From an early age during the 1980s Taipei kustom painter Jeffrey Chang was attracted to artistic expression. In school he excelled in art class and developed knowledge and skill with a brush and paint. Unlike in the West where pens and pencils are put into the hands of young students as writing tools; in Taiwan, the brush is the common denominator of graphic communication. Young students are taught how to hold their brush, load it with black ink, then the stroke order needed to reproduce more than fifty-thousand characters in the Mandarin language[1]. The subtlety, complexity and power of black ink (heise moshui) combined with the brush (shuazi) runs deep in Chinese culture.

Jeffrey Chang in his Taipei studio working on a helmet for a client. [Jeffrey Chang]
Jeffrey developed an awareness about the intrinsic power of paint and brush in school, and after graduating wondered how he could support himself as an artist. For many young people in Taiwan during the 1990s and 2000s, the small island nation had a sense of isolation and distance from vibrant cultural centers – Japan is 2000 miles north and the dreamland of southern California is 6800 miles east. In 2009 Jeffrey learned some Japanese and flew to Japan to visit Shige Suganuma’s annual Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom Show. He was shocked to see the assortment of Kustom cars and motorcycles in the show and he met with Kustom painting masters Makoto and Mr. G.  this was an opportunity to reimagine his skill set, as he gained insights into kustom kulture, the use of the dagger pinstriping brush, the world of One Shot paint, and the game-changing influence of Von Dutch[2] and Dean Jefferies on pinstriping, who embodied the seminal intersection of automobile and motorcycle forms with art.

Jeffrey Chang has obviously mastered the dagger brush / One Shot combo. [Jeffrey Chang]
After Japan, Los Angeles was the obvious next move for Jeffrey. In 2015, with little English skill, he flew to LA and searched out areas with car culture reputations. The scale of the Lowrider scene was shocking: the deep cultural associations that were voiced by combining form with image, graphics and paint was mind blowing and also inspiring. Jeffrey felt like he was back in school, and studied the idiosyncrasies of air brush masking and stenciling techniques: the fades, drop shadow, scalloping with flake, candy and metallic paints as well as the diverse brush lettering styles. For him, each Lowrider car represented a high level of craft and ability that coalesced into a profound sensibility.

Tools of the trade: a small selection of One Shot tins required for a sophisticated color palette…although they can be mixed for new colors. [Mike McCabe]
Today, Jeffrey’s studio is located in an industrial section of Taipei. Outside the window there are noisy commercial truck route streets and simple block buildings where mid-level manufacturing companies share the turf with artists. His studio has the feel of an artist’s hideaway: bright overhead lights illuminate award plaques and a few trophies along the wall. There are shelves with dozens of cans of One Shot paint colors and in the center, work tables with ongoing painting projects; in-process motorcycle helmets with complicated, elaborate masking tape configurations awaiting paint.

Masking is part of the art: different types and thicknesses of tape are used, depending on the size and complexity of the masking required. [Mike McCabe]
“I started my pinstriping and custom paint job about seventeen years ago,” Jeffrey said. “At the time I was riding a scooter and I customized my scooter. I went to Japan by myself and saw a lot of Harley-Davidsons and a lot of custom bikes, and saw there were so many different styles. This literally opened my mind. After this I studied Japanese with the help of my girlfriend who was Japanese. I got married and this is why I went to Japan many times and made a lot of friends. I started to know about this culture of Harley Davidson and custom bikes, custom cars and Chicano culture.”

A lightning bolt paintjob in blue…lovely. [Jeffrey Chang]
“When I came back to Taiwan I studied the process of a paint job. Before my experiences in Japan I didn’t know about pinstriping and the dagger brush but I knew how to use a brush. I looked at magazines that had information about Japanese kustom artists and what kind of brush they used for pinstriping. Then I looked on the Internet where I could buy the brush from Ebay. In Taiwan we didn’t know what is pinstriping, what is One Shot… Nobody knew. In Japan I met with Makoto and Mr. G and Wildman (Hiro Ishii- Mooneyes Japan resident brush master. Big Daddy Ed Roth gave him that name). I asked them how can I find and then use this brush? They showed me where to get and how to use. Then I thought I have to go to LA and see about this art. My English was not good but I just went to LA. I wanted to know about this pinstriping. How to make this kustom painting. Because I didn’t know anything about this kustom kulture in America. When I went to LA… I don’t know… It look very beautiful… I don’t know. I love that. Like going back in time. Very beautiful… so many old cars… vintage cars… Young guys driving around in hot rods… Hair is all slicked back… Hollywood is very beautiful.”

Jeffrey Chang is doing OK at his studio, surrounded by his own work and inspiration by others, going back in time. [Mike McCabe]
“For me, my first choice is Chicano style,” Jeffrey said. “The Mexican influence… a lot of color. Very shiny. Before I saw this in LA I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know where it came from. One day I saw a magazine… A friend in Taiwan knew that I went to Japan a lot. He wanted me to buy him some Buco helmets. Look in Tokyo to see if there are Buco with pinstriping and color and lettering. They are vintage style. We could not get these Buco helmets in Taiwan. I saw these helmets and they were so amazing… I wanted to know how to make. When I saw these helmets I was a little bit shocked. Then I learned these helmets came from the West Coast and Los Angeles. I studied this style. The Chicano style uses many different aspects. From my days in high school I learned how to use the airbrush, oil painting techniques, using shadow and fades… these are fine art painting techniques that have crossed over to kustom painting. All these techniques were taught in my high school art program. I don’t know why, but I was good at doing these. I studied painting at the top art academy in Taipei. With airbrush, I was the second in class for this. We didn’t use computer, we didn’t learn Photoshop and computer graphics in this school. We learned the classic techniques and skills. I remember my teacher telling everybody, we are not here to learn about computers, we are here to learn the techniques. He was very strict. I had to first show him what I wanted to do. Then I had to show him how I was planning to paint something. I remember I wanted to use the airbrush to draw smoke… My teacher was very tough. I remember he said, ‘You want to draw smoke..?’ (laughter)”

