Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who’s says ’13 is unlucky?

Editors note up front: I'm exhausted just rereading this. I only wrote 4 blogs this year and perhaps this mother load will explain why that is!

From day to day (week to week or month to month for that matter) I often don’t know what I’ll be working on. Nearing the end of 2012 I got a very rare opportunity to meeting with some executives in Milwaukee and was passed a Hail Mary  on a big job (for me at least) to work on. I had detailed a bit about that job back in January when the release of the collaboration of Harley-Davidson and Kid Rock. What I’d learned is I’d inadvertently knocked one out of the park for the two parties. This home-run opened many doors and set the tone for me in 2013.

In January I was invited to the table as an illustrator to work on some rebranding for the Harley Owners Group, aka HOG. This was a long endeavor of work that was split up amongst a bunch of artists with different interpretations of what HOG is. We were broken into groups based on style differences and then set loose with themes to play off of. I kind of like this version of working because there’s enough freedom to explore within some boundaries that we can set for ourselves. Along side of the work done for HOG I also got to stay true to doing event poster work as I’d done in the past, working on Half Fast’s Burning Love event poster for their 6th annual Anti Valentines day event.

Coming up quick into February I was re-invited to work on a t-shirt for the Garterbelts and Gasoline in Australia.  This time I was set to outdo myself on the concept of a gal, a Olds Rocket powered auto and as always to sneak a physical rocket into the design somewhere. Just after this shirt came a second one for Vinsetta Garage for the Miss Autorama Pinup Calendar Contest. What I like about this design is we wanted to give a sense of the pinup, but without an identity to the person who may win. Mid February  I was invited to send a CarbElectricCo lamp over to New England for the Art of Speed III where it sold on opening day. One of these days I’ll just have to make a lamp for myself to keep. Wrapping up the end of February, H-D came knocking again for some design work for the 2014 line of clothing. So, I really won’t know what, if anything will end up on the shelf at dealerships.

Early March I was set up in the tight little booth in the basement of Cobo hall for Detroit Autorama. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the show: I love it because it’s like a mid-winter reunion with folks and friends I don’t often get to see. I hate it because it’s several days of work and I really don’t get the time to visit with those folks because I’m stuck in a 6x6 foot booth attempting to make a sale on some of my art and wares. You take a the hard concrete floor with the warm smiles of friends.

With March came the continuation of the Vintage Torque Fest posters for 2013. John Wells who runs the show as a benefit for Helping Hannahs Heart has been a bud for some time and the design freedom I get from him allows for a lot of creative expression and making the show have a little different feel each year. As before we have always done multiple posters: One for Hotrods, Kustoms and Motorcycles. Along side of this there’s the coveted “Drivers Patch” for those who will take their cars, trucks and bike out in the dirt for a spin on a closed course.

In April I found myself taking some time out (as I’m sure I will in 2014) to get all of my tax info straight. There’s nothing like waiting until the bitter end to find out how screwed you are due to owing taxes! It was also in April Harley-Davidson came a knock, knock, knocking again with another HUGE opportunity that I was truly honored to take a stab at: The 110th Anniversary Harley-Davidson Motor Company Poster. It started with three simple concepts. Two of my choosing and one that came down the ladder which was ultimately picked. By request the good folks of Advertising and Promotions wanted to see what it would look like if the 110th was crossed with Woodstock. Though the design was simple in many ways when you break it down, it also created many issues with space and dominance issues. The poster featured 3 big acts: Kid Rock, Aerosmith and Toby Keith as well as a stream of twelve additional acts and 6 sponsors. Needless to say with as many personalities and corporations involved the process of laying things out and getting them approved became a long, arduous task. The minute you move one thing, everything else needs to move with it. Many variations of the art came out, though to most of you probably didn’t notice the differences with color, scale, aspect ratio, etc. This project carried me throughout the month.

