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Creating an art car can be quite an undertaking.

We gathered up some tips and techniques used by the best to give you a head start.
Read through these helpful hints to learn a bit about the process.

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Design Issues

  • Cars are powerful icons in our society. There are endless ways to take advantage of that...

  • Car companies want you to buy new expensive cars. They spend loads of money trying to convince you that "you are what you drive." Oh yeah? Use this dogma to create your one-of-a-kind art car design.

  • Consider what your goal is in creating this piece of art. If you want to be seen from a distance, use bold shapes, bright colors and wild imagery. Fluorescent colors attract quite a bit of attention. If you want people to discover your car, keep the design subtle.

  • When deciding how you will transform you car, consider its shape, style and detailing. Some cars make great flat canvases. Others just ask to be sculpted. Spend a bit of time with your car, and get to "know it."
    An artist who recognizes and works with the original shapes and lines of the cars yields an even more beautiful creation.

  • Consider using exaggerated scales, repetition and dramatic color to highlight your design.

  • Costuming for the driver and passengers can be an effective part of your presentation. Consider using props, sound, light and maybe even smell as you design your car's personality.

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    Psychological Issues

  • One important thing to consider before doing ANYTHING to the exterior of your car is the simple fact that most everyone on the road is going to stare at your car and you. If you prefer to remain anonymous but insist on driving an art car, learn to like the attention or learn to drive with a paper bag over your head.

  • People WILL ask you questions...sometimes pretty stupid questions. Be prepared... a smile will usually do, but often the stupidest of questions cries out for a wisecrack answer. Work up a few clever quips in advance and you'll be ready.

  • If you are a bit nervous about your artistic talents, ask your artist friends to get you started, then join in. Art cars are great "Tom Sawyer" type projects - everyone wants to help, and before long it's looking pretty cool.

  • Don't be afraid to try different things. Most everything you do can be changed. If you goof up a line while painting, paint over it. If you attach something that doesn't look right, knock it off, and try something else in its place.

  • If you have a tendency to get attached to the physical element of your artwork and have heart palpitations whenever anyone breathes on it, don't glue stuff onto your car then expect people to admire it from a distance. People are compelled to touch, usually tug, at anything glued onto a car. If this would drive you crazy, try painting your car instead. As long as the paint is dry, people can touch it all they want and not cause injury.

  • The act of creating an art car may cause some interesting psychological side effects.
  • You may experience feelings of great fear that you are about to totally mess up something that probably cost you thousands of dollars. So what? If it is your car, go for it. And, forget the concept of "resale value." It is no longer an issue.

  • If you enjoy challenging the system, you will assuredly feel fulfilled by embracing one of America's most deeply entrenched institutions - the automobile - and creating a new meaning of your own.

  • If you are a "closet artist," creating an art car can either fling the closet door open bathing you with golden glory or drive you into the basement to hide in denial forever. That is to say, the experience can be liberating - but has been known to cause at least one person to abandon his creation in a graveyard never to be seen around art cars again.

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    Exterior Issues

    Get used to it...this is the most common question you will hear when you mess with the exterior of your car.

  • Always prep the car before work begins. If you are painting the car, sand the original paint off first or at least roughen the surface so that the paint will adhere. If you bypass this step, the paint will stick but probably not as long.

  • Be sure you have the right tools for the job. If you don't have access to welding gear, maybe you shouldn't plan on welding a bunch of metal onto your car. Try using rivets or screws instead.

  • If you are attaching objects to the outside of the car, attach them permanently. Rivets and screws are the most reliable, but not all materials can support them. Whatever the means of adhesion, it should be strong enough to keep things from flying off even at high speeds. Imagine a 12 inch globe bouncing onto your hood at 60 mph. Scary thought, but it happens...

  • Don't attach objects onto your car that you can't live without. Things will fall off, get pulled off, get smashed by a car door in a parking lot, etc. If your heart will break when your treasured object breaks, don't attach it to your car. Maybe the inside of the car is a better place - as long as your treasure won't melt.

  • If you can, obtain your attachable objects in quantity. Then you will have replacements when objects are lost. Rest assured, objects will get lost...

  • Keep adhesives, rivets, screws, etc. in your trunk (along with those extra objects) for quick emergency fixes. You never know who you may meet on the street...

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    Interior Issues

  • If you are wondering whether or not you can handle the public's reaction to your art car, try starting with the interior of your car instead of the exterior. People won't notice the interior work as often, and you will get a chance to see how you like the experience without totally committing yourself and your car.

  • When glueing things inside the car, be sure your area is well-ventilated, don't expect to drive your car with the windows up for several days after glueing. It takes time for all adhesives to cure. This process usually results in dangerous fumes, so watch out!

  • Certain objects will melt inside your car. Keep this mind when permanently attaching objects. Anything stored in the rear window should be able to withstand sustained high heat. Many plastics (like PEZ dispensers) will melt.

  • Melted objects can make for some very attractive art. If you like the look of melted plastics, try working with them as a medium. If you don't want to wait for nature to do the melting, try a hair dryer.

  • Be careful what you glue onto your dashboard. Many art car artists have learned the hard way that anything highly reflective (like gold paint or a mirrored surface) will make it difficult to see through the windshield on a sunny day.

  • The inside of your car makes for a very curious canvas. Try mixing media. Glue a bit here and there, add a little paint, try a bit of sculpting. Consider your passengers when planning your design. Your car could become a rolling torture chamber (oooo, what a thought!)

  • Don't forget sound. Install special sound equipment to give your car a voice. If you plan on spending a fair amount of money for sound, be sure to disguise it well. People will inevitably be hanging out around your car. Don't tempt.

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    Mechanical Issues

  • Learn how to be an auto mechanic or get to be good friends with one. Once you transform your car, you probably won't ever want to get rid of it, not matter how many times it breaks down.

  • Once an ordinary car becomes an art car, it may develop the tendency to break down... it will, at the very least, develop an "attitude."

  • Owning an art car doubles your maintenance requirements since you have to maintain the "art part" of the car as well as the car itself. If you are planning on purchasing a car solely for the purposes of transforming it, buy the best car you can afford. You will enjoy driving your art car more if it breaks down less often.

  • If you drive your art car only on special occasions, be sure to start it up once or twice a week. Better yet, drive it around the block, and give your neighbors a treat. And don't forget to check the gas gauge. Art cars are notorious for running out of gas.

  • If you despise the concept of classic cars, break out in a sweat at the thought of actually washing your car, and truly enjoy that "Mad Max" sort of look, don't do anything to take care of your car. It'll probably run for awhile - maybe forever - without any interference from you.
    Besides, art is not eternal. Neither are cars.

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    Last update April 1, 2004