Buffalo Bike – Pinstriping by Letterfly
It all started with the buffalo bike. I recalled being in a crowded parking lot, surrounded by motorcycles and one sight stopped me in my tracks. As I looked out over the sea of bikes, one machine stood out with no shine, no sparkle and nothing in common with the rest. I did a double-take. The motorcycle that piqued my interest was completely covered with brown shaggy fur and the stuffed head of a buffalo mounted on the front. I was thrilled and drawn in to look closer.
I asked Ron, the owner, if I could sit on his bike and get my picture taken and he was most cordial. I saw the buffalo bike again over the years at subsequent bike rallies, and became familiar with the owner who also inquired about my creating some artwork designs. It seems his company makes the licensed T-shirts that are sold in H-D dealerships across the country and he invited me to visit him in St Louis and get a tour of the T-shirt plant.
Later that year, I managed a trip to visit Ron and his plant. He explained that the entire endevour began as a way to finance his passion for flat track racing. Ron started making T-shirts under the grandstand at racetracks and rodeos across Illinois and all the way out to the Black Hills. His young daughter wielded the screen-printing squeegee and handled the details of selling shirts to free Ron up to race. This relationship is intact today, although now, even more of his family fills the ranks of staff now that the enterprise has grown.
The RKStratman plant is comprised of two large buildings. The main structure houses management, a fleet of artists sitting at computers in cubicles finishing new custom designs, and the girls on phones stay in touch with the salesmen in the field and the purchasing managers in the various Harley-Davidson stores across the country. The other building houses 100,000 plus square feet of production, packaging, receiving and shipping space.
In the middle of this cavernous building is the production floor. It is here that each shirt is screened, in a multi-station, multi-color process that is an efficient ballet of precision.
After the tour, back in Ron’s office, the real reason for the invitation was disclosed. He recognized the value of my experience; having interviewed and created compositional ideas for the countless clients I have served in the capacity of mural, sign and pinstripe design artist. The only personnel who interact with each Harley-Davidson store in the field are his salesmen, who do not have the ability to visualize an idea or create a pencil sketch of that idea.
Ron’s vision included Letterfly as an artist in the field as an important link in the service he offers, creating pencil compositions from the prompt with the customer on location for his art staff to develop into finished artwork for a new design for that particular Harley-Davidson store.
Because the Letterfly design making process that has been in place for over forty years always starts with an interview, I have become quite good at finding out what a person wants. Some customers have a limited ability to communicate a concept that they are not visualizing clearly and others are enthusiastic visionaries with a precise request that simply needs me to translate their desire into a sketch to facilitate the finished work of art.
When I arrived at Mike’s Famous H-D in Wilmington a year ago, Debbie Schwartz, the motor clothes manager, was delighted to hear the news of this service. She was not happy with the dark image of the towering base of a bridge structure that was a frontispiece of one of the RKStratman designs and had a vision of a more pleasant one. She knew the salesman didn’t think in pictures and if he could understand her description, he still couldn’t clarify the concept right before her eyes with a pencil and a sketch book.
Debbie described to me her idea complete with the desired color palette for the sky and the particular model and color of motorcycle to feature in the foreground. After finding a reference picture of the famous bridge that is a local landmark, an example of the chevron shaped “Mike’s Famous” icon and an image of the bike she liked, I made a pencil sketch from her prompt with notations of the specific elements and colors she wanted to be included.
Once the rough pencil composition was approved, I cleaned it up with pen and ink and sent it to Ron and company. Elated to be a link, creating not only a commissioned piece of art to benefit Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson and RKStratman, easily my favorite outcome from this endeavor was promoting and receiving the smile on her face.
-Dave Letterfly Knoderer
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