The Rounds – A #MSBEXP-LA Thanksgiving Story

In the beginning, boxing fights continued until one fighter quit or was knocked out.  Brutal but effective.  In the 1920’s 15 rounds was adopted as the norm for championship fights. Still brutal.  It was reduced to 12 rounds in 1982 after an especially sad event.  The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ has knockouts, but thankfully no designers are injured during the event (provided you don’t consider their egos).  Yet the fight is only 3 rounds long.  Why?  Because most of us have to get up and go to work the next day? To read the real reason, read on, and forgive me for using the theme of Thanksgiving to answer ……………

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In the beginning, Brook Banham created the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ (#MSBEXP) as a way to bring attention to design in the Detroit community and promote Middlecott Design, the fledgling design firm he had started with his wife Judith.  The genesis of the idea came from his Business class in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the College for Creative Studies.  The first event on September 22, 2012 had the now familiar party atmosphere people expect from the Sketchbattles, but the format was substantially different.  It is a key reason Brook tacked the word “experiment” onto that first event description.  The desire was for the party to grow organically and not to restrict the definition of what it was, beyond a radical new form of sketching competition.04f64456-6f00-467a-8b28-68edef43236d_rw_600

By the time I met Brook, Advanced Automotive Consulting Services (AACS) was also a fledgling company, having been started in January 2011.  AACS provided business development and corporate strategy services for automotive suppliers and was mainly known in the design community for the popular Designer Night at the Races™ Charity Karting events.  Brook and I were introduced by a mutual friend, Shabtai Hirshberg at the Autoweek Design Forum in 2013, a passion project of Dutch Mandel.  The conversations about the Sketchbattle started immediately and ramped up heavily after the summer EyesOn Design party hosted by Keith Nagara of Lawrence Tech’s Design School.  By September, Brook and I were partners.  Thank you Keith, Dutch and Shabtai.

The first joint event was planned for the Kunsthalle Museum during the 2014 North American International Auto Show.  A freak cold snap, even for Detroit, caused a last minute schedule change as the Museum sustained massive damage due to freezing water and on 3 days notice the event was moved to The Tangent Gallery and Hastings Street Ballroom.  The facts are important because they demonstrate the main foundation the Sketchbattle is built on – the grittiness of Detroit and Detroit people.  In the middle of her Museum crisis, owner Tate Osten continued to help the event in it’s last minute move, and Tangent owner Joe van Bael took care of so many unforeseen/unplanned issues, the event was an unqualified success and launched the brand.  Without that first joint event in January, 2014, we would not be here today.  Thank you Tate and Joe.1557499_10153680156930162_979562995_n

Through the following 6 events, several firsts were recorded.  The Animal Aid Foundation and Project Beautiful Inside and Out were the first charities that came on board thanks to the foresight of Aaron Bambach and Doris Gilles.  Lacks Enterprises and BASF Corporation were the first companies to become our partners, and their support have helped the event grow into what you are going to experience in Los Angeles next week.  Mark Montone from Lacks Trim Systems was the first person to see the benefits of the event and support it. Mary Ann Short from BASF came on board right afterwards thanks to an introduction from Heidi Bliss.  Thank you Aaron, Doris, Mark, Mary Ann and especially Heidi.

It was during these events that Brook and I developed the final theme of the event; Brook had always billed the event as “The Fight Club of Design” and I came up with the idea of using boxing cannon to formalize the event run-of-show.  Doris especially is to thank as she is the one who came up with the idea of having a title belt to award to the winner.  Of course, the belts would not happen without the continued support of Pam and Adam Genei at Mobsteel.  Thank you Pam and Adam.

Mary Short, especially, threw BASF’s weight behind the event and has been instrumental in our growth beyond Detroit with the first Los Angeles event in 2016.  This year the Sketchbattle expanded to Las Vegas and thanks to the vision of people at the LA Auto Show like Terri Toennies and Lefty Tsironis, the Sketchbattle is now onsite at an auto show for the first time ever.  Thank you Lefty and Terri.

