this car sketching thing!


I am a product designer that for fun presently is trying to explore how to sketch cars! I have been looking at some tutorial and portfolios at cardesignnews and is just becoming confused.

As a product designer I have been thought to sketch a “feeling” concerining the product but to remember that not to try to glorify the reality to much. When I am looking at the sketches and tutorials and compare them to real cars it seems for me as everything is somewhat distorted (the wheels seems for instance to be above 125% bigger than in reality and the cars is either much higher or lower than a regular car).

My question is simple, as I am interested in how you pro’s do it I am just wondering if anyone could give me some tips and tricks about the proportion when sketching cars?

Car design is really styling just like the way fashion designers do clothes. The wheels are too big and the roof lowered because it looks cool. It may look lots different when they have to make it real but that’s just how it is. The sketches and renderings are more inspiration than reality. You don’t really need an Industrial Design degree to do this. You just have to learn to draw a wicked car. Someone else will have to make the thing work.

Actually it’s not at all like that my friend.

In fashion design, there are no tooling costs, in automotive design, the tooling costs are astronomical, a simple observation.

The car sketches you usually see are the start of the process. The exploratory initial sketches where everything is in it’s ideal form in both the exterior and interior. For some reason the skill level has always been super high in trans.

As the process moves on the design becomes more and more realistic. The from is broken down into the individual parts, and each thing (tail light, door handle, ect) is designed for manufacture and detailed. Some companies are better at this than others. The initial sketches for the Beetle and Golf are eerily close to the product. A good designer sees it through. Someone else is NOT doing the figuring out. I have a book on Porsche design showing sketches for the speedometer needles, a car is really a orchestration of many individual products, each with their own function.

A car has four wheels an doors and glass every time. This functional consistancy is not unlike what goes on in watch design where the last true functional breakthrough was digital decades ago. Or eyewear, footwear, or tableware. Are these designers just like fashion designers too? How about toasters, they all do the same thing right? Isn’t that just fashion design then?

A car is an exciting emotional product to work on, and if that enthusiasim by the designers translates into beautiful drawings, cool. When was the last time you saw a rendering of an icecream scooper that moved you? These purchases are on a different level, and unlike clothing where you have a whole closet full (another difference from fashion my friend), chances are you only get one chance to make that purchase every few years (unless you are Bruce Wayne). The function of the form, its psycological effect, is very import in this decision making proccess with the consumer. Car buyers fantasize about their purchase, like longing for a Noguchi cofee table, except a lot more people know what a Ferrari is.

A lot of time is put into design research, ergonomics, and consumer targeting. It’s not just pretty pictures. Really if you have skill, drawing a car is easy, drawing the right car is pretty damn hard. I hope this answers the question, I don’t want to seem rude, but the previous post seemed like a product designer who never understood car design.

Well, being a transportation designer is very different from being a product designer. Trans designer is not going to care about what radius to give to a corner and all that details. They care about the form and proportion, whatever that pleases the eye. I heard that when they present, they will have a whole wall of sketches, and the managers or the big shots will come and pick the one that leaves the most impression, so your sketches have to be fancy and striking.

Also, the amount of rules and regulations for automotive design is beyong imagination. Car designers don’t like to think abt those. They leave them to the engineers :smiley:

A car has four wheels an doors and glass every time. This functional consistancy is not unlike what goes on in watch design where the last true functional breakthrough was digital decades ago. Or eyewear, footwear, or tableware. Are these designers just like fashion designers too? How about toasters, they all do the same thing right? Isn’t that just fashion design then?


If no problem is being solved except style, then it is all the same thing.
Some designers solve problems and some do more or even create paradigm shifts. The rest just make a product pretty. No one likes to admit this but it is true.


These are designers in the way most like to believe they are. But most of us are stylists. And what is so wrong with this?

It seems as my original posting cased a little bit of a stir (an interesting one however). but my original question still stand… I am wondering if there is any how to say dirty tips and tricks about sketching these initial car sketches? An example a friend of mine told me was the three whell between real wheels to get the distant correct.

All of your “dirty” tips can be found here:
student pricing is available. You won’t be able to find better, I would get a few of them.

I think the point is being missed.

