The Hong Kong artists who love to sketch vintage cars, and their tips on how to draw them best

Annual Classic Car Club show attracts members of Urban Sketchers group, who share advice on the best ways to depict classic cars

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 10:59pm

Chater Road is closed to traffic for the day and packed with about 100 classic cars, but a beautiful Russian woman seems to be stealing the show. Elena Klimova of Yakhroma, Moscow, is drawing a small crowd at the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong’s annual parade of the city’s most collectible automobiles.

The 29-year-old has a sketchbook on her lap and she’s sitting face to grille with Michael Kadoorie’s grey 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III. Klimova surveys every line and curve of her priceless subject, and gradually brings the grand old prize winner to life in delicate layers of watercolour. The art teacher seems oblivious to the growing number of passers-by who peer over her shoulder at her sketchbook in polite silence. One onlooker smiles; another nods, and the sketch says it all: Klimova has captured the gleam of the vintage Rolls-Royce’s huge, shiny grille, the sheen of its big wings and maybe added a benign glint to its giant headlights.

I thought it was very hard to draw a car, but later realised that it’s the same as drawing a portrait
Elena Klimova

Klimova is at the car show, held annually in November, with fellow members of Urban Sketchers Hong Kong, a group of artists who get together to capture life in the city on paper. Each creates their own interpretation of the vintage vehicles. With more than 5,000 members on Facebook, the group holds open monthly events on various themes, and its devotees have attended the car cavalcade since 2014.

Klimova, who is a teacher at Anastassia’s Art House academies in Hong Kong, says her sketching at classic car shows has expanded her interest in automotive art.

“At first, I thought it was very hard to draw a car, but later realised that it’s the same as drawing a portrait,” she says. “[Cars] are like people, all are different and have a special personality, [which means I must] decide the best way to depict them.”

Klimova’s technique is to start drawing the car’s outline, to set its proportions and then find all the details, although “sometimes it’s easy to get distracted with all the shiny, little elements”, she says.

She draws the classic cars for fun. “I don’t normally do commission work in Hong Kong, or know about the price range,” Klimova says.

Hong Kong classic car collectors turning their passion into the ultimate luxury investment

Alvin Wong is also strictly amateur. “I never price my works,” the 45-year-old architect says. His favourite subjects are the MG TDs, but he says Porsche 964s are the easiest to draw. His car art tip is to focus on the windscreen first, “to fix the shape”.

British structural engineer “Sketcher Ben” Luk is one of the group’s administrators and has drawn at three of the Chater Road shows. He says he includes cars in his urban sketches “to explain the context, but [they] are not necessarily the focus”. Attracted to geometric designs, Luk sketches cars that appeal to his aesthetic, such as the BMW Isetta 300 “bubble car” and the Stingray Corvette.

A good result at the classic car auction ... Michael Kadoorie’s Rolls-Royce Phantom III; and Jaguar’s electric crossover I-PACE

Luk accepts commissions, focuses on accuracy and advises wannabe car sketchers to imagine that the car is contained in a box. “You can adjust the proportions of the box to suit the perspective, whether it is an isometric view or a more distorted fisheye view, he advises.

Architect Vanessa Leung has sketched vehicles for two years and says she finds classic Volkswagens the easiest subjects to turn her hand to, although her favourite car is the 1950s Isetta 300. She created a realistic sketch of her cousin’s 1966 Volkswagen Type 2 van, and then captioned it with comments and dates. In doing so, she turned a Sunday afternoon drawing into a lifelong memento.

The best way to sketch a car, Leung says, is to first draw the part that you feel gives the car its special character. She usually draws the bonnet first.

I see eyes in headlamps, and often begin there
Rob Sketcherman

Hong Kong portrait artist and illustrator Rob Sketcherman (not his real name) attended his first Chater Road car show two years ago as an urban sketcher. “This form of art has changed me as an artist,” he says. “For one who only ever drew the human figure, I’ve grown to love many other subjects, cars included.”

Sketcherman says he was first smitten by a 1926 Bentley parked next to a 1930 Ford Model A in Central. “The sketch wasn’t very good, but I’ve been hooked on drawing older cars ever since,” he says. Vintage vehicles, such as the dapper 1950 MG TD, have personality, he says.

He first saw an Isetta 300 and a BMW i8 only recently, when 25 of the group’s artists were invited to sketch at the Hong Kong BMW dealer’s showroom as part of the marque’s centenary celebrations. He says cars with distinct shapes are easier to draw, and he was impressed by the 1966 Corvette Stingray at this year’s Classic Car Club gathering. “That just spoke to me,” says Sketcherman, who is also an administrator of the group.

“I see eyes in headlamps, and often begin there – or with lines – and, working digitally on my iPad Pro, [then] add colour on layers below it.”

How good is the new Apple Pencil? An illustrator tries it out

The artist says he would like to include a car in a family portrait, “as a classic might be considered by some to be part of the family”. Sketcherman’s prices depend on the work’s complexity and the number of family members in it, he says.

They bring out the little quirks in a car, which are really great
Keith Martin

This year’s show was also attended by Lisbon-based artist Joao Saldanha. The 42-year-old Portuguese national says he has since been approached by several Hong Kong classic car collectors with commissions. During November’s Macau Grand Prix week, he presented his first solo exhibition of motor sport art at Macau’s Rui Cunha Foundation Gallery.

Hong Kong collectors whose cherished cars were on display along Chater Road encourage the sketchers to come along and add another dimension to the show.

They “do a wonderful job” and at times bring the cars to life in “a much more dramatic way” than a photograph, says Classic Car Club of Hong Kong vice-chairman Keith Martin. “They bring out the little quirks in a car, which are really great, such as the headlights or bulges in the bonnet.”

Sketch Hong Kong exhibition shows how art is flowering in the grassroots

Members of Urban Sketchers Hong Kong will return to Central, on the harbourfront outside City Hall, for the inaugural Motoring Clubs’ Festival on Sunday, January 15, 2017. The event will bring together Hong Kong car and motorcycle enthusiasts.