Tales of a Traveling Airbrush

When I write up one of my more memorable masterpieces, or some of my various memories, I will post them here for you to enjoy. Comments are welcome; I'll try to reply.

Here's my logo so you can put a face with my words. Click it to see one of my web pages.


... or click www.Letterfly.com to see my main page.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Quest For The Best - Colonial Harley-Davidson

In the midst of a noisy gathering, throngs of bikers move in close. Who is this person crouched beside the motorcycle. Curiosity takes a strong hold. The ability to create intricate designs by hand, using age-old techniques has fascinated mankind since the first artist was inspired, thousands of years ago, to leave his images in a cave.

Custom paint has evolved into a sensational reason for motorcycle aficionados to lean in for a closer look.

The artist, in the midst of it all, wields an odd-looking paintbrush and creates old-school pinstripe designs that, as they grow before your eyes, entertain the leather-clad masses that have surrounded the project.

Letterfly found the right combination thirty years ago; an artist with a penchant for paint and a background in entertainment. Starting as a drummer, Dave and his creative outlets have always connected with his audience. Now, pinstriping sensational designs, coupled with an entertainer’s charisma while in front of admiring public, fuels this artist.

While immersed elbow-to-elbow with admiring spectators, the artist is asked many questions. “What was the most unusual?” or “…the most expensive?” are a few.

Today, outside the new, state-of-the-art, Colonial Harley-Davidson store in Prince George, south of Richmond, Virginia, is no different.

“What is the biggest thing you ever painted?” comes from one of the curious admirers.

Letterfly pauses to mentally review the many completed projects that span his thirty-plus year career and, after consideration, admits; “The murals I'm painting inside here are easily in the top ten of my biggest Letterfly projects so far.

The artist came to Virginia to create and paint seven murals in this brand new Harley-Davidson store. In Tampa, Letterfly is the top producer of airbrushed murals on motor homes in the country. RV’ers have motorcycles, and several of his clients have Harley-Davidson dealerships. In the midst of creating elaborate murals, intricate brushwork, wet-blended pictorials, and pet portraits, Letterfly has decorated an endless stream of bikes with pinstriped flames, classic old-school designs, humorous cartoon images, lettering, and captions of all kinds for his clients from all over the country that enjoy motorcycling as part of the RV experience.

Although not quite as massive as the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, the interior mural project at Colonial Harley-Davidson is certainly an admirable undertaking. A motor home for a Butler, Pennsylvania client had easily qualified as having the most airbrushed detail of all the custom vehicular paint the artist had ever done. The artist spent six weeks with the airbrush to complete the intense detail of underwater scenery, mystical personalities of all types, a variety of sky and terrain scenery that easily qualifies as surreal along with personal references of all kinds: dogs, horses, images of children and an Irish countryside all combine in a scene that begins halfway down one side, across the back of a new Patriot motor home, and finishes halfway up the other side.

Thirty years ago, the biggest project would have been a Citgo logo on a large fuel storage tank at a fuel depot in Michigan. The logo was painted from a swing stage fifty feet up while the artist was an apprentice sign painter.

Much has changed, for this personality with a brush, as adeptness developed in the years that have gone by. In this day and age of computer-generated everything, the traditional role of a tradesman that provides sign painting and mural services is dwindling. Letterfly has a rare combination of skills, having learned the trade thirty years ago, and merging into the mural genre, becoming almost exclusively focused on airbrushed motor home artwork twenty years ago.

The murals at Colonial are different from the mainstay of Letterfly’s work in that these massive murals are all being painted the old-fashioned traditional way, with brushes.

“I wanted artwork to greet the guests when they come through the door,” says Guy Bertram, owner of Colonial Harley-Davidson, who commissioned the seven paintings. “Letterfly took my ideas and developed them into very entertaining works of art that support the motorcycling premise and culture,” He adds.

This Harley store is brand new, built from the ground up, completed three years ago. Everything is massive. To take advantage of the cavernous interior of the showroom, the three main support columns received large cylindrical shapes that reside overhead. These “clouds” are large cylinders that place a decorative substrate in the middle of the large expanse created between the high ceiling and the inventory on the floor. The square footage of these three areas is what qualifies this as being among the biggest jobs for Letterfly and these three clouds aren’t even half the work. Four more areas required the special creative vision of the artist to elevate the ambiance, provide an element of entertainment, and impart the viewer with evidence that this was not just another Harley store.

From the beginning, everything about this job was big. The pre-conceptual idea development sketches made a massive mountain of paper. While wading through books filled with vintage images, the artist found a multitude of references for the drawings of the murals to come. After several exploratory ideas were considered, the final themes for each area were selected.

