After coming across some of Harry Gravett’s artwork online—aside from becoming instant admirers—we knew we wanted to pick his brain, too.
Art is a tremendously significant subset of human civilization, and so too is this the case within the niche of automotive culture.
Many car enthusiasts express their passion for automobiles through art, either through creating or appreciating it, in all its forms.
You could say that Harry—who hails from the UK—does all of the above in spades. He is also in a unique and coveted position as someone who has managed to align their passions with a career in the automotive industry.
While it’s hard to argue that he’s not “living the dream” of anyone who has ever picked up a pencil and started drawing cars, Harry’s circumstances are born more from a resolute dedication to his craft, rather than, say, an overly rigid action plan.
Throughout our chat, we discuss an assortment of topics which include how he got started as an illustrator, what his creative process looks like, why people are the most important resource in the automotive industry, and the mindset required to take your skills to the next level.
At the core of everything, Harry is after all, a die-hard car enthusiast himself, so we also talk about the automobiles and events which inspire him to grab his markers and rush back to the canvas.
Examples of Harry’s artwork are displayed throughout our interview transcript, along with a gallery at the end. For more, we’ve also provided links to Harry’s website and Instagram account below.
SCD: Hi Harry. We really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.
It’s been interesting to see how a widespread appreciation (and application) of automotive-based art has really started to take off, especially with the ushering in of the social media era.
We’re really curious to hear your take on it, as you’re about as vested as anyone could be in this space.
HG: Absolutely—I think social media has a huge part to play in it.
There’s a whole new generation of people whose entire interest in cars revolves around Instagram, etc.—this gives artists the opportunity to be seen on a wider scale outside of galleries, by an online audience of car enthusiasts rather than just gallery visitors.
SCD: Not many people manage to turn their passion into a profession. So, first things first—congratulations on that! Tell us about your role at Drive as a CAD Designer and how it ties everything together for you.
HG: Thanks so much, it’s still such a huge and fresh achievement to me! I learnt to use CAD software during the Coronavirus pandemic…I really missed going out to car events, but I was able to make all the cars I love in CAD and play with the 3D models of them!
After I graduated, Drive approached me and offered the job to effectively do that hobby for real. My job is mainly to make models of car designs done by other people, but during the building process I get to influence the development of the design and how the car looks.
My role aside, Drive is exactly the kind of environment I always wanted to work in…a small team of dedicated, highly talented and truly wonderful people. I love my job!
SCD: It looks like you had created a roadmap to get to where you are today, long before your involvement with Drive. Prior to this, you completed a 4-year program at Coventry University where you earned a BA in Automotive & Transport Design.
Do you believe that this was essential in turning your artistic pursuits into an applicable trade?
HG: For me, it was essential. Before University, I had no contacts within the automotive industry—I knew nobody.
4 years was a good amount of time to develop my skills, but the biggest gain for me was the people I met and the doorways they opened for me. Without meeting these people, my skills would’ve simply remained a nice hobby.”
SCD: Let’s go back even further in time. When did the automotive art/illustration bug first bite? Tell us a little bit about that “moment”. At what point did you realize that you wanted to make more than just a hobby out of it?
HG: I’ve been drawing cars for as long as I remember! Many young children have the dream of becoming a car designer, but I guess the moment I realized I could make that a reality was when I was around 10 or 11 years old.
My older sister was applying to Universities, I remember looking through one of the prospectuses and seeing a course specifically for Automotive Design. From that moment on, I knew exactly where I was heading.
SCD: Much of your work—particularly as a professional—revolves around CAD modeling, where you create computer-generated 3D images of cars using sophisticated software.
However, it’s clear from looking at your portfolio, that you’re never straying far from more traditional artwork such as your “marker drawings”.
Tell us more about this side of your art; why you do it, what you enjoy most about it, and how it’s similar/different to CAD modeling.
HG: At the beginning of my course at Coventry University, we started by sketching with markers. It turned out that I was better at hand drawing than drawing digitally, and so that’s what I continued to do to present my design work.
A long time ago, all of the automotive design industry worked by hand—using marker pens to design entire cars. Nowadays, it’s a dying art in the industry, which makes my portfolio more unique.”
The biggest difference is that I can’t “undo” things when drawing by hand…I have to work perfectly the first time or it’s game over. What I enjoy most about the drawings I do is the reactions people have when I say they’re hand drawn—it’s truly special to me!
SCD: Let’s say you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper/computer screen. You’re given basic directions to produce something for a work project or commission. What does your creative process look like, from start to finish?
HG: I always work from an image reference; there’s only so much improvisation I can do, so I always start by finding or photoshopping the perfect image to use. I’ll then lightly sketch the outline with a pencil before starting the marker pen work.
With the marker pens, I lay down the tones using just grey—I use 11 shades of grey, ranging from see-through to black. This creates a greyscale picture of the car, which I will then colour in with the appropriate colour of marker pen for the bodywork.
Generally, the marker work takes a few hours depending on how complicated the picture is. Once all of the marker work is done, I add details, reflections, highlights and shadows using pencil crayons and white pen.
Again, this takes a few hours minimum but it makes all the difference! Sounds simple, right?
(check out the time-lapse video above to watch this process unfold, from start to finish!)
SCD: Speaking of commissions, they seem to be hugely popular across all your social media platforms. Is this a big part of your journey as an automotive illustrator? How much time do you commit to them, and do you see this evolving into something bigger?
HG: Commissions are a huge part of what I do. It’s nice to draw pictures for myself, but drawing them for somebody else gives me a reason to do it. Especially during the cold, dark days in the winter, I spend the majority of my free time doing commissions.
