Amazing Charcoal-Powered Racers
Born in The Netherlands, but having grown up near Frankfurt, Germany, Henk Holsheimer is now a self-employed design consultant and artist living in Munich. He had a fourteen-year career working for LEGO as a concept manager and felt that it was time to focus on producing more art.
He quit four months ago and is now a consultant for a few different companies (including automotive clients), and also works on commissioned art pieces for private clients. His largest current project is setting up a new studio and starting to explore different drawing and painting techniques, and materials.
Q: Was it hard to start your career as an automotive artist?
A: Not at all. Watching my father at home creating automotive art, I was inspired to do the same and by the age of three I was sitting next to him drawing cars too. My father was a designer for Ford and General Motors and he took me to every possible car event around Europe. Our home was full of car stuff: brochures, posters, artwork, and models.
At the age of seventeen, I discovered an amazing book: The Motor Racing Sketchbook, by Carlo Demand. I was so inspired that I spent the whole night drawing car racing scenes with charcoal, more or less copying Demand’s drawings in large format. I put these up on the wall and soon people started talking about my drawings. I decided to continue this technique and I went through all the great books at home searching for photos of amazing race cars, which I then drew in a very loose style. My dad took these to some of his exhibitions and surprisingly all my drawings sold right away. This was a key moment for me, and a great motivation to create more in this style.
Q: What is your favorite subject?
A: I love the pre-war racing atmosphere, Bugattis and Alfa Romeos trying to beat Auto Unions and Mercedes Grand Prix cars! I like to add spectators to the scene but the car is always the main focus.
Q: How did your passion for sketching, art, and classic cars begin?
A: My father inspired me a lot, but also looking at fine art in museums, and later while studying automotive design fine art classes were a big help. I grew up in an area with car families that worked for GM Europe, and I can’t think of a single day when I didn’t talk about cars with my friends and classmates.
Q: How does the creative process start?
A: I often go to classic car events like the Goodwood Revival or Mille Miglia to take photos. Back home I spend a lot of time thinking of the combination of car and background. I especially look for photos that capture the essence of a certain car. In many cases the artwork is commissioned so the client has already made the choice. But when it’s free work I spend a lot of time scribbling to create a great and exciting composition.
Q: What technique do you use for your work?
A: I draw with charcoal on drawing card or thick paper. For me, this technique is fantastic to give the suggestion of speed and depth. It’s a quick technique, most drawings are done within a few hours, but you can’t erase, undo, or paint on top. So I need to think of all areas that need to stay clear before I do the drawing. I need to be in a good mood without too many distractions. One little mistake and the drawing needs to be redone!
Q: Do you own or aspire to own a classic car (and which one)?
A: I own two young-timers, as they’re known here in Germany. I have a Volvo 240 station wagon, which is the perfect artist’s vehicle with a totally flat loading area when the back seats are folded down. And a 1989 Mercedes 560SE, the rarest of all S-Classes ever made, only available at the time in Germany and Switzerland. It is a basically a 560 SEL with a short wheelbase. I would also love to own a pre-war car. A sports or racing car from the 1930s would be my dream! And I love the Pininfarina bodied cars from the 1950s and ‘60s.
Q: What is your favorite road and companion?
A: Every year I drive from Munich to Lake Como in Italy to visit the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. I take some great roads across the Alps, a mix of tunnels and bridges, long winding roads with nice views and dramatic waterfalls here and there. As a companion: a nice lady!
Q: As an artist, when you look at a car what do you see?
A: I first look at the proportions, for me the most important aspect that defines the aesthetics of the body. Modern cars often have very unbalanced proportions, which designers have to deal with. Second comes the volume of the body and the surfaces that define the reflections. How the car integrates with its surroundings is a very important aspect for me. Many of today’s cars are wildly overdone, creating the strangest reflections. Pininfarina and Touring were masters in designing very clean designs that are exciting to look at. Just think of the Ferraris, Lancias, Alfa Romeos, and Fiats of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Q: Do you have an all-time favorite car?
A: Every decade has its highlights. But overall it would be the Alfa Romeo 6C / 8C from the 1930s, the early Jaguar E-Type Coupe, or the Lamborghini Miura.
Q: Where do you like or would you like to see your art displayed most?
A: I had the honor to create the official artwork for the 2006 Villa d’Este poster and catalogue cover. It was fantastic being able to exhibit at Villa d’Este during the Concours, a once in a lifetime opportunity! Pebble Beach would be a favorite as well. But I most love to see my artwork hanging in a client’s home. The places and collections I am able to visit by delivering my artwork in person are incredible!
Q: What is your favorite era of motorsport?
A: For drawings I prefer the pre-war years, and the 1950s: just pure racing without sponsors’ stickers and only a bit of advertising around the track. And the cars are open and have uncovered wheels, huge steering wheels. And there is dust and drama!
Q: Is there a classic that you’d like to see reborn for production today?
A: It just happened last week: The Ford GT40. And then I’d like to see a real basic car again, like the Renault R4 or a Citroen 2CV.
If you’d like to see more, head over to Holsheimer’s site, where he’s giving the Petrolisti an extra ten percent off his work.