In early May came the annual trek to Vintage Torque Fest, this year in Dubuque Iowa.
Spring didn’t come as early as hoped with the dates for the kick off show of the midwest as there was some sleet and snow happing the first day of the event but never the less the hotrods and customs made it out and a good time was had by all those attending the show. Quickly after my return home I jumped into the advertising work on John’s other show: Iron Invasion in the fall. Beyond some smaller gigs and retuning of art for the 110th anniversary poster, H-D came knocking again. This time for a give away voucher for Born-Free 5.

The next thing I know I’m already half way through the year and it’s June already! Hands down, my busiest month of the year! The first weekend of June traditionally kicks off with the Sins of Steel show for Hotrods, Customs and Motorcycles. I had to slam out some work show merch right before the show began but in the end, everything came together. I’d skipped on setting up at the show in favor of helping out. 

The following weekend had been invited to take part in yet another huge honor: Orion Music Festival: Motorbreath Alley Art show. As if you couldn’t tell up until this point in the year, I was ‘slightly’ busy with a ton of bigger corporate work and not much time for myself to generate anything personal, but I did take a little time in May to get back to building a few lamps in the barn where two of them were on display at this awesome Detroit music festival with Metallica

The following week, after much discussion with my counterparts in Milwaukee where I was invited to take part in a cross country “Ride Home”, I found myself enrolled in the Rider’s Edge - riding academy program. Though the thought of a cross country trip was something I’d always wanted to do from an very early bucket list, I first had to conquer getting that pesky license to ride. Mid June I took the 4 day course and honestly, it was life changing and well worth the time. On Sunday, June 16th (Father‘s day) I had completed my testing successfully and the following day I took the test at the Secretary of State to have my official license.

By the last weekend in June, I found myself California bound for Born-Free 5 to set up along side of my buddy John Wells in the Vintage Torque booth. I have to hand it to both Mike and Grant on the show they’ve built; it’s really a mecca of American styled vintage choppers and bobbers. The definite highlight of the trip was when a couple of good folks sought me out at the show: Karen and Willie G Davidson! I was blown away and humbled that they came over to thank me for all the hard work I’d be doing for their company. It was a crazy fast trip where I got a chance to see some of my buddies from Cali that I worked on Deadheads with and also got the chance to attend and vend at this incredible show!

All the while working on the Model Year 2014 branding for Harley-Davidson’s “Project Rushmore” - The largest scale new model launch in H-D's history and simultaneously taking any waking hours from my schedule to keep all the prep and behind the scenes work for Midnight Mass Detroit. June was freaking nuts and I don’t even know how I managed to keep all the balls in the air that I did.

The first week of July I carried on with the MY ’14 work with Harley-Davidson. This was a real time crunch with everything weighing on Midnight Mass Detroit. I remember feeling like a tick about to burst at the seems - being spread to unimaginable odds again like I was in college. The pressure of Project Rushmore in conjunction of launching our own show was getting the best of me. The good news was the H-D work went dormant for the moment long enough to get Midnight Mass Detroit in the record books! Though we’d sold every spot in the parking lot, we still had a lot of unaccounted spots at the show. Never the less, the show went off as well as expected and we were able to donate money to our charity of choice in the end Helping Hannahs Heart. 

Immediately after the show I was back to work again for H-D with a new endeavor for the Veterans of the US military. This project went several rounds as well with different interpretations of the look of the Eagle as well as the banner that was going up in local dealerships across the US for the Military Remembrance Month of November. 

Every other minute spent outside of working, being a father and husband in the family was spend on two wheels. This was all in preparation to putting some miles on my new 2013 Softail Slim to both break in myself as well as the motor. I owe a lot to my good friend Roger for helping me out, being my co-pilot and taking the time to show me the ropes beyond the classroom.

By August, I was really wrapping up aspects of the trip involved in traveling from Washington to Milkwaukee for the 110th anniversary. I had a ton of prep work from contracts on the space to vend from at the show, the insurance to be set up there, poster creation for a limited run of the “celebration poster” as well as the live aspect to the show with a limited edition live silkscreen on site. All the midst of this and also attempting to keep some work flowing in I was working on some side identity projects for folks, wiring some lamps for the show, arranging transportation of the motorcycles to head west, one way airfare for myself and Roger and continuing to put miles on the bike. 

