Thai Pinstriping

Swooping lines and elegant curves in the shape of wings and calligraphic script. Sharp-elbowed corners and pointed spikes like spider webs and blades. Sleek, clean line work painted in one stroke and crisscrossing patterns that make ornamental designs and anamorphic images. This is pinstripe art, the type of work instantly associated with lowrider and kustom cultures. But pinstriping is a singular art form in itself, one that artists frequently specialize in because of the patience and steadiness demanded by its particular form.

Kustom kulture went global years ago, and it’s got a presence here in Thailand as well. Pinstriping is a bit younger as a scene, and a man named Mr. Pinman is at the center of it. He’s one of the first five pinstripe artists in the country; is the founder of Pinstriping Society Thailand, which brings together 30 or 40 local artists as a community; and runs the Kustom Paint Thailand shop in Bangkok, where he imports all the tools you need for pinstriping.

If you dig this art, check out their first event this Sunday, June 4 at the Bang Sue building next to Chatuchak Weekend Market from noon until closing, where you can also meet the Indonesian pinstripers from Rolliemonkie Paint Club.

Pinstriping has roots in sign painting and was used on vehicles like horse carriages and bikes before cars were even commonplace. Its current identity is rooted in the California hot rod and custom culture that started in the 50s and 60s, with artists like Von Dutch and Ed Roth among some of its most famous ambassadors. The first artist to bring it to Thailand was Darrell Pinney of X-Calibur, a Chiang Mai-based and US-raised artist who was hired to paint some local businessmen’s Harleys 40 years ago and has been here ever since.

Pinman was always interested in both art and cars and motorcycles, but the two cultures were separate parts of his life until ten years ago when a friend of his who owns a chopper bought him a special brush and suggested he try pinstriping. Originally he was painting landscapes and portraits on canvases but instantly felt a kinship with pinstripe art and culture. Since he had a background in other types of art and there weren’t many other pinstripers here, he was able to paint his first motorcycle within a year of starting out. “I’m not really proud of that work though,” he laughs, noting that artists should study for years before customizing anyone’s vehicles.

“Painting takes a lot of patience and practice. It took me six or seven years until I had good lines,” Pinman says. “I still need to practice a lot. Curves come naturally, but for long, straight lines I need to keep doing them regularly to avoid getting rusty.” He says that when he works on a job, he visualizes in his head what he wants to paint on the surface, uses a water pencil to make a couple of simple dots that will guide him, and then gets busy. “I make mistakes all the time, but I just make them work, make them beautiful. Just make another line and keep going.” If a mistake is bad enough it needs erasing, it’s quickly wiped it off with a tissue and alcohol while the paint is still wet. He uses enamel paint with a reducer that’s made specifically for pinstriping.

About four years ago he created the Thai pinstriping group, which is also called Dek Sen—short for “line boy”—to expand the culture in his home country. “It’s a very niche group right now, but I want art students to know about it,” he explains. “I want students know there’s another type of art out there. And you can earn money from this type of art.” He says he earns over 12,000 baht a day with five to ten major clients per month. One time a drunk guy even paid him to do pinstripes on his beer belly. There are only about five or ten full time pinstriping artists in Thailand at the moment, and the others do it part time because they’re not at the skill level to transition entirely. “Being a full time artist in Thailand is really hard generally!”