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

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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”

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