John Stanley: Painting on the Honor System
The two words that come to mind after meeting John Stanley for the first time are something along the lines of: “Hmmmmmm … interesting.” He’s tough to figure out, tough to pin down.
A native who still lives in the Leland home in which he grew up, Stanley describes himself as “backwoods Leland.” He comes from the old South and unashamedly describes himself as a guy that likes to, “…cuss and drink beer.” His past and present include things like hard times, hand-to-hand combat, art of all mediums, charity, tattoos and, most importantly, motorcycles.
Stanley grew up in Leland when it was just another tiny Southern town at the coast of North Carolina. He says that Leland was “a tight-knit town that was on the honor system. People knew if you were a stealer and they knew if you were honest.” There were no binding contracts; only one man’s word to another.
His father and uncles were always into motorcycles. They worked on them, rode them and spent time out in the garage cranking wrenches, customizing the bikes. Stanley’s father ignited a spark inside of Stanley by introducing him to model cars. He would help Stanley put together the miniature cars, explaining to him the parts, what they do, how they fit together, and showing him first hand how to customize a real car.
The next step was that his father gave him an airbrush and a small air compressor so that he could paint his model cars. He enjoyed seeing the transformation of the cars. Who could have known that that airbrush would work itself into Stanley’s life so much so that one day its image would be permanently etched in ink into his upper arm?
“I was working with it a lot, and I started learning more and more about it,” Stanley recalls. “There’s no limit to the airbrush. I mean, in magazines it can even make ugly girls look pretty,” his eyes glow as he speaks of the airbrush tool, which has grown to be a natural extension of himself.
One day Stanley’s father came home with his motorcycle scuffed up from a mishap from that evening’s ride, and he allowed Stanley to use his airbrush and model paint to fix it up. The interest in painting bikes grew from there.
“I remember my English teacher saying, ‘You won’t be worth a damn because all you do is draw all the time’,” recalls Stanley, who was obsessively sketching new images and experimenting with new painting techniques in his youth.
Eventually people started to take notice. One person in particular was Scott Britt of Britt Motorsports.
“I still remember what he (Britt) said to me,” Stanley says, smiling nostalgically as he recalls Britt’s words:
“I’m going to turn you loose, but you better not screw me over.” What Britt meant by that was that he recognized Stanley’s talent, and he wanted to introduce that talent to the clients of Britt Motorsports. He also knew that once the cat was out of the bag, other dealers would be interested in talking to Stanley about painting for them. But Stanley stayed true to the honor system by which he was raised. To this day he still paints for only Britt’s shop.
Stanley is known for his flame painting and also for his realistic chrome. He has painted chrome accents on classic cars and bikes, which appear to be real, three-dimensional fixtures on the car. Only when a person gets right up to the vehicle, about five feet away, can they determine that it is actually an illusion. The key, says Stanley, is to understand how the colors and layers work together and also understanding the characteristics of light which are then mimicked in paint.
Another skill on which Stanley hangs his hat is his mastery of “candy” colors. In the automotive painting world “candy” is the name that refers to a way of layering paint, which, when complete, creates a finished coat with great depth. First, a reflective, metallic coat is sprayed down, and then several layers of translucent shades are sprayed over the base coat. Stanley describes the end result as a “deep color that looks as if you can jump into it.”
It is easy to let Stanley’s rough exterior fool you. Upon further delving into his story, one uncovers acts of charity and kindness, delivered through the same medium — the art of painting. Although he probably wouldn’t admit it, Stanley’s eyes well up slightly when he recalls the painting of which he is most proud. A friend’s father was on his death bed, and in his last hours he requested that Stanley paint James Earle Frasier’s The End of the Trail. It took less than an hour for Stanley to complete (as time was of the essence), and the painting was hung over the man’s bed for his to enjoy just before he passed on.
Stanley has also volunteered to help by mentoring students like Heather Pittman, who learned about customizing bikes, especially how to paint them, during her senior year at North Brunswick High School. Stanley has also given a few kids custom-painted bike and batting helmets. When he has painted helmets, it has been done at no charge for a few children who are less privileged. “I do it because I know it makes them feel good and makes them smile. They’ve got something that money can’t buy.”
When a friend was diagnosed with leukemia, Stanley stepped in to help the family raise some money to go toward the hospital bills by auctioning off a $1,500 paint job.
As much as Stanley loves custom painting motorcycles, he has opted to keep it to a part-time activity and not a profession. He is a machinist at General Electric during the day and paints when not on the clock. He loves painting too much to allow it to become stressful, as any job can be. So, for the foreseeable future, he will continue to create works of art for his friends and clients at Britt Motorsports. Although he does take on the occasional classic car paint job, he pretty much sticks to his passion of painting bikes. Stanley is a believer in the adage, “Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.”