10 Questions with THE CHAMP

Last year the Sketchbattle world was shocked as the first ever professional to take the overall win.   John A. Frye, Digital Design Lead at Honda bested the field over 3 rounds of sketching to take home the title of Sketchmaster, the title belt, $2,500 cash and a killer stereo system.  We sat down with John to ask home our standard bank of 10 questions.  Here are his responses……


TSB: When did you know you wanted to be a designer?

JAF:  When I got my first Star Wars sketchbooks that collected all the pre-production concept drawings, I had an instant connection to what I wanted to create. Being an artisitic kid, but having desire for a life of painting landscapes with oils , I realized that sketching from vehicles the mind was possible for a career. This epiphany came to me at age five- it took many years to understand the path to and job of an industrial designer.

74105c49487379.58b66407686faTSB: Where do you go to school and how did you decide which school to attend?

JAF: School was community college in Oregon first. I was a jazz trumpet player and took hours of classes every week. At home I had a big Mayline drafting table where I studied the sketches in car magazines and tried to figure out media and techniques. I went to portfolio review events a few hours away in the big city and refined my work over a couple of years then applied for Art Center. I had done my research and at the time, Art Center was the best choice for me geographically and their reputation as a car design school of course is excellent.

asdasdTSB:  What was your first job? How did you get it?

JAF: First job right out of school was at Activision in Santa Monica. I was trying to stay on the west coast and didn’t have another offer right away. I worked on a video game project at Activision and cranked out about a half ream’s paper worth of vehicle sketches and during that time got calls from Honda and the industrial design shop Teague up in the Seattle area. Honda had been my dream employer throughout school so I jumped at it. 20 years and I’m still loving it. I look forward to going to work every Monday. That’s pretty rare!

1967-1969-cadillac-eldorado-2.jpgTSB:  What are your favorite cars and why?

JAF: Favorite cars- so many of course. I think the absolute zenith of auto styling for me is right around 1970. So many epic, clean and pure, and groundbreaking designs from that time period before the massive industry changes in the mid-1970s. 1968 Eldorado, 1968 Dodge Challenger III concept, but for me all the Gandini stuff at that time still wrecks my brain. The Bertone Stratos Zero is the stunning high. Only a few years before they were still shaking off the last vestiges of the tail-fin excess in Detroit, full surfaces, chrome trim and here comes this pure space-ship from Turin. It’s architectural, but has so much direction it’s fundamentally still vehicular. It detonates anything we would understand of the package of a car- proportionally, egress, and still gets me fired up. It’s the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” of car design.

delete2TSB:  Where do you get your inspiration?

JAF: Inspiration comes from all directions. I teach vehicle design for video games and movies, so I’m always looking at work coming out of all industries, not just production car design. I build a strong foundation on the entire visual histories of cars, airplanes, racing. I listen to a lot of music as an abstract method of arriving at something new- put on something that gets me motivated then start to create line and shape from nothing that fits the mood. I avoid looking directly at anything for reference to distance myself as much as possible from the contemporary.

IMG_1625TSB: Are there any other designers you admire?

JAF: My design admiration baseball card collection is a wide variety across many industries. Car guys, Gandini as I mentioned Ian Cartabiano is a fantastic designer and honestly great person and teacher. I know a lot of guys in the trenches that don’t get a public mention but are some of the most talented guys in the business- Ricky Hsu at Honda is a design monster. I am a big fan and collector of vintage illustration art and use it as color/expression influence so Bernie Fuchs, Fitz and Van, Peter Helck, George Bartell are big in my book. Lots of amazing stuff in the concept design community too- I pretty much love everything produced by Christian Pearce, George Hull, John Wallin Liberto.

Acura-Prescision-Concept-front-three-quarterTSB: What is the most recent project you worked on (that you are allowed to talk about)? Can you tell us a little about the process and end result?

JAF: The most recent thing I’ve had a hand in that I can talk about is the Acura Precision Concept. Gorgeous form with some really nice detailing from a fantastic team.  My role now as CG modeling and visualization group leader has me overseeing a team working on many projects at once. In management, I’m on a big team that takes the very very complex and time intensive process of developing a car from concept to production. It’s a billion tiny tasks occurring at multiple locations that all have to mesh together efficiently. I enjoy the problem solving immensely. It’s still amazing how complicated a car development is and how it all comes together into a graceful design that takes you down the road in comfort and safety well beyond what was possible even 10 years ago.

sdsdfTSB: Can you tell us what you think are the biggest challenges facing young designers?

JAF: Biggest challenge for student designers is understanding what industrial design is as a profession. The internet has elevated “The Awesome Sketch” to an undeserved level. Unfortunately, young designers think that’s what it is to be a car designer. In reality, the loose image sketch is a very brief point in a very long design development process. It initiates the project, but from that point on, it’s a lot of vis-com, 3D communication and thinking with section views, exploded views, detail sketches- all sorts of visual communication with the team to develop the design that is not apparent to the industry outsider. This is the large portion and essential meat of the design sandwich, but gets neglected by students because they all want to do a killer image sketch.

RA272TSB:  Are there any last parting words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring designers?

JAF: In this respect, my advice is that your portfolio show design thinking- how well you can think in three dimensions, communicate design and detail with a team. The difference between an artist and a designer is a cohesive skillset that can to the emotional sketch, then move into the logical drawings to make an idea something real. Artists are self-serving, designers are empaths, understanding the needs of the customer first, then working with the needs of the team to create a design that makes the customer happy.

IMG_9995fTSB: One  final self-serving question, tell us about your experiences in the Sketchbattle?

JAF: As for the Sketchbattle, wow, I think since last time, I’ve seen the quality of work getting higher and higher. It’s intense. I’m used to sketching in front of a class, so I’m used to lots of eyes on me and a ticking clock, but the noise and light is always a challenge. I always think deeply about each challenge specifically and focus on doing something no one else would do.  It’s intense, but catching up with friends and meeting designers I’ve only known on social media is great! I almost want to take a dive in the first round so I can enjoy watching the competitors sketch from the audience for once- I haven’t been able to do that yet!


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 CarFriend.me 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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