How to get started making automotive art (and getting paid for it)

This is going to be a bit different from a normal ‘how-to” blog post. The question I get asked most by far is simple “How did you get started?” Below I’ll list out some of the things I’ve done that have gotten me to where I am today.

1. Love your subject matter.

I’m going to assume that you have a love for cars – otherwise why be here. But this really does apply to anyone making art for a living: love your subject matter. I’ve had a thing for cars since I was 13. I made my parents drive me to dealerships to get books, subscribed to magazines, memorized specs, all in the name of the automobile. If you love what or who you’re working with, it won’t be nearly as hard to motivate yourself out of bed in the morning; it’ll just come naturally. So be real with yourself and ask what you love looking at the most.

Mitsubishi 3000GT
Here it is – My very first “photo shoot” with my Mitsubishi 3000GT, shot on my dad’s Yashica film camera. Dated March of 2001. Note the Twin Towers are still here.

2. Have a solid background

I was lucky; I knew what I’ve wanted to do since I was little, so I didn’t go to a “normal” college. Instead, I chose SVA in New York City, which focuses on making art. Yes, it has an excellent reputation and helped to  get my foot in doors once I graduated, but it does not have to be SVA – any art school can teach you the basics of composition, lighting, equipment and design.

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not very good at drawing, painting or sculpting. But I managed to get in without taking a single art class in high school because of my inherit talent. Focus on what you need to learn to make the art you want, let your natural ability show, and you’ll leave with a piece of paper that you can show to people that says you know how to make pretty things.

Nissan 350z
I’d revisit the spot many years later with my 350Z and pocket Canon Digital camera.

3. Have interest in multiple things

Speaking of education, my degree from SVA says “Bachelor of fine arts in graphic design”. Nope, not a single photography course taken. Instead, I became an expert in layout, composition, typography and design, and how each interact with another. This ability has lead to me to designing brochures and websites for BMW, graphics for AMMO NYC, and even coding this very website. Be versatile, learn multiple disciplines and keep in mind that you might be the best automotive photographer in the world, but your photos still need a place to live. Learn design to showcase them better.

BMW Art Direction
I’m not in the shot, just took a pic at the BMW Performance Center art directing the videographers. My first ‘I made it!” moment.

4. Ask!

Please don’t ever be afraid to ask a question. Social media has made it easier than ever to find examples of work you love by artists you admire; DM them and ask how they made it. Email them off social media for more detailed questions.

Perhaps you think you’re on the level of a professional, and you’d like to make art for your favorite brands. Once again, ask! Introduce yourself via email. If you want to shoot for BMW Performance Magazine, go out and shoot BMWs and email examples of your work to the editor. People have a short attention span, so prove to them that you can do the work you’re asking to do right away. Chances are, you’ll catch their eye. I’ve gotten to work with these brands because I’ve been both bold enough to ask, and prepared to do the job when I’ve won it.

How did I work with Larry? I designed an email blast using AMMO elements, then emailed it to him and said “Hey, I like what you’re doing. Let me help you.” You’ll hear more nos than yeses, but you just need a few to get your name out there.

Maserati AMMO NYC shoot
A behind the scenes shot of my shoot with Larry of AMMO NYC. Another moment I was proud of because I did it on my own, without the help of an agency.

5. Believe in yourself

It’s the best piece of advice I can give you. When you’re on social media, only people that like your work will follow you and give you love, and it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. If you do make a breakthrough, people will hate. This is often because you’re doing the things they want to do, but aren’t because of a million different excuses. Ignore them. And ignore the love to. Stay true to you. Ask people you respect and admire for real feedback. I promise, from teachers at SVA to co-workers to internet comments, I’ve heard it all. But I’m still here.

BMW Performance Magazine
My first magazine shoot, on the cover no less. Again, I did it on my own, without agency help, and with my original D5200 camera.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

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