By Bill Porter

I found a couple of my old Pontiac Studio sketches from the late ’50s–early ’60s era that were not selected for the Designing an Icon show that will be opening at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston on September 24, 2009. I believe the show will run for about 6 weeks, then it goes to the Peoria, IL Art Association in early 2010. Further info about its Houston venue should be available soon on the College’s website under Exhibits. Gary is contacting them about posting it here on Dean’s Garage too. Anyone interested in drawing and rendering techniques should enjoy this show, made up of 100 designer sketches and renderings, both exteriors and interiors from the Musclecar era the 1960s and early 1970s. Most of the sketches are from GM designers, but there are a number from Ford and Chrysler designers as well. All the various mediums and techniques of the era are represented.


1963 Pontiac Bonneville sketch on newsprint with 352 Pluvius pencil by Bill Porter. Dated October 1960.

Newsprint pads, the same stuff your newspaper is printed on, were far cheaper than other sketch pads and were very popular at Pratt Institute where I did my graduate work in Industrial Design in 1957–58. While Conté crayons work well on newsprint, an even more refined technique consisted of 352 Pluvius pencil (a wonderful inky black graphite pencil no longer available) on smooth newsprint. These old Pontiac sketches were done in that technique. I liked the feel, the pull of the pencil on that creamy newsprint surface, but with GM paying for all of the materials used in the studio, the cheapness of newsprint was no longer a factor and I finally abandoned it in favor of vellum. Vellum has many advantages: translucency so you can do a rough, then overlay it for the final, you can work the back side of vellum for more subtle effects, and you can easily achieve full color effects with pastel and marking pens. Putting color on newsprint was not really satisfactory because pastel didn’t take at full strength and tempera (gouache) wrinkled the cheap, absorbent surface. Nevertheless, the creamy color and character of newsprint combined with the wonderful black tones attainable with Pluvius pencil do have a certain restrained—almost Old Master grace. Also, I was interested in a sort of black & white photo-realism at the time, and this technique lent itself to that.

The Bonneville sketch was done in October 1960 as a proposal for the ’63 (note license plate) Bonneville. Evidently I dusted a little magenta pastel across the drawing to give it a hint of color, sort of like an old tinted photograph. The red in the tail lamps is probably red Prismacolor pencil because we didn’t have marking pens then. The newsprint has yellowed down a little from its original bright cream color. Eventually, if exposed to light, it will turn paper bag color and ultimately disintegrate. The tannic acid in the relatively raw wood pulp is highly destructive. Newsprint is about as far from archival paper as you can get. But nobody thought of these sketches as “art” at the time. Actually, I did secretly, but I am sure management did not.

Get a load of that rear overhang! As I recall, the Bonneville was seven inches longer than the Catalina, most of it in the tail. The skinny tires and flat side glass sure do date it, don’t they?  Oops, I forgot to draw in the tail pipes.


Pontiac LeMans front end sketch on newsprint with 352 Pluvius pencil by Bill Porter.


This sketch was done around 1964 for a Pontiac Le Mans front end. Shaded areas such as the hood show quite a bit of paper grain even though this was the smooth grade of newsprint, but the crisp blacks give both the sheet metal and chrome areas a fine snap. Pontiacs, especially the up-line models in the sixties, had a bit of glamour that this technique favored. But I must have been daydreaming that afternoon because I meant to put an elegant script “Pontiac” in the lower right corner of the sketch and was startled when I realized that I had begun to spell my own name instead! Pluvius pencil, once it was burned in on Newsprint, did not erase well, so I guess I just stopped right there and abandoned the sketch.  It’s just as well because a nearly identical design was on the full size clay model at the time. Bill Mitchell, our legendary VP of Design, came in just before lunch. Standing in front of the car, he looked at it and said (profanity deleted), “Porter, that front looks like if you opened the hood…pigeons would fly out!” So much for that design.

The approach of this LeMans sketch, where a lot is left to the imagination, dates from Art Deco Style ads and fashion illustrations of the ’20s and ’30s. By the 1960s when this piece was done it was actually a retro style of presentation.

  1. Wow, those are fabulous sketches. Incredible.

  2. joegagan

    Bill, I see how much influence you had on numerous designs at GM. Even when your idea did not fly, other designers ‘lifted’ a design element here and there. I believe that you were the standard for the “beauty years” (’65–’73) at GM.

  3. Wendy

    I am searching for a pencil comparable to the Pluvius 352, a favorite of mine for use in my drawings. My google search brought me to this website. If you have a suggestion, I would appreciate hearing from you.

  4. These are fantastic. I think if you want to psychologically analyze the brand name turned into a signature, I think subconsciously you were just very proud of your sketch! I would be!

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