Finally, through this “experiment”, Brook and I have collected an “island of misfit toys” staff of awesome people who make the event happen.  Liberals and Conservatives working together to make the world a better place for design students and professionals.  One of the first people who joined the permanent staff was Satori Circus, our ringmaster and event referee.  If you sketch below the belt, he will catch you.  Jake Gutierrez, famous for introducing Floyd Mayweather in his first professional fight is our Ring Announcer.  Our DJ Nemo is not just a car designer, he spins our Detroit music. Danny mixes video live during the event. Erin, Destiny and Nikki may be the real stars as they take care of registration and guests, along with hoisting the title belt and ring rounds.  Plus they manage the temporary staff that setup and make every event possible.  Thank you Satori, Jake, Nemo, Danny, Erin, Destiny and Nikki.

And we should never forget Judith for all the work she does in the shadows as Brook and I tend to get all the credit.  To be honest, she is typically the logical tie-breaker when Brook and I cannot agree on something, and THAT is likely the most valuable asset the we have.

Along the way the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ has grown based on its core vision “To celebrate and elevate Design as a skill and talent on par with athletics”.  We see no reason that design schools can’t compete on a sketch table in the same way major universities compete on the football field.  For that matter, if design schools, why not a Manufacturer’s battle?.  Our vision to celebrate and elevate is supported by our core objectives;

  1. To crown the best of the best in an open competition format
  2. To expose the general public to Design as a career
  3. To encourage young people to explore their artistic talents
  4. To benefit local charities, preferably in the automotive or arts
  5. To celebrate Detroit as the Center of Automotive Design

The last objective is especially important, as the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ provides travel funding for the winners of every event to come to the finale in Detroit every January above and beyond the $2,500 Grand Prize presented by BASF.  This year that includes Daney Chhang who won the recent Las Vegas Sketchbattle held during SEMA, and this event.IMG_0796.JPG

So, thanks for indulging me, and without further ado, the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ has 3 rounds because the standard sketching process has 3 steps; ideation, expansion, and final design.  And while we do not follow that format in our competition, it is as good a reason as any and a natural segeway into the 3 rounds of our 11th event, the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ Los Angeles 2017. 22552430_1493122134108053_1319715593557155225_n

Each round the contestants have 25 minutes to sketch according to the chosen theme.  The contestants are given the themes approximately one week before the event – until then it is kept as a closely guarded secret to give all an equal chance.  While they may practice, and bring reference drawings, they cannot trace or use any electronic devices to complete their sketch.  And the sketch must be manual, no tablets.

Round 1 – Vehicle Audio by Harman

Vehicle audio systems can transport us to a different place.  Take us there with a branded audio system of the future in the vehicle of your choice, using one of the brands listed. (Harman-Kardon, JBL, Bang and Olufsen, Mark Levinson, Infinity, Revel, Lexicon). 8 Professionals and 8 Students will start round 1.  At the end, half will be eliminated.harman

Round 2 – Grilles and/or Wheels by Lacks Enterprises

Lacks Enterprises is a large supplier of metal finishes for the large OEMs “Create a sketch showing a grill/ and or a wheel in context”. Focus your sketch on one or both of these parts, not necessarily the whole vehicle. See sketches below as possible examples.  8 Contestants will start round 2.  At the end half will be eliminated.lacks

Round 3 – The Championship Round –  “Haymaker” by BASF

The Championship round is by BASF, a large paint supplier for the OEMs. Use the color “Haymaker” as inspiration for your vehicle sketch. BASF created this color specifically for the LA Sketchbattle and as a “Haymaker” is a type of boxing punch, it represents the toughness that a Sketchbattle warrior possesses.  4 Contestants will start the Championship Round.  At the end, 1 Sketchmaster will be chosen.basf

In addition to these great companies and partners, Covestro is also on board this year to make sure we have the greatest event in our history.  Many years ago I was hosting a soccer party to watch the German Team in the World Cup.  I noticed a family nearby where the daughter had a Germany Kit on.  So, I did what any German in Michigan would do, I went up and introduced myself.  The father, Bruce Benda, turned out to be a great guy, and as a result, Covestro is one of our longest supporters, after Lacks and BASF.  Thank you Bruce!


PS, if you love the pictures, we have way too many photographers to thank for the content.  I’ll start with Ingo Rautenberg, Isaac Ireland, Ted Peeri, John Adams and apologies to the many more who have contributed through the years.

Be sure to come back this week to read the rest of the story:

And don’t forget to make a donation in advance

We expect a rather long line at the event and having your tickets in advance will shorten your queue time.  Also don’t forget we support students with deeply discounted advance tickets.MSBE Los Angeles presented by BASF v_7

Tickets for the 2017 LA event can be found here



About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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