A patriotic scene of eagles and American flags occupy the first cloud. Eagles are easily the artist’s top specialty, hundreds of them appear in all postures and attitudes, with a variety of backgrounds, on the transoms of motor homes traveling the nation. Careful attention to larger than life detail was easy enough when painting an eagle head eight feet across. Minute details such as the linear pattern in the cornea of the eye along with the subtle reflection of light all contribute to the life like depiction that now commands the attention of everyone that enters the main entrance to the store.

A visual connection with the past subtly implies longevity. The perfect premise for the images in a building that is only three years old is to connect the viewer with the rich history of Harley-Davidson. The central cloud does just that. Above a floor filled with new bike inventory is a proud grinning motorcyclist in period garb from a hundred years ago, who greets the viewer on what would now be an antique bike. The scenic artwork that flanks him and goes completely around the cylindrical canvas is filled with other depictions of people, couples and bikes caught in poses of classic repose and romance. Not only do the images support the premise that motorcycling has famously brought couples together but it is rich in the details of retro fashion and wardrobe, hairstyles and hat wear, along with state-of-the-art, for that day and age, Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

The third cloud sits prominently over the performance bikes on the showroom floor and directly in front of the parts counter. A fitting scene to remind shoppers of another portion of Harley history is racing. Flat track racing with a hot shoe is easily both the most spectacular and the dustiest of the often-dangerous sports that involve Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Perhaps some would argue it was the hill climb event, or the motocross, or… anyway, the depictions of all these noisy activities combine with handsome terrain to provide another entertaining facet to the rich visual history of Harley-Davidson on display.

What better way to convey the heart pounding, adrenalin-pumping thrill of motorcycling than a runaway bike busting through the wall. The high performance motorcycle painted on the interior area over the parts counter features a biker on a Fat Boy literally bringing the “outside in.” That is the theme of the most animated of all the murals created here. The husband of one of the finance officers posed for a photographic reference for this painting. Points of perspective were taken into consideration and exaggerated along with dramatic foreshortening to make the image spectacular. The inclusion of a Tri-Corn Hat provides the connection with the name Colonial and this historically rich part of the country.

Letterfly is also an educator and enjoys hosting an entertaining and enlightening seminar entitled “Rolling Art,…Why a Mural?” This is where the artist not only enlightens HOG chapter members and other interested aficionados about the experience of having decorative paint on your scoot, but also explains various aspects of custom paint and answers questions from both those mildly interested in paint options and do it yourselfers in need of direction and encouragement.

Prior to Letterfly’s arrival, the service foyer was, at best, was a bland gray-and-glass industrial environment. Painted artwork brought the cozy but cold area to life. With the introduction of sign work and color, the customer is now greeted with effective indicators as to what specifically goes on here. Over the counter, above the service receptionist, the large word “service” is preceded with a retro soda looking script of the word “genuine.”

Over the area to the left that leads into the lounge area and the showroom is the “Screaming Eagle” logo. The mirrored-image eagle wings and spoked wheel logo, from the Harley-Davidson factory-trained technician's certificate, was replicated by hand over the double glass doors that lead to the service department and garage area. But that is not all the artwork in the service foyer area.

During the building phase of the relatively recent construction, the Dyno room was strategically located with a picture window in the service foyer, which allows customers to watch as their bike is computer fine-tuned in the somewhat soundproof room. The large blank wall around the window needed something special to emphasize this service. The result of much preliminary idea exploration led to the wall now sporting a dragstrip scene, complete with a grandstand full of people and an exact depiction of the Colonial drag bike, with the service manager at the helm, making a cloud of smoke that obliterates part of the crowd, propelling the viewer toward the finish line.

Flagpoles, with orange flags flapping in the breeze, continue from behind the seats most of the way up the twenty-five foot wall toward the ceiling. A four-by-eight panel is attached in the midst of that expanse with the caption “Wall of Fame.” The special commemorative location, to honor the high performance customers each year, was the brainchild of the artist. Each year a couple of names will be added to the panel decorated with old-school pinstriping and hand lettering. The accumulation of names as each year goes by will create interest and envy amongst the performance crowd. With this combination of images, the flavor of the dragstrip is successfully captured and has a home in the service area.

The customer lounge had a gray roll-up door that had presented a problem when the store was new, and now it came time to think of some way to decorate it. No problem for the artist. Now a scene of a rolling highway threading through some rugged countryside beckons, the viewer, and serves as a reminder and an affirmation to the dedication that everyone here at Colonial Harley-Davidson has for the customer, getting them out on the highway, enjoying their freedom and an escape from the realities of life for a while.

