New York fine artist Steven Vaughan has created an “ArtRod” for a client that has gained national acclaim for its uniqueness and one-of-a-kind paint job using Pro-Spray products.
The car, a 1970 Saab that ended up being two feet longer when completed, is a rolling piece of art complete with drawings of nuclear explosions, cowboys with gas masks, angels and superheroes, and Marilyn Monroe giving the peace sign. The car transitions from war in the front to peace in the back.
“I wanted the front end of the car to look like three knives coming at you, so I used the idea of cutwaters from an old Chris Craft, chrome tips from an old wooden boat,” says Vaughan. “I wanted that chrome and reflective quality in the front, so I used aluminum and polished it. On the sides, I was going for a cross between a Bonneville Salt Flats racer from the 1930s and a tank. The wheel wells have flat surfaces on top and then bow out, and that gave it that tank-military feel.”
For the paint, a friend of Vaughan’s recommended he go with an auto grade paint versus paint marketed to fine artists as useable on automobiles. He first did a test with a brand other than Pro-Spray and the edges were lifting.
“Because there is a lot of masking on this car, I couldn’t have that,” Vaughan says. “I didn’t want to fight that battle.”
Based on the recommendation of a friend, he went with Pro-Spray and got the results he wanted.
“The Pro-Spray metallic silver became the basecoat because I knew I wanted that reflectance underneath everything, and then I used washes of color over that,” says Vaughan. “Then, I did gradations down the sides of the car for the nuclear sunset look because I knew the artwork would be different on both sides and the gradations would give it continuity. If I kept the sides like a black-and-white image with the sunset colors behind, it would work from side to side because it would have symmetry. The trick was that I couldn’t make a mistake because I couldn’t go back and duplicate the gradation if I did, so it took a lot of preplanning and some careful work.”
Vaughan combined traditional brushwork with some airbrushing and other techniques familiar to automotive painters to achieve the effect he wanted.
“I didn’t worry about how thick I got things because I figured at the end, I would smooth it out with clear. I also mixed metallics with opaques, which gave me some pretty wild effects. On both sides of the car, there are figures of girls flying – one side has a superhero and one has an angel – and for them to pop forward and look like they were further away from the rest of the paint, I used opaques over the metallics. We also used a pretty hard grade of clearcoat and it looks wet, which is awesome because I really wanted that wet look. It’s beyond high gloss.”
This was the first car Vaughan ever worked on, but to him, it wasn’t too much of a stretch given that he had done paintings previously on aluminum panels.
“The only difference was that it became a three-dimensional object, and the images had to work with the shapes,” he says.
The car took 13 months to finish, and all the work was performed at Vaughan’s New York studio, which just so happens to be an old 5,000-square-foot body shop complete with a spraybooth. Several friends helped him with the bodywork and prepping.
The car has been appraised at $1.2 million, and Vaughan has trademarked the term “ArtRod.” He unveiled it for the first time on Aug. 12 in Los Angeles with George Barris, the creator of some of the most famous Hollywood cars ever including the Batmobile, Green Hornet and the Munsters car.
“He looked at the paint and the first thing he said was, ‘You know, they don’t paint cars like that anymore, if they ever did. There is a depth to it you just don’t see,’” Vaughan says. “Since he was a hero of mine as a kid, that comment meant more to me than anything anybody else said.”
The car was also invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last August.
Vaughan says that everyone in the car business who has seen the vehicle and the intricate paint job has been “blown away.”
“People are mystified how I got the look I got and how beautiful it is. Many people think I used the kind of paint that changes as you walk around the car, but no, it was just straight-up paint used in a creative way.”