Travis Hess, better known to many as "Tuki", is quite the artist. His medium range is so broad that I'm willing to bet that if you stood still in front of him for long enough, you might just walk out of his shop with a Watson style flake panel job on your back. One of the nicest and most humble guys in the industry, with more talent in one fingernail than many could ever hope and a rich family history to back it up, Tuki lays down some of the most incredible paint schemes you've ever imagined, with integrity and precision.
Tuki was generous enough to set down the brushes and paint gun for a bit and answer a few questions for us. Check out what he had to say...
First, tell us a little about yourself, where you're from, etc.
My name is Travis Hess and I sign "Tuki". I got that name from some buddies at the tattoo shop when I told them my phone number spelled “Bob Tuki” and the Tuki just stuck. I’m from a small town in
called Martinsburg, probably
about 70+ miles from Baltimore/DC West Virginia
How did you first get into hot rods and motorcycles?
I kinda just grew up around that stuff... and paint. My dad had Harleys when I was a kid and drag cars. He had a sick drag boat also. We used to go to the Hotboat meets. I always loved the paint on the boats. I’m influenced a lot from old drag boat paint schemes.
What drew you into the painting/artistic side of lowbrow culture? Was it a natural progression into the family business or something that you always enjoyed despite outside influence?
I guess once again, just growing up around it. I used to hang in the body shop as a kid. As I got older I just wanted to paint. I never took it serious until after school. l was too into skating and stuff to fully dedicate myself to paint. So after school I was going to attend the Art Institute of Pitt, but after a tour and hearing the starting salary, I decided I was done with school. So my Dad and I took the bit of money my Granny gave me for college and bought a Drag Bug (1957 Beatle drag car) instead. I then started working that summer full-time. That was 1994.
Who have been your biggest influences, stylistically speaking, for your painting style?
Well, I guess as far as pinstriping and lettering, it would have to be Nelson Grimes. He’s lettered all of my Dads drag cars and as a kid I would bug him and watch him letter them. Then in 2000 I got some brushes and got down to learning. He put a few lines on a piece of glass and gave it to me and the rest is history. I would paint on that glass every night for hours trying to figure out how he did it. He never really showed me everything, but in a way he did, because he let me watch him. I learned a lot that way and asking him questions. There are others too in the pinstripe/lettering world; I’d say Pete Finlan, Wildman Ishi from
Darren Wenzel. Japan
As far as paint goes id say Larry Watson, Pete Finlan again, Sonny Boy, and probably a ton of Lowrider painters, those are the ones who inspire me the most.
What has been your favorite piece that you've painted yet, the one piece of work you're most proud of?
I’d have to say my dad's '33 Ford coupe. That coupe just came out right. Somehow I got the flames just right. Probably my favorite flame job I’ve ever done. It’s crazy because I’m never happy with much that I paint. I’m always picking it apart. There are a lot of cars that I’ve painted and bikes I’ve liked, but that coupe will be hard to top
Any tips for folks starting out in the paint/pinstriping trade?
Well… I guess the main thing is buy a brush, some 1Shot and start practicing. Don’t buy a lot of brushes just get one and wear it out. Practice everyday… you have to be dedicated to it, too. I couldn’t get two lines the same forever when I started. I just kept working on that glass and finally it came... It took years before I felt comfortable charging (for work). I read a lot and studied and asked questions and practiced a lot... did I already say that?
As far as painting, you need to learn "how to paint" before you try to do a 10 color layout… I started out as a production painter in our body shop. It helped me learn the basics and then years later I took on the custom stuff. It doesn’t matter how good you lay out something, if you can’t apply the colors and clear nice, it’s not going to turn out right
What cars/bikes/hot rods do you currently have in the stable?
I have a '28 Ford Roadster, a '65 Hemi Dodge Coronet, '70 TR6 chopper and a 2002 Sportster... my Wife has a '62 Mercury Meteor.
Which is your favorite?
I like them all in different ways but I have to say the Dodge has a special place with me. I took my wife on our first date in the Coronet. I'll never sell that car. The roadster, also… love that car. It’s the first hot rod I’ve done and my Dad helped me on it. I got it off an old timer and it has some history… heck I'll never sell that one either!
What is your "
The route you like to take to break free from the daily grind, and just escape
life for a while.
There’s this road that connects
West Virginia to that we take a lot. It runs through Antietam Battlefield and
its just a nice ride in the Roadster or on the bike. Maryland
Where can folks see more of your work, and what is the best way to contact you for paint work for their project?
Lastly, anyone you'd like to thank for their help along the way or anything else you'd like to add?
I’d like to thank God for the opportunity to do what I love and for helping me to learn what I do… if that makes me un-cool or not "scene" then so be it. Also, my Dad, he's pretty much why I paint. Nelson Grimes for mentoring me on striping and my wife Lauren because she’s always supportive of what I do.