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Daggers Drawn

Budding stripers (they start 'em young) and the pros at the recent Prosign weekend pinstriping workshop   

If you are a regular visitor to, you will likely have come across the name of Neil Melliard, his Prosign outfit associated with any number of hot rods and drag race vehicles that have graced the pages of the website.  As most enthusiasts will know, Neil has a formidable reputation for pinstriping vehicles to accentuate their shape and form, as well as for custom lettering and paintwork.

Pinstriping is a highly specialised art form that currently seems to be going through a renaissance, this resurgence of interest having spawned a new wave of “stripers” around the globe.  In the UK alone, the names of Jon Leeson and Peter Anthony, and more recently, Melissa Gee and Chris Bunting, are now known for their creative talents.

US striper Art (Artie) Schilling hard at work 

We at DRCReview have long admired Neil’s handiwork, and in order to learn more, enrolled on one of Prosign’s pinstriping and lettering workshops, held recently in Croydon.   An added bonus was the attendance of two American pinstriping legends – Art Schilling and Julian “Mr J” Braet – who, along with the aforementioned Jon Leeson, Australian, Peter Anthony, and Scot, Stuart Mclaren, provided a truly international line-up.   All were there to provide guidance and share some of their considerable expertise. 

Creative atmosphere, great people and plenty of guidance made this workshop a truly memorable experience 

Neil has been running these courses now for four years, although he has been teaching for over 10.  On the one-day Sunday course we attended, there were about 35 other students, many of whom had also been on the previous day’s course.  Two lads I worked alongside were from Manchester, while a third had come all the way from Ireland.

Neil explains how to hold the brush

The one-day workshop starts by familiarising students with the very special dagger brush needed to pull a line, the type of paints required and how to use them.  Neil recommends US made Xcaliber brushes, which are a development of the original Mack brushes used throughout the industry by the likes of US striping legends Von Dutch and Dean Jeffries. We were fortunate to have Mr Xcaliber himself – “Mr J” owns the company – on hand to outline the basics of how they are made and work.

“The lengthy bristles can be loaded with plenty of paint, so you can create a long, uninterrupted line,” explained “Mr J”.  “The longer bristles are also more forgiving and allow you to make small corrections, whereas shorter bristles are far more sensitive to movement.  The handle is short and stubby because it simply fits into the palm of your hand. It’s the thumb and forefinger on the handle which manipulate the brush and do all of the work.” 

"Mr J" produced this neat piece of Tiki art for Neil's wife Mandy.  Julian was also responsible for the amazing lettering/imagery on “Jungle Jim” Lieberman's funny cars in the 70s 

“Mr J” also highlighted how his squirrel-hair bristles are hand laid to achieve that critical dagger shape, before being individually bound.  Occasionally, you will get a rogue bristle slightly longer than the others when you first take a new brush out of its container, and this should be trimmed off with a razor blade before use.

In terms of the basic skills, the student learns how to hold the brush properly between thumb and forefinger, how to use another finger as a rest to help maintain a constant height from the work, and how to load up the brush at an angle to put pressure on the bristles in order to get the paint to flow and pull a clean line. 

Here are the basic tools needed to get started.  Foam-ex board (not shown) provides a smooth, hard finish which can be cleaned off with white spirit and reused

One Shot Sign Painters Enamel is Neil’s paint of choice, although he also mentioned House of Kolor enamels, but these apparently are more expensive.  Under no circumstances should you opt for those little tins of Humbrol hobby enamel.  They may be fine for model kits, but will fade on exposed paintwork, plus they don’t have the covering power of One Shot’s heavyweight enamels. It was also pointed out that it’s vital to mix the paint thoroughly, especially metallics, to ensure you get even distribution of the ‘flake and the pigment. 

Having poured some paint into a small container and thinned it by about 5 per cent, it’s time to go.   Neil drips paint onto a small piece of card and strokes the paint into the brush right up to where it meets the handle.  It’s amazing how much paint these brushes hold, but that’s what’s required when pulling a long line.

Neil lays down a super-fine stripe next to a thicker one to show what's possible   

He produces a piece of Foam-ex board and begins to demonstrate how to lay down consistently straight and uniform lines of various thicknesses.  We then progress to curves before Neil demonstrates a second, “Kafka” brush (named after its inventor, Steve Kafka), which looks conventional, except for its extremely long bristles.  This is the brush used by advanced stripers to form complex curves and swirls, and it’s positively amazing to see what Neil can do with it.

Here he uses a Kafka brush to great effect

Anyway, back to reality, and it’s the turn of the students.  Equipped with a dagger brush and a piece of Foam-ex board on an easel, it’s time to lay down some straight lines, just like Neil.  Well, that’s the theory, but in reality, it’s not that simple – if it were, we’d all be expert stripers.  The four of us in our group get cracking, trying to remember everything we’ve learned so far: load up brush, hold it correctly, keep it a set distance from the work, and then begin to pull down slowly.  Our results are encouraging for a first-time effort, and we fill the board with straight – and some not-so-straight – lines.  The good thing is, you can clean it off and have another go.  Before you know it, you’re ready for the next phase.

Now it's our turn.  Straight lines to start with.....

Once you’ve done lines (sounds like being back at school), it’s time to move on to curves, which Neil demonstrates by gently rolling the brush between thumb and forefinger as he starts to describe an elongated “S” shape.  “You lean the brush out when going round corners, the opposite of how you’d ride a bike,” he says.  It’s harder with more things to remember, but again, when it comes to our turn, we’re doing reasonably well.

.....then on to curves

Another hour or so is spent on basic curves, and then we get a visit from “Mr J”, who is keen to show us how you can transfer a design on plain old brown paper onto the surface of your board using chalk rubbed onto the reverse.  We go over the design with pencil, lift off the paper and there’s the chalked outline, ready to be striped.

After laying down a couple of lines, you feel you’re beginning to get the hang of it and the design is coming to life, but then the brush doesn’t go the way you want it to and you wander off line.  You make another attempt and the line suddenly goes thin for no apparent reason.  You try a third time, only to realise your finger has just smudged the previous line you pulled.  It’s all beginning to go wrong.  Time for a break!

First attempt - okay, not exactly symmetrical, but I was actually pleased with this

After a little more practice at drawing out a design, striping it and then cocking it up, the realisation begins to dawn that this really isn’t as simple as you might have imagined.  As with many fields of endeavour, the professionals make it look easy because they’ve been doing it for so long.  In Neil’s case, that’s over 15 years, or for someone like “Mr J”, it’s more than 45 years – and no doubt he’s still learning!  The afternoon continues in freestyle mode, with many students revelling in their new-found creativity and producing really nice works of art, further enhanced by striping contributions from the tutors. 

Students who completed the two-day course could concentrate on more intricate work

It’s been a fascinating and rewarding experience.  We’ve learned a great deal in just a few hours, and met some extremely interesting people.  Perhaps most significantly, though, we now have even more respect for those top stripers. 

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

Further pictorial selection below

What a great idea.  Lay out some neat, gold lettering and let a top striper ("Mr J" in this case) help achieve a really outstanding result

Another lovely panel completed over the weekend

This Pontiac was striped by students and pros on Saturday evening

Inspirational panels above and below

The course also offers you the chance to develop or brush up on lettering skills

One of Neil's beautiful pinstriped panels

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