Interview with British Automotive Vinyl Artist
Automotive artist and petrolhead Joel Clark of Buckinghamshire, England, grew up watching the Silverstone Circuit and riding in backseats of his father’s vintage cars: MK1 3.0 Capri, Daimler Vanden Plas XJ6, V12 XJS, Citroen CX, XM, plus a few Land Rovers. Joel also grew up creating art, beginning this at a young age as well. Now, about 34 years later, he can finally say that he has reached the goal he had beginning at age five to merge his two passions to draw cars for a living. More specifically, Joel is an automotive vinyl artist (click here to visit his website).
Q: How did you become interested in art?
A: I have been interested in art ever since I can remember. I’m totally visually led in most aspects of my life—from what I wear, to what I drive, to everything around me. I love great design and great ideas; it’s a bit cliché but true. As an art director in advertising, I was able to come up with ideas and then determine how they had to look, be it TV, posters, or integrated ads. For my own pleasure, I always continued to paint and draw. Art is probably the thing I’m best at, and most people are interested in the things they’re best at.
Q: What was your path to becoming an automotive vinyl artist?
A: It’s taken a while to reach my ultimate dream. Straight from finishing secondary school, I took a job with a signwriter based at Silverstone Circuit, where I made the stickers for race car teams. This was in 1990, long before computers did all the cutting. They would do all the lettering (of available fonts) but any logos had to be cut by hand, and this was my job. I would hand-cut multiple copies of the same logo, especially when working on the British Touring Cars Championship cars. This job only lasted a few months before I decided to go to art school, but a unique skill had been learned.
I had a great time working in advertising for several years, which led me to living in London, Melbourne, Dublin, and back to London again. Now I am back in the countryside with open roads on my doorstep. I am only in my second month of being a full-time professional artist (the vinyl art featured here I have created since mid-September), therefore my studio is still a spare room, and my business is very much at a fledging stage. However, it has had a great start, thanks to launching at a local Buckinghamshire hill climb event along with interest from various car magazines in both the UK and US. I hope the flow of work continues to grow more and more. I create work for anyone who wants it. I welcome private one-off commissions or multiple works for major brands (cars in particular).
Ever since I created vinyl stickers for race car teams, I have had the idea stuck at the back of my mind to use vinyl as a medium. I love the finish of vinyl, because it’s like looking at the real car. Apart from covering my motorbikes with my own vinyl designs and doing a piece for the back doors on a couple of my dad’s trucks, this new venture was totally new direction for me.
Q: How did you decide to create this type of art?
A: The idea behind my vinyl work came to me, like when I would brainstorm for a new campaign in my old advertising job. It was a lightbulb-flicking-on-above-your-head moment: using vinyl, create pictures of iconic cars that became iconic, in part to their looks/liveries. Together with the fact it takes me full-circle back to my first ever job, it all just fell in to place, and made total sense. It’s also perfect timing; as the age group I mostly appeal to, grew up adoring the cars that first used vinyl and now have the money to collect auto art.
Q: What do you do to get inspired with your art?
A: If it’s cool, creative, and has a car in it, that’s enough to inspire me. I do have certain racing drivers that will inspire a picture, namely Jim Clark, Senna, and Mansell. On the whole, it comes down to if I think it’s cool or not. I then want to make it as quickly as possible, so I can just sit and look at it, which is the best bit about art.
Q: What is your creative process when creating your pieces?
A: It starts with a search for a certain type of car or iconic race car or driver. This involves internet searches, searching through old car magazines, and sifting through books in charity shops. I then work out a crop of a chosen image, which helps give the work a slightly abstract take. Then, on photocopies of the image, I dissect the photo into a series of shapes (for each colour) by drawing over the image or drawing it on my iPad. I then adhere the photocopy onto the vinyl and hand-cut each and every part of the picture using a scalpel. The background colour plays a positive part also; rather than being a negative space, it acts as the base colour of the car or background. Once cut, I then ‘weed’ out the shapes and slowly put the piece together, basically like a jigsaw.
The beauty of using vinyl is that I can alter the process from piece to piece. For example, I may cut out all the same colour at once (this takes a while, but I get instant satisfaction when applying each colour, because the image comes together so quickly on the card), or I can go the opposite way, cutting one piece, sticking it down, cutting another piece, and sticking it down. Each way I do it satisfies my deep impatience for finishing the picture.
Q: Of all the pieces you’ve created, which are you most proud of?
A: My favourite is usually the one I have done the most recently, because it’s freshest, and because I get better with each one (like everything in life). If I had to choose though, it would probably be STP, because the vinyl stuck down perfectly, even with the intricate cutting. All the shapes and lines matched up!
Q: What are some challenges in creating vinyl art?
A: The biggest challenge also doubles as the determining style of the work: the fact that I’m limited to a small palette of colours makes me chose certain photos to work from. Second to this though, is physically applying the vinyl. Dust, air bubbles, and the vinyl sticking at slightly off-kilter angles can ruin a piece.
Q: What are some of your favorite vintage vehicles?
A: This is probably the hardest of all the questions. Jaguar D-Type, Citroën SM, and (original) Countach. As for bikes, well I just want to be able to have a late ’80s, Bol’ Dor styled road bike, built around a more modern superbike.
Q: What is the vintage car scene like in your area?
A: I now live in Buckinghamshire, in South East England. It’s under an hour drive into London, so it’s a very affluent part of the country. With that, a lot of people are around who can afford a lot of nice cars, so I’m perfectly placed for enough local business. Jay Kay from Jamiroquai lives in the same market town, and you don’t get many better collections than his (ready for multiple commissions if you’re reading, Jay). I’ve been around some great little collections of clients car’s and there are loads more just like them.
Q: Do you own any classic cars or motorcycles?
A: I have generally had modern sports bikes, which is partly due to living in cities. My cars have have been a Mini Pick-up, a Scimitar GTE, my dad’s old CX, and most recently an Audi A8 (I do love luxury cars).
Q: Do you often attend motorsports events? Which has been your favorite?
A: I always used to go to the vintage race meets at Silverstone with my dad, when growing up. I have since been to all sorts of events at Silverstone. My greatest memory being the time we (the crowd) all stormed the start/finish straight after Mansell’s victory in ’91. The Santa Pod drag strip was also within an hours drive from where I grew up, so that was a regular haunt too.
I was lucky to live within a half-hour walk to Albert Park, while living in Melbourne, Australia, so I enjoyed a couple GPs there too, although the weather there in ’05 was worse than anything I’ve seen at Silverstone! Another incredible experience was the road-racing in Ireland. I went to a few races while I lived in Dublin and have never experienced anything like seeing and feeling five Superbikes, all nose-to-tail, flying past within a few feet of me at more than 170 miles per hour.
Next year I will need to attend more, with my work, as that’s where my audience is. It’ll be a perfect mix of business and pleasure.
Q: Do you think your location has an impact on the art that you create?
A: The location does have a genuine effect, I believe. I have a view in the distance of tree-topped hills, great light in the room I work in, and none of the distractions usually found in London, such as seeing endless hot women everywhere and wanting to go out all the time. If I’m at ease with where I am, that comes through in the work. I’d happily live in a cave though, if it meant I was able to work as an artist.