“Old School Viscom – 20 Renderings in 20 Steps” is an excellent book, written by Jason White (An automotive designer and an instructor at CCS), that covers rendering and visualizing design concepts utilizing “old school” or analog techniques. As the title states, the book contains 20 renderings presented in 20 easy enough to follow steps in over 250 pages of full color awesomeness. The design sketches included are mostly automotive in nature, however, there are a few product renderings included as well.
When I first opened the book, flipped through the pages, and scanned the tutorials, I was very impressed at the way the material was presented in a very clear, concise, and communicative way.
Before beginning and tutorials, one is presented with a glossary of materials represented as icons as well as a simple guide to some basic drawing and sketching fundamentals. Each page of tutorials contains large images that clearly show each step of the rendering process. Compared to other books that I have read and seen, these images and tutorials hold up very well in the areas of quality and clarity. For each step of the renderings, there are small icons that show what materials are used. This works nicely as a quick visual guide to what marker, pen, or pencil to grab next, and what to prepare for before beginning the next step.
Although the rendering take place over 20 “short” steps, I found them to be gradual enough that one would not get lost in the mix if you were following along. Following along the step-by-step renderings, I could tell that there was considerable time and thinking placed into the presentation of each of the steps.
The book does hint at using Adobe Photoshop for some tasks here and there, however, it does not delve into the minutia of those processes, and instead focuses on the broader analog techniques. I did not find this bothersome, but for someone just starting out, jumping into photoshop without some clear direction may be a little daunting. In any case, with a little creativity and adjustment, I think the analog techniques covered would translate just fine to a digital medium such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, or Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.
All in all, the book is a fantastic resource, and one of the best that I have come across in terms of content, clarity, and clear directions for rendering and sketching. It’s definitely worth having in any designers library. You can find it at oldschoolviscom.com for the 44.95 USD. There’s even an option to have the copy signed by Jason himself!
I had the chance to interview Jason White about the book, himself, and his feelings about sketching. Check out the interview below -
1 – Tell us a little bit about your background – Where are you from, what led you to industrial design, what’s has your career been like up to this point and how did you come to be an instructor at CCS?
I was born and raised in suburban Detroit. My father was a body engineer at Chrysler and he was acquainted with several stylists. So we knew CCS was an option very early on. I decided to be a designer after a GM stylist came to my third grade class and gave a slide presentation. I was already producing stacks of car drawings at home on our coffee table, and here’s a guy in a suit telling me I can get paid to do that! Talk to any car designer from my era and most of them will relate a similar story. After I left CCS, I found a niche as an interior designer at Ford. My main contributions there are the 2008 Escape/Mariner interior and the 2007 Super Duty instrument panel. I took a quick detour through the Hyundai studio in Ann Arbor, and now I’m back at Ford on a contract basis. I’ve been teaching at CCS since 2007. This originally came about because a friend had to leave on a foreign assignment and needed a substitute to cover his class. But since then, I’ve really grown to love the process of teaching. For me, it’s not a job; it’s more of a passion. I’ve often come home from an evening class and I’m practically bouncing off the walls; that’s how much I enjoy it.
2 – You mention in your preface that the fundamentals of viscom are often overlooked in the transition from analog sketching to digital sketching. How do you see both analog and digital skill sets complimenting each other?
At CCS, there is a strong emphasis placed on getting the theme right on a piece of paper before you take it into the digital realm. I believe that’s a very good approach because once you make that leap, it’s very tempting to let the program and the interface dictate how the theme plays out. I’ve seen many students get locked into a particular way of drawing and thinking because they only sketch on a tablet. Rotating through a variety of analog skills can force you out of design ruts you may not realize you’re in.
3 – Why do you feel that student’s drawing styles are becoming less diverse and more homogenous? What can students do to become more diverse in their skill sets?
I’m not entirely sure why drawing styles are looking less diverse. I hesitate to haul off and blame the computer because that would be a lazy analysis. I think a contributing factor may be the visual media that students are taking in – or to be more accurate, not taking in. My father once told me that the Internet is a mile wide and an inch deep, which I think is a brilliant observation. These students have unprecedented access to information, but I suspect that most of them are looking at the same, small fraction of it.
Just like the 24 hour news cycle gives us wall-to-wall coverage of four or five stories, the most popular rendering styles tend to rise to the top, and many students simply adopt them rather than search for a technique that is perhaps less well known, but more unique. Bottom line, today’s students need to seek out the best style for them. It’s the longer route, but it’s the better one, in my opinion.
4 – What’s the most important thing to consider when starting out sketching?
Assuming you already have an idea in mind, the first thing to consider is what would be the best view to showcase it in. Pickup trucks look best in dog’s eye views; F1 cars look dramatic from overhead. If you really want to sell your work, you have to orient it in a way that will help you do that. I’ve seen many brilliant ideas fall flat because they were drawn in a view that confuses or complicates the message. Also, you have to consider what rendering techniques will help you sell it. If you’re sketching a custom motorcycle, pick a medium that will help you render chrome, like marker paper or craft paper. If you’re rendering a construction vehicle, maybe you should start with a yellow background rather than a plain white one. Answering these questions up front can plant the seed for a successful sketch or rendering.
5 – In your opinion, what’s the key to getting better?
Don’t be a one trick pony. As soon as you feel yourself tiring of a particular style, set it aside and try another. Keep challenging yourself to learn new techniques and expand your repertoire. The more visual communication skills you have, the better chance you’ll have to communicate your ideas. It really is that simple.
6 – Besides cars, what do you sketch to keep sharp?
I sometimes find myself drawing goofy cartoons and compositions that only make sense to me. It’s like a sort of free association or a stream-of-consciousness drawing mode. I tend to favor subjects that will annoy or confuse my design colleagues. Like highly detailed thumbnails of a Chrysler Cordoba or a vintage TV set that says “One Moment Please” — like I said, these only make sense to me.
7 – Where do you find inspiration for you designs and sketches?
Anything that does not have four wheels. Sometimes I’ll take a trip to a museum and look at old armor suits or pottery. Living in downtown Detroit offers a wide array of inspirational opportunities. The variety of architecture alone is fantastic. Sometimes I find the best thing is to just clear my head and get away from anything design oriented. The best ideas often come to me when I’m not even looking for them.
8 – What inspired you to write and compile this book as a resource?
Primarily what we touched on earlier: the fact that drawing styles are becoming less diverse and more homogenous. It’s my hope that students will see something in the book that piques their interest and try it for themselves. It may help them stand out in a class of fifteen or twenty students, and by extension, stand out in the field at large. It’s worth noting that most of the techniques in the book can be easily applied to a digital workflow. Canson splicing, for example, is essentially an analog version of Photoshop layering with flood-filled graphics.
9 – I’ve come across many designers who think that sketching is simply put, “a waste of time”. Why do you still think sketching is a valuable skill?
No matter how advanced technology gets, there will always be that one time when there isn’t a computer around, and suddenly, you have to think on your feet. If you’ve forgotten how to sketch, you’re toast.
10 - What do you think will be the future of visual communication for designers?
There’s renewed interest in a sort of painterly-look in renderings – mainly due to the popularity of digital production design paintings. It reminds me of when Syd Mead was the gold standard for my generation. The look is already becoming de rigueur in competitions like the LA Design Challenge. I think we’ll see it become more widespread at the student level, especially at the final presentation level. I welcome this trend because I find it way more interesting than the polished, Apple-esque look that permeates car design work today.