[CR]What's a good paint job?

Example: Production Builders:Cinelli

Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2004 10:28:37 -0700
From: Chuck Schmidt <chuckschmidt@earthlink.net>
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
Subject: [CR]What's a good paint job?

Posted on the Framebuilders list; makes for interesting reading!

========================================================================= What is a good paint job? Well first, good depends on what type of bike is being painted. Bikes without lugs are different than lugged frames, insofar as what thickness of paint is best for both the appearance and durability of the coating. A thick coat of paint on a lugless frame is normally not a problem; and in some cases even desirable in order to cover less than stellar workmanship. Many framebuilders leave the final finishing of fillets to the painter to various degrees. I so many cases the painter is the actual hero in terms of what effect the bike has in the end. I have been party to many such cases. I personally prefer to finish my fillet brazes to perfection so that even if it were to be painted by a "lazy" painter, it will look first class. Needless to say, this requires careful and copious amounts of filing and sanding. I find it enjoyable and rewarding; but I don't do it very often. When I as the painter have to do this for someone, I feel the builder sort of owes me a big favor some day. Regardless, application of a thin coat of paint is still more durable and "better looking" than paint that is too heavy and applied with a clumsey touch. A lugged bike, to have it's best potential effect, at least to the few left in the world who can recognize exceptional work, requires a thin and durable finish. To the trained eye, a thin paint film will betray the framebuilder who has forsaken the "traditional old ways" for the convenience of minimum effort IC lug finishing. And still, the paint will make or break the look of professionalism and artisrty of the metalwork. Ultimately, the frame and the paint job must work in total harmony with one another if a "masterpiece" is the intention of ones' efforts. Many framebuilders are not seeking to build masterpieces, just practical machines. A durable paintjob is still part of a practical bicycle. In modern frames with pretty much everything brazed on, paint is not tested nearly as much as in what I spend most of my painting time doing; which is restoration of vintage frames. Frames where EVERYTHING is clamped on. Every one of these areas is vulnerable. Thick, improperly appled and cured paint will tear, seperate, "moosh" up around the clamps, chip off if you look at it crosseyed, etc.. anywhere a clamp, wheel, seat binder bolt and so on touched the frame. Of course, if you drop a tool on it or someone knocks your bike against a wall or you drop your chain, the results can be disasterous. But they don't have to be. Thin and flexable paint resists these hazards as well as it is possible to achieve with wet paint; with the possible exception of genuine thermal setting enamels; and even then if applied thick will not have good chip resistance. In short, lugless frames can be painted either way, but thin is still more durable. Lugged frames of high detail and craftsmanship require thin paint for both reasons; appearance and durability.

So, who is the best painter "in the world" may not be the same painter for everyone, and that's just from the perspective of the technical application aspects of painting. In actuality, very few frames these days require the genuine "master touch" of really artistic and technically aware painters. The more refined your work is the more you need a special sensitivity and touch on the spray gun. A really good painter either follows the lead in shape and thinness that the framebuilder dictates, or if the painter is exceptional even improves on the work, which isn't all that rare. What do I mean by this? You framebuilders do not realize perhaps, that it is possible to make metal look as if it has no paint on it, as if the color is practically "in the metal" so to speak, because it is that true to the original surface of the steel. Almost every paint job I see is on thick enough to alter the look of the lug surface and other details of a nice frame. Many do not see these things; but I see it right away. It's the first thing I look at in a paint job. Paint on too thick or applied too soon after the previous coat can also "run off" the edge of the lug, exposing a thin line of primer or basecoat. Paint will also build on the edge of the lug causing an unsightly ridge which ruins the effect of "proper" lug filing. For lugged bikes that are basically finished minimally (i.e. sanding an IC lug with 80 grit emory cloth and calling it filing) a thin paint job will make it look better than it really is in terms of actual framebuilding effort. That's why exceptional painters are worth their weight in gold to people who make frames like this. It makes all the difference in the world. And I'm sure the builders consider their guy the best painter in the universe. As well they should. The best painters are framebuilders for this reason; with very few exceptions, Joe Bell being one of them.

