GratiTuesday: Whimsy on Wheels

My car is boring. It has the standard four wheels, hood and trunk, and interior with front and back seats. It is dark gray. Big whoop.

I saw my first Art Car many years ago in the parking lot of a local grocery store. I was on my way home from work and, since it was winter, it was getting pretty dark. In my hurry to get home, I might not have noticed the car except that it was all lit up – both inside and out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take a picture of the chassis-mounted Christmas confection.

Several months later I was thrilled to see the car again, parked on a frontage road. This time I had my phone, so I was able to snap a picture. It was daytime, so it didn’t have the same magical quality, but I was pleased to capture its wonderfulness nonetheless.

I’ve seen a few Art Cars since then and have discovered that they are an actual “thing”. A simple search on the googles results in tons of information, including amazing images, locations of Art Car parades, and instructions on how you (yes, you) can create your own Art Car.

Wikipedia defines an Art Car as: “a vehicle that has had its appearance modified as an act of personal artistic expression. Art Cars are often driven and owned by their creators, who are sometimes referred to as “Cartists”. Most car artists are ordinary people with no artistic training”.

Maybe many of these cartists have no formal artistic training, but they do have an abundance of creativity, a playful spirit, and the desire to share their masterpieces with others. This VW van, below, was on display at a local Tiki celebration weekend.

My latest Art Car encounter occurred just this past week. As I was out running errands, I saw this glorious vehicle out of the corner of my eye and had to stop. Not only was I able to see another of these cars up close, but I had the pleasure of meeting Jesus Garcia, the cartist, and all-around good guy. He was nice enough to spend about half an hour with me showing me his car and patiently answering all my questions (“Why did you decide to start decorating your car?” “What do you use as adhesive?” “What was the first object you placed on your car?” etc, etc, etc.).

A joy to behold!
Jesus Garcia, Cartist Extraordinaire.
Hard to miss coming at you in your rearview mirror.
The elk on the saw blade started it all.
How many creatures can you see?
The interior is as crazy as the exterior.

I will almost certainly continue to own conventional cars. Introverted me rather likes driving around without attracting much attention. I also try to avoid dings and scratches that mar the surface. On the other hand, I love that not everyone is just like me. I do so very much appreciate people who view their autos as very large blank slates begging to be decorated. I am grateful that they have the creativity and courage to pick up that first piece of whimsy and glue it to their car.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

68 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Whimsy on Wheels”

    1. I love that name too! In an article I read, they mentioned that the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile was one of the first art cars (although, obviously, not created by an amateur artist). I just think they are so interesting… who would do that to their car? Then I meet the people and I realize that they are completely sane but certainly unique individuals.

      1. They must not drive very much. John has just come back from a 1,600 mile whirlwind trip to pick up grandson #1. Art wouldn’t last long doing that.

    1. Sometimes I think that I am attracted to these unique individuals because I’m fairly conventional. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the artists love to talk about their creations (they certainly couldn’t be shy) but they are always so interesting and engaging.

  1. How cool is this? I never knew that “Art Cars” existed.
    BTW – What were Jesus’ other two answers to your questions? (Why did you decide to start decorating your car?” “What do you use as adhesive?”)

    1. Of course, those were just some of the questions I asked but… he started to decorate his car because he just thought it looked good and it allowed him to express himself. The glue he uses is a heavy-duty adhesive from Home Depot. Are you thinking of decorating your car? 🙂

  2. Thanks, Janis, for sharing your photos of these interesting-looking cars. I guess the cartists don’t plan to sell their art cars!

  3. these are truly amazing, Janis! I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to make them look like these! I saw one while we were in LaVentana Mexico and posted about it a couple of years ago! Sure makes for some conversation!

  4. I never heard of car art before…or cartists! Can’t even imagine the hours involved in planning the theme, gathering all the decorations, which I’m sure is done continuously. Then they have to decide where each piece should go. I’m guessing everything is coated with some kind of protective substance. And last but certainly not least, every piece has to be securely glued on.

    Jesus’ creation is unbelievable! What fun to see. Like you, however, I run on the conservative side and wouldn’t want to own, or drive around in an art car. Maybe that’s my loss!! Lol.

