Stormy painting the dragon
The whole paint project came together and happened so fast, it was dizzying!
We I had been fooling around with designs since the night we bought the bus in like April 2010. Never really came up with anything concrete, lots of whimsical “What Ifs” but nothing we would actually consider putting on the bus. No matter how ugly that awful brown was. And it was awful…
Once Jim got the roof painted, he had lots of the rubbery, reflective paint left and decided to keep going. He did the top two panels of the sides and the front and back. Once he got those done, he still had paint left over and went ahead and painted the bay doors. It was a lot of work! Then he still had paint left and got it tinted and painted the front and back lower portions grey. The white was kind of blinding.
Then Jim uttered the fateful words that started us on our two month timeline.
September 3, 2012:
Jim says “What if we could find a graffiti artist to blend in the colors in the stencil?”
WHOA! I thought that was a great idea since he had basically nixed the idea of any graffiti right from the start. Probably because of designs like this:
So when he said that, I was all over it. Our dilemma? Where does one find a talented, reliable graffiti artist? Especially for a project in southern Johnson County? With such a short time frame?
While reading the paper at breakfast, there was an article about a new gallery Kultured Chameleon downtown promoting the work of street and graffiti artists. And they were having a “graff off” on the very next day, which was First Friday. We knew we had to go.
September 7: First Friday
I had emailed Lee, Kultured Chameleon owner and asked about artists and the first thing he said when we talked to him that night was, “Stormy might be interested in doing it.” Asked him to spread the word on the street. We talked with Scribe that evening too, were familiar with his work, but didn’t want a cartoon or “Puff the Magic Dragon” caricature type dragon. Scribe mentioned the dragon he did in Westport and that got us rolling.
Put out a “Press Release” calling all graffiti artists. Sent to Lee to get the word out. We knew we were working with a limited window of opportunity with the weather closing in and the clear coat needing to go on. We figured it needed to be done by October 31 or so. It’s great to have a deadline, but only if you can meet it. We are familiar with the lengthy delays that can occur in the classic car painting and restoration world and could only imagine how that could morph into a giant bus sized problem if we got stuck in a stalled spiral of design/paint bogusness. Still, we are hopelessly optimistic sorts and pressed on.
Another First Friday. We went back to Kultured Chameleon to see if there were any prospective artists in attendance. Lee told us they were painting on a wall in the alley behind the gallery and that Stormy was there. We hoofed it up the alley and I had the thought that most people would think we were nuts; striding up a dark alley at night to meet our artist? Love it! When we got there, we introduced ourselves and learned that Stormy had expressed some interest in painting the bus but he had just left. Turned out we passed him in the alley on our way up.
Plus this part was too funny. As we approached, there were some folks watching the guys paint the wall (in the dark!) and as we, the old people approached, we could see the pot smokers back away from us. I wanted to say, “Come on!” We could care less. I would have been surprised if there wasn’t anybody doing that actually.
Anyway, we talked to one of the guys and then got some food truck food and went to the other openings, including Scribe’s.
Stormy emails me: “Hi Crosby, my name is Stormy Jackson and I might be interested in painting your bus if it works out. It would take me a full day of work for one side and maybe two depending on how much detail I end up putting in.”
WOO HOO! We made a plan for him to come out and check out the bus the following Tuesday. Wanted him to realize that it is BIG…
Stormy sent some samples of his work. We really liked his koi and decided to take our own personal graffiti tour to see his and other people’s stuff.
We conducted our own personal graffiti tour with locations of walls and murals for a couple different artists. It was a perfect way to spend a rainy day and we really liked Stormy’s style, thought it meshed best with our thoughts and he had the “creatures” nailed. He does lots of skulls, he is a tattoo artist too.
Stormy comes out to see the bus. I told him I would be home from yoga at about 2 PM and when I pulled up at like 1:55 he was just arriving. Good sign! Prompt. We talked about placement, how it would all go down, OKing a sketch beforehand, $$$, etc. He had sent some samples of his art before hand and he had a sketch of both sides based on what we had discussed so far. He was confident, easy to talk to and basically operates like we do, discuss, collaborate, improve, go on trust basis instead of written contract… And he made it clear that he was a “get ‘er done” kind of guy. Perfect! All the vibes were good. He was attentive to our time frame and had already blocked out some days the following week to do the deed. YIKES!
