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Automotive Art Collection

We have a wide variety of automotive art in our home and man cave. Some of it is because it evokes a certain feeling or memory wile others document vehicles of which we are especially. I am no artist or expert in the field but here is an article by an expert who can help you find your way in the world of Automotive Art.

Starting your Automotive Art Collection: It helps to know some of those fancy-dancy art terms…

By Wallace Wyss

Tim Layzell's 2009 poster for Pebble Beach Retro Auto is a "double souvenir" in that it is a fine poster example of "flat color" art, plus an event poster commemorating the event. And he shows up at major concours so you can buy one and ask him to sign it...
Tim Layzell’s 2009 poster for Pebble Beach Retro Auto is a “double souvenir” in that it is a fine poster example of “flat color” art, plus an event poster commemorating the event. And he shows up at major concours so you can buy one and ask him to sign it…

So you’ve got your automotive collection started, maybe only one or two prized cars, but you are at the point where you want to show them off and have a nice garage with a bar in it and a fridge and chairs so you and your buddies can sit around and look at the cars and think what needs to be done next.

But what about what’s on the walls?

It’s time, I think, for quick primer on art.

At almost every car event, even rat rod gatherings, there are posters, running from $2 up to $10. But I’m talking  a few stages up, art created by artists (though photographers will argue their photos are “art”), “fine art” as it were.

Here’s a glossary of terms. I may be guilty of recognizing as “fine art” commercial art or automaker’s work drawings but this glossary is for the car guys. We gearheads like things other patrons of the art don’t even know exist.

ABSTRACT Forget  recognizable images. I would say there is little of this in the automotive art world  because we enthusiasts want to see something that looks like our favorite car.

ACRYLIC Looks like an oil painting and it is but in this case the paint is  made from pigments suspended within an acrylic polymer emulsion. If you thin out the paint with water while painting, it works like watercolor but is extremely fast drying so you have to work fast. If you don’t thin it, the result looks like an oil painting. It does not mix well with regular oil paint.

ANALOGOUS COLOR Closely related hues, hues that co-exist side by side on the color wheel, such as blue, blue-green, and green.

ALUMINUM PRINT This is a relatively new printing process in which you can print the image of a painting or photograph on brushed aluminum. These are also called “metal prints”.


ART DECO Art Deco was a popular international design movement from 1925 until 1939 partly inspired by the art seen in King Tut’s tomb.  A lot of classic cars of the late ‘30s were “art deco” inspired, very geometrical,  streamlined and forward looking. The French cars of the late ‘30s like Delahaye and Delage are the most “art deco.”

ARTIST’S PROOF Sometimes when an artist is doing a print they stand there and watch prints come off the press, and judge if they are satisfied with the results. If not, rather than throw away the ones that have too much of one color or another, they sign them as  “artist’s proof” rather than numbering them serially as they have no intention of making more as the final print. They can still sell the proofs to recoup some of their investment. It’s a bit like buying “pre-production” car from an automaker, when the production one had a lot of changes from the one you’re buying. Some automakers in the past have sold pre-production cars.

ASYMMETRICAL Usually an art work  is “weighed” to even out the weight of the images, something on one side is balanced with something on the other but occasionally it is far more weighted toward one end than the other to achieve some specific effect so we call it asymmetrical.

CARICATURE A rendering, usually a drawing, of a person or thing with wildly exaggerated features, meant to satirize the subject. These are usually done for magazine illustrations. Dave Deal was a California artist who did such cartoons for MG Mitten ads and eventually when the cartoon movie CARS was made, he was hired as a consultant so his style became known worldwide.

CHARCOAL Historically this material is used in painting to sketch the composition layout prior to laying on the paint , but also is used to make complete works. Charcoal is available in vine, compressed, and powdered forms


Using  fragments of paper and other materials  glued to a supporting surface, usually wood..


