Tom Patsis is a high performance welder and creative automotive artist. He tells Marcel Haan how a favour years ago, changed his life!
Tom, how did you get started with building your models and particularly automotives?
Well, when I started at Don Schumacher Racing, I wanted to learn how to TIG weld and build stuff better. So I figured if I were to build something cool which I would want to keep afterwards, that would be the best to practice. Rather than welding two pieces of sheet metal together which I would just throw away. Plus when I was a kid I played with Lego and built a million plastic models. So it was just in me to build cars.
How long have you been doing this for?
I started building my art for people in 2008 but didn't really start selling it until 2010. The first legit piece of metal art I made was actually when I was eleven years old. I wasn't allowed to weld back then, so I had to use bronze from the hobby shop and a soldering iron to keep it together. But my first real piece of cold hard art was a replica of Ron Capps Nitro Funny Car which I made for an oil cowboy called Bodie. He wanted me to build him his favourite racer. So I started and when my room-mate moved out, he took the welder with him. Bodie called one day to ask about the build and I told him that I didn't have a welder. When he hung up, I was sure I had offended him but he called back and told me that he had a new welder for me. When I next went to the Denver race, he would drive up and drop it off for me. He did this and I finished the car. He loved it. It took me about 75 recorded hours to build that piece back then. Now I do that same car in better detail in about half the time.
Two years after I built that car for Bodie, I got a call to say he was killed in a freak accident at one of his oil dericks. But his story doesn't stop there. I was told to submit photo's of that piece to a Miller Welding show in Challage and because I use a MILLER welder and photo's of that funny car, I was a finalist. I finished 2nd and now have a very strong backing from MILLER which is very helpful. So Bodie didn't just give me a welder, he told me he wanted me to have the best stuff, so I could do what I love which is my art.. and I do, every night.
Did you go to design or art school?
Not really. I took normal art classes in school but my art teacher in high school got sick of every art project being about racing. One day after class, he told me that my art was solid and nice but if I wanted to be taken seriously in the art world and make money, I would need to stop with all the motorsport art stuff, widen my horizons and do more traditional art like landscapes and people. Well I think I'm doing okay now but thanks for that advice “turtle neck white haired guy”.
What sort of cars do you like to build?
Race cars most of the time because race cars are normally the most evil looking of the cars built. If the car really is mean looking, that means I get to build it the same way. My mind dreams of motorsports but sometimes a classic street car is fun and challenging to build. I built a 1967 convertible Corvette for Rick Hendrick and that was double tough. First is was for a real corvette collector, and it was something I had never tried before. A classic with its' defined look. But it came out wicked nice and he was happy with it. RACE CARS are my babies. I really really want to build a modern or 1970s F1 car.
What techniques do you use?
Well everything I use a TIG welding and the rest of my techniques are just Macgyver style and I use what I have around the shop. My stuff is 1/12 scale and I have to make my own dies and bending fixtures. I have a planishing hammer and sand bag and some other 'need to have' sheet metal tools. The biggest need is just having tons of scrap material and all types of dropped off pieces from water jetter. Laser companies help to metal pack rat, but it's very organized
How big are the models and what are they made out of?
I have two style abstract versions which are about 1/16 scale and have over emphasized features of the car big wheels, big injector, rear wing, whatever defines that vehicle. The other is the 1/12 scale highly detailed replica which is just as much detailed work as I can put into the car. Everything is built with .025 sheet metal which I get from North Carolina (Stock Steel and Aluminium). They sponsor my sheet metal needs and I post all my new art on their Facebook page to help attract a different audience.
How much of your work is focused on building automotive models?
Basically I really like cars and mechanical things. So using parts from cars or just building replica's of cars is what I like to do. At work I build 330 mph race car chassis's and at my shop I build little ones. If you like something, surround yourself with it and other good people who like it too.
What inspires your work?
Let me change that question to who inspired me. I always loved Macgyver because he could make stuff and not really have to rely on others. He just made things happen on his own and Jesse James “Monster Garage” really turned me on to building stuff. He made me respect what you could make out of metal. When I was in college, it just pulled my interest and I never really looked back at anything else.
What helps you choose a specific topic?
Right now people email me and send me photo's of what they want for whatever reason. People who own race cars or who drive race cars, race track owners looking for trophies. Big companies wanting unique gifts for their bosses who already have everything or employees. At the moment, I'm really happy with all the work I have been given and with what my imagination has given me. I'm extremely appreciative of every person who gives me the opportunity to either build them something or who help me out. I'm very very blessed to have so many good people around me.
What are you expressing with your work?
That's a tough one because with most pieces, I just try to capture the look of the owners' vehicle. Sometimes though, I get an idea in my head and I just have to build it, even if I'm building something for somebody else. When that happens, I just want to capture an EVIL looking 'badass' look. It's not even on anything specific. I just don't want it to be cute. I mean I do build HEARTS sometimes for the ladies requests, but that still is either out of REBAR material, motorcycle chains or carbon fiber which is still tough material.
Which audience are you aiming at?
Anyone really. From 8 to 80. Art is for anybody you 'get it'. I really enjoy building the stuff I make but I really do want to try to impress people or blow their minds with something NEW or different. Yes I copy an existing car in my art, but I don't want it to be like something which was made in the millions in a factory in China. I want it to be built by a person with their hands uniquely and specifically for you .
What is your ultimate goal or your dream and what do want to achieve with your work?
I would love to just be known as the guy who builds cool stuff and make enough money to just be able to keep doing it for a long time.
I don't need a million dollars. I just need to pay my bills and have something in my savings. When I started this, I did have a bucket list to get my art in the hands of three people, Tim Allen, Jay Leno and Paul Walker who are really car people. Then I would think I had achieved something. I can't do it for Paul now (sad face) but maybe Tim and Jay. Other than that, it's just fun to see where I can get my art to. Magazines, famous peoples' hands, cool events etc.
See more of Tom Patsis's work on his website and facebook.