At birth we’re all given a government name. But as we make our way through this thing called life, we’ll run across a special breed of folks who have been fortunate enough to develop a moniker that sticks—and Kool Hand Luke (KHL) is a prime example.
Whereas some come up with a nickname that doesn’t get past the block, KHL is a name that’s become legendary in itself. His name is one that’s well known and respected in the art community and a name that brings smiles to people’s faces as they collect their thoughts on the work he’s created. A man of many talents, KHL is an artist who’s mastered many artistic disciplines. From paint to pinstriping, wood to ink, he’s taken his talents and made a name and a living doing so.
He has literally drawn himself a blueprint for success, but much of his original inspiration was drawn from his father—a mechanic with a penchant and love for classic cars. As he reminisces about his childhood, KHL remembers setting up booths with his father at local swap meets. It was there they would sell parts with little Luke by his side. He remembers dragging around a wagon for car parts, but even more memorable was his father’s overboard infatuation with classic cars.
Yet as he spoke more about his father’s obsession with cars he did say, “My father would buy cars faster than he could complete them and at one point he had amassed over 50 cars.” He adds, “It was cool to see both sides of the coin, and it’s great to own every car that you’ve ever liked, but I’m more of a realist and think it’s better to zero-in on your two or three favorite cars and build them to your liking rather than having a ton of cars with little or no time to finish them.”
Yet it was those moments at the swap meet that would lead him to his fate. During those shows he found himself watching a local air brusher at work. “I would spend all day watching the guy who was getting $20 to airbrush people’s cars on shirts and I wished I could do that,” KHL says. It was enough inspiration to have him take up drawing with hopes he could one day air brush.
As time passed, he got into drawing but the responsibilities of life made him set it aside in order to making a living. “As I got older, I wanted to be like my dad and be a mechanic,” KHL explains. His father was against the notion because of the hard work and little pay. He wanted something better for him and shortly thereafter is when he took notice of his son’s natural artistic abilities, so he began grooming him. “He would take me to see a local air brusher and ‘striper and even though I was too young to learn anything, just being around it was enough to inspire me. It’s what pushed more art through my veins.”
As years passed, KHL kept developing his airbrushing skills but instead of making a living of it, he decided to get a job. He began by driving a garbage truck and making a steady income. “I think most parents would be happy that their kid had a steady job but my dad wasn’t. He would tell me to quit and to not work for someone. He wanted me to work both for myself and on myself to develop my talent,” but at the time all KHL wanted was to make steady money, so he didn’t take his fathers advice. It wasn’t until he got a DUI and lost his job that he was forced to take his dad’s advice. “I dove right in the first week after I lost my job and haven’t worked for anyone since.”
KHL began by loading up his 1957 Nomad with his tool and from there he began hitting car shows. “I got a great response right away. The people in the show scene began telling me what shows I would do good at which led me to more homebuilt car shows.” A pinstriper named Moochi from the Bay Area told KHL that he needed to go to the show in Paso Robles and that if he did, he would blow up. Sure enough, KHL took his advice and he immediately built a clientele from all over. From New York to Japan, Sweden to France, his black book was filling up; he went from a struggling artist to a stable one.
As a fulltime artist, KHL would focus on doing paintings but he was also smart with his money. He quickly learned how to manage his finances and how to be prepared for dry spells. So as his journey continued he wound up drawing up tattoo ideas for $20 to $40 only to find out that the same clients would then pay $400-500 for a tattoo that was based on his design. Right away he realized that he was getting the short end of the stick but he didn’t want to step on the toes of the tattoo artist since he knew him.
Sometime later, the same tattoo artist kept canceling on a lot of his customers and that’s when KHL gave it a shot. Under the guidance of Daniel Reece (Monster Tattoo) he bought the necessary equipment and supplies and began tattooing. “My first tattoo was on my cousin, second and third on friends of mine, and nine years later they still look good and till today I haven’t done a tattoo that I haven’t been proud of.”
While KHL will admit he’s not much of a marketing guy, he will tell you that he takes pride in creating pieces that speak on his quality and attention to detail. Fast-forward to present day and his name has become his brand, his work has become his bond, and he’s created not only a career but a legacy built on the bloodlines of a man who took notice of his talents.
To see more of his latest work, hit him up directly on his Instagram: @KoolHandLukeArt