Back in the middle of the crowd, amid rock and roll and cool drinks at a party in the parking lot, the artist is completing another pinstriped motif. As each carefully-painted pinline stroke connects with the other lines, an impressive design takes shape. The impeccable workmanship accomplishes its objective. The owner of the bike, much like the owner of the store, is beaming with pride. Letterfly, in seven weeks, has completely transformed a modern retail Harley-Davidson facility and added painted personal touches to countless bikes. From this point forward, onlookers drawn by the detail will lean in for a closer look and upon inspection of the details, will agree wholeheartedly that...

it ain’t complete until it’s duded up with paint.

Mother's Day 2006

Ah, Springtime in Virginia. One benefit of my role as an artist is the ability to travel to interesting places. I am now creating seven interior murals in a new Harley-Davidson store near Richmond. One of my colleagues at the store suggested a Sunday excursion to the local Ginter Botanical Gardens. I had found a friend that shares an affinity for horses, Harleys, and, now we can add to the list, horticulture. So we made our plans.

On a gray and cool Mother’s Day morning, our journey through this historically rich part of the country began. We found; at the end of a labyrinth of highways, country roads, and city boulevards; the brick and stone entranceway to the gardens. Once inside the ornamental iron perimeter, the driveway meandered through acres of lush grass, islands of flora, and exotic trees. The winding road led to a parking area that surrounded a group of structures, the main compound.

Once out of the car, curious walkways invited us up stone steps to massive double front doors. Our reward, inside, was the grand foyer of the main building. An art exhibit waited in the polished terrazzo hallways that flanked us. A promise of an afternoon concert with a jazz quartet was posted on an easel that stood before us. The afternoon looked hopeful. A map accompanied our tickets. After a quick review, we made our plans to explore this place.

Limestone walkways form an aorta of sorts, starting at the backdoor and splitting off from the courtyard leading toward a variety of outdoor gardens. As we made our way through the glass doors, the sky began to cry.

Our host at the ticket booth pointed into the corner, beyond a stone pillar.

“Why don’t you take that with you?”

An umbrella waited.

My companion grabbed the welcome device, and we confidently launched ourselves out into the formal garden area, despite the sprinkling rain.

“Here,” Susan offered, “you’re tall. You hold the umbrella.”

I thought to myself, “I am the man. I will hold the umbrella.”

I masterfully found the spring release, hidden inside the still folded up contraption, and fumbled with it.

My companion watched this ineptitude for only a moment before she reached out, pushed the trigger and released it.

A gentle push and the fabric grew taut on the ribs… but, what is this? My push must have been a bit too much. I must not know my own strength. The ribs had gone past the ideal point. Now, I am standing in the strengthening rain, with guests all around scrambling for shelter, holding what appears to be a fabric ice cream cone on a stick.

I thought, “Good thing I am the man and that I am resourceful. I will fix this thing.”

I calculated that a manner of coaxing all the ribs back into the desired position would be easy enough. I inverted the cone, and began to press the sopping perimeter of all the tips evenly against the paving stones. The conical shape did assume more of a disc configuration. Then I made a startling discovery; I found that I had created the world’s largest suction cup, made even more effective at sticking fast to the pavement by the layer of water that was everywhere; and that my new found friend had retreated from the deluge in disbelief, and was in the midst of experiencing a blend of embarrassment, gut wrenching laughter, and amusement at my antics.

Pressing the teepee-shaped device against the floor did promote the desired response, becoming a disc shape at the end of the handle, but it wouldn’t remain that shape without my holding it down. I also discovered that this device was glued to the floor. Each time I pulled it up, the umbrella reverted back to its less than desirable inverted shape, and I discovered that it stood there on its own, quite sturdily.

There I was, standing in the pouring rain with an umbrella glued to the sidewalk.

“Perhaps, if it were yellow,” I figured, “ it would be handy as one of those cones that warn you of a slick, recently mopped floor.

My companion, between giggles and tears, finally did come to my rescue and together we pried the device from the pathway, inverted the soggy form, and bent it back to its intended shape. Then, finally, our excursion could begin.

The rain subsided, and we walked through a plethora of lovely flowering zones that made up this peaceful mecca. The birds resumed their singing, and the flowers and greenery appeared especially brilliant due to the prismatic effect of the many rain droplets on the leaves, and blossoms combined with the illumination coming from the clearing sky.

Appreciation for nature’s beauty began to blossom inside like expectant buds that represent tomorrow’s flowers, spiced along the way with regular intervals of a duet of laughter, as we recalled our humorous episode at the gardens.