m having fun picking up where I left off when I was a kid back in the 1980’s.

My automotive design style still has much to be desired (some of my proportions are cartoonish, I know), but the thing that I love practicing the most is my line work. Thick and thin line weights rock! Line weight is so important when it comes to drawing cars – it’s probably different for everyone, but for me, I like to use varied line weight to give depth to my illustrations. Thick lines on the exterior edges define the boundaries of the car, while the thinner lines are reserved for detailing the little details and more delicate surface transitions. And drawn with enough speed, it’s easy to vary the weight across the distance of the line. This gives a look of more spontaneity to the drawing, and it takes a lot of practice, but I personally really like the results.

Looking back on my progress from the beginning of the year, I know that my biggest problem now is proportion. I realize that my work is more conceptual than illustrative, but still. I need to get that under control. Details are another problem – I’ve got a really short attention span and it’s difficult for me to spend the time to detail out a sketch once I get the line work laid down the way I like it. All I want to do is move on to the next drawing! But I’ve been working on it a bit and you can see a bit more detail in these sketches than my previous ones I’ve posted this year.

Car sketches with a hard edge design language

I’ve been doodling some car sketches this week in between some other projects, and for some reason or another I seem to be stuck in a “hard edge” phase. All the cars I’ve been drawing recently feature very severe angles and hard corners, and I’m not really sure where that’s stemming from. I have noticed that it’s a style I gravitate towards every now and then (my grayscale SUV rendering is a perfect example of that), so I’m guessing this is going to pass and I’ll be onto other styles in no time.

Also interesting about these two sketches is that one was done in Photoshop, and the other one in Sketchbook Pro. I’ve never been a huge fan of drawing cars in Photoshop, but I’m slowly getting used to it and now I think I’ve come to the point where I can admit that it’s not that bad. The biggest issue for my style of drawing is that making ovals (for the wheels) is a lot more clumsy in Photoshop compared to Sketchbook Pro. With Photoshop, I have to manually create a vector oval shape, reduce the opacity completely, and then apply a stroke layer style around it. With Sketchbook, shape guides are very simple to use – and the best part about them is that I can control the line weight just the way I like. For quick and loose concept car sketching that I like to do, that’s a huge plus.

The other slight advantage that SBP has over PS is that it’s more easy to create pen and pencil brushes that look like the real thing. They are softer, which makes it much easier to vary line weight and control my think and thin lines as I turn corners. I can do this in PS too, of course, but the way SBP renders those strokes is much more natural looking.

Speaking of my hard edge style, I just went back through my archives as I was writing this post and I noticed that many of my earlier renderings and sketches are blocky like that. Remember the Mustang concept drawing I did several years ago? Hard edges all over the place!

Drawing cars consistently is not easy

If there is one thing I’m learning about myself with my goal of becoming a great automotive illustrator, it’s that I don’t have much free time anymore. That last post was full of excitement and enthusiasm in regards to becoming the automotive artist that I’ve always wanted to be, but…not much has happened since then. Yes, I have been sketching cars off and on the entire time, but I can never seem to find the time (or patience) to sit down for a couple hours at a time to crank out some really detailed automotive art.

I don’t want to make this post a boring one full of excuses and explanations, but that’s really all I’ve got at the moment. Drawing cars takes serious dedication, and I certainly don’t have the time that I did when was an teenager to be doing this sort of thing. That sucks, because…I actually want to become a great artist. But my day job is demanding, the family gets most of my attention, and I’ve got way too many other hobbies. Excuses and explanations…I know.

I’m starting to think that the little doodles and sketches I do here and there is all I can do for the foreseeable future. That’s not such a bad thing, because keeping the drawing muscles trained and in practice is very important. It’s not like I’ve given up drawing and sketching for good, which is something I really don’t have any plans of doing. As long as they keep making pencil and paper, I’ll be doodling!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my dreams of becoming an illustrator who creates jaw-dropping works of photo-realistic art is likely not to happen (for now anyway). But…the sketches and doodles will continue, and all of that work will be posted here on this blog as a visual timeline of my progress.

