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Old School Viscom book review

With the diverse range of digital tools available to a designer today, it can often be easy to forget that there was time when all renderings were done the good old fashioned way. Nothing more than paper, marker pens, pencils, chalks and imagination. However, whilst the many benefits of an increasingly digital workflow are obvious, what is often overlooked is how much can be learned from understanding the way things used to be done. The new book from Jason White, Old School Viscom, aims to redress this balance. After really enjoying the read of our copy here at DesignerTechniques, we thought we would share with you our thoughts.

The premise behind the book is that even if you do not intend to throw away your Wacom just yet, the old techniques still have a lot to offer. As Jason explains, the wider the range of skills you have as a designer, the greater your advantage will be in the competitive design field. He also points out that many of these old school techniques transfer well into the digital realm, and should certainly serve as useful inspiration for developing your own drawing styles. Having had a few "aha" moments ourselves after reading the book, this is certainly something we can agree with!

Inside the book are 20 renderings created with a variety of "non digital" techniques. The techniques and methods used to create these drawings are then broken down into 20 steps. Each tutorial includes detailed instructions on both the methods and the materials used, which along with the accompanying images make the book easy for even beginners to follow. We were also impressed to see that Jason has taken the time to explain not only the how of the techniques, but the why as well.

For the more experienced designers the book should also prove a valuable resource. It is difficult not to become inspired by the quality of Jason's work, and easy to start imagining how the techniques could be used within your own work.

To find out more, we were also lucky enough to be able to speak to Jason,

Hi Jason, tell us a little about yourself, and why you decided to the write Old School Viscom?

During the day, I work as a designer at Ford Motor Company; at night, I teach Transportation Design courses at the College for Creative Studies, my alma mater. Over the last few years, I've noticed that the spectrum of drawing styles at school has narrowed considerably. I'm not sure if this is due to the transition from analogue to digital or just the result of the most popular styles rising to the top; probably a mixture of both. The point is that it's getting harder and harder for these students to stand out in a crowd. With this book, they have an opportunity to try a wide array of drawing styles and decide which techniques are the best for them, rather than simply adopt the style with the most web hits.

You mention it becomes harder for a young designer to stand out in the crowd. Besides trying and learning new drawing techniques, are there other ways they can stand out?

Look for areas that are being neglected by your competition. For example, if no one in your class is exploring a particular vehicle platform, be the one who does. If everyone is drawing their inspiration from architecture and watches, go to the museum and get inspiration from suits of armour or Henry Moore sculptures. Whatever it takes to keep you out of the woodwork when interview week arrives.

We see also you have spent time as a teacher at CCS, do you find that students are relying more and more on 3D CAD programs for rendering and are perhaps losing out as result?

It's true that if you become too reliant on 3D CAD to present your ideas, you may lose sight of what actually causes reflections and highlights to do what they do. I've come across some students who apply a reflection to a bodyside like it's a decal, unaware of the physics behind what they are illustrating. Is this due to computers figuring everything out for them? In some cases, yes. In others, I think the students just need to spend more time thinking about the surfaces in their work and how they would appear in a real world environment.

Would you recommend that beginners avoid digital programs such as Alias Studiotools and Adobe Photoshop until they have built at least a basic sketching ability?

Yes, absolutely. I've seen students with minimal renderings skills try to make the jump to Photoshop, and frankly, it can be quite embarrassing. Without the foundation of basic Viscom skills, they're way more likely to rely on lens flares and ramp flood fills. And since they have endless undos at their disposal, they could potentially noodle a drawing to death or end up in a loop that goes nowhere. I'm sure that there are students out there who are an exception to the rule, but in my experience, getting the basics down on paper first is the best way to go.

After sketching on paper do you then bring these into Photoshop or similar to render? Or do the sketches remain pen sketches?

At CCS, there is a strong emphasis placed on getting a drawing right on paper first and then scanning it in for the rendering. This works very well because it forces the students to work out most of the design and perspective flubs before they start rendering. I can't speak for everyone, but kicking off a rendering in Photoshop from a dead white page is really difficult. At the very least you should have a refined line drawing as a base to start from.

Hopefully you find that they are both surprised and inspired by seeing how much the old techniques have to offer?

Yes, both. I've also received an overwhelmingly positive response from retired designers. They appreciate that I'm documenting these old techniques; now they won't be lost to the next generation.

In your own design work you presumably use both digital and "analogue" visualisation techniques. How do you find these different techniques compliment each other?

I find manual sketching with ballpoint pens ideal for just emptying raw ideas onto a piece of paper. There are times when I build rough Alias models as an idea-generating exercise, but without the details, they tend to look a bit spartan. I often have to bring these models back into Photoshop and dress them up a bit before I call them done. So most of the time, I reserve Alias for my presentation work and keep my idea-generating work analogue. The right tool for the right job, so to speak.

What advice would you give to aspiring students looking to improve their own design visualisation techniques?

Try everything. Don't limit yourself to what you see your peers doing or what you've seen on the web. Do the legwork and find techniques that will not only work for you, but will also set you apart.

In conclusion, Old School Viscom is a book that we find easy to recommend. Whether you are looking to learn visualisation skills, brush up the skills you have, or just would like to appreciate the craft and art of automotive rendering, Old School Viscom should be on your shopping list!

To find out more, and to order your own copy then visit,

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page last updated; 2014-06-15
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