Stripe My Ride

'Pinstriping is like a tattoo for a vehicle," says Mark Whitney Mehran, founder of local lifestyle company Hot Rod Surf. "You have to follow the contours of the lines of what you're dealing with, and you want to have [the design] match the subject. In automobiles, you want to have [the artwork] accentuate the vibe of the car. Pinstriping adds a custom flair." In addition to cars and motorcycles, pinstriping can be applied to trucks, boats, and surfboards. On Thursday, June 21, Mehran will sign his book Basic Hot Rod Pinstriping Techniques at Borders in Mission Valley. In keeping with tradition, Mehran pinstripes freehand rather than using the more contemporary practice of stencils or a grease pencil to make the design. "When you're looking at a canvas, which is a hot rod or motorcycle or any blank piece of metal, you lay down lines that are symmetrical or, more importantly, lines that have the appearance of symmetry."

In the past few years, Mehran has noticed a youth surge in the pinstriping demographic -- the majority of new practitioners he sees are males 18 to 35. "I think what sparked [the younger generation] was the Cars movie." In the animated film, Sally the Porsche ends up with what the main character, Lightning McQueen, calls a "pinstripe tattoo" on her posterior end.

A pinstriper's main tool is the "sword brush," so named for its shape. The sword brush is most commonly made from squirrel hair. "You do not want to be cheap on the brush," stresses Mehran, whose brush is made by Andrew Mack & Son Brush Company. "If you put 20 dollars into a brush, you're fine, it'll last you your whole life. The longer you use a brush, the better the paint flows on it, the more your hand gets used to the dowel."

Mehran uses 1 Shot paint, which can be applied without a reducer or paint thinner and dries without a hardener. "If you use a Mack brush and 1 Shot paint, you're using what people have been using in the automotive world since the '50s." A half-pint of 1 Shot's oil-based gloss enamel costs $8.

How does one spot a bad pinstriping job? "If the design is not symmetrically done, or there's a variance of the thickness of a line..." Mehran answers. "When you're using a sword brush with too much or too little pressure or load too much paint on the brush, you'll get a lot of blemming and a huge variance in line thickness." "Blem" is short for "blemished."

Mehran explains more pinstriping lingo: "Ghosting" is when the color used to pinstripe is similar to the surface on which it is applied, and "suede" is the term for a matte finish.

Mehran has seen pinstripers use black primer for a suede effect and then ghost over the primer with a glossy black, making the black-on-black more visible. Mehran warns that, although this may produce an attractive look, it can damage a vehicle. "Real suede paint that started as primer doesn't seal the paint, so if you're at the beach, you need to be careful -- you'll rust your car out. The salty atmosphere and morning dew will ruin the metal underneath." Mehran adds that a sealing topcoat that resembles primer has recently become available.

In his book, Mehran offers money-saving tips for would-be pinstripers. One is to use odorless mineral spirits, which can be purchased at any hardware store, as a substitute for a thinning solution, which may cost twice as much. Rather than using the brush oil sold at art supply stores, Mehran stores his brush in 10/30 motor oil. Brushes are stored in oil to keep the hairs from drying out, and "motor oil only costs a couple of bucks."

The Yellow Pages list 62 businesses in San Diego that offer pinstriping as one of their services. "It may be confusing for people, because the supplies are pretty inexpensive, but pinstriping pricing varies widely," says Mehran. Work can range from $20 to $2500.

He suggests that a prospective buyer become familiar with a pinstriper's artistic style before hiring, as one might do when choosing a tattoo artist or a faux finisher. Higher-priced pinstripers may have better-quality lines, but a big bill isn't a guarantee of satisfactory work.

"Pinstriping really has to do with the mood of the guy pinstriping. If the guy or girl isn't in a good mood or doesn't like the car, well, you're paying for artwork -- you want to get an idea for what you want on your car, then kind of let things go and let the person do what they're going to do." -- Barbarella

Basic Hot Rod Pinstriping Techniques, booksigning with author Mark Whitney Mehran Thursday, June 21 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Borders 1072 Camino Del Rio North Mission Valley Cost: Free Info: 619-688-2688 or www.bordersstores.com

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