Robb Report Australia


Transferring Soul To Paper - Meet the Artist Depicting the Beauty of Classic Motors

There is no denying the beauty in the lines, textures and materials of a classic Aston Martin, Riva speedboat or BSA motorcycle. Far more than simply forms of transport, the design, engineering and style inherent in these machines conjure an emotional appeal that goes well beyond mere appreciation of their function.

Capturing that in a two-dimensional form is an art in itself. While there’s no shortage of skilled, specialist automotive photographers, there remains a unique warmth and emotional connection in a drawing or painting. Victorian-based artist Mike Harbar believes it’s the hand of the creator that makes the image special.

“I have people say my work is ‘perfect’,” Harbar says. “I sometimes look at it and find a few flaws, but I think it’s the discrepancies that give it character. It's personal, it’s a one-off, it’s sentimental, unique, it pulls the heartstrings – and that is what clients find so appealing.”

Harbar has been creating his detailed, accurate and characterful artworks for more than 25 years and has built a global client base for his prints and original commissions. Harbar grew up in West London in the ’70s, when the UK still had an indigenous car industry. The previous decade had produced such British icons as the Jaguar E-type and Aston Martin DB5, stoking Harbar’s passion for cars, art and design. A school art teacher suggested he study product design.


Harbar duly obtained a degree from Leicester Polytechnic, graduating in 1989. He then applied to study automotive design at the prestigious Royal College of Art, but was unsuccessful beyond the initial interview. “What stemmed from that was, rather than designing a car, what I enjoyed most was drawing them. I liked drawing different materials, from shiny metal to rubber and glass and portraying chrome, just by using a pen or lead pencils,” Harbar explains.

By the mid-’90s, Harbar was producing prints and selling his work at car shows. Subsequent connections with car clubs, in particular the Aston Martin Owners Club, led to increasing commissions and by the time he moved to Australia in 2000, automotive art was a full-time business. Harbar credits his background in product design for engendering a high level of technical accuracy and detail, which are then overlaid with an artistic interpretation to bring out the character and soul in the work.

“I am using the car as a base and bringing out the detail, or showing that extra crease line to accentuate it just a bit more,” he says. This ability to draw out the essence of a subject through detail, shading and tonal qualities, he says, was particularly valuable when it came to the work he started producing in Australia.

Often, the cars he was commissioned to drawback the sensual curves of vehicles such as Jags and Astons. After meeting legendary Australian racing driver Harry Firth, and subsequently fellow greats like Bob Jane and Allan Moffat, Harbar was soon being asked to create artworks depicting Bathurst racing and Australian and US muscle cars.

“The learning curve for getting to know the cars was pretty steep but I always say, if I don’t know something, I’ll draw it. By doing that I can pick out little details, I get to recognise the nuances of these cars. And this is where the art comes in.”

Harbar employs a comprehensive process of research, digital composition and then hand drawing and painting, to create highly individual works for clients. He works from a client’s photographs and many more researched images, showing specific details and similar vehicles in different backgrounds, to develop a concept for the artwork.

“I might find a hero shot that I like, or if the client wants it on a certain piece of track, I have got to get that perspective right for the car. There is a lot of time and effort before putting pencil to paper.”

Artist Portrait

A concept is created in Photoshop, using multiple layers of the vehicle and the background, to show to the client. Once the concept is approved, Harbartransfers the Photoshop image onto watercolour paper and draws it by hand with lead pencils.

“I use lead pencils first to get the tones right,” he explains. “If the artwork works well in black and white with a good dynamic range of tones, I know it will work when the watercolour goes over the top.”

The same diligence goes into the backgrounds, which are also drawn from photographs to ensure accurate detail. Here, Harbar’s experience in life drawing enabled him to portray people with the same degree of artistic skill.

It’s that skill, an appropriate complement to the beauty of the cars, boats and landscapes he portrays, that transforms what might otherwise betechnical drawings into truly emotive works of art.

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