COLOR WHEEL If you are wondering what color harmoniously will go with another color, (i.e. complementary) this wheel, which you can buy at any art store, shows all the popular colors contiguous to each other so you can see which ones to select without a jarring clash occuring. It’s also a clue as to which colors to mix to make a color that you don’t have a tube of, such as mixing red and blue to make violet.

COMMISSION What every car artist hopes for—a customer who says “I want you to paint a portrait of my car.” The usual procedure is to take a picture, then make a work drawing or rough sketch, get client approval and then go to a finished work. Sometimes the artist retains the right to make paper prints of the work for sale to others but some customers want the work exclusive to them, in which case the price is usually higher. Those who commission the art also don’t get reproduction rights unless the work is commercial art selling a product or service or the car itself.

WhiteTalladega16x20 (Small)
This is a limited edition print commissioned by Richard Fleener for his web site: www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com. It is a marker print done by Herb Dixon.

CONSTRUCTIVISM A modern art movement beginning in Russia that aimed to create abstract sculpture for an industrialized society. As much as possible this movement utilized technology and new building materials such as glass, plastic, steel and chrome. One current artist specializing in this is Art Center College of Design teacher Richard Pietruska. (rpmart.com)

CUTAWAYS X-ray views. Almost a “lost art”  because it takes weeks to do such a drawing; some of the artists even go to where the car is built and draw it layer by layer. Many of the drawings are used in ads and in press releases. Famous cutaway artists are Yoshimura; David Kimble and James Allington.

DRYPOINT A type of intaglio printmaking that involves using a sharp-pointed tool to scratch lines into the surface of a metal plate. The plate is then inked and pressed down on paper to make a print.  The term also refers to the process or to the tool used.


EDITION An edition of a print would be all those impressions which were printed at the same time. A “first edition” print is a set of prints issued as the first published group of impressions. First edition prints are sometimes pre-dated by a proof edition, those marked “artist’s proof.”

EMBELLISH To add paint or other artist’s medium to a previously finished work, for instance an “embellished giclee” is a print on  canvas that an artist embellishes with oil all over again as if it were a new painting, though sometimes it can be minor embellishments, just a touch here and a touch  there. Offering embellishments is a way  for an artist to sell a canvas print to someone who can’t afford an original but wants a print that looks like an original.

FINE ART This one you could argue about forever but for our purposes here, it is art created to be art, to exist by itself as fine art, not created originally to be used in a car ad, i.e. commercial art,  where an art director is dictating the layout so there’s room for headlines and body copy. Ironically,  though.  commercial art, with the passage of time, can become “fine art,” such as the paintings of Van and Fitz who did Pontiac ads in the Sixties. Their work was done solely for ads and brochures but originals of their work are prized as “art” today.

'64 Pontiac in the French alps. I loved these Van and Fitz ads. Some artwork was available, at least by Fitzgerald, decades later. True they were commercial art but now I'd say they are "fine art."
’64 Pontiac in the French alps. I loved these Van and Fitz ads. Some artwork was available, at least by Fitzgerald, decades later. True they were commercial art but now I’d say they are “fine art.”

FOCAL POINT the one area on an artwork where your eye is led to. Usually the focal point is where everything is most tightly in focus. On some car paintings the background deliberately loses detail as you go further out from the focal point, the car.

FONT  Referring to the type style. A specific size and style of a typeface design (for example, Arial 12pt bold, or Times New Roman 10pt italics). The term is sometimes  confused with typeface, which is a particular design of type such as Times New Roman is also a typeface. French posters of the late 40s through early ‘50s are admired for their art deco typefaces.

Reflections by Dan Mccrary, Giclee print, signed and numbered.
Reflections by Dan McCrary, Giclee print, signed and numbered.

GICLEES (pronounced GHEE-CLAYS) These are prints that can put on canvas, transferred electronically, or on paper. They can also be embellished with oils or watercolors after printing to make each previously finished  print slightly different from the others done in the run.

GLAZING Hundreds of years ago artists put a transparent coating over an oil painting to protect the paint and they do that today. You can get a non-glossy glaze or a glossy one. Some folks like a glaze laid over a new oil painting so it “looks more antique.”

