The art of pinstriping requires patience
An attention to detail is key, along with a good eye and a knowledge of cars
A steady hand and knowing when not to sneeze, it’s all part of what it takes to be a pinstriper.
It also takes a good eye and a thorough knowledge of cars, which helped Rollie Guertin become one of the best pinstripers in Canada.
In addition to painting fanciful designs on hot rods, he’s worked on such high-end restorations as a 1934 Packard that took top honours at the prestigious Pebble Beach car show in California two years ago.
“I work with the lines of the car, and I look for where I can put something that will enhance the design,” he says. “I see spots where I know something will look good.”
Pinstriping wasn’t anywhere on his radar when Guertin studied museum technology at college and took a job at Milton’s Country Heritage Park in 1976.
All of the museum’s signs had been hand-lettered by an employee who was leaving.
“He had all the (paint) and brushes for the signs, but it belonged to the museum, so he had to leave it there,” Guertin says. “I got him to show me and I started painting their signs. I have no formal training and I’m totally self-taught.”
Spying a pinstriping brush in the paint catalogue, he ordered it and used it to paint his own car.
“I look back at the pictures and I realize I never would have picked that colour, but I don’t think I did too bad, so I must have had some natural ability,” he says. “My friend said, ‘Would you do mine?’ and I just started getting more requests.”
Back at the museum, in addition to lettering signs, he restored and painted the tractors in the collection.
In1980, with little creative work left to do there and with pinstriping requests rolling in, he left to pursue painting full-time.
What he paints depends on the vehicle. Pinstriping was popular on early cars, with workers adding lines or simple designs on the body and wheels at the factory, but it was out of fashion by the 1940s.
With the rise of hot rods and custom cars in the 1950s, a new style of striping emerged.
It was popularized by a Los Angeles painter named Kenny Howard, better known as Von Dutch, and it featured intricate, symmetrical designs. Guertin has mastered both.
He also does lettering on commercial vehicles, and has painted insignia and war-era “nose art” on vintage military aircraft.
He’s entirely mobile, taking his paint box to jobs at restoration shops.
During the summer, he spends his weekends at outdoor car shows, where people flag him down for onthe-spot pinstriping.
Depending on the size and intricacy, a job runs $100 to $600.
It’s cheaper and faster to get a vinyl cut-out glued on, but car owners prefer his unique, hand-painted work.
“I could have been one of the first guys with vinyl when it came out, but I just wasn’t interested,” he says. “I was more interested in using my hands. The best jobs are when a guy says, ‘Here’s the car, you know what to do.’ ” Jil McIntosh is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. To reach her, email email@example.com and put her name in the subject line