By Andrea Louise Thomas Photos Yanni & Supplied
Hastings artist Mike Harbar creates drawings and paintings that are so realistic you can practically feel the movement in the subject. His work is world-renowned. He specialises in cars and motorcycles, boats and planes, but he’s a versatile artist. He can draw anything from portraits of people and animals, to landscapes and seascapes, to patent drawings and architectural illustrations.
From the time he could hold a pencil, Mike was sketching. His favourite subject and first love was cars and it remains so to this day. Mike was born in the UK in Essex, but grew up in West London. His school was under the flight path of Heathrow Airport and he remembers seeing all manner of planes overhead, including the Concorde. This piqued his interest in planes.
In high school Mike did his A levels in art. He went on to Epsom Art and Design College in Surrey for his foundation year where he studied a breadth of art subjects and created a folio for his university application. He then went to Leister Polytechnic where he completed a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial and Product Design.
“At high school I was taught to draw from the outside in. If we were doing a portrait, we started with the outline of the face, but at university, I was taught to draw from the inside out. We’d start with the eyes and draw out from there. It’s a much more accurate approach,” he says.
At Leister Polytechnic he did lots of concept sketches and renderings. He spent a great deal of time thinking of form and function in three dimensions. It was a brilliant underpinning for a later career as a technical illustrator and artist.
Drawing led to many interesting pathways such as his first job as a graphic designer for Marathon Oil in London where, amongst other things, he worked with geologists drawing oil maps of the Middle East and with engineers on oil rigs in the North Sea to create scale drawings for the industry. Later in his career, he helped design and illustrate components for fibre optic systems. Every job was unique and exacting.
In his career as an industrial designer and freelance Illustrator, Mike had the opportunity to draw a wide variety of subjects, but his heart was always with cars because, as he sees it, cars cover the whole gamut of design: aesthetics, materials, aerodynamics, ergonomics and interiors. It’s an engaging subject from all angles.
While he had exhibited his work, it wasn’t art galleries that opened the door for Mike’s artwork; it was car shows. He started out at a classic car show at the historic Brooklands track in England. It led to a number of commissions. Today, Mike works predominantly on commissions, not just from Australia, but from Europe and America as well and his work is in high demand.
There is no denying the accuracy and realism of Mike’s artwork, but it’s not just the technical aspects that make his work remarkable, it’s the way he brings a subject to life. “The drawing has to be accurate, it has to be interesting, you need light and dark, you have to observe the reflections and show shape. You have to make it realistic, but bring out the personality and soul of the subject,” he says, even if that subject is a car.
While he uses photographs for reference, he’s not a copyist.
He respects the copyright of photographers. He often adds details that a reflection in a photograph might miss. He also combines elements to make an interesting composition.
Over the years, Mike has had many unusual commissions, but one of the most gratifying was designing a series of stamps for Australia Post. The subject was pre-World War II vintage motorcycles that were constructed or conceived in Australia. Seeing his work condensed to such a small scale and attached to envelopes was very satisfying. Mike also enjoyed creating an artwork for TV show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
Bringing subjects to life and bringing the viewer into the life of the subject is what Mike’s work is all about. While he specialises in vehicles, he doesn’t focus solely on them. He can draw anything and with pinpoint accuracy. Have a really close look to find his tiny trademark: a church spire which is a nod to his English heritage and his Christian faith.