Designer Interview – Christian Palladino

March 20, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

NOTE: All images are owned by Christian Palladino and under copyright

Though many of you have enjoyed a lot of the digital techniques that are shared on this site, it is important to remember that proper application of digital techniques do not have the depth and substance without mastering the art of analog mediums.  In todays world, it seems that digital is the mainstream.  It is the quickest way to deliver concepts to clients via email without having to go through the process of spray fixing your work, taking pictures, and mounting them. Everything is now done with a click of a mouse button, swipe of a digital pen, and off it goes!

However, not all analog techniques are lost and gone.  I had the privileged opportunity to speak with designer Christian Palladino, from Argentina to discuss with him his style and approach to transportation design.  What I really appreciate about Christian is his love for the craft.  Christian has been passionate about automotive design at a young age and has had that drive and ambition to pursue his goals and dreams despite obstacles that he faced in life.

DM: Analog design is a bit of a rarity in today’s design world due to the proliferation of digital media tools. Often times I like to tell students that learning to draw by hand is key to making a successful digital switch. It’s great to see designers such as yourself maintain the analog edge. Is analog your preference now or do you occasionally render using digital tools?

CP: I prefer analog tools because it´s the way I learn! The best digital programs are those that closely resembles the way the human hand work. Keep in mind that designers “thinks” with hand strokes, so the basic ability for free-hand drawing is the same with some digital tools.
But there are some effects that you can´t do in digital, like spraying marker inks or a wash of watercolors. This techniques has random results impossible to achieve with the computer (by now, at least). In this days any illustration made in in digital way still has a hard and “plastic” feel.
I did n´t do full renders with digital tools, only little retouches (computer is waaaay more practical to do this!), adjustment of brightness, contrast and things like that. But in the short or long term, I think we’re all going to end up using digital tools, at least for design work, and the analog render maybe will have a place where more artistic values are demanded.

DM: Having passion for your craft is crucial for one to excel and succeed in their discipline. Tell me about your background and how did you get started in the field of design? At what age did you realize that trans design was the right path for you?

CP: My father is an ad illustrator and graphic designer (one of the first in Argentina to use airbrush in the ´70s). I never had the ability or patience to airbrushing, but I learned  line drawing and the design side of the business from him.
Here in Argentina there wasn’t a Car Design career as such at the end of the ’80s,  so when I finish school the only career similar was Industrial Design, so I attended this course. I was more passionate toward cars than products, but at least I was doing something similar regarding techniques and development process!

DM: Everyone seems to have some key event or individual that served as a catalyst to excite and energize a young mind to pursue their dream. Your sketches and hand rendering show so much love for the craft. What was your catalyst to get you started on drawing? Who were some of your key influences growing up that led to your decision?

CP: There were various factors, mimicking my fathers work since childhood was key to learn free-hand drawing, but the virus for cars were transmitted by an uncle of mine (a “car guy”) and by the fact that Carlos Reutemann was racing in F-1 in the ´70s.   He drove for various big teams (Brabham, Ferrari, Lotus, Williams) and fought several world titles.  Those were crazy times, everybody was aware of a lonely argentine racing in Europe, even housewives chatted about “ground effects” when doing the groceries! All very bizarre, here soccer is the most popular sport but F-1 fanaticism eclipsed all until 1982 when finally Reutemann retired .  So that was the “car germ”. Working alongside my father (since I was 12-13 years old) taught me the skills to illustrate and others like cutting masks, mounting in hardboard, technical drawing (analog, NOT Autocad), etc. and the way a designer thinks, albeit a graphic designer´s way! And then, in my free time and at school (…same thing?!) I always sketched cars.

DM: You have faced many challenges growing up. What were those challenges and how did you tackle them? Add to the fact that Argentina does not have the job opportunities that support a field in transportation design. How did you keep that drive and motivation up to pursue a career in trans design?

CP: Biggest challenge was the lack of a professional field here in Argentina. In the mid-60s Ford and GM established design divisions that adapted existing cars to local needs and tastes, but GM left this country in 1978 (to return in the mid-´90s, but did n´t re-open the design department) and Ford closed it´s own division in 1985.   There were a few things to design like buses or farm machinery but I simply didn’t have the connections to know when and where a project went under development.

In 1994 I was doing scoops of race cars for a local enthusiast mag, when one editor told me about an engineer friend of his who has running a project to build a micro car (backed with government money) to sell for u$ 5000 (a sort of Tata Nano, it has even a rear engine!) and was needing “a guy to do some presentation sketches…”   I got the job on a free-lance basis first, then full time from 1996 to 1999.   Although this project was never finalized for “political reasons,”  it gave me the chance to do a lot of sketches and explore styling trends.  From there I was able to make scale technical drawings for the 1:5 models and even work in the confection of the 1:1 mock-up.
When the project was stopped in 1999 the styling work was almost completely done, and to this day is the most important and complete project (a full car) that I took part.

