August 18th, 2010

Pop art with Popbang Colour

When I was a child there were two things I used to do when I returned home from school. 1. Grab my Nitro radio controlled ‘Monster Bug’ car and burn through thousands of AA batteries and 2. Watch Art Attack. Ian Cook aka Popbang Colour has managed to turn these two childish past times into a living by making incredible motoring paintings using RC cars as paintbrushes. We caught up with Ian to find out a bit more about his incredible paintings. This is his story.

Hi Ian, tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Ian Cook and I am a contemporary automotive artist , I trade/am known as/paint/ under the banner of Popbang Colour (@Popbangcolour). Popbang is a friendly explosion of colour and is shortened to be my ‘brand’ name.

I didn’t fancy being known as Ian Cook as often my name gets spelt wrong, I’ve been Cooke, Cool and Co*k – randomly Ian Hunt too… odd.

Also ‘Popbang Colour’ is a good internet search engine name as its three well used words, apparently, so I’ve been told!

I am 27 years old and come from the (former-delete if appropriate!) car-making hub that is the West Midlands. I’m art trained with a degree in Fine Art Painting but have also an illustrative graphic background too. I don’t like rules in art so stopped studying illustration as it had too many.

I’ve grown up a car enthusiast, an inspiration and influence of mine was/is my uncle who has worked in the car industry all his life (Austin/Rover/Honda/BMW/Ford/Volvo/Jaguar LandRover)

I did a week’s work experience shadowing engineers and car designers when I was 16, and realised it wasn’t quite the glamorous job I had expected. I like how cars look/the visuals – I’m not an engineer though.

So where did the idea of painting with RC cars come from?

Ah! This is my favourite question – and the truth is as follows:

Back in Christmas 2006, my ex-ex girlfriend bought me a radio controlled Lightning McQueen film car, the red ’95’ one. She told me “don’t take it down your studio, and don’t get paint on it” and the idea was born….

From this I did colour wheels and abstract pieces, and then moved on to images, this included logos, portraits and cars…. cars with cars seemed the most effective.

Have you always been painting since a young age?

I have always been creative in one form or another. I wanted to be a car designer, I did all three arts at school (art, textiles and graphics) and as long as I can remember I haven’t wanted to do any other profession.

I tried teaching for a couple of years – the lessons mainly centered around what artwork or event I was attending next, so it came to a point I was able to go ‘full time’ with it.

When did you start painting with cars?

Around September/October 2007 were the first originals now on display in Birmingham, however I did experiments in my studio when I first received the present to try out what marks were made, this was March/April time, in my small studio in a converted garage.

Where did your big break come from?

In the scale of things it’s all happened quite quickly, the ‘big break’ was probably more of lots of little things that meant that bigger things happened – a bit like climbing the rungs of a ladder.

The first artworks were created in a Wolverhampton shopping centre, this meant people saw me creating; this led to local media – both papers and TV. From this I started to get national coverage, magazine articles, radio interviews etc.

Following this I approached the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon to attend a Land Rover event – as a bit of a LR enthusiast. From doing this I then approached other events to create a feature and an idea was born.

At the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2008, I created a portrait of Lewis Hamilton, this was seen being created by a guy who worked for M&C Saatchi  in which they then got in touch a few weeks after the event.

This is when I created the giant portrait of Lewis Hamilton for Reebok. It was the size of a three storey building and hung next to Tower Bridge in the run up to the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

How would you describe your art?

A friendly explosion of Colour – I’m a car enthusiast so cars are what I am passionate about.

I like that the cars/vehicles I create look like they are moving at speed, as after all this is what the cars do.

Can you explain the process of painting with cars; is it simply the case of dipping them in the paint and seeing what happens?

The process can look quite simple and can be explained as simply as the paint is applied to the paper and then the cars are run through the paint.

Though prior to any painting being created there is a great deal of preparation to choosing the correct image (even with car companies, some images won’t look good) and then there is also the timing.

Artworks are created to appeal to the audience who are likely to be at the event, whether this be WRC, BTCC, WTCC or F1.

When I first started they were done because I liked certain cars, now they are done commercially so prints/reproductions and merchandise can be produced.

The level of detail in your images is incredible, how do you manage that with RC cars?

Through development and over time I have wanted to improve and add more detail into the image. It’s a mixture of the fine art side and my illustrative training. I always like to improve and better myself.

How many RC cars do you use on one painting?

I have a fleet of about 20 that I use, some are recent buys, and some I have had for a while. It all depends on how good the car is when it hits the paint. All the cars are shop bought with the only alteration being that I scrape the wheel arches back a little.

Cars are bought for different reasons, when I first worked for/with Chevrolet UK they wanted me to use solely GM related products so a fleet of Chevy’s, hummers and Corvette’s were purchased – this was for the seemingly last International Motor show at Earl’s Court.

More recently I have worked with Ferrari so I had five new ‘paintbrushes’ supplied including one of the car I was painting – the Ferrari 458 Italia – a great looking car and a great paintbrush to use too!

I do have my favorites and I am quite particular in ones I use. I also have particular toy car wheels I use too…. but that gets a little geeky so I’ll leave it there, so I don’t bore you with tire sizes etc.

What happens if a painting goes wrong?

I don’t wish to sound big headed but it doesn’t really ever go wrong. Mistakes are part of the painting; if the worst comes to the worse I can re-paint areas. I quite like it that sometimes a ‘mistake’ can happen and it can make a piece interesting.

I’ve had cars run across pieces, trod on inks that have sprayed over artworks, lids have come off when applying paint, cars have been on the same frequency (27/40MHz) as other electronics.I did one show with only half the amount of cars as a controller jammed and it meant I couldn’t use a set of cars.

