This tutorial shows the steps to sketch a kei car/van using color pencils and markers on a white letter size printer paper. Most of the images here are scans of the actual sketch in progress with no post digital editing. I hope you enjoy it. Look for the contact tab in the pop up menu, on the top left corner of this website, for questions and comments. Thanks!


First of all, what is a kei van? It is a microvan that fits into the Japanese kei car (light automobile) classification as the smallest highway-legal automobile passenger vehicle. Also known as mian bao che (bread loaf vehicle) in China and pan de molde (bread loaf) in Latin American countries, the kei van examples above are the ones which use the cab over package where the engine is installed beneath the driver, contributing even more to the tiny proportion of the vehicle.

Now let’s talk a little about materials and technique. In this digital age I believe it is still important to learn and work it out the "old school" way. I haven't seen any tablets and softwares that can fully and seamlessly replicate the experience of sketching with pencils, markers, ballpoint pens, pastels and other materials on paper. So, I encourage everyone to simply sketch it with pen or pencil and a piece of paper, adding other media as you come long. It can certainly deepen your hand/visual skills and ultimately leverage your digital work . That being said...

I started blocking the van in two different views, a 3/4 front on the foreground and a 3/4 rear on the back. I used a navy blue (medium lead) to slightly (low pressure) draw two boxes with wheels. I always turn the paper and look at it against the light to check the perspective.

I slightly kept evolving the main feature lines of the van. Drawing light always help to get confidence with the design on the very beginning, you can adjust the lines and still have a level of subtleness which allows you to go forward rather than starting again. I decided to go with round lamps front and rear at this stage.

I worked details and reflection lines out on the body of both views as I bought the way the whole design was coming together. I opted for a mix of more organic / bold shapes and flowing lines with simple geometric elements. The round lamps gave the front view a retro and cartoonish look which was helped by the wheel arch lines flowing to the bumper resulting a smiley and friendly fascia. Lines in general were getting a little bit more vivid.

Detailing was the name of the game at this stage. Lines got stronger and well defined. I opted for a retractable canvas roof, top mounted rear view cameras, and turn signals among other features to give a unique appearance to the van.

With all lines on paper, it was time to start adding color. I started with a nice turquoise shade (marker) for the glass dark reflections, lamps, tires, and part of the wheels. I could have used black or a darker grey, more commonly seen on those areas, but instead planned for a more vivid colorful composition.

I chose a medium yellow shade (marker) for the dark reflections on the body, believing it was a good color contrast to the turquoise and a welcome choice for the friendly overall look of this tiny van.

I used a light yellow shade (marker) for the front face of the wheels and the light catchers close to the rocker. After that I grabbed a yellow, an orange, and a red shade (color pencils) to work on the gradients (from color to paper white) of highlighted areas of the body, darken the yellow under the feature line running from the front wheel to the top of the rear one, and the front as a whole to give a little depth (lighter shades on the rear).

I kept refining those color transitions and giving more definition to the reflections on the body. For the highlighted areas on the glasses I mixed a light blue and a light green shade (color pencils) to set the gradient to the paper white. Sometimes I try the different color shades and practice the gradients/ transitions on a side paper just to confirm my direction. Besides the retractable canvas roof was also given some depth, light to dark shades (left to right side), without any highlights due the dull finishing of the part. After that I used the blue pencil do create the blackouts around the glasses, to simulate some of the interior by showing part of the driver seat/passenger door trim silhouettes, and shape the tires. What else? Ah... the part gaps! For those I had a white pencil doing the job (constantly sharpened), or just left the paper untouched, and a red pencil (sharpened as well) the opposite sides of the gaps.

At this point I got carried away and missed a few scans of the rear view. Anyhow, my thought here was working it out in shades of green and have it as a background element on the whole composition. I used light and medium green shades (markers/pencils), a light yellow shade (pencil), and a little bit of blue (pencil). Basically the steps taken to set the front were repeated on the rear, having a little lower contrast though.

With all the imagined elements worked out on paper, I stepped back and spent some time thinking where it could use a little more effort in order to enhance the overall composition, its color treatment and depth, and design detailing. Well... here is the thing... you can work “forever” on something, but in reality you need to stop and move on to the next project. That said, I added a shadow beneath the front view, a pale green shade (pencil) just to plant the van on the ground, and finally signed the work.