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Chris Froggett Ė drawing on experience
Recently completed artwork for Steve Metz, the guy who developed the Muscle Machine concept
When did you discover you could draw?
CF When I was about five years old. My dad was an artist and sign writer, and my uncle ran the Art Department at Waddingtonís Games, so I guess it was in the blood. I seem to remember my uncle designed the Mars bar wrappers, too, but I canít be totally sure of that. I worked for him when I left school.
When did you get into American cars?
CF My cousin came back from the States and brought me some magazines to read. They were copies of Hot Rod. This would have been around 1969. I loved the images. Those cars were fantastic, but they were so inaccessible over here. Looking back, I only ever saw one hot rod in my teenage years. Like most kids, I suppose, I was into making model aircraft, and then one day, my local hobby shop started stocking these strange hot rod kits. That was it! I could access hot rodding through model cars, and the first one I bought was the Boot Hill Express Ė based on an old horse-drawn hearse. It was an amazing kit with chrome parts, big slicks and a ruddy great hemi.
This '63 Triumph Bonneville is actually quite a recent commission, but harks back to Chris's rocker roots
Throughout the í70s, customising started to become a big trend. Did that influence you?
CF No, not really. I entered my Rocker era and started tinkering with bikes. I'd had three or four old ĎBritsí before I left school, and had a really nice Triumph Trophy , which looked good but went crap Ė way too slow but sounded great. I had loads of Jap bikes over the years up to around the late 80's, when the final body mangle happened - I stuck my left foot through the rear wheel while pulling a wheelie (on ice!) Dumb or what?
When did you start illustrating cars?
CF I worked with my uncle until 1978, and then did a couple of bum jobs in retail. I started doing paint and mechanical work in bike shops, and carried on with that until about 1989. Some guy brought in an old Buick to be painted, and it sparked an interest in American cars all over again. It was more the stock American cars rather than rods that took my interest, as there werenít many nice rods around at the time. I started to do the odd bit of artwork, just as a hobby really. It wasnít until the beginning of the resurgence in traditional rods that I got into painting them. I never liked that billet thing much. My first commissioned rod art was around í91.
Recently completed T-shirt design - beautifully proportioned with lots of lovely detail
When did you start illustrating in your unique style?
CF I produced my first caricature artwork in 1994. I had always drawn cars to look realistic, but found them flat. I saw Paul Barrowís work and found it inspirational. He had quite an influence on my early work, and later, Lance Sorchikís stuff blew me away. His work is just completely mental.
My artwork started to get attention when we came out with the first Open Edition range of prints in 1995, which we sold primarily at car shows. This led to my first series of T-shirts, before more prints and the second series of two-colour T-shirts, which sold like hot cakes. We emptied a complete caravan of T-shirts in just one weekend. Since then, Iíve done another series of limited edition prints, but now commissions have really taken over.
Chris doing his best attempt at a smile - miserable sod!
Typically, how long would it take to produce an illustration to your usual standard?
CF Even now, it takes me four or five days to work out how to get a subject right. It can take me 10 to 20 sketches, as you canít just take a basic idea and apply it. For instance, you really need to work up an idea to get the expression of the car you are trying to depict.
The illustration itself doesnít take as long as you might think Ė thatís putting down the paint. To produce just a car with an open engine probably takes about five days. Itís the working out that is the difficult bit, and I often spend loads of time finding reference material, as Iím a stickler for detail.
Another fab design hot off the press - amazingly the paintwork glows like candy
You have lots of UK customers on your books, and some prestigious US clients too, including Mattel. How did they come about?
CF Mattel contacted me through my website, www.atomichighboy.com, and asked me to put together their 2004 poster, showing six different cars from the six different series they produce. That was a real thrill to be involved with such a big company. Iíve now done pieces for So-Cal Speed Shop, Weiand, Hooker, Holley, Staging Lanes, Rodsville and KMC Wheels.
I completed a piece of artwork just last January for So-Cal, of Jimmy Shineís truck, which they are reproducing as a print. That is probably, technically, the best piece of artwork I have ever done. Sometimes it just comes together right, and Iím really pleased with this one.
Technically, the best piece of artwork he's produced
At what size do you produce your artwork?
CF I never scale anything down. I know most artists work at around a third larger than it will be reproduced to get the detail, but I like to produce my work in print at its actual size Ė I try to put a lot of detail in. The KMC Wheels illustrations, for example, have been enlarged and reproduced to twice artwork size.
What type of medium do you use?
CF I use heavyweight watercolour paper at about 300gms. This is much better than board, as it absorbs the paint rather than sitting on the surface. Iíve always used gouache, a thick, opaque, watercolour paint that you buy in tubes, and Daler FW watercolour inks. I donít do as much airbrushing now Ė itís still ideal for creating shape and shadow in body panels, but you need to mask off areas first before applying it, which is fiddly, time-consuming and it can be deceptive in that it's not always apparent how much paint or ink you've laid down until you remove the mask, by which time it's too late to find out youíve screwed up.
Chris uses his airbrush to help define the body shape - Illustration for KMC Wheels
You seem to be producing more artwork for American clients. Have you ever considered moving over there?
CF Yes, I have, but Iíd end up in jail, breaking rocks. I have thought about it and Iím sure I could earn more money, but I donít need to go, as Iím never without a commission. Iím always doing something for the guys out there, and have lots more people waiting for stuff, so Iím doing enough to satisfy my needs right now. All I care about is paying the rent, food for the dog and of course booze. I ain't got any intention of living too long.
Yet another commission for an American speed equipment manufacturer
What are you running car-wise?
CF Mmmmmm, Ď91 940 Volvo. We got the Ď64 Plymouth Belvedere about seven years ago Ė my ultimate stock car, I just love the whole stocker thing. It was the beginnings of being able to walk into your local dealer, tick the right option boxes and drive out with a car that could whip your ass. We fitted a 383 cu in motor, as it had to be a daily driver, and lettered the body up to look like a classic, C/stock, drag race car. We recently moved house, though, and now have on-street parking. The car was just too nice to leave out waiting for some farmer to swipe with his tractor, so it had to go. Back in around 1990, I swapped an old 105E Anglia without a floor for a 64 Dodge Dart without a reverse gear. It looked like a good deal until I got all the filler out of it. After cutting out all the rust it looked like a large cheese grater, but it taught me to weld.
Chris's drag race-inspired Plymouth
What are your plans for the future?
CF I havenít got a clue. Over time, it seems most of my plans and general ideas tend to go tits up, so I just go with the flow. We sell more prints in the US, but ideally they need to be printed out there. I had someone approach me, and although it sounded good initially, he was only offering me a measly 5 per cent - yeah, right! If I could find someone who was prepared to be realistic rather than rip off, judging by our sales in the UK over the last 10 years, they would make a couple of bucks out of it, and that could work. I have had plenty of people who want to stock my work, but itís getting it out there at the right price thatís the difficult part.
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Chris Froggett
Further artwork samples below
This was one of the six illustrations produced for Mattel
Trick sportscar concept for KMC Wheels
T-shirt design for the NSRA. They sold 50 of these before someone realised the letter L was missing from 'nostalgia' - here's the revised version
The Model A Pick-up of Chris Rees immortalised as box art
Another outragious illustration for KMC Wheels
Chris can also apply his talents to full size cars. He applied the gold leaf lettering and imagery on the racing 'Vette
One of Chris's early pieces (from the 80s) perhaps influenced by Philip Castle but without the pin up element
Another caricature gem for KMC Wheels
Part of the artwork set for Mattel Hot Wheels
Fearsome rims on this lowrider for KMC Wheels