The rise of rock 'n roll heralded my arrival in this world: 1964, September
21, to be exact. I made my grand entrance in the sleepy Midwestern town of
Goshen, Indiana, population 13,700. It wasn't an out-of-the-ordinary
occasion - intense labor, some loud yells no doubt, a few pushes (thanks
Mom!) - and there I was.

School, church and home were the circles of my life back then - like just
about every other Midwestern kid, I guess. But while my contemporaries were
embarking on stick figures in front of square houses bordered by wide swaths
of blue sky and green grass, I was taking a somewhat different approach.
They say my artistic talent was evident at an early age, and I was drawing
long before I could spell.

 

When I was about 9 years old, an older gentleman by the name of Ed Miller
saw me doodling in church. Apparently, he was impressed because he bought me
my first oil and watercolor set. He was always asking me to paint something
for him. It didn't matter what - landscapes, trains, planes, seascapes - he
wanted anything I could do.

 

By the time I reached high school, I had started using an airbrush to paint
t-shirts and murals - I even did the body work on my first car and helped
paint it. If I had to pinpoint it, I guess I'd say my automotive
illustrating goes back to the Etch-A-Sketch when I was 6. I loved drawing
cars on that thing.

During high school, I pursued two passions: art and skateboarding. With the
latter, I was semi-pro and sponsored by Gordon & Smith (G&S) skateboards. I
also attended a vocational school for commercial art. I won first place in a
state contest and an honorable mention in a national. I liked to use lots of
different media - automotive paint, watercolor, oils, acrylics, colored
pencils, charcoal and chalk. I diligently learned how to work each medium
into a piece of art I could be proud of.

 

While still in high school, I was fortunate enough to do freelance
illustrations for local van conversion companies and advertising agencies.
After graduation, a place called Design Studios hired me. From there, I
moved up the ladder, so to speak, and got out of art and into management.
Six years later, I heard the call of the road and I hit it. I loaded up the
car and headed out west - California was my destination. I figured I could
pursue both my passions - art and skateboarding - full time in that sunny
vale.

 

I seemed to have found a niche in California, because in two years my
distinctive, airbrushed, one-of-a-kind t-shirts were selling for around
$100. My highest priced t-shirt sold at $250, with a jean jacket going for
$600. Sweet.

I was also getting a lot of illustration work from car show clients. I met
with all the big firms: Hanna-Barbera, Universal Studios, Disney, Marvel
Comics and Wallace Green Studios, where I did freelance airbrushing and
layout work. I was impressed that these companies would meet with me even
though I didn't have a college degree.

 

After a couple years of constant sunshine - I actually missed the rain! - I
headed back home to Indiana, where I still had my first house. With a brand
new concept and an abundance of ideas of how airbrushing and murals could be
taken to a new level, I started buying all the equipment I would need, while
I labored away in my basement.

 

After four years of working 40 to 50 hours at a "real" job, then another 40
to 50 hours per week working in my basement, I decided something had to go.
You guessed it. I left my day job and went solo. Projects continued to come
in and, with a desire to be the best, I decided to hire some help. But
rather than hire too many people, I figured it was more cost-effective to
keep purchasing faster computers and state-of-the-art equipment. Before
long, I was running three computers: one printed copies of my designs, one
cut vinyl stickers and one was used for designing.

 

I soon earned a reputation as being very good and fast. A lot of my projects
were radio station graphics on trade show displays and vehicles, t-shirt
designs and airbrushed murals. As we began doing more custom paint, I
traveled wherever I needed to go to get the work, such as at motorhome and
boat factories. For local projects, we rented space at body and paint
shops - a step that saved me from having to buy a building and increasing my
overhead.

 

Around 1997, I started to work more on large offshore race and pleasure
boats. After a couple years of painting these 47-foot boats by myself and
with the help of two employees (still in my basement), I decided to hire a
full-time painter. A very good, long-time friend of mine, Mark Hughes, came
on board as my business partner.

In 1998, I bought our first Dodge Viper in the hopes of changing its
appearance through color, self-designed parts, and interior, suspension and
engine mods. We were getting ready for the custom car that was to come - we
just didn't know it yet.

 

The next few years saw us doing custom painting, design, radio station
graphics, full paint jobs on Provost motorcoaches and boats, photo
retouching, catalog layout, business cards, signs, murals, stencil cutting
for other companies, and just about any other form of art. Then we decided
it was time to get focused. We bought a 15,000-square-foot building in
Elkhart, Indiana. For the most part, we tried to stop traveling and bring
the projects to us.

 

We struggled for years to stay small and to fully understand what we were
doing before doing it for our customers. With our new shop, we could now
produce - with the help of up to 17 employees - the most outstanding murals
large and small, the most fantastic custom paint and graphics, and the
greatest automobile conversions. "Build it and they will come" became true.
Also at the time, taglines began popping up in our minds: "At 200 mph, you
have no friends," "Looks are everything," and "Can you handle the
 attention?" These were all based on our customers' experiences with what we
had created for them.

 

It may sound strange, but we felt we had come up with the chemistry to
"steal time" by creating something so visually stimulating that people had
to stop, look and ask questions. Hey, we didn't work so hard all those long
late nights for just a paint job. No, we knew it was all for the art. And we
knew it takes time to get the public to understand the massive effort that
goes into applying changing pearl effects and gradients that fade color over
a stretch of 40 feet and are not blotchy. We wanted our customers to
understand that time costs money and, in the end, they would end up with
something that no one else would have.

 

Since we started, we have done specialty work for every major motorcoach and
boat company, and have unveiled our marketing ideas and designs to all major
automotive companies through other companies. When a boat or motorcoach
company is searching for a new look, they come to us to create it for them.
Magazines have recognized this uniqueness and have placed many of our
designs on their covers.

 

In the automotive field, we have been breaking ground for years, buying and
driving many different cars from exotic to domestic, searching for cars that
we could develop specialty items for, such as custom paint, carbon fiber
panels, wings, splitters and ground effects. The experience of having these
vehicles at our disposal was crucial in understanding the car designer's
thought process. Feeling and testing the durability of different finishes,
having the time over months to really understand what a designer was
thinking when creating the original project - these are key points in
developing something better.

 

We have begun using our acronym, TAOD, but it still very much stands for The
"Art" of Design. These days, we use Sikkens paints and Akzo Nobel Chemical Company. We are also a dealer for HRE rims, TUBI exhaust, Corsa Exhaust, Asset-Iwatta
and Tire Rack for rims and tires. Our expansion into these markets ensures
that when we design a project, we take other top companies with us on our
endeavors.

 

In the future, we would like to be known for the art of what we do, the art
of taking care of customers, the art of creating a rim and tire package that
perfectly fits the car, and the art of design to continually come up with
new and different ideas - ideas that most people would never think of. In
the end, we'd like to be known as the company that could do it all and do it
correctly.

 

With TAOD where it is today, I can focus more on training and showing off
more of the true art that inspired me so many years ago. Training others
around the country in the unique styles I develop will continue to grow in
importance for TAOD. We also will be retailing a distinctive line of apparel
and car accessories, such as mats, carpets, interior items, and waxes and
polishes. Yes, great things are in store for us and our customers.

 

I look forward to the people I will meet and all the stories I will have to
share because of my art.

Dean Loucks

Artist in Residence