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Learn how to draw a musclecar with Problem Child Kustoms.
mastering drawing 2.16.2013
Filed under Art > How-To's and Tutorials
blog rule
Exploring the essentials of pencil and marker rendering.

I thought it would be a good idea to walk through my usual technique, and show my process for drawing a car... We'll begin by exploring the more 'traditional' part of the process, reinforcing and building upon the skills we explored in the previous tutorials on sketching, coloring and line weight.

The name of the game, again, is controlled and planned drawing. We're not aiming for perfection, but to depict a believable representation of the car (in this case, a 1967 Chevelle), and create something that could either stand alone as a pencil and marker sketch, or serve as a great springboard to take digital, and turn into a hybrid analog/digital rendering. We'll take this one a little further on paper than I normally do, just to explore the hand-drawn methods that we'll replicate in later episodes with digital tools, and explore the benefits of each.

  learn to render cars
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.

From humble beginnings:

Let’s start by plotting the angle of the car, and general proportions and perspective with some loose guidelines. Keep things very loose and general at this stage. All we’re looking to do is get an idea of where the car is going to live on our paper..

laying out some guides

Moving along on the tutorial, let’s clean up some of those sketchy guide lines, and start roughing-in the parts that will make this a Chevelle. We’re plotting and planning a place for all of the stuff that will need to show later on, so take your time, but keep it loose yet.

sketching scale and proportion

Let's draw some wheels:

At this stage, I like to add the wheels, and start tightening-up those lines I know will be staying. I pay some extra attention to the front wheel, and keep in mind the offset for the rear. Start by laying in an arc to figure-out just where the wheel face will sit in the rim, and set the stance. You can see in this pic that I’ve changed my mind a few times already. Remember: circular and ellipse templates are your friend. Invite them to play along. I like to lay in a few details as well, just to get an idea of where things like the lug nuts and any hardware might sit… And don’t forget the tire sidewall! This could drastically change the car’s ride height or the wheel’s proportion.

drawing wheels

Made in the shade-ing:

Let’s continue our theme of cleaning-up those stray lines, and get on darkening-up the shaded areas, lightening those areas that will get a blast of light, and, sadly, this pic doesn’t show it too well, but I’ve started loosely adding some rally stripes, per the client’s request. Again, we’re working a bit tighter, and slowly building the tones. Easier to add a little at a time, than to start over when it’s all blotchy and too dark. Still working with the Copics (neutral and toner grays at this stage).

shading a sketch

Earn your stripes:

Let’s get those stripes blocked-in (careful… careful!), and continue working the entire car. We’ll darken up some lines, and detail some reflections on the bumper and wheels, as well as blending a bit on the shading. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage, just needs to represent a light source, some reflected light from the ground, and show that the body panels have a slight curve. The tricks here include building the shading slowly in layers, and trying to imagine where the brightest areas of light may be hitting the car’s body. We’ll want to leave those lighter areas alone, and work a little bit more in the darker areas, for example, where the bumper has a small overhang, or just to the sides of the hood scoop.

marker shading

...I tend to pay close attention at this stage to keeping the line between the car body and the ground shadow very clean. Having that clean line gives me a great point of reference later on, and really gets some heavy play when dropping-in some reflected ground light... I can take that and replicate the fold of the rocker panel, for instance, and create the shadow and highlight just as it would appear on the real car.

Simply take your time, and as a tip, you can place a few Post-It notes along the rocker to act as a mask. The come off easily, and won't let the marker bleed!


Do the tighten-up:

At this stage, we’re simply tightening-up the shading, and continuing to clean up any stray lines or smudges. We’re starting to go over and darken-up some lines to bring that right front fender closer to the viewer, and making those quarters and roof sink back into space a bit. I’m also paying closer attention to the shadows cast on the wheels as they tuck into the fenders. This is where you can make the sketch a little more believable by creating the illusion of parts being in shadow, with light bouncing around a bit.

Again, just have fun with it!

rendering reflective surfaces

Let's blend a bit. We don't want to lose all of the cool character that our marker and pencil strokes have brought to the piece, but rather, we're trying to soften a few key areas, to make the transition between shades and tones appear just a bit softer. Observe how light lands on a painted surface, and take note of how there are some areas (especially where character lines or parting lines in the bodywork, for example) where the light is greatly contrasted against shadow, and also those areas where it gently fades from one tone into another.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Any 'mistakes' at this point are easily corrected... A white colored pencil, for example, can be lightly drawn across a surface that may be a little darker than you'd like You can also go back in and darken the areas directly surrounding the area you'd like to appear lighter. What we're aiming to do at this stage is simply sculpt the shape of the body, to show where panels bulge and recede, and set the stage for the actual lighting. If you can master this in marker and pencil, you'll enjoy and REALLY master it in digital.

drawing chrome

Working the whole drawing:

Close to finishing-up the ‘traditional’ part of the big how-to: Tightening-up those final details, lines and shading, blending in the tones, and adding a hint of color. We’ll drop some orange in those stripes (per the client), and drop just a hint of blue and green into the glass and chrome. Normally, I’d have scanned this in a few steps back, but for our purposes today, this way just works. We'll refine this to an almost finished stage, just to get a feel for the process... making our later treks into the digital realm a bit easier.

drawing classic muscle cars

Drop some color in there:

Next, let’s start adding some color, and we’ll do this sparingly, with a little contrasting orange on the stripe border, and bring that color ever-so-slightly into the windows and some assorted small places, just to keep things visually consistent. We’ll bring in some greens and blues, to contrast the warm orange, and give some ‘glassy’ feel to the windows. Bring a touch of blue into the chrome pieces, just to make the metal there look cool, temperature-wise, and reinforce that the body color, even though it’s gray, is warmer. Bust-out a white Prismacolor pencil, and add a few highlights and spots where the lighting might be a bit stronger (‘hot spots’).

This brings a little more reality to what is, essentially a slightly cartooned drawing (in proportion, anyway). Above all, just keep having fun, and don’t over-do it. Less is very much more at this point.

drawing custom cars

What's next:

Next time, we’ll get into the background, as well as some digital techniques to finish the rendering, ending-up with something that looks eerily similar to this:

colored rendering

Having the ability to sketch what you see in your mind is a skill with tremendous value when trying to communicate those ideas to a client. Being comfortable with the analog tools will make your shift to digital that much easier, and allow you to replicate the traditional media (markers, ink, pencils and paint) much more effectively when working with a tablet and stylus later on. Again, what you start with on paper will translate into your unique style that much better on screen! Celebrate your unique style, and make the most of those strokes that illustrate your mood at the time, or your method of putting down some lines. The key here is keeping your drawing style from sketch to completed digital masterpiece.

Thanks, as always, for looking in! I hope you find these steps and hints useful, and will apply them to your work. Any questions, comments, whatever always welcome!

Hope you have fun, and keep at it.


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