SketchBook welcomes Jamie Bakewell of Toonshark Design to the blog to give a tutorial on how he uses the tools in SketchBook to create Toonshark’s cartoon and caricature car illustrations. Based in the UK, Jamie is bringing the classic Car Culture tradition of fanciful car illustration modern. It is great to see SketchBook being used to keep this stye relevant. Showcasing modern modifications and the current tuning scene being featured in Toonshark caricature car illustrations. Jamie accepts commissions through his site, if you want your car done up Toonshark style and has a great Instagram where he posts progress pics. Also from the team at Toonshark Design, there is Sharkcrate an automotive enthusiast’s dream of a subscription box.
As an independent artist creating caricature style automotive illustrations, finding Autodesk SketchBook was a real game changer. In this tutorial I will walk you through the basic process of a commission to draw a Honda Accord. I will be discussing some of the different tools available in SketchBook, my favorite brushes and the purposes they serve in my design process. Also I will include the reasons behind my decision making as we go along.
Rough Base and Layering the Shapes
First and foremost, every commission begins with a high quality reference photograph of the car or bike that I intend to re-create. I always like to use multiple reference images, including the clients’ as well as images I find online that are good reference for lighting, camera angles etc.
The style of the final render I create always depends on the commission I’m working on. For example a rat look/beat up old VW may look odd if I rendered it with crisp bright studio lighting as it would probably be best suited outdoors in a more urban environment. I will go into more detail below about images I use for lighting reference.
For this brief I was asked to just illustrate a Honda Accord. So I searched for some decent reference images and chose the one pictured below.
Once I have the image, I can then make a start on how I want the new shape of the vehicle to look. I do this by blocking out rough shapes with an oversized brush (a standard brush tool), in a faded red color. This helps me to visualize the key characteristics of the car without having to spend too much time at this stage working on final lines. On an A4 page, I will draw three or four loose silhouette versions of the car and from there I can decide which one I want to progress with.
I always find this early stage of the process is a great time to experiment. You can afford to not treat it precious by creating the final linework straight away as it will always change and develop along the way. There have been times in the past where I’ve even completed a commission, looked at it 3 days later and then changed the shape/wheels/stance. So I always anticipate change and development all the way through the process.
When I have decided on the shape I want to use as my base, I can then refine the edges with the eraser tool and begin working the shape with a smaller sized brush. Almost like a sculpting process, I take away color as opposed to just sketching lines. I find creating a strong silhouette shape very important, a strong silhouette will allow the car to be recognizable even as a single black shape. Of course, some cars have very obvious features that make this much easier than others.
I use a darker red color to layer up further shapes, which define the smaller areas of detail (Pictured below). From here I will experiment with certain areas of the illustration; emphasizing key characteristics, stretching and squashing the wheels, the windows or altering the stance of the car. In this stage of the process, It is important that I don’t get too carried away when mishaping features, as it is key that the final illustration retains a strong likeness to the original vehicle. Once I am satisfied and I feel the composition is working, I can then move on to the linework.
The line work stage of the process, is where the fun starts, and I get to make the most of my favorite Sketchbook Pro tools. Here I will tell you a little bit about the tools that I use frequently, what they do and why they are so beneficial to my work.
One of the many reasons that I actually decided to move to Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, is the Ellipse Tool. I first saw the Ellipse Tool in action when a friend of mine, also a fellow car illustrator, posted a video of his design process on his social media page. It inspired me to do further research and see if and how it could benefit my work process. The Ellipse Tool is one I found I couldn’t live without. It allows me to create the perfect shapes, particularly when I am drawing wheels, which is the most time-consuming part of any drawing.
The ellipse is super-intuitive and a great way for me to get fast results when creating the wheel’s shape. This allows me to spend more time focusing on the highly detailed areas of the alloy. I often leave the finer details on the wheels until last, as they are what really tie the whole drawing together.
Pictured below is the first outline version, here you can see that the ellipse has enabled me to create a flawless wheel shape.
When I first began doing automotive drawings I was inspired by the look of large exaggerated wheels, and so all of my drawings had large oversized wheels. But overtime I found myself starting to consider the cars character and personality to push it in a certain direction. For instance a large muscle car with a v8 engine would possibly be quite an angry and scary character, so large wheels and an aggressive stance would work better on it. Something I have only recently been doing with my renders, which sometimes it can be quite humorous, is to give a large angry car a cute and harmless look to it.
Another brilliant feature is the Steady Stroke tool. This is incredibly useful when I need to draw long lines and there are many of those when I’m drawing cars. It also allows me to control the level of sensitivity from high to low, depending on how smooth I need the line to be. Another feature I use regularly is the French Curve Tool. This comes in handy when I need to draw a slight, but consistent curve which is ideal when I am drawing outlines, of the curve of the roof and bonnet for example. These tools combined make the linework stage of an illustration run more smoothly. They really speed up the process, allowing me to move to the most important stage; adding color, highlights and shadows to really make the vehicle pop.
