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Ed Tillrock is a Hot Rod Pencil Artist

Words: John Gunnell

Hot rod artist Ed Tillrock bills himself as a pencil specialist. Some of his drawings have the look of photographs, but they are all pencil drawings. Tillrock has really perfected his use of this medium in drawings that focus on transportation machines: cars, trucks, motorcycles, airplanes and trains.

Tillrock says he has been drawing his whole life. He did architectural renderings for 40 years. “Then, in 2007, things got kind of bad in the building industry,” he says “so I went after my passion of drawing, and drawing cars. So, really I put two passions together and started doing automotive pencil art.”

According to Tillrock, he has been drawing with a pencil since he was two and a half years old. “It’s just something that’s natural to me,” he says. “I treat the drawings like oil paintings that are done in pencil. I have done watercolors, washes, casein and oil, but I just love pencil; it works for me.”

Surprisingly, Tillrock did not go to school for art. He says he “drew cars in school when the teachers were talking.” He grew up in the Chicago area. About nine years ago, he went to the Vintage Torquefest show in Dubuque, Iowa, and found there was a market for his artworks.

Hot Rod Hotline asked Tillrock if automotive art is a good business. “Yes, it’s wonderful,” he answered. “I like to do what I call compositions, juxtaposing cars with other machines and scenes. The favorite so far is the board track drawing with two motorcycles. Mike Lang of Milwaukee owned the two bikes. He had them in the back of his pickup truck, and that was just the perfect backdrop for a drawing. I did that one seven or eight years ago and people just loved it. I wish I could find the key to why they liked it so much.”

Tillrock gets ideas for his drawings by going to hot rod shows and taking lots of photos. “Then I’ll use the photos to do a composition, like the Ford Tri-Motor airplane drawing I did,” says Tillrock. “That plane was in the Henry Ford museum and I knew I wanted to do something with it. So I developed it into a night scene with gangsters and some other stuff going on. There was a guy carrying a machine gun and other stuff like that.”

Another composition Tillrock liked was one involving a train called the Silver Pilot, which used to pass by the house in which he grew up at Cicero, Ill. “It’s now in a museum in Union, Ill., and they run that train several times a year,” Tillrock pointed out. “You can actually ride in it. So I wanted to get a hot rod in the scene, and a motorcycle. Together, all these things tell a little story.”

Tillrock said that he built his business up in seven years using mostly social media. “Facebook had a lot to do with it,” he noted, “as well as making friends throughout the country. And John Wells, who organizes Vintage Torquefest, was a tremendous help when I was just getting going.”

The shows at which Tillrock exhibits include the Detroit Autorama, the Lone Star Round-up in Austin, Texas and the Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, Calif. He also sets up at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, where he does live sketches at a September event. The Iron Invasion is another favorite.

Tillrock estimates that he does between a dozen and 25 drawings each year. “It varies depending on how much I travel. You know - the more shows I do, the less time I have to draw. So going to shows is kind of a double-edged sword.”

Tillrock has owned a ’32 Ford roadster, a ’36 Chevy, a ’41 Chevy and a ’65 Chevelle. He said he thinks a ’36 Chevy coupe is his favorite car. “My father drove one and I had one,” said the artist. “Now I want another one.”