GOUACHE Pronounced “GOO-OSH”. Final result looks similar to watercolor but colors are more opaque and reflective due to white chalk in the paint.

HISTORICAL PAINTING Paintings made with historical accuracy the prime goal. These could run from impressionistic like some of Walter Gotschke’s Formula 1 paintings to super-realistic in style (almost like a photograph)  but the predominant purpose is to depict a moment in a narrative story, rather than a specific and static subject, as in a portrait. For instance, James Dietz sometimes portrays classic cars at a significant race, and is already famous in the military painting world for his accurate paintings of scenes from the First and Second World Wars.

HYPER REALISM Also called Super-realism, see below

IMPRESSIONISTIC This was the opposite of super-realism where the artist is seeking to capture the essence of a car or a car event without getting specific on any details of the car. In France, in the 19th century there was a whole school of “Impressionists”.

"Talbot Lago at Pebble" The author's painting is historical, depicting the appearance of a car at an event but also somewhat French impressionistic because it's a French car.
“Talbot Lago at Pebble” The author’s painting is historical, depicting the appearance of a car at an event but also somewhat French impressionistic because it’s a French car.

LIMITED EDITION I went to the website Philaprintshop.com for their definition:
“A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the number of impressions pulled in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are usually numbered and are often signed. Limited editions are a relatively recent development, dating from the late nineteenth century. Earlier prints were limited in the number of their impressions solely by market demand or by the maximum number that could be printed by the medium used.”

Ironically in the old days you could only make so many and maintain quality,( such as in engraving: 500) , but with the development of lithography and of steel-plates you could make 10,000 or more without a loss of quality which led artists to come up with the idea of bringing back limited edition prints, to guarantee rarity and individuality for multiple impressions of their art.

LITHOGRAPHED POSTERS These are printed the traditional way with a lithograph machine. Usually four color (which means it uses all the colors, but all those colors are mixed from the same basic four). MOMA, the art museum, defines it as “A printmaking technique based on the repulsion of oil and water, in which an oily substance is applied to a stone or other medium to transfer ink to a paper surface.”


MEDOIUM  The materials used by the artist, and the category it is put in depending on  the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture.An artist would say “I used acrylics as the medium on that painting,” etc.


MINIMALISM An artistic movement that started in the 1960s in which artists produced pared-down three-dimensional objects devoid of representational content. They simplified, creating geometric forms from humble industrial materials that flew in the face of  traditional notions of craftsmanship, threw out the laborious  creation  of spatial depth in painting. I would even argue Tim Layzell’s posters of race cars are “minimalist” since he uses solid blocks of color, doesn’t gradient density the side of a car to show the curve of the body. .

MIXED MEDIA These occur either because an artist likes the contrast between one media (such as oil) and another (such as pastel crayon) or when an artist is trying to salvage a work he or she has already invested some time in. I remember when my employer, an ad agency, hired Dallison to do a Corvette illustration and he didn’t like the background after he had done the car so he took a scissors and cut the car out and started a new background, pasting the Corvette on top of the drawing. So you are mixing media. Sometimes when it’s a far different media, like paper drawing glued onto wood, it’s called a “collage.”

MONOCHROMATIC These are seldom seen because we have four color printing readily available, but basically they are a reduction of the color palette (the color choices used in that particular painting)  to compatible colors that are all in the same color range (all in the same area of the color wheel).


40 at the Pumps by Dan McCrary, Giclee Print, signed and numbered.
40 at the Pumps by Dan McCrary, Giclee Print, signed and numbered.

NOSTALGIA This is the category I put art work in that is deliberately invoking a mood, such as a painting of a kid with his first car; or hot rodders on the dry lake beds (Tom Fritz is famous for those). Sort of the Norman Rockwell school of car art.

