Full Name: Neil Smith
Location: Nottingham/ Derby
Day Job: Designer
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’ve been a fan of your work since you first hit the scene. What do you think makes your work different to others?
I have been drawing and painting since I was very young and it has always been something that interested me greatly. In my late teens I got heavily involved in the Graffiti scene which allowed me to travel all over Europe and gain exposure to a wide variety of artistic influences. Alongside this, my father and I have always loved old cars and Hotrods, and between us we have owned and built a few, more recently Aircooled VWs. I started reading Custom Car and Street Machine in my early teens and learned about Pinstriping and Greaser Culture. I guess my style is a fusion of all of these influences, which for me is the perfect mix of new and old school.
Which artists do you draw influence from?
Without doubt the artist I respect the most in the Pinstriping world is Neil Melliard. He was the artist I would see in old Hotrod mags as a teenager, Pinstriping and Lettering drag cars, and he paints the most perfect flames. Neil and the guys from The Paintbox have collaborated on some of my favourite Drag Cars and VWs! Neil also has one of the cleanest and well proportioned Pinstriping styles and I have worked hard to ensure I don’t simply copy his style. I also hugely respect Larry Watson and respect his bravery back in the day to push Kustom painting further and further. His influence can still be seen today.
How long have you been painting?
I took Neil Melliards Pinstriping course in 2004 which was awesome, but did nothing with the great amount of knowledge I absorbed that day….until January 2014 when I picked up the brushes and started working hard developing my style and trying to make a name for myself. I have learned so much over the last 12 months, but still very much consider myself a novice with much to learn. To be honest, the day you think you have mastered something and that there is no more to learn, is probably the day you should stop. I aim never to be complacent and stop evolving.
As a sign-writer Neil takes a lot of pride in his custom signage.
What is your background?
I studied 3D Design at Uni and have forged a successful career for myself as a computer based 3D Designer, travelling the world within my job roles. Painting and Signwriting is not my day job. My day job is very precise and controlled with multiple client and stakeholders to gratify. When I paint, I am not so bothered about nailing the symmetry or line consistency. It’s a brush and my work looks hand painted, because it is. If I wanted it to be precise, I would use a computer. I have fun when I paint and try to use whatever I am painting on to dictate the form and composition.
An artist always has a favourite brushor paint. What is yours? What paint/ equipment do you use the majority of the time?
This is probably the question I get asked the most, “What brush should I use to learn Pinstriping?”. My answer is always the same. It is impossible to answer as every artist and style is different. My advice to anyone is to buy a few brushes and have a go. I struggled with short handled sword liners at first. I couldn’t achieve and kind of natural flow and wasn’t enjoying it. After trying loads of different brushes I now paint mostly with Mack long handled – round ferruled scrolling brushes. They fit best in my long spindly fingers! I have 10 – 15 brushes that I regularly paint with, but I will always continue to experiment. In terms of paint, I use 1Shot Lettering Enamel if the job does not require clear coating, or House Of Kolor Striping Enamels if the job is to be clear coated, but again, I will always experiment with new products when I come across them. I am in the early stages of mastering Metal Flake / Candy paint jobs at the moment which I am loving, but it makes one hell of a mess! I have unknowingly gone to work with a sparkly beard more than once!
You obviously have a keen interest in Hot Rods and Air-cooled VWs. What other stuff floats your boat?
For most people their teen years shape their adult life and I am no different. For me growing up was skate / snowboarding, graffiti and music. As a teenager in the 90’s growing up in a big city (Nottingham) I was blessed as there was never a shortage of mischief to get into and an overload of cultural influence. I’m a Gentleman with a punk heart!
The painted saw is now a common thing but Neil puts his own spin on them.
Do you see other artists as competitors or collaborators?
I find other artists hugely influential and am constantly absorbing ideas and techniques from the artists I follow on sites like Tumblr and Instagram, and a lot of artists will openly share techniques and advice which is the great thing about the internet. There’s a fine line to tread from taking influence and straight up copying someone else’s work. I have consciously never copied anything, in my graffiti days you could lose teeth for copying other artist’s work! I am very open and will share my experiences and more importantly the mistakes I have made with anyone who wants to know.
Would you ever work with another artist on the same piece of work?
Having only painted seriously for a short time, I have not yet collaborated with anyone. InsteadI have been locked away in my workshop
practicing. I hope in the future to venture out into the wide world as a Pinstriper and Sign Painter and hook up with other artists.
Which piece of work are you most proud of and why?
This is a tricky question to answer as I am an obsessive perfectionist but have consciously aimed to keep my style loose and free so I don’t get bogged down in details and spend hours correcting every little detail each time I paint. But I don’t feel I have done my favourite piece of work yet and I will continue to strive and find it. If I had to choose, it would be the “Bad To The Bone” longboard I painted in January 2014, as this was the piece that got me painting again!
Neil designed the famous Air-cooled Accessories pin-up girl!
What is your favourite technique and what do you find most challenging?
When learning about Pinstriping I was fascinated by scroll brush work by artists such as Steve Kafka, which has a very organic flow to the finished brush strokes, but is incredibly difficult and technically demanding to get right. I have started mixing in some scroll strokes into my Pinstriping and am enjoying the challenge.
Do you think your art moves with current trends or do you think it is capturing a period in time?
If my style ever stops evolving I may as well stop painting. I always want to evolve and learn new skills and techniques, as well as refine the skills I already have.
What surface is your favourite to paint on?
You can’t beat painting on top of a freshly painted and polished surface, particularly if you have laid the base coats yourself. I get to paint on many weird and wonderful surfaces and holding straight lines over a bumpy rusty surface can be challenging.
From helmets to toilet seats. He’ll paint anything to a high standard.
If you could only do one piece of artwork ever again what would you do?
I would paint a Metalflake / Candy Flame, Lace and Pinstriped paint job on a Harley Sportster Tank and use it to build a chopper.
Whats the oddest thing you’ve striped?
A miniature bird house.
Jam or Peanut butter on toast?
Sausages and Ketchup please.
Does anyone help you with your work?
I would like to give a huge shout out to my beautiful wife for being incredibly supportive and tolerant. Neil Melliard and Jonny Letterknight for showing me the basics of brush control and paint mixing. All of my customers and followers who have supported me on my journey so far! I also want to give special Thanks to you and the Air Monkey’s team for supporting the scene and individuals like myself, who wouldn’t normally get an opportunity like this!