Small business profile Jack of Arts

Making vehicles beautiful keeps airbrush artist rolling

May 09, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

To hear Chuck Gamber tell it, he's not just creating elaborate scenes and symbols on trucks. He's performing a public service. "If a guy's ugly truck, if you can put some art work on it and make it pretty, now people will compliment him, and he'll drive better and he'll be happy with what he's doing," said Gamber, sitting on a stool in his workshop next to a 38-foot antique tanker truck in need of lettering.

Gamber is the owner of Jack of Arts, a company that specializes in painting custom images on vehicles. The tanker belongs to Fred Craig, of Lorton, Va., who has been bringing trucks to Gamber for years.

"He does a great job," said Craig, a member of the Mason-Dixon chapter of the AmericanTruck Historical Society.

For this particular assignment, Gamber is restoring the 1953 tanker to its original glory by painting on lettering from the truck company The Mason and Dixon Lines Inc., as well as the company's trademark, an image of Generals Lee and Grant shaking hands.

The work will be a combination of hand-drawn lettering, decals and computer-generated images, Gamber said.

He's already painted pinstripes on the cab, along with some extra little patterns for fun. "This was all just black and yucky,? said Craig, looking at the newly painted cab.

Gamber, 51, who graduated fromthe Howard Vocational Tech Center in 1973, always knew he wanted to combine his two interests ? trucks and art ? into some kind of career.

He started by opening a tiny silk-screening and printing shop on Marriottsville Road, he said."When you start out as an artist, you start out with nothing but a bad reputation and broke-ness," Gamber said.

His car at the time was a 1954 Chevy, he recalled. "I couldn't afford anything else, so it might as well be as old as dirt," he said. "At least itwas fun."

One day, a truck driver came in and asked for some decals for his doors.

"I made him the decals, but I wasn't too happy. It took all day," Gamber said.

He quickly saw that painting on the truck would take much less time, plus allow more room for creativity.

Gamber borrowed $50 from his mother and purchased a sign kit that he still has ? a box filled with brushes. "I practiced heavy," he said. "I got pretty good at it pretty fast." He also learned about airbrushing, which uses a tool that produces bursts of air and paint.

His business grew, and in 1983, he moved it to its current location, where it shares a parking lot with West End Services in Ellicott City. Gamber said about 80 percent of his work involves adding artwork to trucks and racecars. He also does restoration jobs, adding historic logos and lettering back to antiques like Craig's tanker truck.

Since his finished projects are rolling advertisements, he has been able to build up his business mostly through word ofmouth, he said. He started a Web site only recently.

Gamber said he typically works on two or three major projects and several smaller ones each week. His prices can range as high as $5,000 for particularly elaborate creations.

He now has two people working with him: Joe Westphal has been working with him about six years and Rick Neault started in January. They?re independent contractors, Gamber said.

Gamber said some customers come in with very specific ideas, while others are more open to suggestions. Since Sept. 11, patriotic themes such as eagles and American flags have become popular.

One thing that Gamber won?t paint, he said, is the Grim Reaper.

"I don't like things that are on the dark side," he said. "I find that when you put that kind of thing out there, that kind of luck comes down on you."

Jack of Arts is located at 8602 Frederick Road, No. C, Ellicott City. The phone is 410-465-5494.

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