I wish I had “10 Crucial Steps To Success” when I first started kustom painting. I remember when I first stuck my foot in the door of the Kustom Industry. (It just about got cut off!). The Automotive Kustom Kulture is very similar to any exclusive club. Not everyone is invited, and there is a hierarchy one has to go through before you are accepted. Granted, Social Media has made it easier to get one’s work out there by comparison to car shows, or the luck of getting in the magazines. Though the tools have changed, the game remains the same. There is one thing about human nature that is universal: We love our Exclusivity. I’m not looking to destroy this exclusivity, far from it. I want to give you a few tips on how to speed up the entry process and insure your long term success in the exclusive club of The Kustom Kulture.
When I first started painting for Kal Koncepts back in 92’ I was working part time at the shop, and commuting back and forth to my Architecture job on the coast. I had been airbrushing professionally for over 8 years and had a fairly decent reputation in the T-shirt, Illustration, and Wall Mural industry in Italy. None of this mattered in the Automotive Kustom Industry. I was the new guy. It seemed that nobody cared how well I airbrushed, they all wanted to know how long I had been painting cars and who I worked for in the past. They perceived that longevity in an industry was directly proportional to quality. While this may be true sometimes, it can be a false premise. Not all perceptions become reality. I realized the perception of myself by others in the industry needed a bit of spin-doctoring.
For example: First thing I did was to paint a couple of tanks and helmets from the local swap meet. I also got a few spare hoods from the shop to do some murals on as examples. I clear coated them, photographed them and put together a working portfolio to take to shows. Now when a client came into the shop and asked how long I had been painting, or who I had worked for, I hand them the portfolio. I also showed them some of the pieces hanging in the showroom. The artwork varied in style and subject matter, which prevented them from having to ask if I could do other things. Before I knew it, they were no longer asking how long I had been painting and the skeptics became clients. I didn’t lie, I just changed the subject matter of the conversation into something that did matter. Perception became reality. ( Which is coincidentally the first of the 10 Crucial Steps).
10 Crucial Steps To Success In the Kustom Industry:
1. Perception Is Reality: If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, then you must take your art seriously. Treat it like a profession and you will be treated as a professional. Act like an amateur and you will be hurting for clients. Of course your quality matters too. This should be the primary subject of any conversation you have with clients. Perception is Reality until it meets Reality.
2. Let Your Work Speak For Itself: Your work should be at least as good, or better than your hype. If your work is excellent in quality and you make your deadlines, you can weather any storm you will encounter in any industry. Quality is king.
3. Never Work For Free: Bartering and negotiating are not the same as working for free. Working for free is defined as doing a freebie to get your foot in the door. Don’t do it. If they want a freebie, put it at the end of a paid contract as a bonus. Too many artists have given away their hard work to this common con.
4. Your Goals Need To Be Higher Than Publicity: As a Kustom painter, if your primary goal is to be on the cover of a magazine, have 10,000 followers, or be on a reality TV show, you’re not looking at the big picture. Fame is fun, but in the long run it does not pay the bills and is fleeting at best.
5. Avoid Exclusivity Deals: Whether it be exclusivity on specific trends, or a sponsor that wants you using only their product, either way, exclusivity rarely benefits the one it’s imposed upon. With product sponsorship ask yourself this one question: Would this company only sponsor you and no other artists? Exclusivity is usually one-sided.
6. Invoice, Invoice, Invoice: Sure invoicing and work orders are boring, but in many states they are actually required by law for any company working on an automotive vehicle. These work orders and signed invoices can also be the only thing standing between you and a lawsuit. Plus, your accountant, or tax dude will love you for them. (Remember, Professional, not amateur).
7. Constantly Reinvent Yourself: The only constant in any creative industry is Change. No matter how good you are at Kustom Painting, if you do not stay ahead of the curve, or at the very least current with the industry, you are done. This should not come as a big surprise. I mean, this is what we specialize in as Kustom Painters!
8. Protect Your Brand And Be Consistent: If the best Kustom Painter in the world works for somebody else and does not push their brand, are they really the best? (Perception again). Protecting and pushing your brand is vital to longevity in an ever changing industry. When you’ve focused on your Brand, you need to be aware of consistency. Clients will go elsewhere if they cannot depend on you for consistent quality and reliability.
9. Teach: It’s not just a good “Pay it forward” thing. The best way to keep your finger on the pulse of any industry is by teaching. It not only helps propagate and keep an industry educated and cohesive, but teaching will give you a rare opportunity to break down and reassess tried and true techniques that you have taken for granted. I can honestly say I have learned as much from my students as I have ever taught!
10. Find Your Passion And Never Lose It: Your passion can be a constantly moving target. The important thing is to consistently be digging and discovering what moves you and really gets you stoked. Innovative creativity is fueled by passion. Without passion your work will become boring. Not just to yourself, but to your clients as well.
As I mentioned earlier, I wished I had this checklist when I first dove into the Kustom Industry. These steps are a combination of advice I have received along the way and the results of 20/20 hindsight that all of us get with experience. I am sure after you’ve been kustom painting for over 20 years you will have a list of your own. If you feel I could have expanded on each of these steps a bit more, you are 100% correct. As a matter of fact, I will be doing just that in the next 10 blogs. (After all, a “Crucial Step” should receive a bit more than a few sentences of explanation). So stay tuned!!
I hope this Blog has got you thinking more about being purposeful in your attempt at entering the Automotive Paint Industry, let alone the Kustom Kulture. If you have stories of your own, or comments you would like to make about what I have written, I would love to read them. Please leave your comments below and sign up on my email list so you will be notified of my new blogs as well as any new prints and offers on my website.
Paint to live, live to paint.
– Craig Fraser