The rise of rock 'n roll heralded my arrival in this world: 1964, September 21, to be exact. I made my grand entrance in the sleepy Midwestern town of Goshen, Indiana, population 13,700. It wasn't an out-of-the-ordinary occasion – intense labor, some loud yells no doubt, a few pushes (thanks Mom!) – and there I was.
School, church and home were the circles of my life back then – like just about every other Midwestern kid. I've heard my family say that my artistic talent was ev
ident while quite young, and I was drawing long before I could spell. But while my contemporaries were sketching stick figures and square houses, I was taking a somewhat different approach. My desire to create art unlike anything anyone had ever seen was germinating at even this early age.
When I was about 9 years old, an older gentleman by the name of Ed Miller saw me doodling in church. Apparently, he was impressed because he bought me my first oil and watercolor set. He was always asking me to paint something for him. It didn't matter what – landscapes, trains, planes, seascapes – he wanted anything I could create, and I was more than happy to do it.
By the time I reached high school, I had started using an airbrush to paint t-shirts and murals – I even did the body work on my first car and helped paint it. If I had to pinpoint it, I guess I'd say my automotive illustrating goes back to the Etch-A-Sketch when I was 6. I loved drawing cars on that thing.
While still in high school, I was fortunate enough to do freelance illustrations for local van conversion companies and advertising agencies. After graduation, a place called Design Studios hired me. From there, I moved up the ladder, so to speak, and got out of art and into management. Six years later, I heard the call of the road and I hit it. I loaded up the car and headed out west – California was my destination. I figured I could pursue both passions – art and skateboarding – full time in that sunny vale.
I seemed to have found a niche in Southern California, because in two years my distinctive, airbrushed, one-of-a-kind t-shirts were selling for around $100. My highest priced t-shirt sold at $250, with a jean jacket going for $600. Sweet. To actually make money doing what I loved best was the ultimate thrill.
At that time, I was also getting a lot of illustration work from car show clients. I met with all the big firms: Hanna-Barbera, Universal Studios, Disney, Marvel Comics and Wallace Green Studios, where I did freelance airbrushing and layout work. I was impressed that these companies would meet with me even though I didn't have a college degree.
After a couple years of constant sunshine – I actually missed the rain – I headed back home to Indiana, where I still had my first house. With a brand new concept and an abundance of ideas of how airbrushing and murals could be taken to a new level, I started buying all the equipment I would need, while I labored away in my basement.
After four years of spending 40 to 50 hours at a "real" job, then another 40 to 50 hours per week working in my basement, I decided something had to go. You guessed it. I left my day job and went solo. Projects continued to come in and, with a desire to be the best, I decided to hire some help. But rather than hire too many people, I figured it was more cost-effective to keep purchasing faster computers and state-of-the-art equipment. Before long, I was running three computers: one for designing, one for printing copies of my designs, and one for cutting the designs into vinyl stickers.
I soon earned a reputation as being very good and fast. A lot of my projects were radio station graphics on trade show displays and vehicles, t-shirt designs and airbrushed murals. As we began doing more custom paint, I traveled wherever I needed to go to get the work, such as motorhome and boat factories. For local projects, we rented space at body and paint shops – a step that saved me from having to buy a building and increasing my overhead.
Around 1997, I started to work more on large offshore race and pleasure boats. After a couple years of painting these 47-foot boats by myself and with the help of two employees (still in my basement), I decided to hire a full-time painter. A very good, long-time friend of mine, Mark Hughes, came on board as my business partner. We called our company The Art Of Design, TAOD for short.
In 1998, I bought our first Dodge Viper in the hopes of changing its appearance through color, self-designed parts, and interior, suspension and engine mods. We were getting ready for the custom car that was to come – we just didn't know it yet.
The next few years I saw us doing custom painting, design, radio station graphics, full paint jobs on Provost motorcoaches and boats, photo retouching, catalog layout, business cards, signs, murals, stencil cutting for other companies, and just about any other form of art. Then we decided it was time to get focused. We bought a 15,000-square-foot building in Elkhart, Indiana.
Mark and I struggled for years to stay small and to fully understand what we were doing before doing it for our customers. With our new shop, we could now produce – with the help of up to 17 employees – the most outstanding murals large and small, the most fantastic custom paint and graphics, and the greatest automobile conversions, including complete interior designs. "Build it and they will come" became true for us. With the phenomenal work we were doing, taglines began popping up in our minds: "At 200 mph, you have no friends," "Looks are everything" and "Can you handle the attention?" These were all based on our customers' experiences with what we had created for them. With every project we were learning, always learning, and striving to outdo ourselves.
It may sound strange, but we felt we had come up with the chemistry to "steal time" by creating something so visually stimulating that people had to stop, look and ask questions. Hey, we didn't work so hard all those long late nights for just a paint job. No, we knew – it was all for the art. And we knew it takes time to get the public to understand the massive effort that goes into applying changing pearl effects and gradients that fade color over a stretch of 40 feet and are not blotchy. We wanted our customers to understand that time costs money and, in the end, they would end up with something that no one else would have.
In addition to the cars, trucks, motorcoaches, boats and trailers, TAOD also has ventured into planes and helicopters. Dare I say our little company is taking flight? Seriously, I happened to catch a ride in a helicopter one day and the very next, I had my first lesson. Two weeks later, I bought a helicopter, and it has opened up a whole new market for us.
It is sometimes hard to separate my personal story from the story of TAOD. A piece of me goes into each and every project. And breaking new ground isn't just an occasional pleasure. It's our raison d'être – our reason for existence. So when a tool doesn't perform quite the way we want it to…when that tool has given us everything we can squeeze out of it…we start looking for the next best thing. In fact, we make it ourselves if we have to, sometimes with a little help from our friends.
It was this philosophy that led us to the creation of the Dean Loucks Signature Series line of custom paints, which we developed in partnership with Akzo Nobel. I'm especially proud of this line because the paint not only performs superbly, it is also supported by a complete program that helps other custom painters find the colors they want, quickly and easily. Any custom painter knows what a chore it is to find that precise shade with just the right touch of pearl or flake effects, for example.
As if that's not enough, these days I'm embarking on yet another new path. But, I realize, my whole life has been leading me to this.
Spring 2009 saw the launch of the Dean Loucks Fine Art Collection. The unique techniques I have developed over the years have propelled me to a style of fine art painting that I believe no one else does. I can't tell you what a rush it is to not only make these works of art, but to create them in a style that is all my own.
I call my signature style the art of removal. I begin by applying sometimes heavy layers of paint, sometimes light, onto a white Masonite board that is laid flat. Then I pour on reducer to reveal subtle changes in brightness, always keeping an organic feel of looseness to the creation. Oftentimes, I'm using more reducers and thinners than I do actual paint. With a full-size paint gun and an airbrush, I cause thin lines of color to run across the board, blowing the lines around to the point of dispersion. I also use these tools in "blast" mode to strip off pieces of paint and reveal the bright white of the board beneath. It is what I achieve with the reducers, thinners, paint gun and airbrush that causes me to call this technique the art of removal. You can never predict the exact results from either the chemical or mechanical tools, which is why each piece is so very unique.
If I used this technique to make abstract paintings, that would be something. But to take this process and create a range of tangible subjects – from cars and cowfish to martinis and marigolds – that's where the true talent comes in. And I can tell you it's a sensational feeling to paint like this.
Great things are happening, and I look forward to all the people I will meet and the stories I will have to share because of my art.
Artist in Residence