Learn to sketch cars like the pros for free—and online

Kids these days, am I right? Things that once required trips to the library, letters to physical locations, and long-distance phone calls now require only the right search engine and a handful of beneficial websites.

Case in point, I wanted to be a car designer well before a computer told me about marketable skills or the college degrees available to put a kid like me into a design studio. Information about the trade from my school’s career center was nonexistent.

Now we can take an introductory course in automobile design from the comfort of our own homes? For free?


Wikimedia | Unknown Author | Public Domain

I would have killed for what we have today, because “in my day” we played with a hoop and a stick after school. And we liked it!

But we should be far more thankful than jealous. Why? The days of forced ignorance are long gone, thanks in part to the Petersen Automotive Museum and Yellowbrick. This dynamic duo now offers an introductory course in car design for artists and enthusiasts of all ages.

This is an introduction, not a deep dive: Nobody claims this online coursework is a legitimate substitute for classroom instruction at a four-year college.

So let’s dip our toes into the industry with Yellowbrick’s Auto Design and Sketching. This three-part, online course is yours once you click on this link and provide an email address.

Three modules await you. The first focuses on what makes car design such a unique career and covers core design principles, needed skills, industry trends, and a little bit of history.

2005 mustang convertible skyline beach Car Design sketch petersen yellowbrick free online class
Ford Motor Company

The second module provides individual vehicle profiles to put it all into perspective. While the DeLorean DMC-12, Lamborghini Gallardo, 2005 Ford Mustang, and Tesla Model S aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, each is an example of how we design/sell/market/admire cars and car design in the modern age.

Car Design sketch petersen yellowbrick free online class delorean

The third module is the meat and potatoes of the course, as we get an overview into sketching a vehicle from a faculty member at Pasadena, California’s ArtCenter College of Design. One of the hardest things is to make circles and ellipses with precision, but they are mandatory learning in this field. (Best to pause the course and practice these shapes offline.) The course goes further to show drawing in perspective, including a simple classic car (Model T) and modern cars.

You can finish the class in a couple hours, but allowing for extra practice time between courses ensures that the serious student will take much longer to complete it.

After taking the course myself, I reached out to Justin Wolske, director at Yellowbrick, for a few follow-up questions and concerns. The latter pertained to errors in the quiz portion of the second module, mistakes which should be resolved by the time you participate in the program. His prompt attention to my concerns was refreshing, and his candid feedback about Yellowbrick’s Auto Design and Sketching program was enlightening.

Online learning platforms like Coursera are tailored to traditional careers with expected educational methods for career advancement, but Justin notes that Yellowbrick is unique in its focus on the creative arts, which it believes “have typically been neglected in the online space.” The company partners with institutions familiar to creatives, including NYU, Parsons School of Design, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Yellowbrick prides itself on the quality of its instruction, and the car-design superstars you see in this program certainly prove the point.

I asked Wolske why Yellowbrick partnered with the Petersen Museum, he said the two have a previous relationship, but the stars hadn’t lined up until now. Justin said that Petersen and Omaze (a for-profit charity) decided “they wanted to make the discipline of auto design more accessible to their patrons, and all young people.” Clearly an online partner with experience in teaching creative subjects was needed. And it had to be free, as Justin put it:

“Auto design is not an inexpensive study or career path, and many talented young people have been locked out from the early steps of the career path due to finances. We wanted to undercut that trend.”

I asked who was their intended audience for this course, and Wolske said the initial target was males aged 18 to 25. But Yellowbrick is seeing “substantial activity from younger audiences, and some surprising signup data from women.”

The traditional Yellowbrick audience trends a little older (late 20s to early 30s), skews to women of color, and is mostly composed of those who have some connection to higher education. So the business model works, and it clearly helps lower the cost of an education with a creative institution. Well, at least in theory.

Car Design sketch petersen yellowbrick free online class

In reality, I wanted to see where Yellowbrick positions this course relative to four-year degrees in industrial or transportation design. Justin reminded me that “the first step is letting people know that this field exists.” True to that! Yellowbrick knows that many enthusiasts “can’t even conceive that they can do this for a living,” so Justin treats this course as a start to something more significant.

Both Justin and Yellowbrick hope that users “take those skills to more advanced online learning, an official four-year program, and ultimately a career in the field of auto design.”

Well, fair enough. As previously mentioned, I would have killed for this knowledge when I was younger. Or not, but after experiencing Auto Design and Sketchingfor myself over the 2022 Christmas break, I clearly would have lost my sophomoric mind if this course were available in my childhood.

When asked about a follow-up course, Justin mentioned that Yellowbrick is “already speaking with Petersen about future courses.” And they are listening to our feedback, which is likely to have a significant benefit to users in the future.

Bottom line, give the course a try. Unless you’ve already graduated with a four-year industrial design degree, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something from it. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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    Read up on Ralph Gillies history.

    Target audience should include younger than 18 for sure.

    “into cars” is the only other demographic attribute that matters (not gender, etc.).

    @sajeev, since you own cars that I like, I wish you would have pursued that career.

    Today’s designers own cars that I’d gladly feed into a crusher… along with the fruits of their labor.

    Sometimes I feel the same way, but to be fair, if I stuck with it, the odds of me being “here” with you would be very low.

    Everything works out in the end, if you have the patience to wait and/or seek it.

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