For Mike, there really wasn’t a path into drawing – it’s just something that he’s always done, “since day one”. Same with why his passion for drawing led to a specialisation in vehicles of all kind. This was not some kind of conscious or strategic move, but an organic response to an in-built love of vehicles. He wasn’t even from a family of mechanics or car collectors; he just drew lots of pictures of cars and bikes in his exercise books at school and found classic 1960s English cars incredibly beautiful to look at.
“What got me hooked is probably the aesthetics,” Mike says of his love of vehicles.
“The first time I saw an AC Cobra, for example, that my jaw dropped. And my uncle had a European Ford Capri when I was growing up, and I absolutely loved it. He always took me for a ride in it. I’ve always just loved the whole thematic of cars, bikes and transport,” says Mike.
While Mike’s specialty is transport – cars, motorcycles, motorsport, airplanes and luxury boats – he also enjoys portraiture and landscapes as well as drawing for architecture, technical manuals, patents and product design. In fact, product design is where Mike began. He trained in industrial design and steered towards the technical illustration side of things. It’s this technical eye that helps Mike infuse such detail into his work. However, Mike is still keen to impart a painterly quality, rather than striving for photorealism.
“Some illustrators directly copy a photo of a car, including the lighting used in that photograph and the exact setting in which the car sits. But what’s the point of that? You’ve just replicated a photo,” says Mike.
“Similarly, some people can draw something in such a technical way that it lacks an artistic quality. Sometimes I actually need to simplify something in order to highlight its shape. In fact, sometimes it’s what you don’t draw that makes the difference,” Mike adds.
While Mike isn’t going to ‘go digital’ in terms of his drawing (“Mike, never lose your manual skills,” he was once told), he does use digital techniques to tidy up his illustrations (removing any rubber residue or dust etc.) or to customise them into personalised prints (changing the colour or number plate, for example).
What does Mike believe are important qualities in a technical illustrator?
“You need to understand the different facets of good drawing, such as light and dark, colour and contrast. Drawing is really a form of communication – you are literally showing what’s happening to a shape. It’s not really a cliché to say, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. You need observation skills – to look and then look again. And of course you need patience,” says Mike.
“You also need a strong eye for detail and to know where to put the requisite amount of detail and how to break a drawing down into elements. For example, you can’t see a tyre tread in detail in a reference photo, but I try and bring out that kind of detail in my illustrations, because I can,” adds Mike.
Mike’s amazing illustrations for the Vintage Motorcycles stamp issue took more than 40 hours to complete, and Mike’s artistic process is explained in details in the prestige book that accompanies the stamp issue.