Much to his wife's chagrin, Patrick Wolfmeier's guitars litter the house. The couple's crawl space, closets and bathroom during the chilly months are filled to the brim with guitars of varying conditions, ready and waiting to be transformed.
In his spare time, for the past decade, Wolfmeier has turned guitars, basses and ukuleles, working and non-working, into colorful paintings, either of his own imagination or for commission. From The Little Mermaid to 2Pac, a Furby to Beetlejuice, Wolfmeier has made a name for his company, Wolfmeier Guitars and More.
Ahead of Free Comic Book Day on May 4 at Vision Comics & Oddities, Wolfmeier spoke to Westword about his creative process, improving as an artist, and the challenges that come with trying to fit an entire piece of art onto a working instrument.
Westword: Why did you start doing this, and when?
Patrick Wolfmeier: I’ve been a musician since I was a kid — played in a band in school and all that. I’ve been playing guitar for twenty, thirty years, something like that. I had always messed around with that stuff as a kid, and then — I’d say about ten years ago — I started working with an artist friend, messing around with him, and started thinking it was cool idea, especially for repurposing guitars.
Guitars are like puppies: There’s just way too many in the world! They’re mass-manufactured and are just everywhere. This kind of gives some older ones a new home and a new life as something cool to be looked at. It’s super-cool. There’s just something about it in my brain that I love. I like the composition on the guitar and just the way that it looks. Seems like they’re meant to be together.
It’s a form of reincarnation, I suppose.
Yeah, yeah. And you know, I do commissions for people, too. I recently had a guy ask me to transform his bass. I did Queen’s News of the World . It turned out really great, and that’s the bass he uses all the time. There’s different levels of stuff that I do.
So people bring the canvas and tell you what they want, and then you make it happen.
Yep, pretty much. I always accept a challenge [laughs]. That Queen News of the World, when they asked me, I was like, “Oh, man, I might have bitten off more than I can chew,” but then it turned out pretty amazing.
Walk me through your process of turning guitars into art.
I’ll take the guitars and sand down to the bare wood, and do some hand-sanding on them. You know, a lot of these guitars that I find have a lot of cosmetic damage, as far as the really thick coats that are put on there, they always chips off in the same spots. I sand all that off so I have something clean to work on.
I use just regular spray paint, usually like krylon or whatever color I feel like using for it. Once I leave it for a couple of days so the paint’s good and done, I actually usually use paint markers to put the stuff on the guitars.
They’re acrylic-based, so once I let those dry for a few days, I clear-coat it, usually with like a thick automotive type of clear coat, so that way if it hangs on the wall it’s durable, if you play with it it’s durable, and the image should look good for a really long time.
When did you figure this project out?
It took a lot of trial and error. Artists are so finicky, and I know it’s funny, because I’m talking about myself, too, but when you work with another artist, they don’t have a concept of time; they don’t believe in time. Plus some stuff never gets finished. Things go crazy.
I worked with three, four or five artists over the last few years, making a couple of different ones. It finally came down to I went sheer monarchy on it, and decided I was going to do it all myself.
I’d give people direction, like, “Hey, I think this will look really cool,” but of course artists have a right to do what they want. Some turned out quite good, but it was never that vision I saw in my head. Beginning in the summer last year, I started just trying to crank them out myself.
I’d paint something cool on it, and if it didn’t turn out great, I’d just sand it off and start over again [laughs]. But then, after a little bit of practice, I started really seeing the colors and composition and just making for an eye-popping experience.
Guitars are funky. They’ve got all kinds of stuff. You think you can just paint across it, but you really have to be careful where you put things, or else you could really lose major parts of an image to your bridge, your pickups, your knobs, anything else that‘s on there.
Which is part of why this is intriguing. Guitars don’t seem like great objects to paint on...
It’s definitely a challenge. And that’s kind of the nice thing: Making sure to use that clear coat, because you can always kind of tell when something’s spray-painted, because it’s spray paint.
With this, you can kind of tell from the color, but the fact that they’ve got that nice shine on the front — and I do a little bit of wet sanding on that to bring out the gloss on it — makes it so that it’s going to last a long time. It doesn’t look like some kid just painted it, but that’s all right, too. I’ve painted a lot of guitars as a kid [laughs].
How has this business/art project changed since you started it?
It’s definitely a lot of ups and downs with materials. Figuring out what works good, what type of guitars, and things you can actually paint without messing up the sound coming out of them. If you want to be able to create something working that a person can play at a show and be proud of, you have to make sure that thing’s still going to sound good at the end of the day.
There was a lot of experimentation done with that and with paints.
It’s also just evolved so much from the basic ideas that I have, working with an artist trying to transform it into what I wanted, working with better artists, going through with all that, and finally taking over for myself.
In this past year, it’s grown leaps and bounds. I’ve put full focus on it in my spare time, and if I’m unhappy with how it looks, I’ll start over. I’m not afraid to trash a project if it looks like crap, because I want the final product to be eye-popping.
Do you anticipate doing this for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, absolutely. Especially now that I’ve really gotten the hang of it and am in the driver’s seat. The possibilities are just endless.
I’ve already done Guardians of the Galaxy, Ghostbusters. One of the guitars I’m more proud of is the Smokey and the Bandit one with Burt Reynolds. It’s crazy. It’s just a cool guitar, and I put the Trans Am Firebird in a couple of different spots on the guitar that look great. It just turned out super-great.
It’s one of those things where when you start, it’s a cool idea, and when you finished, you’re like, “Damn, I can’t believe how that turned out.” It’s an actual picture that you saw in your head, and then it just looks killer.
I’ve been trying to do some other art things. I’m trying to make a punk-rock coloring book, and so I’ve done some coloring pages of like NOFX, New Found Glory, stuff like that that I’m trying to put together, maybe get it published as an actual coloring book.
When you first started, were you just collecting guitars and painting them? Did people donate them to you?
It’s a little bit of everything. I’ve always been a bit of a flea market/pawn shop/thrift store rat. I’m always popping in, seeing what kind of junk is around.
Finally, when I really started to ramp up last year, I decided to get as many guitars as I could. In my crawl space, I probably have fifteen to twenty that are ready to be broken down and painted.
When I decided to go hard-core and try to get a little fame out of it, get my art out there and have a bunch of fun on social media, it’s like, well, better go big or go home [laughs].
What was your first guitar art piece?
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This is kind of funny, because it’s come full circle recently: My dad’s best friend had this little short-scale bass that he’s had since the ’60s. I was probably fifteen or sixteen, and it was in bad shape, and he was like, “Hey, I know you’ve been playing around, messing with this stuff, so why don’t you paint it for me?” It didn’t have a pick guard and was looking a little rough. I can’t even remember the brand.
I ended up carving a new pick guard for the guitar out of shower wall [laughs]. I drilled the holes in it and everything. I painted it lime green.
A month ago, he brought it to a family brunch and said, “Remember this? I figured you could do it again.” Now I’m in the process of making Plant and Page on it, since Led Zeppelin is one of his favorite groups. It’s neat that the first one I ever painted I’ll be able to paint again.