The art of speed: a meeting with one of Britain’s best car artists

In this age of the digital camera, mobile phone photography and Instagram, what is the role of the humble artist with his paints and brushes?

The study of Martin Tomlinson motor sports paintings and the answer looks right back to you. No Photoshop trickery here – just the ability and the talent to bare on the paint.

Take your photo of Mike Hawthorn bites his Ferrari Squalo 555. The aerial perspective places to the right in the top of the action. You can feel the heat of the engine.

“If my house burned down, that is the paint I would like to save,” says Tomlinson. “In reality, I would not like to leave everything to go and claim the insurance.”

Tomlinson’s sense of humor is never far away, deployed in the instant that it detects a whiff of hubris, which is not often. Probably, the result of years in the 1970s when it was racing, to tow his Formula Ford single-seater to the meetings with his Ford Zephyr – and trailer home again, and trust to the test. (“I have a car, but then the money ran out.”)

Before that, she studied fine arts at Harlow school of Art, where he found the painting against the tide.

“I wasn’t sure of what planet of the guardians were, but they taught me nothing on the subject,” he says. “Instead, I learned that the passion for what you are doing can take you a long way. I’m practically self-taught.”

Paying a mortgage and raising a family meant the abandonment of a career in art, while he developed his graphic design business. He continued to paint, though, and he remained active in the world of racing, commentator at Brands Hatch and, with the exception of Giuseppe Farina and Alberto Ascari, being witnesses of every Formula 1 world champion in action.

Slowly but surely, his two passions: painting and racing. Carol Shelby and John Surtees are among the legends of motor sport who commissioned works from him. Sir Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Juha Kankkunen and Roy Salvadori, among others, signed prints of his work, showing it in action.

Now 67, Tomlinson has for the past three years because of his business interests a back seat while he turns his attention full time to the painting of motor sports. He believes that he has produced over 100 works in this period. Her clients have included Moss, a former F1 driver Mark Blundell, Zak Brown, the executive director of McLaren Technology Group), and former dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis.

“Someone asked me to paint a picture of a car, either in the period or with them in the driver’s seat,” Tomlinson explains. “I have to do a lot of research, not only of the car but, if the context is a famous race or on a race track, the event, because my customers are demanding in detail.”

Tomlinson then makes a pencil sketch to plan the composition and check that everything works: “you are Now ready to paint. I work in gouache, a water-based medium, the paint directly on the board. It dries very quickly, but that suits me, especially when adding speed effects, where rapid gestures of the brush are necessary.”

The whole process takes around two weeks from the start until the end. Depending on the composition, Tomlinson charges £250 for a drawing to £1000 for a painting.

“It’s hard work – I’m on my easel from 7.30 am until six in the evening, but I love it,” he says. “My partner tells me that I’m in a bad mood, though. She would like the painting of flowers, but I don’t.”

The speed of the painters:

Tomlinson is not the only engine artist able to immortalize your own or a favorite car in the paint. Here are three most famous art talents.

NEIL PODBERY – “I am a photo-realist painter. I just have this passion to get things precise, accurate, and achieving almost photo-quality.” Visit

TIM LAYZELL – “I’m known for my style poster. I like to think that it is a simple but accurate look at with a strong period feel.” Visit

NICHOLAS WATTS – “I have been painting professionally for 25 years. The great Alfredo de la María is the automotive artist who aspires to become. The composition is all.”

John Evans

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