Keeping up with the work after the show-all flame jobs.
“It’s great because anything you do is in now, as long as it’s done well and in good taste, it’s acceptable,” -Art Himsl
Among the various changes in the custom painting industry over the years, Himsl notes the increased camaraderie between painters. From day one, his attitude has been that there is plenty of work out there for every artist. “It’s like I always used to say, ‘If a customer likes my style, he’ll come to me. If he likes what you do, he’ll go to you,'” he explains.
In keeping with this attitude, Himsl is quick to assist other painters. “I’ll help anybody that needs help. It doesn’t bother me a bit. I wish somebody would’ve been there that I could’ve called.”
In addition to giving advice over the phone, Art Himsl is not one to follow trends. Ever since he began customizing cars at the age of 15, Himsl has laid down his own tracks, getting ideas from other painters along the way, but always traveling in his own direction.
The busy artist takes a break in between painting projects. After over 40 years of building award-winning show cars and composing stripes, flames and graphics on customs, the legendary artist continues to paint on an appointment-only basis from his acre and a half of property in Bay-area Concord, Calif.
Himsl has a schedule many people would envy-he wakes up, walks past the pool to his shop, and goes to work. Countless hours are spent tinkering with model trains, or gracing the latest hot rod with a stunning paint job often at three or four in the morning, when there are no distractions.
Attending shows also gives him new ideas and reaffirms his belief that the business of custom painting will prosper well into the future. “Before, I thought this whole thing was going to die out. But I go to some of these events and it’s not slowing down at all-it’s multiplying.”
According to Himsl, much of this increasing popularity has to do with the resurgence of retro styles. The majority of his clients fall between the ages of 35 and 60; they are the people who always wanted a hot rod or custom car when they were in school, but couldn’t “normal.”
His favorite jobs are anything he hasn’t done before, which is a tall order, considering he’s painted everything from off-shore boats to airplanes. Then again, Himsl approaches every job as being unique. Over the years, his name has become synonymous with elegant lines and dramatic fade-aways creations of a boundless imagination.
As the self-proclaimed “biggest kid” he knows, the ingenious artist’s main inspiration has always been the enjoyment his original designs give to his customers, and the fun he has dreaming them up.
Setting His Own Pace
Although he tries to limit the amount of outside work he takes in, Himsl finds it hard to refuse new or unusual challenges.
At some point early in his teenage years, Himsl picked up a afford it. Now, they’re settled, the kids are gone, and they’ve got the money to indulge in one.
“Most people I paint for end up being my friends,” says Himsl. Since he’s fairly selective about the jobs he takes, he likes to get to know the individual before painting their vehicle. “I want to meet the person and talk to them, so I know who they are and what they’re about. I pattern the paint to match the person,” he explains.
Himsl tries to limit the work he takes on so he can devote time to pet projects. Delving into the world of computer design, for instance. He recently purchased a plotter and software for his PC, and is eager to start producing paint-through stencils with vinyl. “The computer can cut designs that you couldn’t possibly make by hand. It opens up a whole new world as far as what you can do,” he says.
In between d brush and discovered a hobby that would become a lifelong craft. He immediately began studying Von Dutch stripes in custom car magazines and figuring out how the paint flowed.
The industrious teen held three jobs in high school – at a body shop, a newspaper, and his own part-time pinstriping business. The money he saved fueled his fascination with hot rods and customs. In fact, Himsl was the only kid in his class to graduate with three cars and four motorcycles.
Among his influences, he counts such custom greats as Von Dutch, Ed Roth, Bill Reasoner, Kenny Youngblood, Steve Stanford and Thom Taylor. However, he also adds that every artist in the trade affects his work to some degree. “Every job you see influences you, there’s no two ways about it. Everything you see is an idea-you take a little piece of this and a little piece of that, whether you realize it or not,” says Himsl.
Topping off his list of what he calls his “toys,” is a scale model of a live steam locomotive. It’s on a 1″ to a 1′ scale, with a four-foot-long engine. Eventually, Himsl plans to put some track down around his house and take it for a ride.
Getting around to working on these endeavors is Himsl’s biggest challenge. “I’ve got so many people that want paint done and I have a hard time saying no, because I get all enthused about it and then my projects don’t seem to get finished,” he says.
Most of his artistic skills were developed through this kind of observation. With the exception of a few color theory and design classes at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Calif., Himsl is self-taught.
His nine-to-five work experience consists of a handful of body shop jobs and a two year stint as a paint shop manager at Danville, Calif.-based Aerojet. In 1963, he left the workaday world to open his own custom painting business. In no time at all, he moved the booming enterprise into a larger shop in downtown Concord.
As if tackling a workload that included several Oakland Roadster Show winners wasn’t enough, the untiring artist also spent a few years as a show promoter. He started the first Northern California Custom Bikes show in Concord, and organized 11 other rod, custom, and bike shows over the next five years.
Along came the van craze of the ’70s. At that point, Himsl andfinding time for his own creative efforts, Himsl intends to keep on painting, developing his model train and airplane collection and enjoying his retirement. As he says, “I don’t see any changes in the future, other than just doing what I’m doing and playing with some of these toys of my own.”