For the very few frames that are so well planned and exicuted that only the very best application and the highest degree of color fabricating artistry can do them justice, the "high art" paint job is critical. In this case, sometimes the best framebuilders are painters; as with Peter Weigle for example, or Doug Fattic. At this level it is not uncommon for the framebuilder/painter to actually design the aesthetic attributes around the paint concept, to some degree or another. Personally, this is my favorite approach to building and painting a frame. It is the point where real art enters into the craft of both building and painting. It is truely exciting and, assuming the builder has sound construction techniques and other requsite skills, generally yeilds the very few genuinely artistic practical pieces of equiptment you are ever likely to encounter in the realm of bicycles. They would compare to the genious of the handmade stringed instruments, watches, or whathaveyou that become highly regarded and highly collectable on account of their rareity and practical beauty. You want the original finish to remain intact for several generations with proper care; unlike the original finishes of some of the classic frames of the past with "factory" finishes. Once a bike of this caliber is repainted the original concept can be lost or severly altered, unless the repaint is done by the original builder/painter. I've seen one or two of my frames painted by other painters, and frankly, they just don't look like a Baylis frame that way.

Having addressed the technical aspects of paint application and durability and some of the aesthetic points; there is one more level I'd like to illuminate. This is the line that almost no painter has crossed. It is the boundry between using available colors from color charts and that of custom mixing colors for the project in question. It is also the art of deciding where to apply which color and how to "balance" the scheme to achieve the desred effect. Decals play a major role in designing such a paint job. Most if not all frames built at this level adhear to a theme of some sort. To have the ultimate effect, everything much work. every decision is important. The painter must seek to extract the greatest effect from the framework. I experienced an example of this just two days ago. I painted a Rob Roberson frame I recently acquired for my collection which has the magnificent seat stay eyes that he is famous for. The way I went about masking them was unique and really produced an impressive effect that even I wasn't expecting completely. I showed the finished frame to Rob and he was flabbergasted at how they looked. Up until now he had always had his painter paint and trim them a certain way, kind of opposite of the way I approached it. It made them much more obvious and unique in appearance. I converted him on the spot, inspiring him to do his next on in the same way. Along with the other unique Roberson finishing effects, this frame was transformed from a great frame to a work of art. It is very satisfying to do this, especially when the framebuilder is even impressed. The colors I mixed followed the Art Deco theme of the handcut stainless steel headbadge, and the location and pattern of the colors solidified the concept beautifully. I would call this a good paint job.

So, you see, when I look at things I see potential. The potential for paint on "modern" frames is quite different than that of a traditional type frame. Some painters may do better with down tubes the size of a billboard to work with, especially those comming from a car/motorcycle painting background. Frequently the problem there is that they apply paint like a car painter. True bike painting pretty much violates every basic application rule of traditional car painting. They would have a hard time adjusting to painting delicate works like I just described with the same results; it's against there nature normally. I've seen it many times. Looks good, is way too thick unless the bike has no lugs and edges. I don't do much painting of bike like that, but expect to do some once Vintage Bicycle Specialitys begins operation in about a month. Working with stencils is fun and all, but not my primary focus as a painter. I prefer to work on traditional frames that require my special touch, like those of Richard Moon.

For those who may think my reaction to Dons' post was related to my feeling threatened; perhaps you should adjust your thinking. It is nothing of the sort. I have my niche. I'm confident in my ability and my place in the industry and as an artist. I have an abundence of business. I simply made a comment about what I see as a very simple and effective paint job that was the primary focus of a frame. In my humble opinion, if the paint job is the center of attraction of your frame and it's that simple, then you are not focused on the same aspects of framebuilding that I focus on. For me the best paint job is the one that encourages the looker to recognize the vision of the framebuilder and appreciate it, not distract from it. It should evoke emotion and a reaction to the richness and uniqueness of the colors involved. It should embody some of the personality of both the painter and the owner of the bike. This is not a judgement, just a statement that we are not all the same nor should we be. I had a knee jerk reaction that comes from my twisted perception of the world, that rubbed me the wrong way. I should have kept that opinion to myself perhaps.

So who is the best painter on earth, or in the universe? WHO CARES? One thing for sure, it isn't any one person. It depends on who you ask.

Brian Baylis =========================================================================

Chuck Schmidt South Pasadena, Southern California