NUMBERED EDITION When the artist planned to only make a certain number, i.e., a limited edition, he numbers them serially chronilogically. So if he printed only 100 they would be numbered 1/100 and so forth. The more exclusive the edition, theoretically the more the print is worth. Sometimes you see that advertised “One of only 1,000 printed, etc.”

OIL PAINTINGS These are the most traditional, oils on canvas, and are long lasting. Oils you find for sale at concours generally range from about $150 on up, depending on the artist’s reputation. Some artists don’t sell their originals because there can only be one original. Once it’s sold, it’s sold. But many will offer a  giclee on canvas that, either looks  exactly like the original minus the character of the brush strokes, or can be embellished with paint anew but then it could start to change character as you can only make the same painting once.

ORIGINAL PRINT Again I quote from the experts at the website Philaprintshop.com:
“An original print is one printed from a matrix on which the design was created by hand and issued as part of the original publishing venture or as part of a connected, subsequent publishing venture. For fine art prints the criteria used is more strict. A fine art print is original only if the artist both conceived and had a direct hand in the production of the print. An original print should be distinguished from a reproduction, which is produced photomechanically, and from a restrike, which is produced as part of a later, unconnected publishing venture.”

This author thinks their definition a bit too confining now that we have computers directing the printing but I still think a print that was made with the artist right there supervising the printing is creating art more connected to the artist’s original goal for the work. He or she was there to weed out the bad ones, so to speak.

PALETTE If you see a film about an artist like Van Gogh you see before they start a painting they squeeze colors onto a thin wooden board held in the left hand while the right hand selects which colors to use in the painting. What colors they start out with is their palette and sometimes in art magazines they say “In 2016 I started out with a fresh palette” meaning they chose from a new range of colors than they were previously identified with.

PASTEL Making art with permanent-colored sticks. When the ground is completely covered with pigment, the work is considered a pastel painting; leaving much of the raw surface of the paper or canvas exposed. Must have fixative spray applied to prevent smearing, and is rather a delicate medium for original art to be schlepped around to concours.

PHOTOMONTAGE (also called Photocollage) A collage that includes cut- or torn-and-pasted photographs or photographic reproductions some of which Andy Warhol did. Good for conveying an impression of a historic moment captured in photographs..

PLEIN AIR French for “fresh air” and refers to
landscapes painted outdoors with the hope of catching that open air. Very few automotive artists paint on the spot since it might take two or three tries to get the car proportionately correct but if you do see an artist at work at a concours I think it’s especially exciting to keep revisiting the artist to see artwork being created on  the spot in one take.

POP ART This 20th century art movement capitalized on the techniques of pop culture — like comic books — in an affront to traditional tastes. Ironically the most expensive automotive art is the pop art created by Andy Warhol, who it is said didn’t even drive. A site called Art.com/Gallery/id  says “Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has lasted 25 years. Born in 1928, he left a huge legacy behind when he passed away in 1987 after routine gall bladder surgery. From drawings, paintings and prints to videography, publishing and performance, he produced more than art — he was essentially his own brand. From haunting black and white self-portraits to Polaroid snapshots of celebrities, many of the photos in the collection later became the inspiration for Warhol’s most well-known Pop Art pieces.”  An original signed silk screen print might be in the millions but reproductions of his work, unsigned, on paper are in the hundreds. His most famous car print is one of a Mercedes GP car.

PROMO POSTER A poster done using artwork to promote a specific event, such as a concours or an artist appearance at the concours. In a way this is commercial art, and the elitists might say less “pure” being in a sense an ad, but in another way, ironically they are collected  sometimes for the events they commemorate, such as the coveted Pebble Beach posters. My personal favorites are the  Bagatelle concours posters by the French artist known as Razzia.

RENDERING This is also a working drawing, made before the final work is done. Thus there are, in the car world, “artist’s rendering” conceiving how a car will look before the first mechanical work is done on the car. To me having the original designer sign a copy of his early rendering of a design (such as the designer of the Ferrari Enzo sign a print of his early rendering) is a slice of heaven since you are getting the artist themselves to acknowledge one of their conceptual drawings. Sometimes automakers release these drawings at the intro of a new car, for instance, Ferrari handed out Enzo renderings by Ken Okuyama when the car was introduced. Now if you hear the designer is at a concours (he is expected to be at Concorso Italiano in August) you can bring such a drawing for them to sign.

