Technical illustrations give us a glimpse at the bones of our favorite machines. It’s why we feature such drawings on these pages, and why Jim Hatch has spent 30 years creating similar illustrations for clients in the automotive and motorcycle industries.
The New Jersey native attended the Otis-Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles (now the Otis College of Art and Design). A professor there introduced him to Kevin Hulsey, a titan of technical automotive illustration. “[Hulsey] gave me a test to take home. He said, ‘Copy this and bring it back,’ so I did. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was actually a job interview.” During his senior year, Hatch worked as Hulsey’s assistant, going full-time when he graduated in 1991.
“Everything was done by hand. There were no computers,” he said. “I would ink everything on a big board with a pen and Kevin would airbrush everything.”
Hatch later joined the team that helped create Los Angeles’s Petersen Automotive Museum, serving as an art director and illustrator and taking full advantage of the cars at his disposal. At the Petersen, “I would wait until everyone went home. Then I would go down and pick a car that I liked, I’d wheel it out into the open, and I’d take it apart without anyone knowing.”
One of those machines was a Nissan IMSA GTP prototype. “That car was the first one [where] it all kind of came together. Not only did it come out good, but it kind of launched how [I was] going to do this.”
The Nissan drawing was done with pen, paper, and paint, but by the time he left the Petersen, Hatch had switched tools. “The museum hired a graphic designer, and he came in with a computer, and said, ‘You should look at this.’ So he went home one night and I jumped on his computer and actually created a poster. From there, I was pretty much completely digital.”
The switch made life easier. “Because everything was done by hand, we took a lot of care in each line, line weight, how the lines look, and I think that transfers over very nicely into digital,” he added. “It’s all the same even though you’re using different tools.”
Coloring, too, has become much easier. “I’ll paint [the drawing] in Photoshop, but it is sort of a by-hand process,” he says. “The freedom of that part is amazing. I used to airbrush, and it was just a horrible process. You’d spill the paint, and you’d run out of air. It was just a mess.”
Hatch currently works on a Wacom Tablet and an Apple iMac Pro. The actual hardware he employs hasn’t changed much, but software technology has advanced rapidly in the last 22 years. “It’s the speed… the stability of it,” he says. “Back in the day, if you wanted to undo something in Photoshop, it could take a few minutes to wait. Now, it’s like a millisecond.”
To create his illustrations, Hatch starts with whatever source material he can get. This ideally means having the subject on hand, but digital files from engineers or photography will also do the trick. He likes to work with the people behind the products, he says.
“It’s cool to talk to the engineers and get their thoughts. To be that involved, not only do you get better art, it just makes sense.”
Even in the age of virtual reality and 3-D modeling, those insights are what keep us coming back to cutaways. The human touches at the heart of every machine.
“In the world of 3-D and CAD, people are looking for a bit of a different style,” Hatch says. “That’s kind of where I fit in.”
via Road & Track
This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Road & Track.