Locomotive Portraits

by Jonathan Claylocomotive portraits


“And so it was that on New Year’s eve 1998 we sat down with a comforting draught or two. Full bellies, and a flip chart (yes, really!). The brainstorming session that followed showed that, whilst I undoubtably had artistic talent, it had never been used, so I should really try and find a way of harnessing it.”


Some midlife crises . . . Over a thousand illustrations later, Clay (b. 1950) has obviously found a calling that not only satisfies but puts money in the bank by returning to his childhood interests in train and bus spotting. Portraits of planes, trains, and automobiles (not to forget grandkids) keep him humming these days, figuratively and quite possibly literally.

Clay, a member of the 200-member-strong Guild of Railway Artists, has become a fixture at UK railway events where he exhibits as well as paints on the fly. In fact, it was the scramble to gear up for his first event, right after that soulsearching New Year’s eve, that caused him to resort to a time-saving practice that since has become part of his “look”: omitting backgrounds. Also, while the drawings are accurate in terms of features, proportions, and perspective there is no micro detail of the sort rivet counters or hyper-realists clamor for.

ocomotive portraits Metropolitan

This book contains around 160 of his 700+ locomotive portraits. They are presented in no obvious order in regards to chronology except that the first loco in the book is in fact his first painting, albeit in a later iteration—meaning that readers who want to follow the artist’s maturing style need to look for extra clues in the text. Many paintings do happen to show the artist’s signature which does include a date.

ocomotive portraits Duchess

Each loco is accompanied by nice descriptions in the engaging, conversational tone evident in the quote above. While this book is available in a Kindle edition it is the printed page (and in landscape format) that will satisfy most, even if the size is smaller than the originals. The glossy paper probably is a distraction, not quite the same flavor as the soft-wash look of the paintings. Clay, incidentally, works in everything but acrylics. The captions say nothing about technique or the like but there is a fine opening chapter showing nine steps from first sketch to finished piece. The very first chapter offers an entertainingly written autobiography. Even the Acknowledgements are worth reading because there is nothing boilerplate about them: “I am painfully aware that I might have missed someone out. If your name is absent, I prostrate myself in apology. You can remonstrate with me later, preferably over a refreshing glass of lemonade.”

ocomotive portraits Darjeel

Prints are available directly from the artist although by the time this review is posted, his big sale at which prints went for a mere £5 will be history.


Copyright 2015, Charly Baumann (speedreaders.info).

Locomotive Portraits
by Jonathan Clay
Pen and Sword, 2015
176 pages, ca. 160 mostly color illustrations, hardcover
List Price: $49.95 / £25
ISBN-13: 978-1783463886

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