It’s kind of hard to say what wrong is. It’s all down to perception, and not having a panicked look on your face! The only thing that throws me really is timing, on one of two occasions I have started lat, and this has caused peices to be unfinished… the do eventually get done though.

How many RC cars do you own?

A lot, I must have bought maybe a 100 by now, at least – they all do different things. My paintbrushes have four wheels and are battery operated… There are four sizes , big, quite big, medium, small and really small – the small ones are hard to find though!

You must spend a fortune on batteries, or are you sponsored by Duracell?

That’s quite a funny story actually!

The AA batteries I use are Kodak’s and were supplied the budget store Poundland. As well as painting with cars I also create sculptures. I created a sculpture of a Christmas tree made entirely out of Poundland products. As part of the fee for creating them, it was agreed that they would supply batteries for the cars. I asked for 500 AA batteries.

After a few weeks I chased up the PR for the company and I was told that they were on order. I thought surely it wouldn’t be very hard to find 500 batteries. It turns out that they mistook the request of 500 batteries for 500 packs of batteries, therefore I received well over 10,000 batteries.

This has kept me going for quite a while….

So, how long does a painting take?

Paintings vary as a lot of them are done at shows and events around the country, and it all depends on the car. Generally paintings can take any time between 7 and 12 hours at a ‘normal’ event.

With commissions and certain pieces it can take longer, particularly with black cars as the bodywork has got to be deep blues/purples. I did a Lamborghini GT and this took over 24 hours, which for an averaged sized piece (1.5m x 3m) is quite a long time.

The Lewis Hamilton piece for Reebok took 7 days to create and more recently the Comma Oils artwork was 4 days – including a day creating at Brands Hatch using actual cars.

What is the biggest problem with painting with cars?

I really wouldn’t say there are any problems…. its long hours and takes a lot of determination and persistence. Sometimes people can be skeptical of the process, and sometimes people don’t believe the artwork is created that way – even after watching it being created!

What is your favourite painting?

The next one…. I do have some favourites that stick out, but they all have their own personality/thing.

I like them all really…

Are you a petrol-head at heart?

Absolutely, it’s part of the job and I have always been. When speaking to enthusiasts, owners, press etc, it’s really important to know the product and the history/relationship that I may have to that brand/or the knowledge I know of certain events/races.

I keep up with the various racing BTCC/F1/WRC/IRC/WTCC, it’s important I know the history. I used to go as a youngster to the circuits (Donnington Park and Mallory Park) I never really grew up with football, cricket or other ball related sports – cars were it.

I read the latest motoring mags and monthly publications to see what’s popular and what’s being talked about. I think it’s important to know car history and possible anniversaries that are happening.

When meeting people who would like their car done, I find it’s important to relate to their own car and story behind why they own it etc. I was really lucky to visit McLaren and be shown all their historic cars and the new Mclaren MP4-12C.

It’s been really great to work alongside some race teams as well within rallying and touring cars. It makes it more human and the welders and mechanics for the teams are just as interesting as the drivers.

Do you just paint cars?

Mostly cars but I do portraits, abstracts and logos. It all depends what people want. The process lends itself to speed; I have been asked to do planes, horses, steam trains and dogs. I’m not great at dogs – I prefer cars.

Can our readers get their cars painted by you?

I paint to on a commission basis, and treat each painting as an individual order – it’s a bespoke service, and I talk with the owner about the car they would like created, from photographing the piece to the framing of the artwork.

Where can people who want to look/buy your work find it?

At present you can contact me through the holding page on the website or email I also have a Facebook Group – “Pop bang Colour – artwork by Ian Cook” to join and of course I can be ‘followed’ on Twitter ‘@Popbangcolour’. My website will soon be up and running with a full gallery/list of artworks available as prints and originals. There is also a Youtube channel with artworks being created on.

I am also artist in residence at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwickshire ( Here I am based in my studio, and people can come and visit me here to talk about commissions or my work. I also have work on display at studio venues ( in Birmingham and Manchester – if framed originals would like to be seen.

I also have 4 originals on display at Coventry Transport Museum; three of these four were seen on Top Gear’s art special last year.

What are you plans for the future?

Good question! There are always loads of things I would like to do, particularly with the Popbang Colour merchandise and branding – expect to see further developments on this side of the business. The website is under construction and I will get this online in the near future so reproductions, originals and merchandise can be purchased easily.

Expect to find on hear information on latest events artworks created and what I will be doing next – in terms of events and features.

I’ve a number of events lined up for the remainder of this year and into next year too. There will be a number of key developments including the release of the Popbang Colour Chevrolet SpART – a play on words of Spark the brands flagship city car – this will be at Silverstone BTCC this week (all going to plan!)

The Studio space has been re-branded so this will be launched in September with Dunlop Tyres, again a key development of the Popbang Colour brand. With these brands I expect it to develop into Europe with markets such as the US, Asia and UAE who are interested in developments too.

As it is very much watch this space – I would also like to get a Popbang Colour book/manual out too, my head has many ideas in it…. maybe a motormorph artwork could be created at some point! What do you think?

Oh definitely! What advice would you give to people who want to get into automotive art or painting with cars?

There are many artists out there who create a variety of motorsport/motoring artwork and I certainly think I appeal to a broad section with the various artworks I create, themes I cover.

I think it’s great to have a choice of artwork and styles – and when attending shows like Goodwood and Silverstone Classic a range can be seen both paintings and sculpture from different artists.

Art is a very personal thing and hopefully prints and originals of my artwork put a smile on people’s faces, and captures what that car means to that particular individual.

I actively encourage people to have a go at what I do! Buy a radio control car, take the wheels of your car, grab some paint and have a go! But most of all enjoy it!

Rowan Horncastle

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