For the first time since the inception of the Rally Challenge back in 2013, we have the pleasure of welcoming a Guest Writer. We invited Ammanford Co-driver Claire Williams who was our inaugural Rally Challenge Champion to give us a detailed insight into the background of her extraordinary artistic talent which she combines with her passion for the sport.
I often get asked “how come you can draw so well?”. The answer is quite simple, I have been drawing ‘things’ for as long as I can remember. If I think about it, I was probably drawing before I could even read or write. Still to this day, my grandmother frequently reminisces about the times I spent at her house, where she would watch me from her kitchen window, wander around the garden drawing whatever I saw or imagined. However, I think I could probably sketch far better back then as a little child than I can now which baffles people because of the paintings I create.
The fact of the matter is sketching/ drawing is a totally different discipline to painting and it wasn’t until I reached secondary school that my teachers, while impressed with the sketching that I would do, set out to expand my horizons away from just a pencil and paper. And they succeeded because these days I cannot sketch for toffee!
Naturally I chose to do Art at GCSE level which was no surprise to anyone. However, when it came down to deciding on what courses to choose for A-Level, I dropped a bombshell by announcing to everyone that I would not be continuing with art. That decision was off the back of my art teacher in our GCSE class, showing us examples of the level of work, detail and creativity, they expected from A-Level students. At that point, I looked at what was before me, impressed but also stunned and believing I did not have anywhere near what it took to create such masterpieces. My art teachers collectively were very disappointed but nevertheless, I went on to start my A- Level in Chemistry instead. I think I lasted 3 weeks before I got bored senseless in Chemistry and was knocking on the door of the Head of Art and Design, cap in hand asking for them to forgive me for my sins! They were happy to take me back, but my penance was a 5 hour still life exam the next day.
It was during my time doing my A-levels that I was introduced to acrylic paints and that I could actually paint and have the subject resemble what I was trying to copy! It seemed to come more naturally to me than anything else and I loved the things I was producing with something/an idea that once terrified me. In 2007 and the close of my time in secondary school, my final piece submission was one big painting and a clay piece which I submitted against my will. I wanted to do two big paintings, but my teachers said I needed to bring in another dimension aside from a canvas painting. Either way, I came away with 100% marks and I then dropped another bombshell by choosing to study Geography at Swansea University. I was point blankly told I was wasting a talent. Artists rarely make enough money and that was my rationale for my decision. The irony now is that, I let my teachers keep my art work/ books after I left and I have since learnt that they are now using my work as an example to GCSE students of the standard they expect from students studying Art and Design at A-Level. A proud moment for me because I not only overcame my self-doubt…I smashed it!
It wasn’t until 2011 that I dug out my paints and brushes again which was to do a small piece as a Christmas present for my parents. However, it was 2012 that I did my first painting which I would give away. It was a painting in memory of Gareth “Jaffa” Roberts, which I started days after he was tragically killed rallying in Sardinia as a way of trying to provide some comfort to his loved ones. I gave the painting to Gareth’s girlfriend; Holly and we’ve been friends ever since. She even commissioned me for another painting years later. Even though I didn’t do the Gareth Roberts painting for accolade or money, it raised some eyebrows and that was just the start. I haven’t stopped painting since.
I can’t remember every painting I have done (I should probably try and make a list), but a few have stuck in my mind for one reason or another, such as “The Ogier One”. In 2013, me and my good friend Natalie, who also is a keen artist decided to be proper fan girls and do a painting of the 2013 World Rally Champion elect, Sebastien Ogier and get him to sign them at RallyDay that October. We both succeeded and when he was presented with the paintings to sign, he was totally taken aback. Thankfully the expression on his face was captured by all the cameras that were around snapping away, as the whole thing quickly erupted into a media frenzy. I even got featured in Volkswagen Magazine which was pretty cool. While I was adamant I was doing the painting to keep for myself, I think if he’d asked for it, I would’ve handed it over in a heartbeat in exchange for a passenger ride in the Quattro he was driving that day.
I am happy to say that “The Ogier One” only further inspired me, I now have a personal collection of 4 paintings of different rally icons which all follow the same style/theme; Sebastien Ogier, Ari Vatanen, Elfyn Evans and Michele Mouton. While I have still yet to track Ari Vatanen down to sign the painting of him, Elfyn Evans so kindly signed the one of him right before he set off for Rally Sweden in February this year (2020), a rally he went on to win outright.
Another painting that sticks in my mind is one that I did following an Ammanford Motor Club auction which was held to raise money for Wales Air Ambulance. I auctioned off a blank canvas with the promise of painting whatever the auction winner wanted. The canvas sold for £450 with every penny going to help Wales Air Ambulance continue their amazing work. That was yet another proud moment for me, so proud that I have done it again.
Goes without saying that 2020 has been a very challenging year and we have all been impacted in some way by the Coronavirus Pandemic. For me, it was an ideal time to get cracking on some canvases and I was given the idea to paint a canvas of the formidable Michele Mouton while having dinner with a friend. That’s been one of the best things about doing these paintings, people giving me inspiration and ideas and therefore they are then part of it too.
Of course, the fallout from Covid has continued longer than anyone ever anticipated and so I have gone on to complete a second canvas during this pandemic. The latest one is of myself alongside three-time FMP Rally Challenge Champion Driver, William Mains in his screaming orange Vauxhall Nova flying over the Epynt Ranges. The inspiration for this one came in two forms, first one being that Will has nagged me for a painting for such a long time and the second being, I wanted to say a thank you to Will for our standout 2019 season together which led to Will retaining his Rally Challenge title and me securing 2nd place in the Co-Driver’s Championship. We also took class victories in both the Welsh Tarmac and Protyre MSA National Asphalt Championships and I went on to win the WAMC Women in Motorsport Award for 2019.
I am so grateful and humbled by the reaction the paintings I have done to date have received from the rally community and beyond. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to take on more projects, I have had to turn down so many requests for commissions. Simply put, I have decided to seize the time and opportunity afforded to me as a result of the lack of competing on rallies, to create paintings as a way of saying ‘thank you’ instead.