Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment is a Party With A Winner

There are a lot of parties to attend over auto week in Detroit. Besides Camilo Pardo’s awesome annual event, manufacturers also host their own celebratory gatherings, which offer a chance to catch up with the people behind the products (Hyundai Group design boss Peter Schreyer poured me a drink at Slows, a restaurant/bar the company takes over after the first press day).

The relative newcomer to the scene is the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment hosted by Brook Middlecott Banham and Frank Schwartz, which is fast becoming a must-attend event.

Set in the Tangent Gallery off Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Detroit, the Middlecott Sketchbattle venue is unassuming from the outside; it looks like a boarded-up, disused warehouse. But once inside the energy is apparent. Swarms of designers from all facets gathered around the main sketch table flanked by DJs Steve Ra and Peter Croce on the decks. Even Daniel Simon stopped by.

In the adjacent room, two vehicles took center stage. The Mobsteel Gangstar — an International Harvester ‘burnout machine’ with a triple stack exhaust pushing fumes from a 5.9-liter Cummins diesel out of the hood — was slammed on an air ride suspension and had flame throwers (just because they’re awesome). The other was a T2 VW transporter donated by Curt Snyder to serve as a blank canvas for partygoers to sketch on.

Upstairs, in a private VIP area with a balcony overlooking the action, hung a series of paintings by Alikhan Kuljanov, assistant chief designer interiors at GM and co-founder of Wonderful work but a little to pricey for me…

The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment is exactly what you’d imagine it to be: part underground club/dive bar, part classroom/creative workspace, and part boxing ring, without the ropes or gloves. Hungry new designers battle each other in a sketch-off contest using all kinds of pens, pencils and markers to create the most eye-catching design in just 30 minutes. It’s loud, crowded and gritty. People swig from beer cans and laugh. There’s even a clown. It’s Detroit at its finest.

The competition has three rounds, with the results judged on four factors: sketch quality, design, color integration, and intensity saturation. Over the course of the evening, the work of the 14 initial entrants and, ultimately, the overall winner, was decided by a judging panel that included FCA head of design Ralph Gilles; Lincoln’s Kemal Curic; Garen Nicoghosian from Ford; Cadillac Brand manager Bregt Ectors; and Paul Czornij of BASF.

Of the 14 initial candidates, only seven made it to round two. Darby Barber, Ian Broekman, Omar Gonzalez, Randy Hjelm, Beomseok Kim, Josiah LaColla and Justin Sorum were asked to imagine a car or truck inspired by BASF’s Fresh Mint color for the second 30-minute round. Barber, Broekman, Gonzalez and Sorum advanced to the final round, inching closer to the $1,000 prize.

In the end, Omar Gonzalez from California was deemed the overall winner with his Mercedes crossover sketch done using Arjean, a special silver/blue metallic color developed by BASF.

The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment isn’t just about battling it out to see who can come up with the best sketch in 30 minutes. It’s an event that revolves around charitable contributions going to good causes.

Colin Bonathan and David McCall — the exterior and interior designers of the 2017 Ford GT — were sketching to support Project Beautiful, a Michigan-based non-profit organization run by Ralph Gilles’ wife Doris to help people — specifically women — who have fallen on hard times. The two designers provided three-minute sketches to everyone who made a donation. Camilo Pardo, a key figure in the Detroit arts scene, also participated to help the cause.

The designers weren’t the only charitable contributors. Fiat-Chrysler donated several prints of the original artwork for the Hellcat and Playstation Tomahawk to those who made the largest donations, and Ford also handed out prints of the new GT’s original artwork, a random drawing door prize.

The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment has gained considerable notoriety since its inception seven years ago. This year’s event proves that it will continue to be one of the must-attend events revolving around the annual Detroit auto show. We’re already looking forward to next year’s.


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