Martin Tomlinson has a rare ability to capture cars in paint. We meet the man who wears his art on his sleeve
11 February 2018

In this age of digital cameras, mobile phone photography and Instagram, what role the humble artist with his paints and brushes?

Study Martin Tomlinson’s motorsport paintings and the answer stares right back at you. No Photoshop trickery here – just skill and talent laid bare in paint.

Take his picture of Mike Hawthorn pitting his Ferrari Squalo 555. The overhead perspective places you right on top of the action. You can feel the heat of the engine.

“If my house burned down, that’s the one painting I’d save,” says Tomlinson. “Actually, no – I’d let the whole lot go up and claim on the insurance.”

Tomlinson’s sense of humour is never far away, deployed the instant he detects a whiff of hubris, which isn’t often. It’s probably borne of those years in the early 1970s when he went racing, towing his Formula Ford single-seater to meetings with his Ford Zephyr – and towing it home again, confidence sorely tested. (“I got a works drive but then the money ran out.”)

Before that, he studied fine art at Harlow Art College, where he found himself painting against the tide.

“I wasn’t sure what planet the tutors were on but they taught me nothing about the subject,” he says. “Instead, I learned that passion for what you’re doing can take you a long way. I’m virtually self-taught.”

Paying a mortgage and raising a family meant abandoning a career in art while he developed his graphic design business. He continued to paint, though, and remained active in the racing world, commentating at Brands Hatch and, with the exception of Giuseppe Farina and Alberto Ascari, witnessing every Formula 1 world champion in action.

Slowly but surely, his twin passions – painting and racing – came together. Carol Shelby and John Surtees are among the motorsport legends who commissioned works from him. Sir Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Juha Kankkunen and Roy Salvadori were among those who signed prints of his work showing them in action.

Now aged 67, Tomlinson has for the past three years given his business interests a back seat as he turns his attention squarely to painting motorsport. He reckons he’s produced more than 100 works in this period. His clients have included Moss, former F1 driver Mark Blundell, Zak Brown (the executive director of McLaren Technology Group) and former Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis.

“Someone will ask me to paint a picture of a car either in period or with them in the driving seat,” Tomlinson explains. “I do lots of research not just of the car but, if the context is a famous race or a racing track, of the event because my clients are sticklers for detail.”

Tomlinson then does a pencil sketch to plan the composition and check that it all works: “Now it’s ready to paint. I work in gouache, a water-based medium, painting directly on to board. It dries quite quickly but that suits me, especially when adding speed effects, where quick flicks of the brush are necessary.”

The whole process takes around two weeks from start to finish. Depending on the composition, Tomlinson charges from £250 for a sketch to £1000 for a painting.

“It’s hard work – I’m at my easel from 7.30am to six at night – but I love it,” he says. “My partner says I’m grumpy, though. She’d like me to paint flowers but I won’t.”

Speed painters: 

Tomlinson isn’t the only motoring artist able to immortalise yours or a favourite car in paint. Here are three more famed art talents.

NEIL PODBERY - “I’m a photo-realist painter. I just have this passion for getting things precise and accurate and achieving almost photo-like quality.” Visit

TIM LAYZELL - “I’m well known for my poster style. I like to think it’s a simple but accurate look with a strong period feel.” Visit

NICHOLAS WATTS - “I’ve been painting professionally for 25 years. The great Alfredo de la Maria is the automotive artist I aspire to become. Composition is everything.”

John Evans

Read more 

Insight: the fine art of car detailing

The cars that are also cults

Our Verdict

Mini Cooper S

Now in its third generation, we find out if the bigger, cleverer and more mature Mini can still entertain like it predecessors did

Join the debate


11 February 2018

Very talented, I like his style.

Steam cars are due a revival.

12 February 2018

...spoiled by errors.

Not all of the works in the slide show are by Tomlinson, and, in fact, the 935 picture - the first in the slide show - might suggest it is by Tomlinson, in the caption, but it is by Tim Layzell.


The link for Tim Layzell goes to Neil Podbery’s website.


Come on, have a bit of respect for people and actually proof read this stuff before publishing it.



12 February 2018

This piece isn't very good at all, even by internet standards.

12 February 2018

I suppose it's a matter of opinion but I find them a bit hit and miss, mostly miss. The orange Jag for instance I wouldn't value at more than a couple of hundred pounds.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Vauxhall Insignia GSi Sports Tourer
    This is the Vauxhall Insignia GSi Sports Tourer
    First Drive
    19 February 2018
    The Insignia GSi is Vauxhall's new performance flagship. Can this diesel estate version offer both pace and practicality?
  • Honda Civic Type R
    First Drive
    19 February 2018
    It’s a warm welcome to this steaming hot hatch. But is it too fiery for Britain’s roads?
  • Aston Martin DB11 Volante
    The DB11 Volante chassis' torsional rigidity is 22kN/deg, down from 34kN/deg on the coupe – but substantially more than the 14.7kN/deg of the DB9 Volante
    First Drive
    19 February 2018
    The DB11 Volante is the first convertible variant of Aston Martin's new model generation. How does it compare to the likes of the new Ferrari Portofino?
  • BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo front
    The new BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo
    First Drive
    16 February 2018
    The top-of-the-line 6 Series Gran Turismo has arrived in the UK, but does a more potent engine increase its unusual appeal?
  • Audi TT RS Coupé
    First Drive
    16 February 2018
    The Audi TT RS has the looks, a vociferous engine and the supercar-baiting performance, but is it too uncompromising to use as a daily driver?