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Updated 11/4/2020

Stars and Stripes Article - Thursday, June 23, 1977

Mobile Artist – 97th General Hospital illustrator uses her talent to give vans a personal touch

Story, photos by Leah Larkin, Staff writer

Paint Brush drives a blue van whose sides are decorated with mountain scenes and whose constant passenger is a black and tan Doberman. Paint Brush not only painted the van’s exterior, but also fixed up the interior as well. Paint Brush likes to paint—and ski and travel and play a guitar.

In the CB world, Tricia Thomas (now Elin Thomas), an illustrator at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, is "Paint Brush." Drawing and painting are part of her job in the 8-to-5 world.

But even when not working, these days she is likely to have a paint brush in her hand. Not your ordinary natural bristle variety, however. The kind of painting she pursues in her off hours requires a special tool, an air brush.

She paints vans—with mountains, flowers, flames, whatever. It all started last August when she saw a painted van and decided she could do better.

But painting vans was not like painting pictures, she learned. Special paints, tools and techniques are required. First, she needed the air brush, a brush from which the paint is sprayed. She had to order it from the U.S.

She began talking to people at motor pools about painting cars. They taught her a lot. And they still do, she said. When problems develop. She consults the experts. Vans are painted with automotive acrylic lacquers that Thomas buys from an automotive company. She thins the paint down, mixes her own colors. In the U.S., where van popularity in the ‘70s just may surpass that of convertibles in the ‘50s, van painting is big business. There are special companies that do nothing but decorate the big vehicles with scenes and designs.

Try to find a van painter in Germany. Spec 5 Bob Koskey of Heidelberg decided he wanted some flames on the side of his van. He looked on the economy and was told that it would be necessary to have an expert come from Stuttgart to do the job. He didn’t even bother to ask the price, he said. Then he learned about Paint Brush. She did the job for about half of what it would cost in the U.S., he said.

"It sure stands out. On the CB, people tell me it’s outstanding when I pass them."
But Tricia Thomas is not interested in van painting as a business. "I do it for fun, as a hobby, to meet people, to travel," said the 28-year-old artist.

And, it provides a certain satisfaction distinct from painting a canvas, she explained. "I like the idea of exhibiting my part, of showing what I can do without paying gallery fees. It gives a great sense of accomplishment in seeing something you have created being driven around by someone else."

As more and more vanners see her work, more are asking her to take her brush to their mini-homes on wheels. Her price is right, and she even drives her van to her customers.
Thomas recently joined the LOVE (Limited Only to Vans in Europe) van club. Like the clubs in the states, LOVE sponsors van-ins, reunions for the van people who get together with their prized possessions and get a chance to see what others have done to dress up and luxurize their big cars.

"A van gives you the freedom to go somewhere without an incredible amount of prior planning. It’s a car you can live in. And it’s so much fun on a trip," Thomas said.
In the winter months, just about every weekend her van heads to Switzerland with a group of dedicated skiers sitting in the back—playing cards, singing, laughing. Sometimes the driver lets someone else take over. She gets out her guitar and joins the "party on wheels."

Having a van means that people often ask for rides to the ski slopes or help in moving furniture. "It’s just all part of the game," she said, obviously not upset by the requests.
"I’m very attached to my van," she explained. "It’s needed in my life now. I couldn’t part with it. When I go back to the states it will go with me. I’d like to drive it across the country."

Tricia Thomas is equally attached to the passenger who almost always rides next to her in her 1971 blue VW bus. It’s "Widow", her 2-year-old Doberman. "Whenever I talk about the van, it’s the three of us," she said.

Vans and painting them are among Tricia Thomas’ most recent interests. Something she has been devoted to in a big way for several years is skiing. To her, snow and mountains have become more than a place to enjoy her favorite sport.
For the past two years she has been the leader of the Frankfurt Ski Club National Ski Patrol. Which means that most of her ski weekends are devoted to mountaineering work: Avalanche and glacier training, practice of rescue techniques, teaching others ski patrol skills.

Because she loves snow and mountains, she frequently paints them.