Smoke, fades, pinstripes, patina, metalflake, fades…and sometimes all at once. [Jeffrey Chang]
“I wanted to use my airbrush to explore kustom kulture ideas. My classmates did not understand. They were learning techniques to be able to get jobs in regular commercial art. They had no idea why I was spending all my time airbrushing kustom things. They thought I was wasting my time. I knew I wanted to get paid for my art skill. My Dad did painting for furniture, I thought OK maybe I can go to Ford or Toyota and get a job painting cars…. But this is not art. I thought maybe I can go to Japan… Get a scooter and go around to places that know Kustom Kulture. I can get jobs painting kustom cars and motorcycles. So 2009 I go to Yokohama to see the Mooneyes show. And of course when I went to that show it was amazing. I went crazy… So many kinds of cars, muscle car, hot rods, Model A, Lowrider, a lot. So at that time I just loved it. And I studied, I looked for so many custom bike shows, car shops, body shops…. Two years later in 2011 I wanted to go to Los Angeles but I didn’t know any English. So I studied English. I watched English language movies, and studied and I learned a little bit how to talk. 2015 I got a tour with some Japanese guys: Mr. Makoto, Nash (Nash Yoshi- editor Burn Out Magazine), we made a tour to go to LA and make an art show. It was humbling to be pinstriping with Makoto. We stayed in LA for ten days.”

A finished helmet honoring Clay Smith Cams. [Jeffrey Chang]
“The question of style in Taiwan is different. We don’t have so many styles. We don’t know. So sometimes a customer will show me a picture and I have to research. Like with Mark Huang, he likes an older style, I have to study. So in Taiwan I have to be prepared to do so many styles. Sometimes I ask myself what is my style but I don’t know… People ask what is the Taiwan style? But I don’t know. The question of style in Taiwan is confused until now. I think Taiwan history contributes to this. I ask kustom people about this. I ask Nash about this but he says, ‘don’t worry. You already have a style, the way you draw flames or the way you do gold leaf, this already has your style.’ In America when people see flames on a car or motorcycles, everybody knows… ‘Oh, this is 1950s special machine. This machine goes fast, this machine dangerous and maybe sexy. Person who drives this machine maybe dangerous and sexy.’ Everybody in America understands this culture. In Taiwan maybe no. Maybe I have to educate people with my art.”

More cans, more helmets, these with patina for a true vintage style. [Mike McCabe]
“Of course I need to tell them. In Taiwan if I do a magazine article or a TV program I have to tell them, Oh, this is Chicano style. Even if I show my work to professional artists in Taiwan, they don’t understand. They don’t have a frame of reference. This is like how it was in America during the early 1950s. I have to show them, ‘This is cool…’ In Taiwan I spend time to show young people about this. I tell them this is culture, this is history. They want to know, why is this cool? They want to learn. They want to know, which way is cool way. They do not get too complicated about the why. They say, I want to know. Hurry. In Taiwan you don’t see a lot of young people putting flames on their scooters. This might be too much. Maybe scary. Life in Taiwan is very slow. Not like America. I like painting helmets and motorcycle gas tanks. I can get very detailed. Small details. I like this. It is different than painting a car. It’s big. Maybe too big to paint. I like smaller. I can paint with more detail. This is my style.”

Jeffrey Chang in his painting studio. Note the Mooneyes banner. [Mike McCabe]
It wasn’t easy for Jeffrey to pursue his interest in Kustom Kulture. He followed a personal process of discovery and has integrated his skill and ability into his kustom painting style. He creates personal statement helmets and motorcycle tanks for private customers as well as Mooneyes and Clay Smith cams. He has received numerous awards for his work at the annual Mooneyes Hot Rod Custom Show and other events and well-deserved recognition of his unique art and skill.

Jeffrey’s superb craftsmanship is evidenced in this helmet, with its many layers of paint and technique, seamlessly worked into a unique design. [Jeffrey Chang]
[1] It takes the average Taiwanese student eleven years to learn and master how to reproduce the tens of thousands of characters of Mandarin. Most Mandarin speakers only know a fraction of the characters in their language. Scholars who have mastered the entire language are deeply respected for good reason.

[2] Von Dutch (Kenneth Howard) was a So/Cal visionary fabricator and artist who is credited with creating the term Kustom Culture in 1949 while working at the Barris Brothers Atlantic Ave., Lynwood hot rod customizing shop. “The first job he (Von Dutch) did for George (Barris) was to paint the sign on the outside of his building.  Dutch fooled with the spelling and came up with a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C’ to spell custom. Thus establishing the Barris’ phrase ‘Kustom Car’. Temma Kramer- Hot Rod, 1977. The ‘wise ass’ changing of the C to a K was no simple act. It symbolized the influence of the new California youth demographic to change the course of history.


Michael McCabe is a New York City tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of New York City Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York City Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York City. For New York City Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground custom motorcycle and car garages in the City, as rapid gentrification put their culture under tremendous pressure. He interviewed and photographed New York City customizers about their personal histories and creative sensibilities.
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