Art of speed
Martin Tomlinson has a rare ability to capture cars in paint. John Evans meets the man who wears his art on his sleeve
Car artist Martin Tomlinson profiled
In this age of digital cameras, mobile phone photography and Instagram, what role the humble artist with his paints and brushes? Study Martin Tomlinson’s motorsport paintings and the answer stares right back at you. No Photoshop trickery here – just skill and talent laid bare in paint.
Take his picture of Mike Hawthorn pitting his Ferrari Squalo 555. The overhead perspective places you right on top of the action. You can feel the heat of the engine.
“If my house burned down, that’s the one painting I’d save,” says Tomlinson. “Actually, no – I’d let the whole lot go up and claim on the insurance.”
Tomlinson’s sense of humour is never far away, deployed the instant he detects a whiff of hubris, which isn’t often. It’s probably borne of those years in the early 1970s when he went racing, towing his Formula Ford single-seater to meetings with his Ford Zephyr – and towing it home again, confidence sorely tested. (“I got a works drive but then the money ran out.”)
Before that, he studied fine art at Harlow Art College, where he found himself painting against the tide.
“I wasn’t sure what planet the tutors were on but they taught me nothing about the subject,” he says. “Instead, I learned that passion for what you’re doing can take you a long way. I’m virtually self-taught.”
Paying a mortgage and raising a family meant abandoning a career in art while he developed his graphic design business. He continued to paint, though, and remained active in the racing world, commentating at Brands Hatch and, with the exception of Giuseppe Farina and Alberto Ascari, witnessing every Formula 1 world champion in action.
Slowly but surely, his twin passions – painting and racing – came together. Carol Shelby and John Surtees are among the motorsport legends who commissioned works from him. Sir Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Juha Kankkunen and Roy Salvadori were among those who signed prints of his work showing them in action.
Now aged 67, Tomlinson has for the past three years given his business interests a back seat as he turns his attention squarely to painting motorsport. He reckons he’s produced more than 100 works in this period. His clients have included Moss, former F1 driver Mark Blundell, Zak Brown (the executive director of Mclaren Technology
Group) and former Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis.
“Someone will ask me to paint a picture of a car either in period or with them in the driving seat,” Tomlinson explains. “I do lots of research not just of the car but, if the context is a famous race or a racing track, of the event because my clients are sticklers for detail.”
Tomlinson then does a pencil sketch to plan the composition and check that it all works: “Now it’s ready to paint. I work in gouache, a water-based medium, painting directly on to board. It dries quite quickly but that suits me, especially when adding speed effects, where quick flicks of the brush are necessary.”
The whole process takes around two weeks from start to finish. Depending on the composition, Tomlinson charges from £250 for a sketch to £1000 for a painting.
“It’s hard work – I’m at my easel from 7.30am to six at night – but I love it,” he says. “My partner says I’m grumpy, though. She’d like me to paint f lowers but I won’t.”
“I am artist in residence for auctioneers H&H Classics and was asked to paint this Jaguar E-type in the condition it was found after 40 years stored in an old barn”
“Only four examples of the 1964 Ferrari 330 GT ‘Nembo’ Spider were built. Proceeds from the sale of this car (£609,500) were presented to East Anglian Air Ambulance”
is the painting I’d save” “If my house burned down, this Tomlinson does research, sketches and then painting
“I saw this actual Jaguar E-type race in the early 1960s, so to see it race again at the Goodwood Revival brought back many happy memories”