John included his site domain in an email he sent Dean’s Garage a few weeks ago. I ended up spending a good 45 minutes looking through his incredible portfolio of work, and invited him to be a featured designer on Dean’s Garage. This post contains just a small sample of his work, so be sure to check out John Bell Studio.


All I wanted to do was draw race cars.

My brothers and I grew up in New Jersey with a love of muscle cars. This love, and hearing radio ads for drag strip events at nearby Raceway Park increased our desire to go to the drags, so we talked our father into taking us to as many as possible. I began to draw funny cars and dragsters that I saw in the magazines we bought. All I wanted to do when I grew up was to draw race cars. I started to sell drawings to the drivers, and as a teenager I was making good money doing it.

Then my dad came home from an LA business trip where he told me there was a school that taught students how to draw and design cars. That was my introduction to Art Center. I sent in a portfolio of my work and was accepted into their transportation design department.

Coming out of school I was offered a job at General Motors in Detroit. I was placed into a studio with Clark Lincoln. From there I moved around and into several other Advanced Concepts Studios which included Ron Hill, Press Brunning, and Elia ‘Russ’ Russinoff, among others.

Post GM Career

As my design goals would expand, I moved out to California as a conceptual artist at Atari Games. By the late 1980’s, I joined George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic where I would work on and off for the next twenty years as an illustrator and art director. During my time at ILM, I collaborated on numerous landmark special effects films including Star Trek IV, Innerspace, and the film classics Back to the Future II & III, which I was nominated for an Academy Award and won a BAFTA. In 1991, I moved to Los Angeles to work as Art Director on Steven Spielberg’s effects blockbuster Jurassic Park.

After the success of JP, I took a break from film to pursue new challenges at Nike as a Senior Designer working on everything from footwear and clothing to graphics and new brand concepts. I would later return to Northern California to continue providing concept art on numerous films such as: Men in Black, Mission Impossible, Contact, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Starship Trooper. I would then go on to Production Design in Dreamworks’ first animated CG feature ANTZ.

Upon the completion of ANTZ, I moved into video game design at Electronic Arts as a Senior Concept Designer. My work is featured in many video games such as Freekstyle, The Simpsons, On the Boarder, Godfather II, and fan favorite Dead Space. During this time, I also provided freelance design work on the following animated films:  Cars, Mars Loves Moms, Arthur Christmas, Cars2, and The Penguins of Madagascar.

I would then return to ILM to work as a concept artist on the Academy Award winning films Rango, Pirates IV, and the 2015 Best Picture of the Year, The Revenant. Over the years, my many advertising and product design clients have included: Nike, BMW, Samsung, New Belgium Brewing Co., Hasbro, Mattel, Wyoming Board of Tourism, Colorado State University, and Suerte Tequila.

Throughout my career, my personal art has been sold in numerous galleries throughout the country, featured on ESPN Sports, the cover of Juxtapoz magazine, and in other publications. Currently, I reside with my family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Work Flow

My work flow hasn’t changed much over the years. I still put pencil and pen to paper first, scan it into the computer and do color work in PhotoShop and /or Illustrator, depending on the needs. I’ve dabbled with a couple 3D programs over the past few years, but I get frustrated too easily by the learning curve. I ask myself ‘am I learning this because I want to, or I have to’. I was able to get good enough to create a couple models, but it was more to see if I could do it.

I think that if I were at the beginning of my career, I’d be willing to put in the time and effort, but for the projects I’m doing, I don’t really feel the need to take these programs on. If I were to build, or sculpt something, I’d want to do it in the real world, not digital.

GM Design

Post GM Career Work

  1. Outstanding, so creative and what a great imagination.

  2. John, what a fantastic career and life experience that you have had as a designer and artist. I was at GM design at that time also and wonder if we ever crossed paths. That was a long time ago. My son teaches at Layola Marymount in LA, I am going to pass this article onto him, I’m sure he will enjoy it. All the best, you had a lot of fun. Dick Ruzzin

  3. Norm James

    Great technique and absolute mastery of it!

  4. Quite the portfolio. Great stuff.

  5. Great artist & friend. What a fantastic journey you’ve been on. It seems like only yesterday that Bob “Circus Paint” Gerdes and I saw you and your equally talented brother Steve
    (on your bicycles) trying to catch a peek of the “Funny Cars” we were working on.

    Thanks for being such a big inspiration.

  6. JB you’re creative genius, it was a pleasure to work with ya.

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