By Jeff Sanford
Detroit, Michigan -- August 4, 2015 -- It isn’t often you get to meet a real living legend, but it was an experience visitors to Valspar’s booth at NACE in Detroit got to have. Valspar hosted legendary painter John Kosmoski, founder of House of Kolor, for demonstrations throughout the week.
Young techs got a chance for someone with deep skills explain the ins-and-outs of customized painting. After watching him paint, it’s obvious that Kosmoski’s technique evolved over a lifetime in the industry. His movements were sharp, precise. The paint applications carried out in a demo booth were impressive.
Collision Repair magazine spoke with Kosmoski after one of his appearances. Asked how many cars he has painted over his life, Kosmoski figures he’s done “a car a day” since he began in the industry. In the early days of his shop Kosmoski would have his techs prep the car and then he’d go into the spray booth between five and seven in the evening. “The crew would get it ready, and then I would get in there … I’m a solvent-head,” he says with a laugh.
In the 1950s, Kosmoski was trying to do next-level custom paint jobs. Not satisfied with the paint work he saw coming out of other shops, he decided to learn the skills needed to do it himself. It might have been clear sailing at that point, but he found he couldn’t get the quality paint he needed. He was disappointed with the nitrocellulose lacquers and alkyd enamels of the era. These tended to fade in the sun or crack in the cold.
To overcome these problems, he tracked down a chemist who knew about polymers. The two began combining high-quality resins with the best pigments available to come up the kind of high quality paints that allowed for brilliant custom jobs.
By the mid-1960s, House of Kolor was known as the provider of high-end paints that allowed painters to do advanced colouring like candy-apple finishes. Today Kosmoski is impressed with the evolution of the products used to paint cars.
“There is much better colour development today. We used to use nitrocellulose. But you couldn’t get good pigment. So there has been a lot of improvement over the years,” he says.
During his long and legendary career Kosmoski developed some of the common painting techniques that have become de rigeur in the industry. The idea of doing a 75 percent overlap on undercoating is a Kosmoski development. He also developed taping techniques that allowed for sophisticated effects in paint. When judges at car shows would ask how he got the effect he’d just say he was a good painter. He kept the tape technique to himself as he didn’t want people copying his style.
During the interview with Collision Repair magazine, Kosmoski also reminisced how he had come to know Joe Bailin, a 92-year-old car customizer credited with creating the paint colourCandy Apple Red. The invention led to the flowering of the custom car sector.
Today House of Kolor is owned by Valspar. As a result the company’s products have access to the most advanced R&D possible as Valspar is a paint company with a deep history. The company was founded in 1806 with the help of Charles Homer, brother of famed New England artist Winslow Homer, who, according to a Valspar History, “made varnishes so perfect they could be poured from the can to the back or side of a carriage ... varnishes that flow out smoothly and evenly and dry perfectly.” Today Valspar, in addition to being the home of House of Kolor, is a major global paint manufacturer with over 10,000 employees in 25 countries.
For more information on John Kosmoski and House of Kolor, please visit houseofkolor.com.