From Classic Design To Modern Concepts – Rick Herron
Rick began drawing around 1958 when he was about 8. He worked many jobs in the automotive industry gaining a knowledge of how an automobile works, and completed a degree in English Literature in 1982 and in Graphic Design in 1999. He has done commissions for Sports Car Club of America racers and for Mercedes Benz. We got in touch with Rick to find out a more about him and what he is currently working on.
AA: What inspired you to start doing automotive art in the first place?
RH: I’m an old guy who has seen the major changes to the exterior of automobiles from the vestigial fenders of the 40s to the slab sides introduced by the 49 Ford and the advances in aerodynamic knowledge and more sculpted bodies culminating in automobiles like the Ferrari Enzo. The fifties were transformative years for automobiles in part because of the passing of the Interstate Highway Act which, modeled after the Autobahn of the thirties, made the U.S. a truly modern mobile country and shortened the distance between states and municipalities. In my eyes the automobile had become the most important artistic expression of the 20th century replacing architecture as the most influential technologically advanced art form in the world. I wanted to be involved in designing them.
From 1955 to 1959, I was in Argentina, living as a state department brat. I became interested, as had the Argentines themselves, with Formula One, and because of their hero Juan Manuel Fangio, a five time World Champion, also fell in love with the cars he drove, specifically those from Mercedes Benz. Really, what could be more impressive to a young boy than those beautiful silver W196 open wheeled and streamlined racing cars, followed by the SL and later SLR 300s. As works of art in themselves they were not equaled in beauty until the Ferrari 250 GTO and Jaguar XKE. I had a vintage plastic toy Streamliner W 196 and would spend hours admiring its lines. These cars stirred my interest in automobiles as art.
By the time I was in my teens I had transferred my loyalties to Ford and their GT4Os, the most important post war vehicle in my opinion, and then AC Cobras and Caroll Shelby. As an American boy I had yet to be immersed in American racing which would come later, but international designs of midship engined cars, Lotus, Cooper, Ferrari, Lamborghini and others, all mid engined, still the standard for performance vehicles, grabbed hold of me and never let go. I wanted to become an automobile designer of exotic vehicles. More on that later.
As with all young people we have aspirations which more often then not we fail to realize. I never went to the art Center College of Design, though I applied, and never worked for Ford or GM. Instead I went on with my life working in the automotive repair and parts industry. I like to think of this as like a fine artist studying the human form, getting an understanding of what lies beneath the skin. In art class they teach you the proportions of the human frame, the bone structure and the musculature. My education was on what made a car tick, inside and out.
To learn how to draw cars one needs to understand what lies beneath the metal skin, where do the passengers sit, the engine, transmission, and axles reside, how much travel is required for wheel and tire movement without hitting the inside of the fender wells and how much passenger space is required to seat the occupants comfortably, as examples. After all the exterior serves not only as a way to direct the wind around the car but as a way to package the whole thing. Not realizing it at the time I was getting a holistic education about automobiles, as I was also studying their form. I remember picking up fender body panel for a customer and was amazed that they were stamped not sculpted as were the original clay mock-ups. At the time I had never considered their construction. The lure was irresistible and the side drawings I made of those cars in the 50s magazines soon mutated into my own mid-engined concepts, beginning as simple pencil drawings.
My most recent acrylic painting of a MB 300SLR and an F104 Starfighter.
AA: How has your work developed throughout the years?
RH: My first drawing were side sketches of a 58 Edsel done in pencil. I was only 8 and my Mom had given me a Life magazine where all the 1958 American models were pictured. There were few automotive magazines at that time especially in Argentina. This allowed me to begin to understand proportions. The tires on my drawings now fit into wheel wells and doors extend all the way to the rocker panels.
1957/1958 were seminal years for body design of American cars. Throughout the 50s auto designers were finding out about streamlining, especially from the Europeans and were feeling out the ideas on how to use the envelope bodies and what to do with their flank sides. I could see that the cars, from 57 to 58 had made a gigantic leap forward in styling, best reflected by the transition of the 57 to 58 Chevy, with the exquisite 58 Impala leading the show. Instead of tacked on taillights and adding complicated chrome bling to make the sides interesting, the bodies themselves now became sculpted pieces, a giant leap forward. I began to understand that drawing and designing cars was a 3D process translated by the mind of designers of the day into 2D on paper. There were no computers. Then the fabulous GT40s changed everything.
The GT40, based on a race car designed by Lola’s Eric Broadley, brought home hard and fast the necessity of aerodynamics and not simply streamlining, the former being a more precise and scientific analysis of where the wind travels over the car’s surface, just at the time when computers were beginning their ascendancy. From there it was a simple leap to development of air dams, spoilers, wings and under-body venturis and diffusers. Cars could now go faster and stay on the road. Credit also had to be given to Dr. Kamm and the German Kammback principle found at the rear of a GT 40. I studied this car more than any other. It was the perfect aerodynamic testbed and one of the truly first successful holistic development of a cars body made me understand that there was more going on than a side view could depict and I knew I had to begin to draw in three dimensions. This was in the sixties and there still were no personal computers.
