A door or a tailgate to a truck is not just an auto part to Ron Gibson —it is a blank canvas for creativity. He uses the imperfections of each part and his talents as a painter to tell a whole new story.
Gibson’s love of cars started when he was a child; first making cars out of wood and then transitioning into models. As he got older, that interest in art led him to painting vehicles and later opening a studio.
“I have been an artist all of my life and have supported my family with my artwork,” Gibson said. “A long time ago, I used to have a big sign shop in Cedar Hill called Gibson Sign Studio. We would build these big displays that looked old and aged.”
Gibson stated he developed an interest in old signs after he and a group of artists were commissioned to do a display for the Dickies Clothing Company in Las Vegas.
“It was a big conglomerate of artists that Dickies hired to do a big display that looked like an industrial site with a huge life size water tank and chain link fence,” Gibson said. “They knew that I was a sign artist and said 'we want you to create these big signs that look like they were stained, had dirt thrown on then and were rusty.' So that was the first one I really got into and really enjoyed doing it.”
Before he started his professional career, Gibson honed his talent for commercial art at East Texas State University. Two years in, his time in college was interrupted when he received a draft notice, which sent him to Vietnam where he served as a U.S. Navy Corpsman.
“I went over there and saw a lot of really bad stuff. Being a corpsman you don’t do a lot of the fighting, but you try to hold them together and pray for them,” Gibson said. “I worked with the first recon. We were a really close-knit group, and that is another hard thing when you lose one of them.”
Gibson stated after he returned home art became a tool that he used to heal from the events he witnessed in combat.
“If I don’t paint or I don’t do some kind of creative, I am not at peace and kind of get an inner restlessness,” Gibson said. “Art was where I could forget about the memories and the bad things and concentrate on the oil paintings and the beauty. So it was therapy big time.”
Over time, Gibson’s artistic talents grew as he worked with other artists, perfecting the technique of aging to objects.
“There are not many sign artists that are left in the world because of the computer. I’m one of the last generations that have made a living off of lettering with a brush and a quill. Things have changed,” Gibson said. “Signs that were created by the old sign masters, who had such a unique talent of being able to put letters and artwork together, just intrigued me.”
Gibson explained old signs have their own look and personality to them because each was crafted by hand and not something that was mass-produced. He noted the small details in each sign reveal how they are made.
“I have watched how signs have aged, and they have always been interesting to me,” Gibson said. “You can see the layers, and the actual brush strokes of the artist as the paint is thinning down.”
When Gibson shops for his next canvas at various junkyards, the pieces that catch his eye are parts that have patina and an art-deco styling, such as doors from the 1930s-50s. These objects render themselves the best for old lettering and designs that mimic that era and grab attention. Some of the designs he creates are from research, old photographs, and the signs he documents at flea markets.
“It shows age, texture, and history. It gives people who that buy them a piece of art and history that was put into cars, trucks, and hot rods,” Gibson said. “I look at people’s old pictures of designs on their truck. So when I find an old truck door, I can recreate them.”
Gibson shared each piece poses its own set of challenges.
It first starts with a design drawn by hand. The plan is then taken over to a machine called an electric pounce. The pounce creates pin-sized holes, which allow charcoal dust to be spread over the surface. This allows the design to be transferred from the paper to the metal’s surface. Gibson then starts lettering by hand along with aging the surface using several techniques.
“On a door, it takes anywhere from six to 12 hours. You can’t rush a job, but I have learned to use certain automotive paints versus the oil-based paints that I am used to and they set up quicker,” Gibson said. “I can sand them and fade them and make stuff a lot quicker than with the old oil paints that I used to use.”
Through this process, the part’s history is revealed. One such piece was a beat up 1963 Chevrolet tailgate. Looking at the part, Gibson felt it had a lot of “character.”
“I started working on it and under this clear coat and aging was two of the old Dallas Cowboy decals with the helmets,” Gibson remembered. “So I started slowly working with it and getting the clear off of it to show those decals. It took time to reveal it.”
Gibson stated the last piece he did was for the mayor of Joshua on doors off of a 1928 Ford roster. He noted the challenge in that project was removing the paint without removing the rust.
Along with the creation of automotive artwork, Gibson also creates reproductions of old gas, oil and automotive signage that are hand painted. They reflect Gibson’s love of history. Each sign showcases Gibson’s technique of weathering, rust, and age. He takes his inspiration of wear patterns from the originals he has seen.
For more information about Gibson’s art, it can be found on www.gibsoncreativeart.com. The art is also on sale at Farmhouse antique store located at 308A S. College Street in downtown Waxahachie.