How PopBangColour creates art using remote-control cars
See how one of the car world's most recognisable artists gets his hands dirty to produce
Ian Cook, AKA PopBangColour, creates arguably some of the most recognisable car artworks in the world, using tiny toy cars as his brushes. But what goes into each of his creations? I went to his studio to find out. And, erm, get my Morgan immortalised on canvas.
It always starts with a source image
Ian’s works aren’t products of an overactive imagination. Commissions tend to be based on a picture that already exists. Ian and his client will talk about what the artwork will be based on, whether it needs some light tweaking (flipped, lightened, etc) before a final call on what Ian will actually be creating. For Ian’s performance art he’ll give his social media followers a choice of a few images to recreate and go with the flow. Whether you’re a private client or a member of the public looking to watch something cool, Ian takes care of you.
[Full disclosure: I commissioned Ian to paint my car because after knowing him for a decade I thought it was finally time to get one of my own!]
Getting the lines right
The image, now selected, needs to be drawn. These things aren’t simply conjured from memory. Instead, using the original as a reference, Ian creates a line drawing on canvas in pencil, and if required ahead of the main event, he’ll ink the outlines. This leaves him with a perfect outline to follow for the final work.
Colour matching is important, so Ian’ll make sure that the finished piece will actually look like the thing it’s supposed to look like. This means experimenting with different paints and inks until the colour is just so.
This is here purely because Mike Fernie will get excited about it
The cars aren't ready for paint just yet…
With an outline hot to trot and all the right colours lined up and ready to go, it’s time to get ‘er set up. This means either readying his Coventry-based studio with the right inks and paints for the job, or packing up his life in to his van and setting up his mobile PopBang Colour gazebo-cum-studio at whichever event he’s creating at. Goodwood, Le Mans, WEC – even F1. Ian’s been there, and painted at it.
Images decided, outlines done, paints chosen, and studio readied – it's time to get messy. Ian chooses where to start, using the original image as a reference and lobs globs of paint down on the canvas. Colours mix in huge wads, waiting to be attacked by his epic collection of radio controlled cars.
Choose your tools carefully
Ian’s paintbrushes come in all shapes and sizes. From Caterhams to G Wagens to ambulances (with a really loud siren) to teeny tiny single tyres, pretty much every base is covered. Each R/C car is placed roof down to make sure his brushes don’t scatter when he prods a controller – all of his cars run on one of two frequencies and each time he prods one of the controllers he keeps to do his work, he sets off a cacophony of radio controlled tyres. It’s a haunting noise.
Keep it in the lines. Ish.
Once Ian’s selected his brush, he’ll get to work on the paint. For finer work he’ll use a smaller car, sometimes just one wheel at a time to get the detail just so. For larger areas he can bring out his noisy ambulance. However, the glory of his work is that if there’s an extra line here and there it adds to the piece, rather than detracts from it.
It's harder than it looks
Ian’s had 10 years to refine his art. Take a look through his back catalogue and you’ll see how his style has evolved. He used to create the front end of a car with minimal background, now it’s all about angles, intricate detail, and all the drama you could possibly want. This doesn’t happen overnight. While there he let me have a go on a part that was a) easy to fix and b) difficult to get wrong. The angles required to achieve the right look aren’t obvious if you don’t know what you’re doing (or, in my case, anything about art).
Enjoy the show
Here’s the thing about Ian’s work – it’s a performance. His work is stellar to see finished, sure, but watching him work is a joy. The Morgan Three Wheeler he was painting while I went to see him started the day as an ink outline, six hours later it was done. At no point during the day were my eyes off Ian and his work. Watching something spring up from nothing was a treat to behold. Though I did wonder how his knees were holding up after a few hours on his hands and knees…
If you want a slice of Ian’s work of your own, head to popbangcolour.com.