Getting serious about being a great automotive illustrator

I’m going to be flat-out honest when I say that for as much as I want to re-learn how to draw cars, it’s not an easy thing to commit to. You see, automotive illustration is a very physical thing. For the best quality, it’s necessary to draw from the shoulder and move the entire arm to create a smooth and flowing lines. And at the end of the day (usually the only time I have to draw), I just don’t have it in me to do something physical like that.

I’m a visual designer in my day job, meaning that I’m essentially a jack of all trades graphic designer. I design mobile apps, websites and posters, as well as creating 3d content for advertising. But none of this is very physical work. It basically involves moving my wrists and fingers to push my mouse around and press some keys. Not very healthy, I know, and it’s one of the reasons why I want to be doing less of this as I get older.

The other reason is age. I’m 40 years old now, and my days of being a hot-shot visual designer are numbered. This is a game for younger folks – the trend setters, if you will. I’m not setting any trends anymore, and I’m starting to think that automotive art is going to be my creative outlet once I hang up the visual designer thing for good. But the problem is (as evident by my latest sketches above) that I’ve got a long way to go to be considered the hot-shot artist I want to be.

That means that I’ve got to change my mindset about drawing cars. This is what I want. This is the next chapter in my life. And the only way I’m going to be great is to practice every single day.

And the good news is that I have been practicing – the sketches above are some of the cars that I have sketched over the past week. I’m not really happy with any of them, but I know I need to bust through this period of never being satisfied if I want to break through and be a hot-shot.

Mercedes Benz 300sl rendering and sketch

Looking back on my archives, I recently realized that most of the car drawings that I do are late-model sport coupes. That discovery wasn’t even all that shocking to me – after all, that’s probably my favorite kind of car of all time. Even when I was 10 years old (way back in the mid 80’s), I was drawing sport coupes!

Well, I decided to shake things up a bit and go old school with this Mercedes Benz 300sl rendering. I don’t think I’ve ever done a true classic like this (other than the ’72 Chevelle drawing I did a couple years ago), so it was interesting to say the least. I had no idea that drawing old cars would be so difficult – there are a lot of compound curves, and there isn’t a straight body panel anywhere to be found on this particular car.

I aslo wasn’t planning on doing a full-blown rendering. My intention was to limit myself to a 1 hour pencil sketch (similar to the Audi R8 sketch I did last week), but I found myself fidgeting with all the little details the further I got into it. I’m glad I decided to go all the way though – I really need to practice my rendering technique anyway, so this added a bit more experience under my belt.

If you’re curious, here is an in-progress sketch of this Mercedes that I captured along the way:

in progress sketch

This is what my freehand sketch looked like, straight out of SketchBook Pro

After the line art was complete, I exported everything into Photoshop to add the color and reflections. I must say that Photoshop is difficult to work with in this regard. I think for the next drawing I do, I’ll do as much of the color and shading as I can in SketchBook Pro before exporting to Photoshop.

Quick freehand sketch of an Audi R8

Part of the reason why it’s so hard for me to draw cars very often is because I’m a total perfectionist by nature and I want things to be the best they can possibly be. That means that when I start a new sketch, I tend to have visions in my mind about it being the coolest thing I’ve ever done – anything less would be a disappointment and not worth the effort. But perfection takes time, and that’s simply something I don’t have much of these days so I’ve got to let that desire to be perfect go.

This quick sketch of an Audi R8 is an example of “letting go”. It took about 20 minutes to do, and while it’s far from perfect, the fact I was able to call it done after that short amount of time is a pretty big deal to me (and a step in the right direction). Yeah, the perfectionist in me just looks at this drawing and has a hard time not fixating on all the things that are wrong with it, but the artist in me is just happy to keep my hands practicing – no matter what the outcome is.

One thing I’m still struggling with a bit is developing a focal point in my sketches. I know that my transportation design instructors from school (a looong time ago) would beat me over the head for drawing this entire car without letting some of the details fall off at the edges, so that’s something I need to work on going forward. There’s no need to draw every detail of the car – as long as the overall shape is captured, a lot can be left to the imagination.