If a designer’s assignment is to make something beautiful, that IS the design problem. What is beauty? More importantly what is beauty to this target consumer? What does it mean to them? How will it effect this purchase? How could it effect their daily life ot their preception of it? If you can bring a little extra beauty to someone’s daily life I applaud you.

It isn’t just making pretty. The Hummer H2 is not pretty. It is decively designed to evoke certain reactions. It makes the driver feel tough, powerful, comanding, it makes the on looker think (s)he is an ass, and it makes the 12 year old boy drool. Comand over sematic elements is design.

In the shoe iindustry we say a shoe could be the most functionaly revolutionary shoe of all time, but if you can’t visually convince someone to pick it up off the shelf and ask the sales person for a pair in their size to try on, it is wothless. Of course there are a lot of ugly shoes out there, more proof that it isn’t just making pretty I guess.

thanks yo!

I will take some hours from work to check this out!

If a designer’s assignment is to make something beautiful, that IS the design problem.

Uh, isn’t that what a stylist is? Someone who has a job to make something look a certain way? Why do you hate the word so much that you avoid it? Is it wrong to say we are stylists?

  1. I just don’t see the benifit in confusing non-design people by using differnet nomenclature. We decided the field was called design, it is inhabited by designers: fashion, product, graphic or otherwise, it is cleaner linguisticly to stay consistant.

b) it is a dated term with negative baggage in my experience. It implies that the person just pushes lines around and has no bigger vision, there might be people out there like that, but it aint me. I wouldn’t call another designer by that term unless they refered to themselves with it. I think in general it has the feel of an insult.

  1. no matter what I work on I look for ways to make it better, this is the essence of all design. If you are not doing this, you are adding to the landfill instead of adding to society. In my book anyway.

and finaly IV) sometimes I work on new ways to add cusioning to the heel and new fit systems to add suport and flexability, sometimes I develop specific visual directions that relate to relevant cultural directions, sometimes I work on ways to put shoes together with less glue.

do I get 2 titles then? how about 2 paychecks? I’d change my title if I could get two paychecks please.

those are the reasons I don’t use the term. If you want to call yourself a stylist, by all means dadio (note usage of another dated term)

The diference I think is product designers do not show nice renderings of distorted products for selling. So in this way fashion and cars are alike. Fashion drawings many times include women that can not be women. Just the way car drawings show cars wich can not be cars. These are presented to non-designers. Product designers maybe make these kinds of sketches, but this is not common practice to show this work to non-designers.

a few good points here. best thread lately (odd place for it).

@curious - there might be something on “empathic sketching” on the net. in school thats where we started. all about losing details. catching a feeling fast. and proportions can be correct but may not be.

fashion like car design? - of course. people dont wrap themselves in a computer monitor. products reflecting personality is new. cars and fashion its old. expect those two to have similarities. doesnt make any of them lesser for how they develop.

stylist? agree its confusing term. but also agree there is a reluctance in automotive to embrace designers as innovators (to be fair, i see increasing reluctance in product now too). not always. not every company. but my experience with one company changed my mind about going into cars (that and the experience of a close friend and now well-known designer who opted out also).

i also know that they sometimes hire what i call Illustrators. my class included the Golden Boy of that year. ACCD and CCS people would show up in our studio to see his work (i shared space with the car people). during Detroit Auto Show our studio was packed with them. he was the “first draft pick”. a 4.0 kid who never did any other class projects. just cars (and the same form over and over and over). didnt understand manufacturing. and didnt care. but he did flashy illustrations. it was weird how every car guy across the nation was waiting on this one idiot to make his choice so they could figure out if they’d have a job. pissed off alot of my studio mates.

lastly, this statement is incorrect: “A car has four wheels an doors and glass every time.” some concepts have six wheels. might have to go back a few years to find tho. some cars dont have doors. dont think some roadsters have them; hop in only. and dont think the Racoon had them either. and i’ve seen concepts without glass. driver/passenger wear helmets. surprising statement probably said without thought.

someone should move this thread to General. that section sucks right now. the Stylist issue is worth raising maybe.

oh my, i forgot how much fun this was…

for those of you who did not attend CCS, this IS the everyday conversation throughout the ID department. Great rivalries were started this way. Graphic vs. Product vs. Trans vs. Interior, according to each none knew anything about anything.

