Create an old wild west style “Chuck Wagon” the client said: Adam Rolfe

Creating this project was a lot of fun. The RSI on my airbrush hand was worth it.
We did all the surface preparation. This meant that we had to find a primer that stick to galvanized steel. We tinted the primer to match the colour of canvas (thinking ahead).

To say that Adam Rolfe “transformed” this box trailer is an understatement! This trailer is a true work of art, filled with humour, cartoon exaggeration and realism. It looks like it is straight out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon.

I love everything about this whole trailer. It is a perfect example of simple effects that most airbrush artists can do, but done with wonderful inventiveness. It is so simple, yet so effective!

I tried to work with the shapes of the steel, and this ended up making the results look even better.

Adam Rolfe is based in Brisbane. He is a professional truck painter / custom painter . . . teaches the Airbrush Venturi courses on the south side of Brisbane . . . and does amazing artworks like this on the side.

I was always going to write about Adam and his many amazing artworks.

By painting each metal panel as a separate piece of wood, and adding the gaps and nail holes, really added to the overall impact of the job.

Q: So tell us about the first conversations you were having with the clients that led to this project?

Originally they were talking about putting a mural of a chuck wagon on the sides, but once the idea was born of turning the whole trailer into a chuck wagon . . . it just went from there. The whole concept just opened up in my mind, I could visualise the whole thing.

Turning each metal strut and beam into a separate piece of wood that was “nailed” together really worked.

I first met this client when I was asked to airbrush a western theme mural on the back of his Nissan Navara (which tows this boat trailer, come camping chuck wagon).

When it came time to airbrush the trailer, all the client knew was that he wanted to keep the “western theme” to make the car and trailer work together.

Originally I had a very close joining canvas layout, with no eyelets or wood graining showing between . . . but the result looked very flat.

Q: How much freedom were you given in the design?

By the time I started the painting, I had looked at so many photos of old western period chuck wagons, that I no longer needed any photo references for the actual painting. This helped to minimise the “advice” that people like to give during production, because there were no references. Everyone just had to trust my judgement.

The woodgraining showing through between the canvas sheets with the eyelets right up the sheets made the canvas sheets look much more 3D.

Q: Tell us about the wood-graining techniques?

I did all the wood-graining first with a dark burnt brown colour, and then worked highlights over the top and finally flatten the wood-graining with the tan. Finally I added the details like the cracks and nail holes. It was very straight forward.

I was a little bit nervous about doing the ripples in the canvas, but when I started doing the very light shadow colour, I knew that it was going to work. Adding the white highlights was very straight forward.

Q: Tell us about the canvas techniques?

Because the trailer had already been primed in a canvas colour, all I had to do was create the ripples, with shadows and highlights. I knew that the shadows needed to be very subtle, so I was careful to mix a shadow colour that was only slightly darker than the original canvas colour. The results look very 3D, but the colour difference is very small.

A lot of work went into the drums. At first people see the trailer and are amazed, but then they spot the drums and it creates a whole second level of interest.

Q: Tell us about the drums. I love them! They are one of the highlights

When he brought in the drums, some of them were rather old and beat-up. I had a guy helping me to prep the drums and originally he was trying to sand out all the chips in the paint. I stopped and said that I wanted to work with them. Working with the old beat up look of the drums, is one of the best things about them.

So the original chips became the start of the rust spots and rust runs.Rust is an easy effect to do, just using lifting dots and lines and for the bubbles of rust I just “squiggled” the airbrush.

I started with flat bases of colour and then aged them. I researched “old style colours”. I mixed them up and started using them, but they still looked too “new and fresh”. Then I found that if I used the other colours on top of each other, it made the drums look “chalky” and old.

These are the best looking gas bottles you will probably ever see. The only problem is that he will have to use the refill stations, rather than exchanging them.

The whole idea of the “moonshine” theme is based on the fact that the owner of the trailer, when he goes on holiday, stops in at many of his clients and is known for giving them a bottle of scotch.

Q: The names on the drums are very humourous. What was the idea behind these?

I found some old moonshine labels. I even created an original label design. But we found that the label wouldn’t fit the contours of the drums without a lot of work. Then we moved to the idea of using all the old terms for moonshine. Fire Water, Snake Oil, Hair of the Dog, Medicine, Hooch, Elixir . . . great terms that were easy to add to the different shapes of the drums . . . and add a whole level of humour to the finished result.

With the back of the trailer, we were originally thinking about having the flaps closed. We were going to try and have the oval arc of a normal chuck wagon, but that didn’t work. So we went with the open flaps rippling to stop the panel looking flat. The opening also give the whole back a sense of depth.

Q: Anything interesting about the technical side of the project; the surface or the equipment or materials that you used?

I honestly didn’t think that I could disguise checkerplate to look like wood. The really coarse old looking wood grain did a great job. Weather beaten.

The impact of the whole package is wonderful. The wooden spoke wheels, the rusty old drums, the rippled canvas and wood “construction” . . . it is a real visual feast.

Q: Did you learn anything interesting from this project?

Not particularly. It was more of a wonderful opportunity to bring all my bag of tricks together into one big project. It was interesting to rely on my own creativity and inventiveness – as opposed to working from photographs.

You can really see the effort that has gone into every small detail. The wood spoked wheel, with even the centre hub painted with end grain, as it would be if it were really an old wild west chuck wagon. The fake protective cabinet corner covers on the checker plate storage box and the rivets down the side. Everywhere you look, the small details are wonderful.

Q: What do you think of the result?

I really like it. When I started looking at the trailer in photos I really see how great it looked. It is interesting how real some people think it is. The sandblaster at work sent pictures of the trailer to his wife and had her convinced that it was a wooden trailer with canvas sides.

It would be interesting to park this on a busy street in a country town and see the response from the public to it. I am sure that it would draw a crowd.

Q: What sort of feedback have you received from the client, or friends and family, etc?

The client absolutely loves it. He brought his family in to have a look at it. He is now looking to actually use it for marketing purposes at shows.

Thank you Adam for allowing us to write about this wonderful project. I am sure that you will inspire many people to be more creative and inventive with their airbrushing . . . to have more fun with their artworks.

I would like to end this article with a short comment about this project. In the modern context where everything is now produced with vinyl stickers, this is an perfect example of the limitations of digital stickers. This could never have been done with stickers. Only traditional art skills such as brush painting and airbrushing can produce work like this, in this situation. I like the fact that there is still a very serious commercial role for traditional art skills.

If you live south of Brisbane and would like to learn to airbrush, you will love learning from Adam Rolfe. He is a wonderful teacher, that is patient and professional.

If you are interested, click HERE to go to the Browns Plains course listings and enrolment form. Adam offers night courses mid week and Saturday classes.

If you have any questions please call 1300 247 278 (1300 AIRBRUSH).

Written by Tony Vowles