SCREEN PRINTS  An ancient technique in which a silk screen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, is selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) as a negative to block out color each time you lay on a new color. That way the color goes only where you want it to. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee, creating a positive image.

Andy Warhol, once a commercial artist, perfected the mass reproduction of fine art prints, some of them embellished after printing. He produced them in a building he called “the factory” and is famous for using “found” black and white images of photographs of cars and adding color seemingly slap-dash when he went to the silk screen print. Some of his documented screen prints have sold for over one million.

SEPIA TONED Black and white photographs in the old days were dipped in a sepia bath resulting in shades of warm browns. Because this photographic technique was used extensively in the past artists doing sepia toned paintings of cars today are attempting to evoke that vintage feel.

289 Cobra in burnt sienna. The author did this because he was working from a racing picture that was shot in black and white. Rather than guess what color it was he just painted it all in sepia
289 Cobra in burnt sienna. The author did this because he was working from a racing picture that was shot in black and white. Rather than guess what color it was he just painted it all in sepia.

SOLARIZED Also called “drop out” or “flat color.” A style developed by artists like Peter Max in the Sixties where you drop out all the tones that give shape to an object and just have flat color. Great for reproduction on T-shirts and event signs.

solarized (color drop out)427Cobra
427 Cobra in polished alloy. The author did this painting as an experiment in flat color, no tones. Painting a car that has a mirror finish is challenging…

SUPER REALISM This was an art trend that had paintings look like photographs. For some reason some “fine art” super realist paintings evoke the most banal scenes, such as a gas station out in the Mojave desert.

SURREALISM The most famous artist was Salvador Dali; beginning in 1920s, the Surrealist art movement combined super-realism with a distortion of reality.

TECHNICAL DRAWING Now the fine art world would not consider these art because they were originally done for the coachbuilder or automaker similar to a blueprint for a building, with all sorts of measurements on them. The customer for a coachbuilt car may never see the technical  drawing for his car. Folks who gravitate toward this type of automotive art are architects, and car restorers especially when the drawing has measurements of just how wide that door is supposed to be etc..

Coke Machine by Dan McCrary, Giclee Print, signed and numbered.
Coke Machine by Dan Mccrery, Giclee Print, signed and numbered.

WATERCOLORS There are several artists like Ken Dallison, who excel at watercolor portraits not only of the cars but of the settings you find classic cars displayed.


WORK DRAWING Rarely is an artist’s work drawing sold; because these are only intended as preliminary sketches to blockout the composition; what’s in the foreground, what’s in the background, maybe what colors will be used. But sometimes an artist seeking to clean out his studio sells them and these can be really collectible if the final painting that came from that series of work drawings  is well known or if sketches from the artist are hard to find. Particularly interesting in the car field are the first design sketches from a name auto designer like Giugiaro, Michelotti, or American automaker designers who were usually forbidden to take their renderings home. (nonetheless there have been exhibits in Detroit of automaker art).

Ferrari handed out work drawings of Ken Okuyama when they premiered the Enzo. If you find out a designer will be appearing at a show, you could buy a print on eBay and take it to the show for the designer to sign it. It'll be worth a lot more--lemme tell ya!
Ferrari handed out work drawings of Ken Okuyama when they premiered the Enzo. If you find out a designer will be appearing at a show, you could buy a print on eBay and take it to the show for the designer to sign it. It’ll be worth a lot more–lemme tell ya!

WATERCOLORS There are several artists , like Ken Dallison, who excel at watercolor portraits not only of the cars but of the settings you find classic cars displayed.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss will be offering his paintings and prints at Concorso Italiano in Monterey during car week. For a list of available work, you can write him at Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

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I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at http://www.LegendaryFarms.com.

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