On Templates

By Leo Gonzales

I hate to sound like a product-placement poster boy for any merchandise, but I'm breaking my own rule today. If you've ever recently become a believer in a product because it has turned your entire business around, you will enjoy boasting about them. Such is the case with Artool Templates.


All artists have a stockpile of "toys" in their closet. Some supplies are more loved than others. In fact, the artist will buy art supplies simply because they are art supplies. They'll fall in love with some, but others they'll use once and never look at again for years down the road.


I am probably one of the last fans of airbrush templates. Several years ago, Artool sent me a generous starter pack when they found that I was a budding young custom painter. I showed extreme gratitude because it is so rare to get anything free these days. But, behind their backs, I treated them the same way my cat handles bargain brand kitty-food.


The templates gathered dust in my studio. I was so turned off at the idea that these "custom French curves" could replace my paintbrushes and a steady hand. I did everything I could to prove to the inventor that these templates were a big joke. In the meantime, I spent far more hours cutting friskets and vinyl masks and bending glossy business cards to shape my sprays. I'd invent my own version of templates by cutting or hand shaping (from Craig Frasier's Auto-air video) photo paper. Not even realizing it, I had this entire package of Artool "custom shapers" in my closet waiting to make my life a hundred times easier. They would have also cut down on the pile of stencil knife blades and frisket and masking tape that I'd have to clean up at the end of each job.

Perhaps it was because I dreaded the term TEMPLATE for what it suggested. It meant (to me) a repetitive cookie-cut, artsy-craftsy process (craftsy like happy landscapes that sell for $35 at a street fair) and insinuated that I was mass-producing the same image or subject. It went against my status as a CUSTOM painter (creating original pieces) and defied all the principles of my purist fine-art background.


In August 2001, I was invited by Robert Paschal of ArtTalk.com to exhibit some of my work at his gallery in Beacon, NY. I had a little less than a month to come up with pieces to display. Simultaneously, a celebrity client had commissioned me to do a custom paint job on his Heritage Softail for exhibition at the MTV Video Music Awards. Guess which one took precedence? (Hint: MTV MTV MTV)


After the commission work was completed, I was down to five days to do my own show. I could have entered my old stuff hanging in my bike shops but, frankly, I thought I'd be doing injustice to my first gallery show by doing that. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I decided to visit my "least used" supply shelf. I was rummaging for experimental materials that would inspire me to do experimental work. Underneath cans of House of Kolors and PPG urethanes sat this plastic envelope with a ridiculous number of paint rings, color splotches and dried goop. The bottom was epoxied to the Jackson Pollock shelf for such a long time that I had to rip it out with a scraper just to release it.


I brought the templates into my homemade spray booth where there awaited several prepped tanks ready for mural work. There was Spawn on a fat bob tank, Bettie Paige on another and Swamp Thing on a wide glide fender (a heck of a trio). I knew immediately that if I exercised my usual method of paintbrush-then-airbrush, I'd be here forever. Moreover, Gerardo at the body shop would have a fit for giving him more clumpy paintings to clearcoat that he'd have to apply 12-15 layers to just to make them smooth.


Inside the fog and mist of heavy overspray, I reached for one of the Artool French curves (for the very first time) because I couldn't seem to find a bendable business card. I wanted to add shadows to Spawn's muscle and it somehow made sense to use the curves of the French curve as a mask. To my surprise, the curve was exactly the curve that I wanted. Unlike photo paper or card stock, the template material had absolutely NO paint buildup. It left a sharp and crisp edge with no paint seepage underneath.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this was the most fun I have ever had airbrushing. It was like a game to flip these templates around to find the right curve or shape that I needed for a desired area. I was stunned at how clean my airbrush work was with these templates. I was floored at the fact that it took me 1/10th the time to finish these images--and gorgeous, smooth images at that! I've never had airbrush paintings so PERFECT before. I enjoyed "drawing" and "painting" with these templates so much that it allowed me to be even more detailed and more meticulous than ever. Gerardo wondered if I had someone else painting these for me because it sure didn't feel like my usual "relief-map" clumpiness that I sheepishly ask him to bury in clearcoat.


Many of you out there are probably thinking to yourselves - "DUUUHHH! What an imbecile!" It took me this long to learn how to use templates, let alone accept them. But I suppose like anything else, once your attitude has matured to accept change, the world will open an amazing array of opportunities. Nowadays, my custom paintings have taken on a very different spin. People are so much more receptive to the quality of my work-such that I'm booked for months to do paint jobs! I feel so confident in charging a more professional dollar and not a bit insecure that I can guarantee the strongest professional work. I have ZERO stress about my work, and if ever I should keep a customer waiting longer than expected, it's only because I'm enjoying adding more and more and more to the painting with my new best friends.


Created by ARTtalk.com