Soon enough I got the call that the trailer coming for the bikes was here. I’d just finished putting lock-tight on the sissy bar I built for the trip and it was time to go. When the Softail was picked up it had 451 miles on it that I put on, not quite half of what I needed for the break in fluids to come out. That night, I was able to obtain tickets to see one of the eight Kid Rock performances at DTE energy theatre and more importantly to me, see my identity work larger than life both on huge canvas wraps as well as on a jumbo screen animated! Kid Rock is an excellent performer and I was really impressed with his scratch session he did in the middle of his set. 

The next couple of days were spent finishing up my display items for the show and pre-packing the truck before I was yet again headed off to DTW for the one way trip to Spokane, Washington. I left with as much as I could get done but two things that weighed heavy on my mind was my dog Rocket was very ill with a stomach issue that was causing some messes around the house for Wendy to clean up behind in my absence. The second thing was I was yet again going to miss my son’s actual birthday again. It’s always hard to make some choices in life when you are trying to balance career and home life. Ultimately, I had made the choice to go (obviously if you have been reading along thus far).

I’m not going to go into an abundance of details on the cross country trip we nicknamed the three-13 ride. I’d already cataloged all my notes that I’d updated along the way in a previous blog and posts to Facebook and Instagram. Read all about that here: http://car-n-art.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-hd110-ride-home-experience-from.html What I will say and have repeated many times that it was ‘ambitious’ of me to attempt. I would say I wasn’t quite as prepared to attempt this as I felt I should be, but never the less, I’m certainly glad I did it! I’d recommend to anyone who has thought long and hard about it to take a day out and ride on highways only and drain, then refill your tank 3-5 times in one direction. The next day come on back home and see how you feel: If you’re ready the next day to do it again, then the next... For a lot of folks out there who bar hop, its one thing, but serious long days in the saddle are taxing. Think about what would be easier on yourself: Figure out all the equipment you’d need up front.

In all it was 1900 miles in 4 days of riding from Spokane to Milwaukee through mountains, rain, 100 degree days, wind, gravel, bugs, twisty road as well as 100’s of miles of just straight shots with nothing but you’re thoughts and smells of the road.  The goal was I had to meet up at an exact time and place with my wife at the Harley-Davidson Museum to set up for the 110th anniversary.

From beginning to end of the 110th Harley-Davidson anniversary was filled with awesome experiences. The crew who put the show on at the Museum was top notch to say the least; I’d never gone to a smoother running show, hands down. I was so busy with my wife and I running the booth I didn’t get much of a chance to get out and enjoy the bands, the demos, the parade or the Museum itself but the time was filled with amazing experiences and people! Some highlights from the show were meeting with folks I’d only communicated over email and phone with. Meeting more of the folks who make up Harley-Davidson MoCo. I was able to donate one of the silkscreened versions of the poster to the Museum itself for future generations to look at down the road as well, Willie G asked for one for his personal collection of art. Again, I was beyond humbled and overwhelmed with the experience. Another highlight was the invite to a private party after Kid Rocks performance where I got the chance to meet Bob Ritchie and thank him for all the help he brings back to Detroit. 

The show went from late August until early September. On Labor day it was time to hit the rode and saddle up for my real ‘ride home’. Slightly worried about traffic on a holiday in Chicago, we left before the sun came up. Wendy in the truck and me back on the slim. The trip from Milwaukee to Detroit isn’t actually that bad in comparison to what I had been doing in previous days of riding to the event! Grand total on the trip of 5 days of riding was 2,283 miles. Not bad for a new rider :)

There really wasn’t a day off either from this long trip, it was straight back to work for me. It seems as soon as I post that I’m away from my desk working, that’s when the work begins to pile up and the requests constantly coming in.  Besides the work requests, I was also able to broker a deal for my 1949 Ford Tudor Sedan to head to northern California with some help from friends! I had taken the car about as far as I wanted to go with it so it was time to let it go to greener pastures and soak up some California sunshine. So part of my September was getting that old girl out the door as well. 

