The Lost Art of Pinstriping

The Outlook thanks Manny Siemens for taking a Q&A break during a pinstriping demo at a recent Edmond Bike Night Event (Tuesdays 6-9 PM at the Railyard)

Pinstriping: the thin application of paint onto a surface to enhance that object’s lines or to create a decoration. This form of art has existed for millennia. We can see ancient examples of its popularity from the Egyptians to Native Americans, for as long as people have owned objects, they’ve felt the need to customize them.

How did you get into this unique form of art?
I started as an airbrush artist under Mike Robbins, a master pinstriper out of Saint Louis, Oklahoma, who eventually came to OKC in the 90s. He was a renowned, established custom motorcycle painter.

How long did you apprentice with him?
Two years. I did his airbrush. He taught me how to pinstripe. I had been a brush artist doing murals, but I never would have touched pinstriping if it weren’t for knowing Mike.

Do you have a design in mind before you start? What’s your creative process?
As a gearhead. I love the shapes, the sound, and the stance of motorcycles and cars. I try to take all that in and complement the unique spaces and shapes where the designs are placed. As a tattoo artist, that’s also how I apply my artwork.

How do you keep the designs so symmetrical?
Lots of practice. And they’re never really symmetrical. I’ve had an eye for symmetry ever since I can remember. I don’t want to say it comes naturally, but I don’t struggle with it.

What type of brushes do you use? What type of paint?
They are called touch-up brushes and are made of squirrel hair. The paint I use is sign painter’s enamel. It dries to the touch in an hour and takes 24 to cure.

Do you charge by the shapes you apply?
I charge by the job. I like to fit the art to accommodate not only the vehicle but also the budget.

What is your most memorable pinstripe job?
I did a street rod last year. It was a massive ‘40 Buick. It was like a big bar of soap, maybe a little too sterile, so I had a lot of fun embellishing it. I spent two days pinstriping on it – inside and out.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to try their hand at pinstriping?
Yes, start off broke. Nothing is a better motivation than being broke.

When did this vocation go from a side gig to full-time?
It never did. I started as an airbrush artist for another motorcycle painter, 21 years ago, and I’ve been doing this ever since.

Besides pinstriping hot rods and motorcycles, what do you do in your spare time?
I love being a father. Being a father is the best job and my favorite thing to do.

Do your boys help you with your business?
Not too much. I’ve been fortunate. I put in as many hours as I need to in order to work around my children’s schedules.

So pinstriping isn’t really a lost art?
It’s a niche for sure. I wish it were more mainstream. Maybe someday it will be, with everything going so digital. People want and hunger for hand-done work, but it takes a measure of transition to be comfortable with artwork being applied to what they consider utilitarian. But most of us love our cars, and our bikes, so why not give them a tattoo or adorn them?

Follow Manny on Instagram at @MannysFineLine

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