Roger Blanchard - The Heart of the Car

' The engine is the heart and the body is the skin' says Automotive artist Roger Blanchard. He loves discussing style technique. Find out more.

Hi Roger, thank you for your time to talk about your car art.
I’ve enjoyed looking through – some of my favourite artists are there. Like Tom Fritz, the Master of Light. He’s one of my absolute favourite automotive artists. I know Tom relatively well. When I do shows, we all go around to different tour events and set up an impromptu car art gallery in a big tent. It’s a great way to meet new automotive artists. I usually do several in a year but I’ve been cutting back – picking and choosing where I can make some money. Meeting Tom was inspiring.
 Roger Blanchard at the Amelia Concours d'Elegance

Roger Blanchard at the Amelia Concours d'Elegance

I’ve been doing this for 30 or 35 years. I’ve met almost everyone [doing this type of work] from the States and even some people from Europe. I find it very interesting to talk with my peers about art. It’s a lot of fun. Some guys, like Tom, are just incredible at what they do. I love discussing style technique. They’re fun people too!
Of course! And you all hold the same passion for cars and art. So, tell me, how did you start painting?
Like some of the other people you’ve interviewed, I started off by drawing planes and cars in grade school when I should have been doing math! [Laughs]I didn’t get into painting much until I was in my forties but I’ve always been a car guy. I went to a race once and met a woman there who was doing automotive art and I thought, “Hey, I need to give that a try!” That was back in the 80’s and early 90’s. My brother in law raced so I started going again with him! I think that’s what really inspired me – seeing someone else involved in automotive art made me realize it was an interest I could develop into an art form too.
 V12 by Roger Blanchard

V12 by Roger Blanchard

You have a wide variety of different cars that you’ve painted. How do you pick your topics? How did you develop your technique?
Sitting and doing. Just practicing a lot. I choose my topics mostly through history and photographing at different events. I sort of compose what I want to do with my camera first and then transpose bits and pieces of that into artwork with watercolour. My father used to paint with watercolours as a hobby early in my life so it was a technique I was familiar with. It was a natural place to start.
It’s been wonderful. I’ve gotten to see, as a car junkie, some of the finest cars in the world. I love cars and I love reflections, as I’m sure you can tell from my work. It’s kind of my hallmark. Cars are beautiful. They’re something you drive around but they are also a work of art.
In your opinion, where does the art start? With the designer? In the reflections?
I think mostly with the designer. Sometimes I can capture a mood that doesn’t have much to do with design but a good looking car sure helps. I find the art in the art – in reflection, in light, in the design. Different cars appeal to me more and more. I prefer racecars to street cars, as a general rule. I think it’s because I like racing. That’s how it started anyway. When I was younger a friend of mine purchased a Porsche ’56 and we went to a racetrack together. I remember thinking, “This is wonderful.” So I spent the next 20 years as a marshal and other thing in the racing industry. I tried racing itself but it look a little more money than I was willing to spend. By the time I built a car, I couldn’t afford to race it! I love the sports racing cars of the 50’s – Ferraris and Aston Martins and all that stuff. That’s when I entered in to the scene so I think it’s stuck with me.
Porsche Carrera by Roger Blanchard

Porsche Carrera by Roger Blanchard

Some of the artists I’ve spoken to are very focused on the mechanical parts of the car – engine and transmission – as opposed to the body of the car. Where do you see yourself there? 
The mechanical part shows the beast and the bodywork is its cloak. Or rather, the engine is the heart and the body is the skin. They’re both important. Reflections in a car are a whole other beauty and image in itself. Aston Martin had an aluminum-bodied car from the late 50’s that they didn’t paint; they just polished. It was beautiful.
Tell me about your creative process. 
I photograph the cars and then lay the images down in pencil from the photograph onto watercolour paper. I begin to paint them with watercolour from there. Sometimes I enhance the images; sometimes I just do what’s there. Background can also be important. If you’re telling a story, background is key – for instance with people or a certain point in history. I want to capture the essence of a car, or the part of the car that I’m showing. I want to show the mechanical elements as well as the beauty of the reflections. I usually have three or four paintings going at once. I can work on one while thinking about another. Having more than one painting going on at once helps give me perspective.
Sometimes, things just don’t work and I scrap them. I stick them in a drawer and come back to them sometimes years later. Paintings can often be salvaged but it takes time and distance.
You mentioned learning a lot from other artists. Do you have any other major sources of inspiration? 
I think light is the base of it all. It’s like Tom Fritz says, “It’s always the way light wraps itself around something.” I go to car shows and racetracks. It’s often just about how the vehicles are light up. I love contrast – colours make things vibrant.
I love the era of cars before aerodynamics started to dictate the shape of things. Just a guy behind a shop hammering on a piece of metal and putting together something partly in his head and partly in the designer’s head. I think it all happened together.
I also do commission work. I prefer to take my own photos of a vehicle because with me reflections are everything. For instance, some pictures that a guy took of his car at high noon in a parking lot don’t have any magic to them, you know? I like to walk around the car and look through my camera. You can move back and forth and watch the reflections sweep back and forth too. I ask clients which view of the car they like the best. What makes their heart go thump-thump when they look at the car? My customers are typically general car collectors or vintage racecar drivers. These guys are just like me except they can’t paint [laughs]. They often have their own collections of cars.
Roger Blanchard - Corvette 58

Roger Blanchard - Corvette 58

Do you have a classic car of your own?
Nope. I have a 20-year-old Toyota van [laughs]. I used to have sports cars growing up – an MG midget, a Sunbeam Alpine, a 124 coup Fiat. I built a racecar once. I’ve always been a car guy. Never much of a mechanic though…
My wife went back to school and got her doctorate. We moved for her job about 20 years ago and that’s when I got to start painting fulltime. I have my own studio at home. When we have a show somewhere and set up a gallery, the most wonderful thing about that is getting to talk shop with your peers. I think there is a lot of value to working in a collaborative setting.
More information about my work can be found on my website. I have prints and posters of my previous work available and, of course, my commission work.
Thank you for asking me to share my story with you.
Roger Blanchard - Streamliner

Roger Blanchard - Streamliner

What I love about automotive artists is the shared passion. We all love the same thing. There are so many differences between how each artist works and how they came to do this work but yet so many similarities as well. But each of us loves the same thing – cars and art. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me! 
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Note: All the images in this blog are copyright by Roger Blanchard.
Marcel Haan

Marcel Haan

Founder and Owner of CarArtSpot, blogger and entrepreneur. With a passion for people and art. Every week Marcel interviews leading automotive artist and shares their stories at CarArtSpot.


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