Celebrating creativity, from metal and wood working to photography to watch making to painting, is something RUST Magazine does with aplomb. Published first in print for four years from 2002 to 2006, the magazine went into hibernation for several years before reappearing in 2017 as an online-only publication at Rustmag.com. “It was successful, it did really well,” RUST co-founder Mike Blanchard says of the traditional ink-on-paper book. “It had a distribution rate of over 10,000, and we printed every two months. It had good ad sales, too.” But, Mike says, “At a certain point it just became easier to do it online. When you do a print magazine, you end up with pallets of leftover magazines, because you don’t just print 10,000 – you print 11,000 or 12,000.” To disperse extra copies at that time, rather than tipping them into the recycling bin, Mike gave them to Vern Tardel in Santa Rosa, California. Vern makes and markets parts to help an enthusiast put together a traditional 1950s Ford hot rod. When packing an order, Vern would place a copy of RUST in the box – and that led to a few subscriptions not only in the U.S., but globally. Now, regardless of a physical address, one need only point their browser to Rustmag.com.

RUST magazine was a newsprint publication in the 1990s, that’s since moved to a digital format. [Mike Blanchard]
RUST dates to 2001, when Mike and his wife Laurieanne, who was in magazine ad sales, were in a brew pub with their friend Brad Gleed. Quaffing pints, the trio were discussing a variety of topics when the conversation turned to magazines in their area. None liked what was available and they decided to publish their own. Now, whether the magazine was in print or online, Mike says, “People ask what RUST is.” He laughs, and continues, “And I tell them it’s a men’s general interest magazine, which means what I’m generally interested in.” And that’s a plethora of diverse topics.

The June 1988 Thrasher magazine cover photo by Mike Blanchard featuring Christian Hosoi at the Vancouver mini ramp contest. [Mike Blanchard]
Mike’s creative roots run deep, and his interests truly are varied. He’s a proficient mechanic working on Italian sports cars and vintage motorcycles, he’s a journalist and professional photographer, he’s a musician and songwriter, he’s a metal worker and fabricator. The man is talented. Although temporarily blinded when he was young, Mike’s eye for photography – and just about everything else he puts his creative time and energy into – is extraordinarily keen. At age 10, Mike and his little brother were playing on the beach near their Pacific Grove, California home. “My brother had a 10-foot-long piece of bull kelp, and he was whipping it just like a bull whip,” Mike says of an accident that saw him get hit in the eye. The impact detached his retina, and Mike was blind for two or three weeks.

“A photo from my childhood by Steve Rosen. That’s me looking in the window of my dad’s Roller – a ’34 Gurney Nutting 20-25 coupe.  Taken in 1968 in Pacific Grove CA.”

During his recuperation, his mom bought him the first U.S. release of Meet The Beatles in mono. He played it on repeat, and it was the soundtrack to his time in the dark. It was a pivotal moment, but music was just another aspect of creativity for Mike. His grandfather on his mom’s side was a musician who inspired him, and growing up, Mike sang in the church choir and toured the Western United States and parts of Canada. “And when I was in college, the guys who were guitar players all had great girlfriends, and we all thought that’s a pretty good way to meet girls,” he laughs. Between different bands and projects, including the country sounds of Mike Blanchard and the Californios (mikeblanchardandthecalifornios.com), he has produced five records. He says, “All good art is one good idea well realized – to me it’s all part of the same thing. I’m just a curious person and I love exploring making and creating; that act of creation is really intoxicating.”

Photography by Mike Blanchard.

Of his creative energy, he credits dad Jerry Blanchard for sowing the early seeds.  “My dad is a craftsman and he taught high school machine shop. A lot of my parents’ friends were filmmakers or artists or musicians, and I was just super into making things. We spent a lot of time in the school shop after hours and on weekends as my dad was working on projects. The wood shop and the machine shop were connected, and we spent time in both. From an early age my dad taught us to weld, and I was making knives or swords. As well, my dad made a lot of crazy props for different movies. We were just taught to make things — my dad didn’t want to buy us toys or things like that, but he’d buy us a file or saw or give us a tool so we could just make our own.”

Portrait of Mike Blanchard by his friend Saroyan Humphry.

As a junior high school student, Mike and a friend made short movies – monster movies, American Civil War movies, Three Musketeers movies. “We’d sew the costumes and make the props,” Mike says. “My friend’s dad was into bikes, and he had an Indian Chief over the fireplace, a really nice 900SS Ducati and a gorgeous Ferrari in the garage.” While being surrounded by such desirable rides, the Blanchard’s daily driver was a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20-25 Gurney Nutting. “We were just super into vintage cars, too,” he says. “My dad had figured out Rolls-Royce makes the best car, and he found out he could buy a used Rolls-Royce for the same price he could buy a new Chevy – so he bought a used Rolls-Royce. I remember going to the port in Long Beach at night and watching the Rolls-Royce coming down the plank from the side of the ship – it was kind of crazy.”

A portrait of skate legend Steve Caballero by Mike Blanchard.

Photography is a large part of Mike’s identity, and he’s held a camera in his hands since a teenager. “My dad’s best friend was a photographer and filmmaker, and he taught me how to shoot photos and how to develop stuff in the darkroom, but I really took after it when I got a Nikon for high school grad.” And there was no shortage of photographic inspiration. “Ansel Adams’ secretary was our next-door neighbor, my dad worked with Wynn Bullock’s wife, and some of his friends were Edward Weston’s sons – these were all people who were the cream of the crop of West Coast art photography. and I got to meet these guys and handle original artwork. That was all just curiosity, and being curious about life and creating things,” he says. Mike went to college to take Journalism and Photography, but he didn’t finish the program because in the 1980s he’d essentially talked his way into shooting for the seminal skateboarding magazine Thrasher as a staff photographer. “It was shortsighted, dropping out, because my parents were paying for it, but I thought why should I get a degree in journalism when I can just go do journalism?” He adds, “I did go back in my 50s, paid for it out of my pocket, and finished my Journalism degree at Sacramento State University.” Speaking about the transition from West Coast art photography to shooting half-pipe drop ins and backside axle stalls on pool edge coping, he says, “It’s trying to tell a story, and to make something visual and exciting. You look at art and you read books, that’s how you train your eye because you react to things instinctively in the moment.”