Another highlight of September for me was issue 155 of Cruzin Magazine from Australia did a nice write up on me in the art section! I was super stoked to not have to ‘play the game’ in order to get the press. Understanding that a lot of what happens behind the scenes with these kinds of things with ‘greasing the wheels’ to get what you want out of it, it was certainly nice to have some press based on merit alone.

September finished up with a lot of reorganization after the trip, some more riding on the Slim and some bigger graphics jobs on a larger scale. Lastly, I was able to generate a personal piece called "The Wrecking Crew"

Right into October now it was time again for the second running of the Iron Invasion in the greater Chicagoland area. Because of set up times it was easier for myself to leave a day early and catch up with my friends of Brown Magic Paint Company. Mando came to the rescue for me on a Helmet show called “Skull Canvas” at Barber Vintage Festival by actually turning one design I had kicking around into a real deal. I was so fried from what had been going on in the past months to barely think about translating something onto the helmet. The evening I came down we hung out with his cousin and wife in the neighborhood of where the famous John Wayne Gacie went all psycho clown on a bunch of young men in the area. It was a little creepy to think about while over there but nothing that some good beers and Korean food wouldn’t fix. Friday it was on to the show. The weird thing about this year was how much great buzz came from year one that should have boosted attendance for this second year, but it just didn’t happen even with the extended marketing for this show with shout outs from sponsor Harley-Davidson on their vast social medias. I blame the government shutdown on some instability as everything really looked like the perfect storm for this show.

Later in October I got the chance to yet again work on another Top Secret project for Harley-Davidson. This time, like with Rushmore, everything was closely guarded. So close that even on a air-tight non disclosure agreement (this is the thing that when people ask me “What are you working on now?” I can’t offer up much information because it’s MY ass if something leaks and can be proven to chase back to my trail) I was wasn’t allowed a name, a photo, or anything about this new bike coming out with an entirely new platform. What I knew was it was a smaller CC bike, youth oriented, and a global project for the American born company. I was asked to provide some concepts and eventually had to put my foot down and know at least something outside of some vague descriptions of what the bike was. Eventually the code named “Project G” let down it’s guard a bit, long enough to design up a poster for the international reveal of this bike. 

Early November found me back at DTW for what I thought would be my last trip of the year. This time I was headed to Kanas City, home of the Dark Customs plant line for Harley-Davidson. I got the rare opportunity to be part of the US dealership reveal of the Street 500/750 bikes at the unveiling. We printed up 2000 posters for the event as a give-away to the US dealers and I was onsite at the reveal as a special guest artist to sign and personalize the posters. I was again very honored to take part in a landmark event for HDMC! It certainly not every day I get to take part in a forum like this! 700 posters were pre signed as the audience of nearly 2000 people wouldn’t all have the time to stand in line just for a signature! The signing took place during a ‘cocktail hour’ which in reality was two hours long but my line didn’t seem to cut down until the tables were being folded up and chairs stacked! I missed out on eating so it was time to hit up local buddy Tyler for what was good in his hood. Tyler met me for breakfast in “Lower Bottoms” - the railroad yard district which in my opinion was way cooler than the freshly multimillion re-landscaped downtown. Don’t get me wrong, Kanas City is beautiful, but it’s got this appearance flavor of Disney written on in... like it was solely done to attract tourists and in turn destroyed a little local flavors. The Lower Bottoms looks to me to be unchanged and therefore has the kind of character I appreciate when traveling. 

Once I returned I quickly got the notion that I clearly hadn’t spent enough time in airports or shoved into economy seating aboard an airplane (can you read my sarcasm?) This had already been an epic year for me to this point so it was time to go for broke with one show I’d been wanting to hit for years now: Yokohama Mooneyes.
As soon as I’d returned from Kanas City I called up John Wells again to pick his brain. Knowing it was way too late to even consider going to the show to vend (nor did I really want to as I wanted to see a show for a change) I asked him about the travel and some of his tips. After getting off the phone I started searching for flights to Japan.

