How To Commission a Painting of Your Classic Car (or Motorcycle)

Categories: Collector Cars.

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Every time I attend a car show, I marvel at the paintings of classic cars in the vendor booths. It never really occurred to me that many of those cars must be based in reality – that they must actually belong to somebody, somewhere. I didn’t realize that there’s an entire cottage industry devoted to creating magnificent artwork on classic vehicles. Who knew?

I certainly didn’t until a buddy of mine (who happens to be a professional artist) asked me if I’d ever considered commissioning a painting of my Bonneville T100 motorcycle. I hadn’t. So I did. And now I have a stunning painting of my motorcycle hanging on my office wall, not to mention a full education on how the process works. 

The first step is to select your artist. Every artist has a different approach and a different style. Personally, I don’t want a painting that is so technical that it looks like a photograph. I can take a photo of my Bonneville any time. I want an artist who is… well… artsy. I want a painting that has depth, personality and reflects a measure of individuality. I want a painting that draws me in and looks better than reality; something that makes me want to step inside the painting and never leave. And above all, I want light to be part of the final work. 

There are scores of incredible artists out there who specialize in classic vehicles. Search the web and pick a few. Then visit their web sites and see which styles suit your tastes.

I got lucky. My artist is Tom Swimm of Laguna Beach, California. Seeing’s how he won a lifetime achievement award from the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance, I figured I was in good hands. So I snooped around on his web site until I found an oil-on-canvas called “On The Avenue,” which was simply magical. That’s the exact style I enjoyed most. I later learned that Tom is pretty much Captain America when it comes to creating natural light on canvas in what is called the “representational style” by those within the industry.

Tom asked me to send him photos of my Bonneville, which I did. He selected one particular photo that I’d taken of the bike parked in front of a train track with an old trestle in the background. I’m sure he drew from the other pictures as well, but this one formed the basis of his composition.

He splashed the background with autumn sun and highlighted the train track. The trestle arched over the top for a perfect backdrop, while the motorcycle was brought out as the main subject by placing it slightly off center and parking it in the shade on a pool of blueish asphalt.

The process was easy… at least for me. Tom did all the work, asked all the questions and combined his creativity and talent to make a painting that simply lights up the room. The other walls of my office are decorated with huge photos of my race cars, but they fade into mediocrity when flanked by Tom’s painting. You can see the progression of his works in the photos below. 

Most artists charge by the square inch. Prices vary widely, but expect to pay a real pro about $4,000 to $6,000 for an average sized canvas that’s 30×15 inches. You’ll end up with an incredible addition to your home or office décor as well as great conversation piece. And believe me, once you own an original painting, you’ll never want another reproduction print. Original art has its own unmistakable character.

Commissioning a painting really wasn’t so intimidating. The artist will walk you through the steps, which are comprised mainly of photo exchanges and discussions on composition and color preference. My experience was great, and I highly recommend having your classic car committed to canvas. You’ll soon find that the Mona Lisa hanging on your wall is nearly as prized as the beautiful vehicle it represents.

Stephen Cox

Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Driver, FIA EGT Championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series

Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

Tom used an orange background to capture the sunlight in the final art work.

The painting sits on Tom’s easel, nearly finished.

The finished work now proudly hangs from my office wall beside my auto racing trophy cases.

This is the original photo that Tom chose to work with. His finished painting is truly better than the reality captured in a digital picture.

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