A group of 16 students, all but two make the same mistakes, but ask each other the same questions when crit-ing each others work.

…So why isn’t there any space between the tires and the bumpers? Why are the side windows two inches tall? Does an entry level hatchback NEED monster truck tires? All fun questions, unless it’s your work being critiqued, right?

GUEST! always the GUEST starting this… LOG IN MAN.

EMOTION and RESPONSE is the reason for the “exaggeration”, however, the best renderings from the best designers (fashion or transportation) can evoke that emotional response without the monster truck wheels. It can be done simply by the proper composition and a clean rendering style.


To answer the question a little, YES! three wheels between the real wheels is the correct way to draw a side view of a car, i’ve tried to argue it (Jeep CJ-5), but have failed every time.

OK, now I have to say something. I have been working in a consultancy for slightly better than two years. I have completed 75 design projects for this firm to date, each with a minimum of 4 design reviews. I have never presented my concepts or final designs to another designer. In fact they are ususally presented to marketing managers, directors of new product development, or the CEO if the company is less than $8 mill in sales (on average).

ML, u show clients distorted drawings?

Not distorted, rather they are exagerated to increase the overall appearance and enhancing the emotion and motion I and the rest of my team were atemping to capute through the form and lines of the product. Keep in mind this is only for the initial concept review, presenting the brainstorming or ideation workshop concepts. Proves to be more benificial in the long run, becuase the clients can see that they are not finished concepts and are more open to providing comments and thoughts on modifications and/or “what if we” ideas. If you rush into providing the clients with photorealistic hand or Alias renderings they will think it is a finalized concept and will be less likely to provide constructive reviews.

Personally i view it that any initial concept can be as far from the truth as it wants to be. At a concepting phase you are trying to show the emotive and aesthetic appeal of a design NOT the overall finished product.

However i do feel that this emotive phase needs to be refined as all to often i have come across finalised design detailing (usually from Interior Designers / Architects) which do not have details resolved. If you are specifying something to an outside source you need to provide DETAILS.

Ok so i am not presently working in a strictly product design arena but the concept is the same for all levels of design.

i won’t let anyone comment on my design until i’m finished with it even if it means no design at all.

main reasons:

1- there can be a number of design ideas before, during and after the main project has initialized and that can influence the outcome. specially in automotive design which tries to be very “cutting edge”, meaning something that will make everyone go wow in the upcoming auto show. therefore the head designers don’t usually want cool sketches. they want cool concepts that are valid and can make sense to the auto design community as well as the consumer.

2- when you design specially cars you don’t need distractions. cars are composed of many parts and each part can attack the design like a virus and paralyze the whole. believe me. if you listen to these comments your design is doomed.

3- once you start with a concept out of several ideas you have it doesn’t make sense to go back in the middle of your decision. you should go through with it and try to develop it in the best logical manner.

4- as a professional car designer showing your half finished rough sketch for a crit before it’s done can also create more work. sometimes this might include other things like drawing a whole range of cars. i have seen this done in many different industries and i don’t think it’s a good idea for car industry.

5- the emotional aspect of styling is always better understood when you have a finished project. the original emotional factors whatever they may be won’t make a strong impact if they don’t correspond with the overall design and non emotional factors. that’s the reason why many designs remain at concept car level that won’t go into production. it’s a tricky subject but those who have done this know what i’m reffering to.

I just wanted to note that a lot of product designers *do distort sketches for the purpose of presentation, as well as their own versions of ‘flashiness’ - have you ever seen sketches for the Triax watch? There are plenty of other noteable examples in books. When we sketch electronic products, we make them thinner, the buttons smaller, and the materials higher quality than the actual product will no doubt have. Just consider it next time you’re drawing without an underlay.

When you’re drawing something that small (compared to its actual size) you have to exaggerate it to produce the desired affects. An inch or two on a real car makes a huge difference, so it needs to come across as an even bigger difference on a 10-inch sketch.

In terms of sketching cars - you just have to do it, a lot. People will tell you to practice drawing large, but don’t be afraid to draw lots of small sketches too. They are very efficient and use less paper! You can always blow a sketch up and revise it larger. Do overlays of other people’s sketches (not real cars) to learn how they did it. Be fearless about it, and you’ll figure things out.