I was able to find a flight with the cost of what I was comfortable with, so that pretty much seemed like it was meant to be. Next up it was booking accommodations for the stay in both Yokohama and Tokyo.  With a little help from the world wide net I was able to settle in on both legs of the trip. The down side of things here in the states is that if you want to get there on time with the international date line, you need to leave on Thanks Giving day in order to be there. Not that I’m a huge turkey fan, but this would mean for me two years in a row I was missing out on the family time. The last year I was wrapped up in completing samples for the Kid Rock collaboration art for Harley-Davidson.  

So with my backpack and camera bag packed I headed once again to DTW in the early hours of the morning. Once near the airport the snow began to fall more rapidly and I started to fear that my flight would be canceled. Luckily with some deicing of the flaps, we were only delayed 30 minutes from takeoff with about 5 hours in the air to LAX. Basically with the narrow timeframe of a layover to begin with and the snow delay in Detroit I basically walked off one plane and straight onto the next for another 12 hours of flying. Yeehaw....

After all the immigration and stops along the way of entering a new country I was able to meet up with John nearly where we projected and it was off to Yokohama. I was able to get a proper meal after about 24 hours of travel at this point in an ‘English Style’ Pub and a nightcap to send me into slumberland.  Rest was needed to what was about to happen.

The following day was set-up for the event which I was really only there for moral support and to snap some photos of the place without tons of people around. From about 7am to 10am we where there and then quickly John, Max Grundy and his buddy Pat and myself were headed right back to Tokyo for the day.

We were certainly out of place everywhere we went: loud americans in the subways. I recall how many Japanese were staring at Max’s beard over there, not to say it’s not an impressive beard mind you, but it was as if he was wearing a ski mask to them the way they’d stared. I guess I forget that here in the states, and more specifically in Detroit that we have a pretty diverse culture and mix of people from all over, so I don’t think anyone here stares as much. 

So we went all over in some pretty dense shopping districts. The funny thing was when I was in Japan 6-7 years ago, I’d been to this same Tokyo mall shopping for toys with my buddy Dave. I had a little bit of deja vu, or it could have been the jet lag. As it began to get dark, it was time to head back and rest. I have no idea how many miles we’d walked around through these different shopping districts, but I was feeling it for sure. I felt I was dreaming standing up at a certain point while in Tower Records. Time for sleep: tomorrow was December and Mooneyes!

December 1st kicks off with a bang! In Japan for one of the greatest Hotrod and Custom shows known around the globe. The short cab ride in unveiled some of what was about to shown on the floor with Custom Cars and Motorcycles on the approach. John and I had arrived about 2 hours before it was open to the public. This was a great chance to photograph the show unencumbered by a few thousand onlookers. The “Hero” pass was the only way to fly for sure. The only downside of this was a lot of the set up was still going on: No lights up yet and carpeting was still covered in plastic to keep it fresh. Never the less I’m thankful for the time to be able to shoot without too many people around. 

One thing of note that many folks don’t realize in the states is that its difficult for people abroad to purchase, upkeep, customize and maintain hotrods and customs, especially in Japan where space is at a premium! I’d detailed more about this when I was overseas a couple of years back at Final War in Germany: http://car-n-art.blogspot.com/2011/09/american-at-war.html In the past from what I understand, Mooneyes Yokohama used to ship over select Hotrods and Customs from the states in Shipping containers for the show. As years have gone on, the number of shipping containers has been reduced and not only from the stand point of ‘bang for the buck’ but also as trends change, more motorcycles came over than cars. A heavy presents of the Born-Free builders bikes were on display alongside of the builders booths as well. As for the cars, there were a handful of noteworthy vehicles I saw, but many of the Japanese plated cars were ones that were previously built in the USA and shipped over on an ebay deal. So, if you paid attention to west coast shows and magazines, chances are you’ve already seen many of the vehicles on display at Mooneyes Yokohama.

