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Charles Maher Car Art Advice

Automotive Artist Charles Maher provides advice on car paintings.

In the studio of Charlie Maher the drips and splatters on the wall escaped the canvas. But they are there to witness the creation of other great automotive art. In this interview with Marcel Haan at CarArtSpot he explains how he keeps improving on his skills.

What does a normal day in your life look like? 

“If you had asked me last week I would have said plumbing. I had leakage and spent a couple of days fixing the plumbing. But now it’s back to the regular schedule, which starts with walking and feeding my two dogs and then, after my own breakfast, I start painting. These days a lot of my time is also absorbed by administration, e-mail, and other work to continue to promote myself. The advantage however of the current phones”, Charlie jokingly states, “is that I can see who is calling and can decide if I let myself be interrupted from the creative process.”
I asked Charlie how his work is being influenced by his state of mind. “I don’t need suffering to create art,” he says. “We all have times where we deal with sorrow and the challenges of life but I’m at my best when I’m in an optimistic mood.”
Creating a new artwork starts with a picture in his head inspired often by a combination of topics and subjects. For example, the Christmas scene pickup was generated using photos made of a pickup truck in the summer; last year’s photos of the lit Christmas tree and another photo shoot of nicely wrapped gifts. He is using these images as a reference on the dimensions and perspectives and blends these together into his own kind of still life.
Charles Maher pickup truck winter scene

Winter pickup truck by Charles Maher

Charlie likes to experiment with his materials and styles and often starts with creating the background. Mixing several bowls of paint and then just starting to paint the canvas. Sometime he lays the canvas on the floor other times it stands on the easel. Quite a few of his works show backgrounds with birch trees. Charlie loves to paint birch in several layers of horizontal and vertical strokes. The outline of the car will be there already but without the details. For the cars themselves, he creates a detailed line drawing on overlay paper including supporting lines which he continuously goes back to while painting the car. He feels that this makes his process much more efficient.
Charles Maher Car Painting Fall

Car painting "Fall" by Charles Maher

Every now and then Charlie puts the larger works aside. To make his original art also available for a larger audience he likes to paint small works, almost the size of twice a postcard.

Cars are not the only topic leaving Charlie’s easel. Every now and then he likes to do a landscape, a still life, or the children of friends and family. His creative skills are not limited to mastering the paintbrush. A few years ago he started building a solid body electric guitar and has now built seven guitars. Several professional musicians tried  these guitars. Charlie modestly states that their feedback was that they are quite playable. Surprisingly Charlie doesn’t play the guitar himself and hasn’t yet found the time to start studying. When asked if he has plans to create automotive sculptures Charlie mentioned that he has some ideas of using his woodwork skills to create an automotive sculpture.
The drips and splatters on the wall of his studio escaped the canvas but are there to witness the creation of other great works.
Charles Maher Car Painting AUDI Sebring

Car painting of the AUDI at Sebring by Charles Maher

For over 15 years Charlie is a member of the AFAS – Automotive Fine Art Society – which he considers a great privilege. AFAS has opened doors for him like the yearly events at Pebble Beach and he relishes the opportunity to interact with peers like Tom Fritz. Many automotive artists share the ambition to become a member of AFAS. I asked Charlie if he has any advice for starting automotive artist.
It is not just a matter of artistic ability and for Charlie it all boils down to two simple things:
1. First become great in drawing. Draw each day, draw everything you see; keep practicing to cultivate the feeling and understanding of dimensions.
2. Secondly, and this might come as a surprise, learn how to market yourself. You might not like this and it takes time away from the creative process but it is essential for establishing your name in the car art scene.
Quite often Charlie comes across car paintings, the painting skills of the artist are remarkable but the dimensions and perspectives remains lacking. The biggest challenge for creating automotive art is mastering dimensions and so Charlie encourages artists to practice drawing each day.
While Charlie doesn’t use the computer in the creation process of his car paintings he acknowledges the amazing things that can be done when creating digital automotive art. Some of these artists have applied for an AFAS membership and there has been a discussion within the group around the inherent originality or lack thereof in digital art. Charlie suggests creating high quality prints and then deleting the files. It will be interesting to see what the position of digital car art will become.
As an artist you never stop learning. Charlie visited many countries and museum and likes the works of classic artists like Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent. He collects the works of colleague automotive artist which he usually trades these for one of his own. He recently laid hands on two original works of Carlo Demand, a charter member of AFAS. Studying these works in charcoal as well as those of Gouache almost took on a forensic quality for Charlie as he strived to identify certain layers and each reflection of light. On his wall is also a work of Roger Blanchard, another automotive art friend and highly respected peer.
Charlie his art collection is not limited to graphics. In his studio is a work by Richard Pietruska – the image of a fish shaped Ferrari. Outside are some bronze works made by his nephew. Being surrounded by art is a privilege and continuous source of inspiration for Charlie.
Charles Maher Car painting RedBlooded

Car painting by Charles Maher "RedBlooded"

Charlie is currently working on a large painting featuring a Mercedes Gullwing in a winter landscape with a lit Christmas three. He enthusiastically explains his love of the challenge of bringing a kind of tension and emotion in this work by playing with dark and light and finding ways to perfectly reflect the twinkling lights in the tree.
On Charlie’s website you will find a fantastic collection of his car paintings. However, he has many others not listed on the site as well. He encourages you to contact him if you are looking for something specific.

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Originally posted on May 8th, 2014
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.