I've known Pete Finlan almost my entire life and thought I knew everything about him; but since I became the receptionist at his new shop, I realized just how much I don't know. So I decided to take the phone off the hook and tap into the brain of the artist known as Hot Dog.
Before Pete was “Hot Dog”, he was holding skateboard competitions in the backyard of his mom's Oceanside home. According to him, his only hobby was skateboarding. “I was a professional at that time but there was no money in it back then. And I needed money.”
Pete began airbrushing in high school art class and decided it would be a fun way to make money after school. He found a place called Deluxe Airbrush; a t-shirt place in Encinitas. “I went there to apply for a job but they only hired cute girls because it was a beach theme and the customers could see them airbrushing the t-shirts.” Needless to say, he didn't get the job. He did however, get a job airbrushing surfboards for Donald Takayama at Hawaiian Pro Designs. Donald allowed Pete to do whatever designs he wanted on the boards. This is where the moving checkers idea was developed. “They made it look like you were going faster than you really were.”
With enough experience, Pete decided to branch out and get a shop of his own. “For my first shop, I rented a stall in a body shop in Oceanside and just did graphics. I met a guy named Keith Heidi who worked there that did pin-striping. He was the one who taught me how to pinstripe. He had a Volkswagen with a full paint setup in the hood and he would drive to dealerships and do repair pin-striping. He said he'd pay me to practice pin-striping every day because he didn't want to leave the shop to do the mobile striping anymore.”
Because of that, Pete was able to open up his own shop. Over the years, he changed locations but the name and talent remained the same. It wasn't until he changed the shop name from Paint by Pete to Hot Dog Designs that his following expanded. “It's super simple. I like hot dogs and I thought it just sounded cooler. All my customers were showing off the paint jobs I had done and new customers would come in and ask for Hot Dog. And it just stuck from there.”
Continue reading for the rest of our Q&A...
Was there an artist that inspired you to begin painting?
I don't think anybody inspired me. I just wanted to do it. I liked the art, the colors and all of that kind of stuff.
If there aren't any artists that inspire you, are there any that you admire?
There's a guy up in Northern California named Rod Powell. He paints, does flames and used to stripe but he got sensitized to the paint so he can't be around it a lot. He was a painter back in the day when they didn't wear masks. The paint has chemicals that build up in your body and you get to a point where you can't be around it anymore. I wear masks because I don't want that to happen to me.
What does inspire your art?
The love of it. The desire and want to do it.
If you weren't painting, what would you be doing?
Riding my bicycle. I like to ride bicycles. I'd like to ride to work everyday but I have to take kids to school. Another reason to wear masks, good lungs for bicycling.
What is your favorite thing to paint?
Probably motorcycles. You can get away with so much more on a motorcycle. You can add a lot more designs on them unlike a car, it's a lot to do on a car.
What's the weirdest thing you've painted?
This girl said she wanted to get something painted but didn't have anything with her. But then she looked down at her belt and had a little box with a chord attached. She unplugged this box and said it was the power chord to her pacemaker. I asked her if it was okay for her to walk around while I painted and she said “yeah, it'll just buzz me when it starts to lose power.” So I painted it real fast and she plugged herself back in.
Is there anything you've refused to paint and why?
Boobs. I'm gonna say because I respect my wife and daughter. (long pause) and because she didn't have any money.
What is your favorite paint job you've done so far?
The Gold Rush truck I did for Dana.
If you could paint anything, what would it be?
I would like to flame a Bugatti Veyron because nobody would think to do that to that kind of car.
What is your signature style of painting?
Yeah, mine! Haha, I actually don't think I have a signature style but people can definitely tell it's my stuff. Well I guess my signature might be putting colors together that don't really belong but they look cool.
Have you ever considered teaching people how to paint like you?
Yes! I actually can't wait to do that, its way past time.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There's a couple. Painting a car that won the Riddler Award at one of the biggest car shows in the country. Winning the Von Dutch Award at the Grand National Roadster Show twice, which nobody has done before. And going to Iraq to paint things for the troops. It's also cool to be at a point in my career where most of my customers will just throw out a couple color options and say “ do your thing. I like what you do and can't wait to see it!”
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?
Practice, practice, practice and don't give it away. When you start doing something like this, it's fun and you don't think of it as a job. But it is a job so you gotta get something for it. Even when you're practicing, do it for a couple bucks. And when you get to the point where people want it, charge! They'll pay if you're doing a good job. There's nothing more discouraging that doing all the work and getting nothing out of it.
If there's anyone to take advice from about the painting industry, it would be Pete. He's been in it since 1981 and hasn't slowed down since. He's been through it all; from a stall in a body shop to working up close and personal with West Coast Choppers' Jesse James, to full on flame jobs in the confines of his home garage and now opening his new shop. He's not one to brag about his accomplishments or complain about his trials. Pete is one of a kind, just like his paint jobs!!
-Sarah (aka Rarah)