10-4 Magazine


So, you’ve always wanted something custom on your truck but you don’t know where to start. Believe me when I say that I understand your dilemma. I have been involved in the trucking business for 18 years and have been painting trucks almost as long. I know both sides because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Choosing an artist and/or design can be difficult, but if you follow these guidelines and suggestions, you’ll be on your way to having the truck of your dreams (or at least one with a nice paint job).

The first place to start is to determine your budget. The first question I ask my customers is how much they want to spend. An artist can create a $500 paint job just as easily as they can a $10,000 mural, but without a budget to work with, there is no place to start. I ask my customers for a ballpark figure or price range to work within and then offer them a selection of options within their range. It doesn’t do anyone any good to design the ultimate paint job that the customer cannot afford or to offer you less than you’re willing to pay for.

After you have determined your budget, the next step is to find an artist. Finding an artist is much easier than you would think – it’s finding the one that’s right for you that takes a bit of time. The first point to consider as a truck owner is how long you are willing to park your truck to have the work done and how reliable is the artist at meeting deadlines. Very few artists have the facilities to work on a semi, so you may have to help arrange for a shop for them to work in. Can you clear-coat in the shop? Is the shop going to be available on a weekend? Is the artist willing to work on a weekend? If you have to pay for the shop, be sure to consider the shop rent into your budget. You will have to let the truck sit for at least 24 hours after the final clear-coat has been applied, and always give yourself and the artist an extra day or two for the unforeseen.

When searching for a painter, look for a quality artist. Do not price shop for an artist. You get what you pay for. The two biggest mistakes people make when looking for an artist is asking how long they have been painting or how much they charge. I have seen just as many artists become some of the best in a year while others who have been painting for 20 can’t hold a candle to them. Art is no different than driving a truck; some people are simply naturals at it. The second you price shop for an artist, you limit yourself to a cheap artist. As a rule, most artists charge based on production per hour. One artist may charge three times as much per hour but will produce four times the quantity and/or quality in that hour. In the end, the more expensive artist will probably produce a finer product for less money.

Here are some things to consider when shopping for an artist. The artist should be asking you many questions long before the actual painting begins and you should be asking some questions too. How much does the artist network with the industry and other artists? Tips, tricks, techniques and technologies are just as available and ever-changing in the artist’s community as they are with every other industry. Just like 10-4 Magazine, there are trade journals for artists too, and if they aren’t subscribing to them, they are missing too much. The internet also provides a wonderful way for artists to network. If they’re not networking with their industry in some form, they have probably been resting on their laurels too long and won’t be able to offer you the fresh, new ideas and schemes you might be looking for.

Another question to ask is how long does the artist guarantee their work, and what exactly do they guarantee their work against? What happens if your lettering or pinstriping washes off or the paint blisters in the sun? A car averages 12,000 miles a year while a truck averages 100,000 or more per year. In one year’s time, you will have abused the paint on your truck more than a car will see in the average lifetime of the owner. Be sure your artist is aware of this and knows how to deal with it.

Just like a doctor, lawyer or trucker, artists specialize. Most artists have their forte and the things they prefer staying away from. Find out what they’re good at and make sure that is what you had in mind for your truck. Every artist is better at some things than they are others. While the best artists can render any image and produce quality work, they too will have their preferred subject matter. If an artist tells you they can paint anything, be sure you see something similar to what you are looking for in their portfolio. Just because an artist can paint portraits does not mean they can paint wildlife or visa-versa. It’s easy to hide imperfections at 60 MPH, but your truck will get eyed over when it’s parked and scrutinized if you plan to show. The worst paint job in the world will look good in a 4 X 6 photograph, so be sure that your artist provides you with detailed 1:1 (actual size) pictures of some of their previous paint jobs.

Trucking, like art, is a unique industry that few people understand. Be sure that the artist not only knows your wants but that they also understand your needs. You should be willing to miss that load to get the paint job done right if need be, but the artist needs to know what it costs you to miss a load. This is where the reliability of the artist meeting deadlines comes into play. It’s also not a bad idea to get some references before making your final decision.

Last but most important, do you LIKE the artist. This works both ways. If the comfort isn’t there, there is no room for the creativity to be there either. An artist-customer relationship is a truly personal one, albeit a short term one. If the best artist in the world does not give you the “warm fuzzies” they are not the right artist for you, regardless of their abilities. When you drop off your vehicle, you should be saying, “I can’t wait to see it done.” Anything else and you should wait to have it done.

Now that you’ve found a good artist, it’s time to tell him/her what you want. You’ve always wanted custom paint but you’ve never been able to decide exactly what. Most people have vague ideas but do not know how to articulate them. An artist should be able to help solidify these thoughts and design a truly personal mural/graphic for you. When you don’t have specifics to give an artist, they can come up with sketches for you. Usually, you will have to pay for these sketches, but the money you pay will go towards the resulting paint job. This allows you to know what you will get before it’s on the truck.

Many artists offer more than just paint to their customers. Maybe you would like to have something etched. Maybe vinyl graphics are what you’re looking for. Some painters are proficient with an airbrush while others do better with a regular brush. The sky (or your artist’s talent) is the limit. All of these options are available at different costs. Ask your artist what they offer. Etching can start as low as $20. And etching isn’t just for glass. Got a scratch in your stack covers? They can be engraved to incorporate the scratches or gouges – the same goes for any stainless steel or aluminum. Vent covers can be etched too, but they must be cleared or they will rust overnight. It is unlikely that the artist will know what metals are stainless or plated and what DOT standards are, so be sure to tell them.

I started painting bug screens and hub covers years ago. This isn’t something that just anyone can do – most artists don’t even know what they are. Inquire with them. This can be both an affordable means of customizing your truck and a great way to start a relationship with your artist. Find an artist and educate them on what you do and you will both be better for it.

When considering paint, don’t forget to figure in the cost of the prep work and clear-coat. These are fixed costs. Putting a small painting on the hood will most likely mean that the entire hood will have to be clear-coated. You may actually get a larger or more detailed mural for the same cost if you put it on the side of the sleeper. Every truck has different body panels and areas to work with. This is where allowing your artist to come up with creative ideas and to work within your budget comes into play.

A nice, clean truck has an air of professionalism that is recognized from DOT and law enforcement, as well as the children in the car seats. My customers enjoy the positive attention they receive out on the road and don’t mind the extra time four-wheelers spend in their blind spots checking out their murals. The knowledge that they are there and why makes them feel proud. When a child looks up and waves, it can make a bad day much brighter and help you remember why you’re out there doing what you do. Good luck and have fun. Hopefully, you now have the tools to make a confident decision about choosing an artist.

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