A photo of an MV Agusta 750 Sport from a Concours by Mike Blanchard.

Mike had been skateboarding since 1973 or ’74, and he realized he likely wasn’t good enough to be a professional skater. With his camera skills, however, “I could have a career, if you will, in skateboard photography.” Speaking about his time with Thrasher, he says, “It was amazing. It was the heyday of skateboarding. There was a ton of money in it and people were flying all over the place. And the other interesting thing is, if you look at skateboarding and what’s come out of that, people who were really into skateboarding also moved on to art, motorcycles and hot rods. Guys like Steve Caballero, Max Schaaf, Rodney Jesse; all these guys were involved in other creative ventures, and I love that convergence. I’m convinced very few people are super laser focused on any one thing. Curious people, creative people, they have very broad interests and I like that intersection of various things.”

From the Feb 1989 issue of Thrasher; skater Sam Cunningham by Mike Blanchard.

Hence, the very essence of RUST Magazine, a publication filled with well-written stories and Mike’s photography, and those of other shooters. As for Mike, he’s favored Nikon Fs as a film camera, together with a Rolleiflex. “They’re like different tools, appropriate for different things – sometimes I’ll use the Leica, sometimes the Rolleiflex or the Nikon, but the Fuji X100 is a digital camera I often have with me because it’s small and such a good camera. I also have a nice Nikon digital camera, but I’m just looking for an interesting look from a lens that might do something different.” He also appreciates vintage cameras. “The cameras from the 1950s and 1960s, there’s nothing better than that as a mechanical device,” he says. “They’ve moved on to plastics and computerized electronics and those cameras do a beautiful job but as a mechanical object they’re nowhere near in the class of quality as a ‘60s Rolleiflex or Leica, or an F or F2 Nikon – there’s nothing better than that.”

Another shot from the Feb. 1989 issue of Thrasher: Gary Cross by Mike Blanchard.

Another interest of Mike’s is wrenching. It’s an outgrowth of his dad’s influence. When getting some of his first vehicles on the road, which were motorcycles, he worked to keep a Kawasaki 500 triple in running condition. “You build up a kit of tools buying crappy vehicles to keep them going. At one point I had a mobile repair business, and then I was recommended to this great shop (Barber’s Shop Automotive in Sacramento) doing Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Volvo – I ended up being one of the owners and started a motorcycle/scooter dealership (Scooter City) as part of the business and I ran that for 10 years. We did a ton of vintage motorcycle work and I built a bunch of bikes, but I sold my share in 2020.” One of Mike’s go-to rides is his 1974 BMW R90, but his collection includes an Aermacchi, a Vespa, several Hondas and a Gilera.

Mike Blanchard and his band the Californios. [Mike Blanchard]
Speaking more about the role of photography and the tools used to capture images, Mike opines, “Things that are analog will take on a special meaning because I see young people taking more of an interest in film cameras. With digital, if the power goes out you have nothing. If you have a mechanical camera that shoots film then you have a negative that will not degrade. There’s a real interest in film photography. But the funny thing about phone cameras is they’re so good. There are things an iPhone can do that I have trouble doing with a really high-end Nikon digital camera because the algorithm in the phone knows what the idiot wants the image to look like and thinks around what the limitations of the camera are. Of course, the best camera is the one you have, ultimately a good photograph is the result of the photographer’s eye.” When asked if the phone camera has diluted the art of photography, Mike continues, “Has the cell phone cheapened photography? You can go back to another whole thing. Look at the advent of photography in the 19th century, when at that time the role of art was to document the world. When photography came in suddenly art’s role completely changed and for the next 100 years, we see this great exploration of ‘what is art’s role?’ We see Expressionism, Impressionism and Modernism and all these Isms that are really art exploring and trying to figure out what is the role of art. I think we’re seeing that same thing happen now with cell phones and AI; these things cause a great deal of uneasiness because it causes this reassessment of what is the role of photography? What are we supposed to do? There is an analogy there between those two scenarios.”

A vintage spark plug painting by Mike Blanchard.

Mike’s a painter, too, and says working with oils and watercolors came along with his interest in photography because it helped train his eye. “You get to work with composition, color, and again, the best way to become a good photographer is to look at paintings and to read.” Recently, Hotwater Gallery in Carlsbad began showing some of Mike’s photography, and that’s something he’s excited about as he’s never been represented by a gallery. For the future, he plans to continue doing exactly what he’s been doing. “Playing with our three grandkids, writing some more stories, shooting some more photos, painting more pictures, playing more music. And I’m working on a book right now – I’ve just finished up my edit of hundreds of rolls of film and worked it down to 150 images; now I’ve got to make the final selections and write the copy for my book filled with skateboard photography. Speaking of always having something to do.” Follow Mike’s adventures on either of his two Instagram feeds; @rustmag and @thecalifornio.

Mike Blanchard and his truck, by Saroyan Humphry

He sums up his celebration of craft, craftspeople and those who are learning and the stories he runs in RUST Magazine with this, “When you make something, it’s an act of learning, it’s an act of love but you also learn. It doesn’t matter what it is; it is about constant problem solving. And you always have to be humble.”



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on Instagram, and explore all his articles for The Vintagent here.
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