Pinstriping Practice Makes Perfect / by Jefferson Geiger

Ion Graphics owner Matt Beckner, 38, stands with a Ford from the 30s that he pinstriped for a client. The process took roughly four hours and five years of practice. Photo by Jefferson Geiger.

Ion Graphics owner Matt Beckner, 38, stands with a Ford from the 30s that he pinstriped for a client. The process took roughly four hours and five years of practice. Photo by Jefferson Geiger.

Matt Beckner fell in love with classic cars at an early age. Growing up on a farm 28 miles south of Alamosa in Carmel, there were always cars around to tinker with and modify. The lack of computers and other modern components made it easier for him to know every part of the car.

"It's just you and the power of the vehicle," Beckner said.

That enthusiasm for automobiles drew him to the Early Iron Club. The 38-year-old graphic designer, who opened Ion Graphics in 1997, was working on the Colorado Welcome Center in the Alamosa Train Depot and became acquainted with Jeff Woodward, the club president. The two hit it off and Beckner has been a member since 2010.

"I always loved coming to the show as a little kid, and it was a big dream to get into the club," said Beckner. "When he made that offer I jumped on that right away."

Beckner's four cars, a 1965 and a 1967 Chevrolet C-10 pick-up truck, a 1959 Studebaker Lark and a 1963 Chevrolet Biscayne, will be making an appearance at the show. But they're not the only reason you'll spot Beckner this weekend.

For the third year in a row, Beckner will be organizing a panel jam. This is an event that brings in artists from around the country to show off their pinstriping skills. Each pinstriper will hand-decorate a panel with an elaborate design that will then be auctioned off to attendees.

Beckner has been interested in graphic design since his freshmen year at Monte Vista High School, but he only taught himself pinstriping five years ago. Unlike other graphic design work, pinstriping is done completely by hand without the aide of stencils or computers.

"It took me four years before I could do a straight line with a pinstripe brush. It's a real craft."

The art of pinstriping became popular in the 60s and 70s but started to die off in the 80s as vinyl decals became more popular. Pioneered by artists such as Kenny Howard and Ed Roth, pinstriping accents the curves of vehicles and complements the car's color.

The key to the signature style of pinstriping lies in the artist's tools. Pinstripers use a natural brush made from squirrel hair that holds more paint than a synthetic brush. When applying a straight line on the side of a car, they use larger brushes that have more hair.

"It's a lot flatter and holds paint like a gas tank. That allows you to pull the line from one end of the car to the other without stopping to get more paint."

Beckner has at least 20 different brushes of varying shapes and sizes that are created for specific tasks. For instance, some are made for lettering while others are for outlining.

A special guest at this year's panel jam is Todd Hanson, a graphic designer from Wauseon, Ohio who has been pinstriping since he was 15. Hanson helped invent the Hanson/Mack King 13 brush that's used by pinstripers throughout the industry.

Beckner sees the event as a charitable cause but also a way to get the public interested in the art form. "It's been out of the area for probably 30 to 40 years and we're trying to bring that back."

He hopes people will take the chance to learn from the talented artists like he did. "It wasn't until I started bringing the guys in that they said to me, 'This is how you hold a brush and this is how you mix the paint.' All of those are factors in making it work."

"We had a young boy that sat and watched the entire time and he was pulling lines before the end of the day. We had some of the best teachers in the world helping him. It was such a cool opportunity."

Since becoming more comfortable in the style, Beckner has striped six cars, eight motorcycles, five purses, shoes, saw blades, ornaments, tables and other objects. He has also added pinstripes as an embellishment on photographs.

No matter what he is painting, Beckner loves that pinstriping is freeform. He says it makes each piece more unique and allows the artist's character to show.

"If you want it perfect, get a sticker."

This interview was originally published in the September 2, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.