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From Raw Metal to Automotive Pieces of Art

When it comes to automotive clay and metal sculptures, Jamie Schena is your guy! But what about the Iron Man he made? Well it's totally different from automotives. Is Jamie steering into a new direction?

Are you in the US for an exhibition Jamie?

Well I live in L.A. but I’m actually from Australia. I moved here about a year ago after being offered a job as an industrial designer with General Motors. My full time job is as a clay sculpture/automotive designer and I do my artwork on the side which is my hobby.  I built a web shop and started showcasing my work here in the US and have done four exhibitions in the last year;  Pebble Beach, Las Vegas, Beverley Hills and a small exhibition at a Hollywood event. It’s doing pretty well and I am getting regular commissions.

Jamie Schena sculptures

Jamie Schena sculptures

Did you study automotive design back home?

Yes, I studied industrial design back in Australia. My passion has always been for cars. So even though I studied product and industrial design, I majored in transportation design and I’ve been working for General Motors for the past 5 years. I worked for them for over 3.5 years in Australia but quit because I wanted to travel. I came here to the US for a vacation and was heading for Germany to go to work there but this job came up and I decided to take it.

What are the differences between your own art and modelling clay in your day job?

I sculpt in the day with clay and in the evenings I sculpt with metal. It’s very much the same process. I’ve been clay sculpting for about seven years and metal sculpting for about 15 years.

Which gives you the most flexibility?

Well my clay modelling allows me to travel and is my core income but I am limited by the boundaries of the project. Whereas with my metal sculpting, I can do whatever I want.

Material wise, clay seems a lot easier to shape than metal. Is it?

Yes, clay definitely in a sense gives more freedom. The advantage of metal over wood (because I do timber work as well) is that if you make a mistake, you can just cut it, grind it and reweld it. Which is much the same as clay. If I want to take a bit off here, or put a bit on there, I can. But with metal, I do have to think ahead. For example when I’m making undercut surfaces, I have to clean them up before I can put another layer on top.  Clay is a bit more forgiving.

Jamie Schena sculptures

Jamie Schena sculptures

Jamie Schena sculptures

Jamie Schena sculptures

There are a couple of artists who use clay to make bronze sculptures, so they can make a limited edition. That is not the route you are exploring, I understand.

No, both my clay and metal sculptures are all a ‘one off’.  I guess that’s what sort of separates my work from bronze or other automotive sculptures. It’s all done by hand and can’t be replicated.

Where do you get your inspiration from for making these models?

I used to collect dye cast models when I was younger and have a wide range of all different makes and models of cars. My Dad eventually told me to build the ones I want myself. So I started building the cars I love. I go to car shows and see cars that I really want but obviously can’t afford because they are a couple of million dollars. So I go away and build them myself. About ten months ago, there was a 60th Ferrari anniversary in California and Beverly Hills and they had about 1000 Ferraris on display. I saw the 1957 Testarossa. It’s such a beautiful car with a beautiful form and obviously stands out from all the other Ferraris. It’s such an icon. I was reading the history and there were only 18 ever made and that inspired me to build one and showcase it at Pebble Beach.

1957 Ferrari Testarossa by Jamie Schena

1957 Ferrari Testarossa by Jamie Schena

1957 Ferrari Testarossa by Jamie Schena

1957 Ferrari Testarossa by Jamie Schena

When you build a car it’s a kind of a replica but on the other hand it isn’t. Where is the balance for you?

I guess they are more my own interpretation of the car. I’m using all raw and recycled materials. Everything I make is out of scrap metal and is a sculpture, a piece of art, but I do try to capture as much as I can. It’s my own scale and if I am using bearings for the wheels that generally determines my scale. If I’m doing a piece for a client, we work to a budget or I build it to the dimensions of where they want to put it.

So if you start with a wheel or other dimensions, how does that work?  Do you use a  “calibrated eyeball “to get it right?

Pretty much. All the cars and motorbikes I make, start with the wheels and that determines the scale. Although I work to my own scale most times which is a good size to build, in terms of capturing the details but also to have on your mantel piece or put on display.

Ferrari 330 by Jamie Schena

Ferrari 330 by Jamie Schena

Ferrari 330 by Jamie Schena

Ferrari 330 by Jamie Schena

What is it that you are trying to capture in your sculptures to make it an original Jamie Schena?

