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Laying Down the Line with Willis Dormer

willis dormerLike many other kustom painters and stripers working today, Dormer got his start in the 1970s. At the time, he was living in Whittier, California, “I actually knew nothing about pinstriping, “he says. “I had a friend who took an auto body and paint class in a junior college back in ’73. He got a job at a car dealer body shop and he was telling me about a guy who could come in and do their pinstriping when they needed it, so he kind of put the idea in my head.”

Through an ex-girlfriend, Dormer met pinstriper Dean Taylor, from Yorba Linda, California. “I went to seem him and turned out to be a really nice guy and helped me get started,” Dormer says. “He was pinstriping a Volkswagon Beetle and I watched him do it and I was really fascinated.”

After learning to pinstripe in 1975, Dormer quickly began to find paying jobs. “I was attending Cal. State Fullerton at the time as an art major, and once I got to the point where I was starting to make OK money, I dropped out of college and became a full-time pinstriper.” When Dormer picked up the brush full time, production car dealership work was the mainstay of his practice, but he also honed his craft doing repair work at a local body shops. Dormer describes the process: “Someone crashed the car and you would put on new pinstripers matched up to the original. There were a lot of guys that made a living in the ’70s and ’80s doing that, but in the early ’90s it kind of died because of the recession.”

Despite the current shaky economy, Dormer, who is also a skilled sign painter, is busier than ever. “My work is real busy mainly because I am diverse. Because you do a lot of different things, there’s always something to do, ” he says. By the late ’80s, Dormer had become a competent letterer , but he mainly concentrated on his pinstripe work. “In the early ’90s when we moved to Nebraska, I had to do mostly lettering to survive so I got better and faster.”

Dormer added the airbush to his tool box in the late ’80s, using it to create T-shirts and vehicle graphics. This skill proved useful during the time the Dormers spent in Nebraska, which, as Willis describes it, was an unpopulated area with a scarce job market. “In Nebraska there wasn’t enough pinstriping work to stay in business, so I found that lettering trucks was my main stay. ” T-shirt work also helped pay the bills. “We did anything in the Nebraska to survive. Once a year, they had county fairs. I bought a booth, and it was a big attraction back then for someone in a small town to have an airbrusher at their fair.”

No matter what the application, Dormer achieves his impeccable through an exacting process with few shortcuts. ” I usually start sketching, ” he says. ” I have an idea in my head about what I kind of want. As stuff begins to flow, I sketch a finished product on a bigger piece of paper. There are two types of pouncing- I do it the old fashioned way, which is using the hand-held wheel, not using a pounce burner. I’ll fold the paper in half. It has to be against a background that’s soft, like cardboard, so that the holes will perforate. Then you have to open it back up and sand the holes that pushed through. You sand one side and then you turn it over.” Dormer adds that it’s very important to send the surface so that the holes stay open and the chalk shows through.

As for the actual striping process, one trick that has improved Dormer’s paint time is “walking” pinstriping. “I learned pinstriping from a guy who doesn’t walk, so you pull a line as for as your arm can reach, then you backtrack three inches into your line, and repeat, ” he says.

“when I learned to walk, it really sped things up. Dormer also credits advancement in brush design with helping him get even faster in recent years. Thanks to those improvements needs only 30 seconds to stripe the whole length of car.

These days, Dormer’s lines make up the bulk of his work, but his flexibility lets him vary his offerings to include flame layouts, shadowing, and airbrush work for custom paint shops, In addition to his lettering, pinstriping, and T-shirts. According to the artist, this versatility was inspired by the very man who taught him both lettering and striping, Dennis Jones. Whether Dormer is creating brilliant licks an aluminum panels or firing out lines in less than a minute, common to all his work is an unwavering quest for perfection.

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