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Pinheads

Tuesday, June 1, 1999 - 00:00
ABRN: Pinheads

Pinheads
The number of those with the skill and patience to do freehand pinstriping has dwindled over the years. However, a select few stripers still do quite nicely plying their trade in body shops across the nation.

By CHARLIE BARONE, Executive Editor
June 1999

As much as the auto body industry has evolved, the art of pinstriping has stayed essentially the same for the last 100 years. While the striping paint may have changed slightly, those thin, graceful stripes have adorned vehicles and artwork for centuries. Pinstripes are used as a way to accentuate body lines of a car in the same way women paint their eyelids, brows and cheekbones--what's pleasing to the eye can be made even more so. The key is subtlety.

Nothing quite says hand craftsmanship like a hand-painted pinstripe. Classic car bodies have traditionally been striped in ways to enhance their lines. The massive hoods and bulging fenders of Gatsby-era Duesenbergs and Packards are often burnished with the delicate highlights of a pinstripe. In addition to the outline it provides, the pinstripe also gives the artist an opportunity to pick up a color from in or around the car, such as the interior or trim color. And when the artist adds his own flourish to the work, it becomes that much more of a personal expression. Some stripers add their own trademark to the stripe, such as distinctive spear at the point, or a trademark dead end at the trailing edge.

Artists in the Industry
I recently visited a busy body shop in suburban Philadelphia where an experienced (don't call him old) striper named Larry Shoppet was paying a visit. Shoppet, with 41 years experience striping cars (you do the math), has become something of an institution in the area. As one of the handful of stripers in the area, he is often called upon to stripe cars for owners who've had his trademark designs on their cars for decades. While I was there he did a custom monogram on a Roadmaster tailgate, a door and fender on a Buick, and painted a girl's name on the door of an Expedition.

Shoppet is geared specifically to body shop work--unlike some other stripers, he does not get involved in sign painting or vinyl graphics. Besides recreating both factory and custom stripes, he's the guy who paints the crossed polo mallets on Mrs. Von Snodgrass' Benz, the tri-color stripe on the lounge singer's Caddy, the name of a thoroughbred on the breeder's Wagoneer. "I do lots of horse's heads," he smiled.

A real veteran of the body shop trade, Shoppet striped cars at the dealer body shop where I first entered the trade in '73. In fact, he said, he even striped Roger Penske's early race cars. During his career he has seen lacquer and synthetic enamel come and go, but his methods and materials are basically unchanged from the '50s when he started. How many people can say that?

Serenity Now
Shoppet is one cool cucumber. For example, he is usually working in a busy shop with people climbing over one another, floor obstructions, and air hoses snaked under cars--accidents waiting to happen. On the day of my visit, he was positioned between two cars with his paints and palette when a wandering employee kicked over his thinner tank and paints (oooh, sorry, dude.) But he remained cool, cleaned up the mess and started over. In fact, he noted, he is often expected to come back and redo a stripe--on the house--when someone leans on a fresh stripe before it is delivered. "Just part of the job," Shoppet said.

Over the years, Shoppet has had to endure plenty of paint fumes, dust and noise while working in area body shops. Just the same, he derives most of his business from area collision repairers. Shoppet's very dependable and available--two attributes not commonly found in those with his artistic ability. Because of this, he's been very successful, as have a number of stripers around the country. Their overhead is low, they do little or no advertising, and their assets are their hands and eyes. But commercial success is not always what drives stripers.

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper
Shoppet says the guys who use tape stencils to do pinstripes are cheating. While it's not surprising to hear that from a man of his talents, whose livelihood is threatened by these kinds of shortcuts, Shoppet makes a good case for engaging his services. He says his service is cost effective. For example, he knocked out a door and fender on a Buick, a monogram with artwork, and painted a name on the door of an Expedition within an hour and a half. Had he not been tripping over me the entire time, he would have been on his next job by then.

Interestingly, some freehand striping artists do occasionally use the tape stencils themselves. Typically, they charge less for the work if they use a stencil. But as Shoppet proved to me, an artist with his ability can have a double stripe on a door and fender finished in the time it would have taken a painter to lay out the tape stencil. Unfortunately, many of our readers don't have a guy like Larry at their disposal, and have to rely on their own devices to recreate pinstripes on their customers' cars.

The Brush
The leading maker of striping brushes is Andrew Mack and Son of Jonesville, Mich. President John M. (Mike) Fast purchased the 108-year-old company in 1960, and claims the process of making these brushes has remained basically unchanged since its beginning. Mack was the first company to make pinstriping brushes. Known as the "sword" brush, the striper is still handmade with the tail hairs of a rodent.

Fast gave a quick rundown of the process of building brushes: "They are made with the tail hairs of a Siberian squirrel," he explained. "There are three varieties of the squirrel--the Cazan, which is the brown squirrel; the Blue squirrel is the black fiber; and the Talahutky provides the gray, and is almost extinct. All are Siberian squirrels, and the trappers come into Leningrad for the pelt auctions a couple of times a year. Over the last few years, we've seen prices driven up as a result of the fur market problems. We buy the hair at 2.5 in. lengths to get a 2-in. brush. The hairs come off the squirrel pelts in Germany and comes to us in a 2

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