DM: What led you to teach and how long have you been teaching?

CP: I quit Industrial Design college a little after I started working in the micro car project due to a lack of motivation to design “toasters, washing machines” and such. But when the car project was stopped I realized the huge mistake that I had made.
Then by 2000 a guy who has studied car design in Turin (in the Instituto Europeo di Design) returned to Argentina and opened an extracurricular course.   I attended this course because I want to re-enter the world of design under the guidance of someone with a more insightful experience.  Attending his classes I found a new motivation, I not only paid attention to what was taught, but also at HOW.
A couple of years later a friend of the chief-engineer of the microcar project opened a regular and complete curriculum on car design.   In one meeting they had in the office of my former boss, this guy, Andres Calviño.  He  saw the rendererings I made for the microcar and offered me a job to teach his course.   Although I had no previous experience, I accepted on the spot, somehow I wanted to put into practice what I learned in the car design courses I had attended. So since mid-2002 I became car design teacher and continue to this day!

DM: Which classes do you currently teach? What have been some of the challenges you faced when teaching a hungry crowd of students eager to learn from their master?

CP: Currently  I am a professor of Car Design Exteriors and Interiors and Rendering Techniques in the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN) and the Instituto Tecnológico de Motores (ITM) as part of grade careers, and also teach in a extracurricular course in my former Industrial Design college, the FADU (Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo de Buenos Aires). This is a short course more focused in developing free-hand drawing skills, and with that excuse I teach car drawing and rendering!
And the biggest challenge I face when teaching a hungry crowd is the lack of….. hunger! Maybe because I learned the process of design before entering college I expect  that every newbie to make full progress from the very beginning, but then I remember my classmates (most didn’t have a professional design background) from the ID college and they were people way more focused. Not sure, maybe I’m just getting old…!

DM: Hungry students eager to learn is also a problem in the States to some degree. What are some of the most common mistakes that students make?

CP: Ellipse orientation and aperture! ( sometimes I still miss an ellipse or two after all these years!). Other frequent mistake is the lack of symmetry. When drawing a car in perspective, is relatively easy to do correctly the facing corner, the hard part is to draw the opposite corner (eg: in a front right perspective the difficult part is to draw the left corner, and you can be sure that, following this mistake, the left pillar of windshield will be miss located too!).
But the most stupid mistake is when a student tries to convince me that he has the work accomplished with a couple of half-done sketches and a meaningless chatter… Fortunately some of them end up making me laugh! But in can be a little frustrating sometimes.

DM:  What are some of the different mediums you work with?

CP: For line work I use pen or color pencils (black, prussian blue or indian red). Frequently I mixed both (pen and pencils) in the same sketch. To illustrate, I use markers and powder chalk applied with cotton or a makeup remover disc (very, very traditional!). When I want more depth in the color I use the chalk bar directly on the paper and then rub it with my fingers. Sometimes I made the entire render with marker (a cleaner way of work, but you need a wider palette of marker colors). In both cases I finish the illustration by defining lines with pencils, pen and applying white gouache or correction pen for highlights (this depending on precision needed or deadlines).
One technique I particularly like is to make the background with ample strokes using a large piece of cotton embedded in benzine or ethyl alcohol and some drops or marker ink or with powder chalk (results are similar). It works like an oversized marker and gives a very dynamic and “loose” feel. Also I made some of the shadows and the floor this way and then define the body, wheels, etc. with markers and chalks (I use intensely the white chalk bar to illuminate facing up surfaces and to add some kinetic lines).
I always use photocopy paper because in Argentina nobody sells special marker paper (when exchange rates permitted in the 90s I bought three blocks of Letraset paper, but in 2001 the government devalued the national currency and suppliers simply stopped importing it because of the higher costs). You have to be more careful because the marker ink tends to wrinkle it a little and bleeds through, but mostly it’s OK.

DM: Wow…the results of using just photocopy paper are remarkable!  Lastly,  If you knew then, what you know now, what would be the one major thing you would change about your life or the decisions you made in the past?

CP: Not quitting college for sure! Finishing it would have widened my working options (and there is the legal matters too…). And maybe I should have tried harder to go and study or work in other countries at an earlier age. But fortunately I´m still on time to learn some digital rendering techniques!
I would like to thank Arvind Ramkrishna for this interview and for the time and effort he took to produce it!

DM:  Thanks for your time Christian…the pleasure was mine!

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