The Simplicity Complex

Knotty Nawadhinsukh Words by Knotty Nawadhinsukh

Several years ago, a friend of mine who was a fellow Grand Prix fan told me about a print that he saw. It was that of a 1967 Lotus 49 and he raved on and on about it, complimenting its clean lines and attention to details. He sent over the website of the artist for me to have a look at and I too fell in love with the works much the same way,  with a Porsche 906 and a Gulf Ford GT40 done in the similar fashion. I was struck by how correct the proportion of each car appeared, the crispness of the lines and the perfect use of the colours. Each illustration was also devoid of any background “noise” (just a simple complementary colour tone) so that the focus was purely on the car itself. The fact that these were illustrations of vintage racing cars made through modern day technique in graphic design, in a way was a contrast that worked really well. This was because I myself often see these types of cars drawn on more traditional ways of painting and illustration. The illustrator’s name as I founded out is Arthur Schening who is based in Arlington, Virginia and I wanted to find out more about his background and his approach to his work.


When we try to do a profile piece like this in Grand Touring remotely, I usually provide a set of questions for the person to answer on his or her own terms before formulating them into an article. From my experience in doing so, the way each question is answered often gave a good indication in a person’s character. So in that sense, I was most impressed with the way Arthur replied back. As much of his answers were very similar to his graphic works. They were simple, clear, to the point and with almost military-like in precision. Perhaps his early days would have explained that, “After high school I joined the U.S. Army in order to pay for college—I was in the service for 3 years. After my service I went to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to get a degree in Illustration. While at VCU my instructors suggested getting a dual degree in Illustration and Graphic Design, since it is very difficult to make a living as an illustrator. It turned out to be very good advice”.  Indeed it was a good choice for us petrolheads too. But to wonder how much Arthur knew right away that this occupation was his calling, you have to back track to elementary school and the answer was pretty straightforward also. “As long as I can remember I have had some artistic ability—the only talent that I possess”. He continued, “But it was my fourth grade teacher that first acknowledged my talent, and told me that I should work on it”. This artistic gift, which he credited his mother, appeared to have blossomed for Arthur right at the advent of new technology—despite a rough beginning. As he pointed out, “I graduated from college in 1990, at the same time the industry was switching over to using computers for design and layout. The change was quite disruptive, and a lot of jobs were lost. I was able to find work, but I cannot say that that I enjoyed my early positions. I also did not have much time to work on personal projects. It was later in my career, when I started to work for myself, that I found the time and desire to start the racing car project”.


Looking at Arthur’s accomplishments, it would be quite obvious to sum up his style as “clean and simple”.  “I have never been one to follow the current design trends or to see my design work as ‘Art’.  I see my job as helping my clients communicate their intended message as effectively and creatively as possible”.  The same principle is applied to his Racing Car illustrations, “I am not trying to impress anyone with my technique—which is quite simple—I am only trying to represent the beauty that I see in the cars”. While we should all agreed that his approach is entirely his, he did credit legendary pre-War artist Edward Hopper of unconsciously affecting his style, “if you look at his painting, he removed much of the extraneous details to leave an unnaturally clean view of his subject. In one of his most famous painting ‘Nighthawks’, the counter and interior of the diner are almost completely bare, adding greater importance to the subjects that are included. With that he concluded, “if any philosophy has influenced me, it is K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)”.


Looking at the accuracy of his illustrations of these great racing cars, I would have thought that Arthur would have stashed away a collection of a few as his muse or at least travelled around to many historic racing events and captured all of them on camera from hundreds of angles for his creative mind to work on. However on the contrary, “I did own my dream car for a while. It was 1999 Porsche 996, metallic silver with red interior, and some terrific BBS wheels that I added shortly after buying the car”. “But I have not seen the majority of cars I illustrate in real life. Most often I have only seen them in photos and on film. The ones I have personally seen are mainly from the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia”. So it is amazing to think that Arthur was able to get the fine details just right, “My occupation does give me the ability to create a likeness of the things that I love. If I want a Porsche 906 or Jaguar C-Type, I have to recreate them for myself”. That said, why only vintage racing cars? “I really like the aesthetics of vintage racing cars. I like that you could see the shape of the cars because they were not completely covered by sponsors. And they have fantastic liveries like Ecurie Ecosse (of the Jaguar D-Type)”.  “It may be the aesthetics of a particular car (Ferrari 250 GTO), the historic importance (Chaparral 2E) or examples from a marque that I love—Porsche”. Ok, so why Porsche? Arthur continued, “When I was young my older brother took me to see Steve McQueen’s movie, ‘Le Mans’. The cars in ‘Le Mans’ were different. They were very cool and exotic, and the sound they made was fantastic. In the movie the Porsches were the good guys—at least that was the way I saw it! I have been a Porsche man, and sports car enthusiast ever since”. He added, “prototype racing cars in the 1960s and 70s were beautiful, and they were easy to distinguish from one another”. Arthur still has yet to satisfy his appetite for more classic racing cars from these eras because, “there are still many classic cars that I would like to illustrate”. But having said that, “I have been considering a series of watercolour portraits of historic racing drivers”.

A love for vintage sports racing cars, like to do his own thing and not follow current trends—plus ‘Le Mans’ was one of his favorite movies. Arthur sounded like a simplified version of me—but with much, much more artistic talent.