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February 26, 2009

News & Features

With your car as a canvas, you can shift your creativity into overdrive

Special to NWautos

Art car

Kelly Lyles' "Excess-ories Odd-yssey." (Courtesy of Kelly Lyles)

In 1999, Leith Zeutenhorst left her doctor's office reeling from a diagnosis of cancer. She drove her 1983 Ford Fairmont Futura to the car wash, where the paint peeled off in flakes and strips. Returning home, the Camas, Wash., resident found a way to repair the damage with spray paint -- and to express her will to live.

The result was "Joyride," an automotive painting of colorful symbols -- the sun, the moon and a woman with rainbow hair -- captioned with inspirational statements such as "She who laughs, lasts."

"The joy of having an art car is to just keep working on it," says Zeutenhorst, who will be cancer-free four years this month and is active in the Seattle Art Car Community.

When the wheels on the original "Joyride" started working independently of one another, Zeutenhorst purchased a silver 2003 Buick Century. Following the same motif, she used 1 Shot enamel paint, obtained at a sign painter's supply store, to decorate "Joyride Too."

"I think anyone can do it," says Kelly Lyles, co-producer of the Seattle Art Car Blowout. Lyles has long expressed her art and passions through her cars. Her original creation "Leopard Bernstein," a 1989 Subaru DL, honors felines, with painted leopard spots and toy cats, leopards and tigers attached to the roof.

Resources, photos and more
  • Books:
  • "Wild Wheels" by Harrod Blank (movie also available on DVD)
  • "Art Cars: The Cars, the Artists, the Obsession, the Craft" by Harrod Blank
  • Web sites:
  • Information on the Seattle Art Car Blowout, held during the Fremont Fair.
  • A listing of art car shows and parades across the country.
  • Photos of classic art cars available for special appearances.
  • The official site of Art Car World, a museum in Arizona.
  • Photos of art cars and information on the Bay Area festival.
  • A blog about all things art car.

If you'd like to become a "car-tist," look for inspiration in your hobbies, professions and personal interests. Start by painting zebra stripes, leopard spots or what Lyles described as a "cow car" -- a spattering of brown or black spots. Or look to your vehicle type or color for ideas -- paint a Volkswagen Beetle like a bug or a yellow car like a lemon.

Small details can be added at minimal cost. "The only expense is if you get too attached and sink too much money into keeping your baby alive," Lyles warns those who start with a beater car. She recommends checking out the books of art car artist/filmmaker Harrod Blank or talking to other art car owners who host Web sites (see sidebar) or attend events such as the Seattle Art Car Blowout, held in June.

To paint a car, Lyles suggests sign-painter's enamel or automotive paint. Before applying, carefully strip off any wax, then clean and sand to create a surface "for the paint to cling to," she advises.

To attach items, consider the weight and wearability. On "Excess-ories Odd-yssey" -- Lyles' newest creation -- she preferred the wide, glue-able surface of flip-flops to the smaller bracelets, purses and necklaces she attached to the 1996 Honda Odyssey. She avoided riveting or bolting items in deference to Northwest weather, and has found hot glue and epoxies less effective than silicon or Lexel adhesives over the long term. "I go through a lot of glue," she says.

"You will get attention wherever you go," Lyles promises those who are considering building an art car. "Art cars in general disarm people. Ninety-eight percent of the people enjoy it. It makes them smile."


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