The French developed the Bezier curve which was adopted by the Aircraft industry to use in mainframes in the design of high performance aircraft. And soon computers would be used to also test concept automobiles without having to build a prototype. I habituated myself to conceptualize my vehicles in 3D form where I could follow the airflow around the body in my mind. This is key for any good designer/artist to learn. It became easier to then translate on paper in 2D form. My formal art education was yet to begin but at least the mind was working.
In the 80s and 90s I created concepts in pencil and later color as seen at my site page. So much of my development as an artist stemmed from an aspiration to actually design and build cars or be part of a team that did so. I was beginning to get a complete picture of what an automobile was.
Above. On the left, drawing from the late 80s on the right mid/late 2000s of my BMW concept.
Above the Valkyrie concept made with sheet plastic and utilizing a Jaguar XJ220 1/18 chassis. My first successful scale mock-up or sculpture, early 1990s. Long before the Enzo.
A health change around 1997 forced me to make a career change from a white collar employee to try my luck at Graphic Design. With the help of my wife I went back to school and got an associates degree in Graphic Design, a technical one. I then began doing digital as well as acrylic art and sold quite a few prints and paintings. The site classicautorenderings.com remained for many years on the top page of most related keywords.
Getting even a Graphic Design degree was invaluable in my growth as an artist. The program, as all degrees in the arts at that time, required a number of foundation courses related to the fine arts. These were absolutely necessary, do not avoid them, learn about them on the Internet, the principles of art and the principles of design, the color wheel, perspective and probably some others I have missed.
For me these all came together. Now all my art would be in color. For most automotive artists this is preferred though black and white is excellent in pencil. Remember, I was taking these art classes at the same time as the computer graphics classes which also taught us the traditional hands on methods using paints and cutting paper. I have no idea if this is still done, but in a sense this was good as I believe that artistic individuals love to work with their hands anyway and I believe it stimulates the brain.
AA: What are you working on at the moment?
RH: Everything is in flux and projects take time. One I have been involved in but cannot go into detail on because of proprietary reasons is the transferring of one of my blown up digital art-pieces to flooring for buildings. The artwork is called Show Off and depicts my daughter driving the original Vette show car up the Pacific Coast highway. More than that I cannot tell you. The company that created the idea is showing the uniquely mounted art-piece at conventions.
Above Show off.
I try to contribute to the Guild of Motoring Artist’s magazine ‘Redline’ as often as I can. I was accepted as a member about five years ago into the international automotive artists group based in England.
I would like again to do more design work, rather than portraits or narratives of classic vehicles, but I am always available to do a painting on commission. This brings me to the fourth question below.
AA: What else should we know about you and your work?
RH: The final stage of my development came as an auto designer. Realistically, it is hard to avoid the fact that most automotive artist would rather design a vehicle than paint an image of one designed by someone else. I had long given up the idea of ever designing a car until, through my site, I was invited to do renderings of a concept that eventually became the Iconic AC Roadster, and later a modded TR3 for a customer in Australia. The Triumph mod can be seen at http://classicautorenderings.com/triumph.html. The Iconic AC Roadster, on line though it differs somewhat from the concept. Soon following this I was invited to do the renderings of a full line of vehicles for http://errainc.com/. The newer versions of the vehicle are not shown and maybe one day I will be allowed to post them on the site.
When I started working for Erra I had never used a 3D program, but I was asked to purchase one under 1k. I chose to go with Solid Thinking and spent months learning how to use it. I eventually created a series of trucks, buses, sedans, pickups and sports cars for a full line of vehicles, unfortunately the automotive aspect of Erra was put on hold.
I was able to transfer the knowledge of Solid Thinking to create some of my own concepts which I show below.
A modern version of a Talbot, front, side and rear. A concept of a New Cobra, 4 different versions, and the Zeta concept. These have never been published anywhere before, even on my site.
AA: Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others?
RH: Strive to learn what you can from wherever you can, life experiences are as important as degrees if you use them. To create beautiful art may require learning the tools and how to apply them but the creativity is always with you.
Take every opportunity that comes your way and give yourself more credit than you normally would. Every new thing requires a learning curve. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge into a new unfamiliar project. Keep growing. As they say if you don’t try you will never know.
AA: What type of prints do you offer and where can they be purchased?
RH: As mentioned earlier I sell through Artflakes and Fine Art America. But for a full view of my posted work, check out classicautorenderings.com where I can be reached by e-mail for commissions on original portraiture or design projects.
Original Delorean concept. Above 3D below, 2D version. The 3D developed from the 2D.
We would like to thank Rick for taking the time for doing the interview and sharing with us information about him and his work. See more of his artwork at his website http://www.classicautorenderings.com.