The motorcycles were really the stars of the show (sorry, car guys). Japan has been noteworthy of building some bad ass bikes for sometime from old american steel. I don’t think I’ve seen more vintage Knuckleheads, Panheads, Shovelheads. Flatheads,  Ironheads and even Evo and big twins under one roof, in one day. Not to leave out vintage Indians, Triumphs,  Hondas, Yamahas, Royal Enfield and weird/rare stuff in between. It was jaw dropping: any which direction you turned there was something new and unique to look at! As the show progressed and became more and more congested with patrons, I found myself feeling a little claustrophobic and wanting to see the sun and breath the air (I get a little antsy around big crowds). When I went outside there was an endless stream of vintage bikes still pulling into the show hours after it began. Where were they going? This show couldn’t possibly fit any more bikes inside these 4 walls!

I got chatting for a bit with Jenny from Trophy Queen about it and she tipped off this newb to what was going on. Apparently there are some strict rules to vehicles being shown multiple times. So many of the bikes that had previously been seen inside the convention center in the past were still at the show, just parked in the underground structure outside. So I again grabbed my camera and headed out to see the spectacle, and I don’t tend to use that word lightly either. I was again jaw dropping inside of this parking structure: Wall to wall badass bikes, crammed in like sardines underground. I was again completely overwhelmed by the bikes!

Soon enough it was time for judging and that meant the show was nearly over. John began his battle cry of ‘Hangaku!’ (or half price/amount) and it was time to start packing it in as we had to shuttle off to Tokyo right after the show. Breakdown only took a short 20-30 minutes and we had a little hike to the rail station with a few switches along the way to check in at the Hostel in Tokyo’s used book district.  John’s friend Nory was a  huge help at the booth and escorted us to the hotel and then for a quick bite to eat.

The following day there were no slowdowns.  I had spoke with a representative from H-D Japan while at the 110th about a potential project on the horizon so I had a meeting with them midday (sorry, no details here I can share) also in the mix was the wholesale district areas with John looking at new and vintage toys alike. But after all the work was done, I was stoked to see something I won’t surely forget anytime soon: Robot Restaurant.

My good friends Roger and Abbie mentioned this Anthony Bourdain show where he’d visited Japan and went to this ‘crazy-ass restaurant with dancing girls, tanks and robots.’ Say no-more my friends, just tell me where to go!  With a little investigation I was able to get the name and website for this Amazing Spectacle! (hey look, there again, two words I won’t use unless I truly mean it) I don’t want to give too much away for some day you may find yourself in Tokyo, Japan... and when you are, you MUST head to the red-light district and sit in the front row of this mind-blowing dinner show. It’s rumored this area is run by the Yakuza: The organized crime syndicate (or mob) and after being there, I can say I saw it with my own eyes: missing fingers and visible tattoos are the telltales here, besides being solicited for sex in route to the location a few times with guys with ‘menus’ of women. So, you’ve been forewarned.

Waking the morning of the 3rd of December I was in a bit of a daze. I think I’d run like I did so many years prior like in college. I was only focused on packing my clothes up and getting caught up online as to what’s been happening back home with the help of a wifi connection. My flight was on time so that was the good/important news. Immediately I was updated with a tag on instagram push notification that I was tagged in a post. I knew some time back I was able to complete an online interview with Smokin’ Shutdown magazine out of Berlin, but what I didn’t know was that this interview was to be printed in a full color, 248 page hardcover book! I’m stoked to be featured and as I write this blog, my copies are in transit from Germany. 

With no rest for the weary, I returned home to jump straight back into work mode on a couple of projects as well as some holiday orders to fulfill. Finally catching my breath for a moment, I wanted to sit down and finally detail some of my year in review. Knowing the year isn’t really over yet, I still wanted write something as I used to enjoy taking the time to write something, and now with adding Father to my list of things to do, I simply just don’t find the opportunities as I did in the past.

I hear when you get ready to die, your life can flash before your eyes (probably the good with the bad) but what I know is 2013 will definitely be in the highlights and I’ll look back at that ‘unlucky ’13’ very fondly.  Special thanks to many folks out there who made this especially ‘lucky’ for me: Wendy & Cass, Mom & Dad, Roger & Abbie, Mike & Jenny, John & Kim, Mel, Dino, Annie, Jack, Michelle, Tyler, Thom, Paul, Willie, Karen, Bill and many more!