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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Drawing wheels

The hardest part of drawing this classic beauty? Not the shiny fenders, nor the reflective chrome, but something much more basic--where the rubber meets the road.
Seldom does an artist face a greater challenge in drawing manmade objects that when encountering a wheel. Moreover, one doesn't have to be a classic car artist to come face to face with much the same challenges. Wheels may be encountered in many circumstances totally unrelated to automobiles. Many art students I've taught put out beautiful drawings of automobiles until they came to the wheels and tires. Then their eye-hand coordination seems to break down in the face of certain preconceived notions within their minds as to the nature of such items. Wheels are circular, right? Round--right? Sometimes, yet one could almost add, but not often. It's all a matter of angles. Wheels and details like tires, spokes, hubcaps, and even steering wheels change their shape drastically depending upon the viewing angle. If one is content to always draw side-views of cars, then the wheels are simply a matter of deftly employing a drawing compass. But, change the viewing angle as little as five degrees, and you have a whole different "ball of wax."

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Relic, Jim Lane.
Spokes are a challenge all their own.
Tires are basically short cylinders.
Although wheels have been around since...well, the invent-tion of the wheel, whenever that was. However they were never much of a problem for artists until the advent of horse-draw carriages a few hundred years back; and even then most of those were drawn in side views with round wheels. It was hardly more than a minor problem even when artists started employing wheeled conveyances in their history paintings and genre scenes. The spokes were tricky, but nothing a little geo-metry couldn't conquer.
Ford Roadster, 1980, Jim Lane.
The wheels are similar, yet different.
(This painting was stolen many years ago.)
However, about 1900, along came the automobile...lots of them, becoming so much a part of daily life, they (and their wheels) became quite unavoidable, especially for artists painting the urban landscape and those illustrating automobile advertisements. Most professionals, or course, had the training, if not the experience, in rendering circles at various angles (above). It was the art students and amateurs who encountered difficulties. Even today you sometimes see excellent drawings and paintings of cars with downright horrible wheels and tires.
Two-point perspective wheels.
The problems are many--chrome, intricate wheel and hubcap designs, tire lettering, shading, angles, etc. Although modern-day vehicles often have much of their wheels and tires obscured by fenders and shadows, the budding young artist soon comes to realize that front wheels are not the same as those in the rear and the those on the left, differ slightly in scale from their counterparts on the right. I used to teach high school students to draw cars using two-point perspective (tricky, but not impossible). When It came to the tires, I had them first create cubes, the proper height, width, and thickness, using standard two-point perspective (red lines, above). Then they drew straight lines from the opposite corners of the main side of the cube to find the center-point (in blue, above). Then, using that point and the vanishing point, they could ascertain the point where each quadrant of the wheel began to curve. A similar vertical line (in green) through the center-point would indicate where the curve stopped. The curve itself was sketched in free-hand between the two points for each wheel quadrant (short curves being easier than large ones). The result was an oval shape drawn much more accurately than was usually possible "free-handing" the wheel.

The blue lines must be "perfected" before
the red lines in each step are added.
For the benefit of those right-brained artist for whom any form of perspective is an anathema, I've included a sort of "how-to" drawing (above). The video at the bottom is a similar lesson in sketching wheels and tires free-hand. Note that some genius many years ago decided wheels should be held in place with five lug nuts; thus most wheels and hubcaps today have five "pie" slices each set at 72 degrees. That's tricky, at best, with a side view of a wheel, but a horrendous challenge for the artist drawing wheels at an angle (above).

Copyright, Jim Lane
A 1920s vintage Rolls Royce, probably the most
difficult "set of wheels" I ever painted.
Copyright, Jim Lane
1956 Plymouth (Belvedere), 2014,
Jim Lane, my first "set of wheels."


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