Sometimes, I’ll be drawing past midnight because I’m enjoying the piece so much! I never saw it becoming more than just a hobby, but given the reception I’ve had to my work in the past year, I’d like to think I can expand it enough to become a business that people in the car community recognise.”
SCD: Show us a couple of the earliest examples of your work and tell us what you think of them! Looking at them now, what have you learned from them, that you continue to apply to the work you do today?
HG: Oh wow, this is embarrassing! There’s a couple of pieces that spring to mind, the first being a Honda NSX I drew when I was 16…at this time, I worked with pencil crayons as I didn’t know how to use marker pens. I drew hundreds of drawings before this one, but it was the first one I actually felt content with.
This was THE drawing that sparked conversations about opening up to commissions, so if anything it taught me to be confident in my work and abilities. Looking at it now, I’d definitely say it taught me to watch the perspective when drawing exhausts and number plates…what was I thinking?!
Looking slightly later than this, at one of the very first marker drawings I did of a yellow Ferrari 360 Spider. This was the one where I learnt to lay down all of the tonal work with grey markers before adding the body colour—a pivotal moment in the early stages of learning my style.
SCD: You’ve illustrated or 3D-modeled some of the most iconic cars on the planet. If you could pick a single work of art as being your “G.O.A.T”, which one would it be and why?
HG: This changes all the time as I’m constantly improving. Currently, it’s this MK1 Lamborghini Gallardo I drew in December. It helps a lot that I adore the way this car looks, but from a technical point of view I really do feel it’s one of my strongest pieces so far.
The contrast in this image is perfection in my eyes—I’m so proud of it! Wouldn’t it look fantastic framed on a wall?
SCD: It’s quite obvious that you’re a car enthusiast yourself! Tell us what your favorite cars are to illustrate. Do you have a particular automotive brand that you like the most? What’s your dream car?
HG: I’m a die-hard car enthusiast!! A lot of my commissions have come through the UK TVR and Porsche clubs, they’re both always great fun cars to draw. If I had to choose one brand though, it’s always going to be Ferrari.
My ultimate dream car would either be a Ferrari F355 GTS or a Ferrari 360 Spider, both Rosso Red with cream interior—I seriously couldn’t choose between the two!”
SCD: Outside of being an automotive illustrator, are there any other enthusiast activities you partake in (i.e., motorsport, tuning culture, cars and coffee meets, photography, etc.)?
HG: Absolutely! First and foremost, I have a beautiful 2012 BMW Z4 which I love driving, cleaning and taking to car events. I follow GT and sportscar racing, but I prefer to attend the events rather than watch the broadcasts.
I like to experience cars for real, hearing and feeling the sounds and smelling the smells. Every year, I attend as many car events as I can—I always arrive as early as I can and eagerly wait with my camera for nice cars to turn up. The staple event in my calendar has to be the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
SCD: For our artist/designer demographic of readers, let’s talk about software and tools. What programs do you use the most in your CAD or 3D-modeling work, and what’s your “go-to” when you’re creating something on paper? Is there any genre you’d like to try, that you haven’t had a chance to just yet?
HG: For the CAD work, I use Autodesk Alias—this is the industry standard for the job I do. When it comes to rendering images of the CAD work, I like to use Keyshot but I’m also learning Autodesk VRED.
When working on paper, my tools are Copic Markers, ProMarkers and Prismacolor pencil crayons. The paper has to be special bleedproof marker paper.
I’d like to try more cinematic work rendering 3D models on the computer, it’s not something I’ve ever properly tried. Being able to put a 3D car into a scene, create smoke and other cool stuff… It’s a dark art to me!
SCD: Speaking of genres, all your illustrations are ultra-realistic recreations and are produced with incredible attention-to-detail. What’s your view on more “abstract” types of automotive art—or even, “toon” car art, which seems to be popular on social media?
HG: Abstract art is cool but incredibly subjective. Personally, I couldn’t say exactly what styles I do or don’t like.
When producing work, I’ve always done it thinking “this is what I’d love to hang on my bedroom wall”, so it comes down to the same thing with abstract art for me—I either want it on my wall or I’m not a fan.”
I can absolutely appreciate the skill and effort that goes into producing all of this work though. Funnily enough, I struggled to be abstract when I did my fine art qualifications at school, so I truly admire anybody who has the creativity to come up with their own style successfully.
SCD: Are there any other artists—individually or collectively—that you personally look to for inspiration and guidance?
HG: Paul Howse is the first person I can think of. His work is very different to mine, but he started as a designer at McLaren and now produces his art as his own business.
I recently reached out to him with some questions and he was incredibly kind and helpful in his response. I hope to one day be as successful as him!
SCD: What advice would you give to those aspiring to become automotive illustrators or designers? How about those who are looking to combine their passion and talents with a professional role in the automotive industry, as you’ve done?
HG: I think the biggest thing is just to do artwork that you enjoy doing. Going back to my Fine Art days at school, I suffered a lot trying to produce artwork that I didn’t want to do for the sake of trying to satisfy exam qualifications.
Draw the cars you love most, make illustrations of them that you want to hang up on your walls and take pride in what you do. Let your audience find you by doing what you love to do, not what you think the audience will want to see!”
The same applies for taking your work into a professional role, so many people try to jump through hoops to satisfy job applications—don’t compromise your artistic integrity!
SCD: Well, Harry, that concludes our interview! This has been really inspiring and informative.
Art has always been an extension of human passion, and your experience with combining this as both a profession and a hobby, has offered a truly unique perspective for our readers.
On behalf of everyone at sportscardigest.com, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
HG: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about what I do!