Automotive art: BV artist paints new van design

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Berryville artist Kriste-lee works on the new design for her van. She said she uses craft paint for the designs and works on it every morning between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

Even if people haven’t met Berryville artist Kriste-lee, they probably have seen her painted van around Carroll County.

Kriste-lee said she uses craft paint to cover her vehicle in floral designs with intricate chains of patterned images. Now that the last design has become too worn out, she said it is time to unveil a new mobile masterpiece.

“This design is going to be much simpler,” she said. “For the last one, I started on the first warm day in March, and I didn’t quite get finished until October. If you remember that design, there were tiny little chains and itty bitty hearts and stars and stuff.”

Kristen-Lee continued, “It was a really complicated design. That one took months. This one I hope is going to be done in a few weeks.”

She said she first painted the van white and then began painting the new design, a series of large flowers wrapping around the sides of the van. Each morning, she wakes up and works on the car between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

“I have like an hour each morning, and then the car gets hot,” Kriste-lee said. “I got to about 8:30 a.m. yesterday. Then you’re dragging your brush along, and the car is getting warmer and warmer until pretty soon it just won’t work.”

As with most of her painting projects, she said she is using craft paint for the new van design.

“I literally use craft paint for everything. It’s cheap, and it’s an excellent quality paint,” she said. “If we could put it on our houses, we would only have to do it once in a while. It’s premixed and comes in millions of colors that you don’t need.”

Craft paint doesn’t wash off, Kriste-lee said.

“It bakes onto the car because the car is hot. Craft paint is an enamel,” she said. “If you think about enameling on copper, it’s the heat that melts it down and makes it stay. It’s the same way with the paint.”

Kristen-Lee continued, “Every once in a while when I’m working on painting a car, I run it through the car wash. That tells me if the paint stuck because it will wash off if it didn’t bake on there. Some of the paint doesn’t go over the old paint as well as you would wish. The first design had metallic craft paint, and, when I tried to refurbish that, the matte didn’t stick very well.”

The new design is going to be much simpler than the last one, she said, because painting an entire vehicle is more difficult for her than it used to be.

“This reminds me that I am now eight years older than when I painted the last one,” Kriste-lee said. “This will be my first total repainting. Since high school, I’ve had only two cars that were not painted.”

Berryville artist Kriste-lee opens the door to her colorful home. She has painted both the outside and inside of the house, saying it makes it impossible not to smile when she’s home.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

She said she will paint anything that will stand still.

“If it will stand still, I can paint it. That is true for cars, clothes, shoes and nearly everything inside my house,” Kriste-lee said. “When I was 9 years old, I painted a great big flower on my dad’s truck and got in really big trouble. He spanked me, and I never did that again.”

While her parents did not allow her to paint their vehicles, she said they did encourage her love of art by giving her one wall in the house to use as a canvass.

“My parents were very good. They gave me a wall because I also painted stuff on the walls,” she said. “They gave me this one wall in the hallway and said ‘This is your spot. Don’t paint on any other thing in this house.’ ”

Kriste-lee said her mother was also an artist.

“She was an oil painter and a hat designer. My mom died in the ’80s, and, up until last year, all these cans around my house were filled with hats and hat materials like feathers,” she said. “I finally found a museum in Portland, Ore., that took those things and put them in the museum. I was glad to get those out of here and somewhere they will be appreciated.”

Kriste-lee said her love of art has spilled out into every corner of her home, not just her studio.

“I do a lot of fabric collage now, whether it’s on my tables or the doorways,” she said. “I used to paint everything that would stand still, and now I do fabric collage on anything that will stand still. It’s cut and paste. I’m the cut and paste queen of the geriatric set. I teach classes, and people go ‘Oh, this is simple.’ ”

Kriste-lee said she believes people are born to be creative, and art is simply dredging up the creativity and having the discipline to put it down.

“People always say ‘I don’t have any talent, and what I hardly ever say but almost always think is ‘You don’t have any discipline’ because I don’t believe anyone is born without talent,” she said. “I think we’re hard-wired to create, and most of us actually start creating in the kitchen. That’s the first creativity that most of us do besides coloring with crayons.”

Retiring has been a gift, she said, because it has given her more time to both start and finish her artwork.

“I’m really lucky because for years I worked a job and a half because I wanted to travel,” Kriste-lee said. “My thought when I retired and didn’t have to work anymore was ‘I can start artwork and finish it and start a novel and finish it,’ because when you work you pick things up and you’ve got 15 minutes, and then the next chore is right there.”

She continued, “This is really excellent because I can work all day.”

Kriste-lee said she is thankful to be an artist living in the Carroll County community.

“For me, the light here is very Mediterranean. It’s some of the best light I’ve ever lived in,” she said. “The light here is just remarkable, and painters especially are drawn here because of that. Some light changes color, but the light here doesn’t change color. So when you lay a color down, it’s a true color.”

The other perk, she said, is that the cost of living is low, which allows a lot of artists to live in the community.

While she said she has no idea where exactly her passion for art comes from, she has always loved to color everything.

“When I was a little girl, I had to color everything. I started early, and I’ve never stopped,” she said. “I can hardly stand anything that’s just one color. I think everybody should paint their car.”

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