When he mentioned the Koi Becomes Dragon legend, we started thinking that this was meant to be. Did some internet research on the legend and decided why not have both the koi and the dragon? No reason for the two sides to be the same. Stormy was cool with that too.
October 19: White completely painted! Canvas ready.
Lots of emailing sketches and ideas. Stormy was very responsive to suggestions, and he really listened, even though he may have been thinking, “Just let me do this, I can ace it!” He may have known that at that point, but we didn’t. Oh, plus Jim had the (very good) idea to make the most of the large blank space on the bus and Stormy ended up turning the koi around. We kind of specified colors, but he made us realize that his usual MO is to basically take the colors and run with it and the client needs to trust him. So we did. Not backing out at this point. Plus I believe in deferring to the experts, and in this, he clearly was. I wanted it to be a loose collaboration, not a micro-management.
He started with the tracing paper sketch in one hand and a spray can in the other. Amazing! By the time a few hours had rolled around, progress was fast and looking good! This was a good idea after all.
He worked till practically dark that day and came back and finished the koi the next day! Halfway done!
Before Stormy left after finishing the koi, we all took a look at the dragon side and Jim again astutely observed that the way we had the original sketch would put a lot of the dragon’s head in the bay door area. Not only that, but now that the koi had gotten turned around, the dragon that he was supposed to turn into would be, as Stormy said, “a baby dragon.” That wouldn’t work.
Here is the original sketch, which we really liked. The feet, the flames, body articulation and the head all good but head too small now, plus on bay door area where fueling/battery management occurs. Lots of activity on those doors. More emailing ensues.
Dragon begins! When Stormy arrived, we still didn’t even really have a design nailed down. We liked the bigger head but the tail was sort of wimpy and it all didn’t quite flow together. Stormy didn’t really like our take, but said “It’s your bus.” We were smart enough not to blow such a great design and squelch his artistic instinct. We wanted him to be fully invested and excited about this project, not just doing it to get it done on a so-so design. Another great Jim idea, just drop the tail completely and use the articulated parts of the dragon body that we liked from the sketch. Stormy drew for a while, then we all agreed it was good to go. This sketch was even rougher than the koi, but by this time, we knew he could deliver.
In the meantime, thanks to Paul Lawry, we wanted to add the koi design to the sides of the slide so the koi would be continuous while the slide was out. So we added that too, and we are glad we did! Thanks Paul!
Stormy’s second day of dragon. It was really interesting to see the evolution since it changes constantly. When he first started the koi, I thought I would come out once an hour to take pictures documenting the process. That quickly turned into about every fifteen minutes. He worked till almost dark again and said he would finish up the next day.
Dragon finished! Koi slide sides finished and looking much better too-SO happy we did that. Some neighbors came over and said they “just had to see” what was going on. Stormy put a few finishing touches on the claws and the clouds and it was done. Just like that. We think the dragon came out awesome and we totally love the koi too. Everybody who has seen it has been hugely complimentary. One lady said, “It’s a whole lot better than that ugly brown!”
Jim’s brother comes over to help him with the clear coat. They got one coat on the whole bus.
Jim finishes clear coat! Project complete!
I know this is super long, but remember, the recounting is mainly for our own purposes so we can keep things straight for our own selves. We ARE getting older, you know. Like those guys in the alley who moved away from us! HA! What did they think? We would call the cops?
Anyway, to summarize: We really got lucky! Stormy turned out to be a real pro, not just a great artist, but all the client/artist aspects that could have bogged things down went so smoothly and fast! He was not only very talented, but communicative, responsive, professional and prompt. He showed up when he said he would and he followed through with a great design. On both sides. In record time. And not least, he put up with all our suggestions and ideas and in the process, made the bus even better because of it. It took longer than the one side per day, plus it was very hard work, but he kept at it and the results show the extra time and attention.
We’ve all experienced those contractor horror stories where they don’t show up, don’t listen, do the wrong thing, abscond for days/weeks on end after getting partly paid. I actually had a guy fall through my ceiling once since he was so busy listening to the radio that he forgot to walk on the beams in the attic. We’ve had people start jobs, not finish, take forever, not return your calls. And the fact that the car painting world is so famous for expensive procrastination, in painting especially. We have seen people’s cars take YEARS to get painted! And a bus is so much bigger!
What could have turned out to be a nightmare, instead was a really great, fast and fun experience. As one friend said, “Totally surpassed our expectations.” Two months start to finish!
We highly recommend him. For a bus or a tattoo.