Geoff Bolam might have only been painting full-time since 2014 however he's had a paintbrush or pencil in his hand since a young child and classic cars have always been his subjects. Despite this relatively short span as an artist, though, he's quickly garnered himself a reputation as being one of the world's leading automotive painters who interestingly works on reclaimed aluminium sheets.
We caught up with him and asked him a few questions since he's the latest name to join our stable of British brands and creatives.
Where does your interest in cars stem from?
My dad was a Marine Engineer and we always had an ageing and unreliable British car as family transport. So I spent a lot of time as a kid in my dad’s garage, observing, passing him tools and learning swear words. He taught me all the basics and showed me how to rebuild an engine. Eventually, I got my own old bangers, then onto sports cars. These days I still get a buzz when I open the Garage or go to car shows. I’m lucky enough to have a few cars to tinker with, often using my dad’s tools.
E-Type Jaguar 9600 HP Limited Edition Print
What were you doing before you became a full-time artist and how might that have influenced your aesthetic?
My first job was in the drawing office of a signage company and I found I had a natural affinity for Type design. While there I did a sign-making course at The Hammersmith College of Art & Building and learnt how to do signwriting, gold leaf, silkscreen etc. After a period of freelancing, I set up a Design Consultancy in London with a couple of friends. When we started in 1986 everything was done by hand with marker pens and gouache. We got our first Mac in the early 90’s and ended up as a digital agency.
I’d been thinking about what I’d like to do next and liked the idea of painting cars, so started doodling in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I made the transition to painting full time. My Graphic Design instinct is very evident in my compositions and I use many of the traditional and digital skills in the work I produce.
Bugatti Type 35 Limited Edition Print
You cite the Art Deco period as being a favourite of yours. Why is that?
Art Deco design brings together a heady cocktail of elements - the industrial revolution, aviation, and flamboyant use of luxurious materials and fine craftsmanship. The cars from that period are very exotic and sculptural - to my eye some of the most amazing ever produced.
Mercedes 300SL 'Gullwing' Limited Edition
You use aluminium panels for your work for it makes sense given the nature of the cars you paint. How does aluminium compare as a canvas to work on compared to traditional canvases?
Aluminium is very smooth compared with canvas. That means I can achieve very fine detail and generally use sable watercolour brushes rather than the coarse brushes that are typically used for canvas.
Apart from the affinity with car manufacturing, aluminium as a substrate also opens up lots of creative possibilities. It can be brushed and polished to reflect light and etching with different chemicals give different effects. I wanted my work to have more than one dimension and combining these techniques provides the sculptural qualities I was looking for.
Ferrari 250 GTO Limited Edition Print
Can you explain your design process and how you begin a piece?
I start with research and like to find out as much as I can about the subject. The history often provides the inspiration for the background elements of the composition. Sometimes I start with sketches, but if I have good photographs I’ll go straight to Photoshop and produce realistic mock-ups of the painting. I’ll often do several designs then pick one or two favourites to send to the client.
Moss Aston Goodwood Original Painting and Print both available.
What aspect or part of a car do you find the most rewarding to convey?
My favourite part of a painting is the last stage - adding highlights and reflections suddenly brings the piece to life and is very satisfying. Wire wheels, on the other hand, are a nightmare!
What's the layering process like? Do you have to build up multiple layers to achieve the desired look?
The layering of paint is common practice in oil painting as it's useful to start with simple blocks of colour and then add the subtlety of shading, tones of colour and detail in subsequent layers. Some pigments are naturally transparent so when working on Aluminium, which is quite gray, it's necessary to put down a white base to keep the vibrancy. When I want the aluminium to the show through, for instance when representing chrome, the paint must be very thin so I use glazes to make the colours translucent.
Hawthorn Ferrari Goodwood Original Painting and Print both available.
On several works of yours, you add annotations and diagrams, for instance, the Ferrari 250 GTO. What was the thinking behind this?
When doing still life studies of cars I try to get across the aspects that make it important, such as history, design or engineering. Technical drawings, typography and design elements contemporary with the car appeal to the Graphic Designer in me.
On average, how long does it take to complete a large-scale work from start to finish? Do you work on multiple pieces at a time or is it one by one?
Large scale works are very time consuming and can take up to 3 months to complete. However, it's very rare that I’ll spend the whole day painting as I’ll often be working on the design of the next painting, doing some marketing or dispatching print orders, etc. I prefer to paint one piece at a time but am usually doing some design work for future work in parallel.
Aston Martin DB5 Limited Edition Print
Are there any modern sports cars out now that you see as being future classics?
This is a surprisingly difficult question. All the sports car manufacturers create jaw-droppingly beautiful cars, but they are generally expensive, produced in volume and very complex. The limited editions are certainly collectable, but not affordable or easy to maintain like the majority of ‘classics’ from the last century that we now revere. I also suspect emissions legislation and reliance on computers to run and maintain them will also become problematic, so I seriously wonder how many of this century’s cars will still be on the roads in 40 years, let alone 100?
Finally, and it's a tough question but we'd love to know, what's your favourite classic car and why?
I’m in love with many classics but the one that still gives me the most goose bumps is the Aston Martin DB5. I first saw one in the film ‘The Wrong Arm of the Law’ (1963) starring Peter Sellers. That car was actually a DB4GT, but then the Bond films introduced the DB5 in Goldfinger in 1964 (actually a late DB4 but badged as a DB5) and that cemented the Aston in my mind as being the ultimate marriage of style, British craftsmanship and engineering. Famously the proportion of the bonnet to the wheelbase conforms to the ‘golden section’, a proportion which is found in nature, geometry, art and classical architecture. There’s also something about the way the cabin blends into the boot which I find very pleasing.
Explore Geoff's work, here.