My Car Quest

December 1, 2022

Extreme Car Art

Confessions of a Midnight Photoshopper

by Richard Bartholomew –

The term ‘photoshopped’ has come to mean ‘any’ photograph altered by a computer. I often tell people I never use photoshop and have never used it but I did make them on my computer. This is followed by two words from them: ‘same thing’. No point in arguing with them after that, like Kleenex isn’t really the word for all tissues yet it is.

My skill with photo retouching comes with many years of learning different graphics programs and refining techniques and when I turn it to modifying cars it can get crazy but always fun.

Alfa Romeo art

I don’t try to hide that these are ‘worked’ photos but some people don’t notice that detail and they assume the photo is real because the car itself looks real, never mind that the background is disjointed a bit here and there with residual pixels or I just left a blob of color visible to blend over and cover a sign or a human that has innocently wandered into the frame of the photo.

I believe all car fans are secretly car designers and all car owners are car fans as I am. And Americans are famous for making their car ‘their own’ no matter how many millions of the same model there may be on the road and my computer skill takes it to the next level.

Jaguar art

I call them design exercises and admit they are sloppy. I tell people that complain if they order a print I will clean up the picture more. I use only the existing parts from the cars in each creation. For example I don’t import the headlights from another car onto the model I’m working on.

This means I do a lot of adding headlights, tail lights and turn signals and also cloning or cutting and pasting bits of trim but all from the original photo I started with. This gives it a continuity of color and lighting that can trick the eye into ignoring imperfections elsewhere in the work.

I will draw ‘free hand’, (‘free track ball’?) parts of the car when I have to. Like when I remove a part I don’t like I will have to show what would have been seen behind it, including the lighting or shadows that change. Another example, the enlarged fins on the Bel Air and I had to draw in the back one from scratch and use the same shade as the color through the window. It just wouldn’t look right without the far side fin.

'55 Bel Air art

The nice thing about using pixels instead of paint is that I can undo or erase mistakes going back 5 or 6 steps then even cycle back through them if I decide to leave the changes. Nothing like this can be done in oil painting short of painting multiple versions.

Bumpers can be lightened up and smoothed, this work is usually done by hand and is very close to brush strokes even though it is my index finger on a track ball leaving the color. Removing large chrome uprights from bumpers leaves more room for more lights. These lights can be tinted too because CGI cars don’t have to obey federal or state regs of any state or country or planet for that matter.

Grills can be modified and then touched up with just a few swipes of color and by using the exact (via computer) shades around the part your working on the paint, chrome and shadows are easy to match.

I also like to add extra axles and chop roofs. They may look un-drivable sometimes after chopping the roof low but my reasoning is this: even though it is compared with the original photo when the roof is chopped and other sections worked on, the dimensions of the car actually might have to change so even though it ‘looks’ like a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing if you were to build with all of my modifications the dimensions of the car might end up being 1/3 larger and wider, this allows more inside room, maybe the seats are lower than they would be in the modded versions, maybe the interior is all steam punked and maybe the engine isn’t even an engine, each wheel might be it’s own motor.

Continental art

OR maybe the car doesn’t need any windows at all because the entire interior is a flexible big screen monitor connected to multiple cameras and you “look right through the headliner as if it wasn’t even there”. The possibilities are endless.

I design these for the future not the present. When I add extra axles, front or rear, the only way that it would be feasible is if the entire drivetrain was a new concept in transportation otherwise far too heavy with my stretching and adding heavy axles front or rear or both as in the case of the eight wheeled four seat green Jaguar convertible.

These are not cookie-cutter stamped and molded cars they are modified cars from my collection of original photographs that I feel might spur some designer in the future to try something new and exciting. I also like changing the doors to be suicide doors just for the look. I don’t have to worry about engineering the hinge as if I was really building this car. Let a fabricator in the future worry about that. I often finish these in an hour or two and they can get better when I come back a day or two later and continue what I started.

Rolls Royce art

There are little tricks I have learned to create these imaginary monsters and I often have to bounce between different graphics programs to get the image I want. When I’m finished sometimes I can’t look away. Sometimes drawn to look like at a train wreck but sometimes like a smooth design that looks better to me than the original. Which is what counts in the end right?

Maybe I’m just from the matchbox to hotwheels generation but I like ’em and like I said lots of car people think they are secret designers. Everyone is definitely a critic and these creations actually always get more likes than dislikes (some got quite upset about the Bel Air and it got the most reactions, comments and shares so far of any of my creations) when shown to people on the social network. Some of them get many shares and I’m not sure why.

Maybe people like them and want their friends to see them or they share them because they own that model or know someone that does or maybe they just like them and want them on their timeline. Perhaps in the future I will create some more finished works for a calendar or a book and stop giving them away. I intend on making a few prints of the most interesting ones on heavy bond paper if anyone is interested.

The best ones might end as prints for sale at the Old Downtown Book Store in Riverside, CA along with my non car artwork.

The author Richard Bartholomew is a photographer and artist based in Southern California. He can be reached at

See the after and before in the slide show below.



All photos and art by Richard Bartholomew.

Extreme Car Art
Article Name
Extreme Car Art
These are not cookie-cutter stamped and molded cars they are modified cars from my collection of original photographs that I feel might spur some designer in the future to try something new and exciting.


  1. Hi Richard.

    I’m an Art Director turned Creative Director turned Photojournalist who shoots lots of pictures of cars. I do use Photoshop to sometimes refine my shots since I shoot at a lot of car shows where I’m not able to actually set-up or style the shot. So my cars are the “Real Deal” – refined to look their best in digital or print environments by subtly adjusting highlights and shadows and maybe removing that guy who walked into the shot.

    But I have to think that you are having way more fun. I love your majestic and mighty mutants. I’m guessing you drew “outside the lines” as a kid and I’m giving you an “A+” for the effort.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your creativity in the future!


  2. Raymond Zinn says

    I’m ever thankful that the car-gods that prevail led you in another direction.
    By the way, the 300 look like an early ’50 Merc. and the “A” came out OK, like a chopped ’30 but I can’t see the rear quarter too well.

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