I see a car and I recreate it from my interpretation. Whether I am trying to generate speed or more aggression in the car; it’s not supposed to be a precision model.  I try to exaggerate certain things and may make the car a little bit wider or lower and try to emphasize the elements and characteristics of the car.

Is the process of translating your thoughts about the car into your sculptures something you go through as an artist to develop your skills?

I guess I apply the same processes as I do at work. We have inspirational images or sketches given to us by designers or our leadership group and we have to create them as a clay model.  I also look at images of cars when doing my metal sculptures. I try to keep it loose and free because if I try to be too precise, it takes away from what it is. I do as much as I can to capture the car without over polishing it or trying to perfect it. I think its rawness and roughness gives it more character than the original polished car, especially when I put colour on them. The moment I paint them, is the moment it highlights all the imperfections and you still see all the raw metal, the scratch and grind marks and imperfections under the paint. I’m trying to show off my craftsmanship while accentuating it with the translucent paint. The processes I use are the same as is used on a normal car.

I love the Iron Man you made. It’s totally different from your automotive art. The anatomy is very different from a race car, but is there any similarity? 

It’s the same process and finish but in a different form. The reason why I built the iron man is because a guy I worked with in Australia had a limited edition of an iron man in a similar stance to the one I built but it wasn’t very big and was very expensive. I really liked it and built one four times the size. It’s just over a meter high. I’ve got a transformer which is twice the size of that. Both of those are my featured pieces and I have them both here in America. The reaction is funny, it draws people over to view my smaller pieces. I wanted to push myself to do something different and those pieces give people the assurance that I have the skill and ability to build their car or do whatever they want me to do.

Iron Man by Jamie Schena

Iron Man by Jamie Schena

Where do you see yourself going with your art? What is your dream five or ten years from now?

If you see my earlier work versus my work now, you definitely see an improvement on detail. I want to take my art in a different direction and the next level and see what else I can build. I just want to keep on going. Every time I showcase my work, a new opportunity comes up.

Do you envision being a full time artist or will it always be a side activity?

I want it to remain my hobby. The minute it becomes a full time job, it takes away some of the fun. Now I can do it whenever I want. When I’m at work, I think of things or get inspired and motivated. Then I go build it. I want to concentrate on things I’m passionate about and haven’t done before. Next year I’ll be going to Comic-Con which will be my first sci-fi exhibition away from automotive type things. So I’ll be doing a lot of sc-fi characters and super hero’s which inspired me back at uni. I’m limited by my imagination really. That and time. My art work is very labour intensive. I’ve got goals and have a list of things I want to build and when that’s done, I’ll write a new list. I’m building the cars I hope will one day be my own car collection.

Which artist inspires you the most?

That’s a tricky one. I’m more inspired by pieces of work and not by one artist in particular. It’s like brands of cars, I love certain models of cars without liking all the cars of that particular brand. So I get my inspiration from various sources. But I do work in a very inspirational environment which pushes me creatively in the automotive field. I take that passion and creativity and apply it to my art work. My background also plays a big part in terms of my upbringing and my passions outside of art. My Dad ran his own business from home and I was taught at a very young age to weld. I raced go carts for 15 years professionally. At age 12 I had a personal sponsor. I built him a little go cart and that’s how it all took off in terms of commission work.

Did your racing help you with building race cars models?

Yes, I was a mechanic and rebuilt engines etc. I know what makes up an engine from pulling them apart and seeing all the internals. I was very fascinated by speed, the mechanics and how things work. My understanding for racing and being my own mechanic from a young age has given me a good insight. I look at a car and think about how I am going to reproduce it from an artistic point of view. It’s a scaled down version but I use all mechanical components like spark plugs and whatever I can get my hands on. I try to capture the exterior of the car, the bigger picture, the feeling of the car, the emotion and movement. Everything from my background has inspired me and led me to do what I am doing today. The attention to detail definitely comes from my racing background. It’s taken 15 years of experience and 1500 pieces to get my work to the level it is today. Every time I showcase my piece or build a sculpture, it’s all word and mouth. I never have to advertise.

See more of Jamies work on his website and Facebook.

Jamie will be exhibiting next year at the following events:

Arizona -Barrett Jackson Auction Scottsdale January 23-31

Florida -The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance March 11-13

San Diego -Comic-Con International July 21–24, 2016


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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