What Makes a Good Sketch and What Are They For?

Designer Peter Stevens highlights the importance of individual sketch techniques to sell ideas and get noticed in the automotive design business

A large number of young people ask me what they should do if they want to become car designers. They may have seen some of the spectacular illustrations that you can find on the Internet. Those pictures using Photoshop, Painter or Illustrator programs or other computer based drawing aids can easily make them believe that they could never achieve results like that.

If you download and print out a couple of those drawing you will realize that what you are looking at are just ‘marks on paper’, not magic. Of course, they are the result of hours of practice, developing those computer-based skills takes a lot of time. The tough thing with car design, when you first start out, is that you are trying to do three very difficult things at the same time: You are developing a method for generating ideas, trying to create an original design whilst also teaching yourself how to draw.

You have to remember that this is not ‘fine-art’, there are no rules that prevent you from starting out by copying other people’s drawing styles to learn quick ways to draw your own ideas, but that does not mean copying other people’s designs. By all means, use drawings that you like as underlays so that you can get the wheels in the right place and the general proportion correct. That is hard to achieve at first.

For example, something that we all know is that the wheels and tires are round! This sounds obvious but, because we know this, incorrect wheel ellipses in a perspective drawing can ruin the image. If someone who understands drawing will look at your sketch and only see the mistakes — you will have failed to catch their attention. And in a competitive business like automotive design, your ideas need to get noticed!

So, my advice is always to develop a sketch technique of your own. The reason is that the first quick ideation sketches are crucially important for any design project. In the major company design studios a project will always start with concept sketching often just using a ballpoint pen on layout paper. Slightly transparent paper allows the designer to use one sketch as an underlay for subsequent design development sketches. This saves time and can help your ideas progress as you draw.

The young people who contact me with a desire to become car designers need to understand that developing a portfolio of work must always start with sketches. When applying for a place in a design school or college, and later when looking for a job with an automotive company, the portfolio is how designers introduce themselves. It is most likely that they will not be there to describe either their work or their way of working; the portfolio has to do that for them. And the ideas within the portfolio are what will get the attention of the college tutors or senior designers.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.