The most enjoyable stage of any commission, for me, is adding color. First, I begin by working on the base tones of the paintwork which is done all on one layer. This acts like a selection mask that allows me to add highlights, lowlights and shadows on additional layers, but remain within the edges of the base color. It is important that I plan my layers out early on in the process, so that everything is able to be edited and not merged together. I try to remember to add a layer for every new section of the car, and to group and name the different stages; paintwork, wheels, headlights, bumper, interiors etc. There is nothing worse than 100 layers all called ‘NewLayer’, re-name your layers!
When I am adding in highlights, shine and shadows, I take into consideration the direction of the light source. Which is why it is always helpful to have a lighting reference like one I mentioned earlier in this tutorial. The paintwork on a car takes perseverance to get it to look the way you want. Which techniques I use depend on the finish of the paint: matte, high gloss, two tone etc. So finding those effects in alternative reference images helps me to shape the car and create the desired finish. I add in highlights to areas I want to accentuate, like the wheel arch or an angle on the bodywork. I use a soft brush to rough in initial highlights and mid tones, before again using the eraser to sharpen any edges, particularly on the sections that I want to be very reflective.
When I first started using Sketchbook I was overwhelmed by the brush library. It is really incredible what is available to start. I began using this simple brush pack from Hudson Rio Design. Simple but effective brushes help for pretty much all aspects of my renders. But something I will be doing more of with future commissions is experimenting with a range of other brush packs available.
I find myself using the Light Opacity Brush from this Hudson Rio set a lot. It’s quite a versatile brush for sure. A matte texture requires less highlights and so a soft brush usually works better. In this instance, the Honda I am illustrating has a standard gloss finish. This allows for plenty of high shine areas and sharp edge highlights which I always add in last.
Another tool which comes in handy when I am on color work, is the Color Puck. This is a quick way of selecting the different high, mid and low tones, lighter and darker shades of a color, I need for highlights and shadows. Adding in those shadows and highlights is always fun, it is at this stage of the process, that you can begin to see the car really taking form.
Here’s a GIF to show the process of building up color with layers.
With a new layer or layer group, again block in black shapes. The pillars, the roof lining and the chairs, rough in the shape of them with a slightly lighter brush of dark grey. The same for the dash and steering wheel, maybe a slightly lighter grey. The layers are so you can define elements of the interior rather than it all being black. Try to depict the depth of field and what is being hit by the light coming in through the windscreen and side windows. After this, on a new layer above the interior elements I paint the glass of the windows. Mark it in with a light blue, turn down the opacity and add a few levels of shine.
Once the bodywork has reached this stage, I move on to the highly detailed areas, such as the wheels, headlights, grills and manufacturer badge. I enjoy this stage, but it can be very time consuming as all these elements require plenty of attention. Pictured below, is a close up of the alloy detail, which I draw from a variety of reference images, I do this because it is impossible to find a single photograph pictured at a similar angle, as my version is a squashed up and over exaggerated caricature style.
Again, I layer up the elements: brake disc, caliper, alloy wheel and tyre, so that things stay clean and in order visually. If I need to add in a shadow layer or a finer detail I can easily find the layer it is on and insert in front or behind. As seen above the caliper is not yet added. But with this method in mind I simply insert it after I draw it.
Finalizing the Illustration
At this stage in the process I like to leave it for a few days and reopen with fresh eyes to see it as a new piece. This always helps me see things that I may have missed or notice areas I need to add or improve. Staring at the same image all day can really mess with your eyes and brain.
When satisfied with the drawing as a whole, I will then finalize it by experimenting with gradient layers which sit as the top layer of the whole illustration. This is something I do on most of my recent commissions. I will usually use a warm tone blending down to a cool tone, as this is a great way of leveling out all the colors used in the drawing, they act like a color correction layer. The blending mode I use is usually Soft Light but feel free to experiment. Then I turn down the opacity, as I find a more subtle hue works better. A few further details are added to sharpen colors, catching certain edges to highlight them depending on the light source. In this case a cool blue is added to some edges like the wing mirror and rear bumper along with a light purple to areas like bumpers and side skirts. This just adds a more dynamic feel to the render and helps match the lighting and color gradient choice. Then, my commission is complete.
All in all, SketchBook is a very helpful piece of software for me and my work process. There are, of course, a few things I would love to see added in the future such as a bezier curve tool. Although saying that, I do appreciate how this software imitates hand drawing, providing tools that can be used in a real drawing situation. But hey, there’s no harm in asking right 😉
Prior to working in digital I was rendering my automotive art by hand, the switch to digital and experiencing SketchBook was such a delight.
Thank you to Autodesk for featuring my work and giving me this opportunity to share some of my process and thoughts when it comes to creating this style of work.