    Thanks for sharing such a fun post.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

  5. That last one sure is a piece of art. Wow! The time, energy and creativity that went into Mr. Garcia’s car is mind blowing. I love the label Cartist. Clever. It seems like a nice project to cheer up your old car and personalize it. But, I think, like you, I’d rather keep my car blah and useful, and spend my precious time on other projects. Nice to look at, though! Our Zesty already draws enough attention. 🙂

  6. Interesting- I’ve never seen “art cars” before. They certainly are creative but not “me” either. Years ago, there was a guy in Michigan who had a bright yellow VW bug and it was a lemon. He tried to promote the car being a lemon and since we have the lemon law, he decorated that car with huge lemons all over. He painted dimples on the car’s finish to make it look like the rind of a lemon and glued huge lemons all over it. He certainly attracted a lot of attention.

      1. It was years ago and he used to come into the diner where I worked and I left there in 1978. I know he got no action on his complaints at that time, so he used it as a form of protest against the dealership where he got the car. I was interested in it because my parents had bought me a VW Bug (automatic stick) when I graduated from high school so I had a dependable car for college. I had nothing but trouble with the car – if it was damp outside, it would not start and it continually stalled. My father finally took over the car and drove it as he deemed it unsafe.

  7. They’re great to look at and take pictures of but I don’t want to drive one!

  8. Oh yes! I see them every rare once in awhile. Love your collection! The first one blows me away. I so love visual reflection, but I really don’t get how this person can actually drive, with all that reflection in the windshield.

    1. Not only would there be a lot of reflection but I think it would be hard to see well enough around me to do simple things like change lanes. I imagine other cars give them a lot of room to maneuver 😀

    1. I always get a thrill when I come upon one of these crazy cars… unfortunately I can’t always get a picture (especially when I’m driving) so it was nice to be able to chat with the artist for a while this time.

  9. My worst nightmare, clutter. Though I can appreciate the time and creativity that has gone into them. Fun post, Janis!

      1. Hahaha, true he has 🙂 Makes the world a more interesting place with characters like that!

  10. I never seen anything like this in my life! I can’t imagine driving down the road and seeing one of these vehicles. Thanks so much for sharing, Janis…this is so cool.

  11. What a very cool idea. I’ve never seen nor heard of an art car. They probably wouldn’t last long in Canadian winters. In your research, did you find that they are uniquely Californian? I know that so many great creative movements have their start in your wonderful state.

    1. Not uniquely Californian at all, but our weather probably makes it easier to maintain them. That tiki van was driven to San Diego from Salt Lake City and, of course, Burning Man is known for the art cars that are displayed there.

  12. I’ve never heard of this trend, nor have I seen a vehicle arted up in this way. Part of me, the snarky part, says “get a life” but the artsy-fartsy part of me says “cool.” Around here the closest thing we have to an art car would be one with a bunch of bumper stickers slapped on the back of it. But I’ll be on the lookout now that I know about them.

    1. I guess cars are often an expression of their owner (even in just the brand we choose to drive) so this is just an extension of that. I love that there are people who get a crazy idea – like gluing a bunch of stuff on their car – and just go with it.

  13. OH MY!!! Definitely not something I’ve seen on the roads here … although there was that one house I encountered which was all dolled up – literally.
    The Tiki Van was something else though … looks like a moving party 🙂

    1. We have a few “art houses” around here too. I’d love to see the one with the dolls! That being said, I’d just as soon not live next door to one 😬. I adored the tiki van and the owners were fun to talk too… I’m sure they had quite a few parties with that van as a centerpiece.

  14. Well, I live in the Motor City and that is news to me. Maybe it’s because our winters here would totally destroy a car like those. Pretty neat.

  15. Houston, TX, has one of the biggest and best Art Car shows in the country. My brother goes most years and sends photos of the entries. They’re amazing.

  16. This reminds me little bit of the ‘Ratrods’ that I’ve seen at some of the car shows I’ve been to!

    1. Really? I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be allowed as long as they followed all the local laws for motor vehicles. I should have asked Jesus if he ever got pulled over by a cop. I hope not!

  17. I am now fully educated about ‘Art Cars’ thanks to you, Janis! I drive a non-descript Toyota Camry, but I did spring for a vanity plate that says, ‘Shallow,’ so I can’t be as anonymous as I’d like to be! Those Art Cars are amazing!

    1. I love your vanity plates! I bet you get a lot of questions about what the heck they mean. The art cars are fun to look at but I think I’ll keep my non-descript (not even vanity plates 🙂 ) car too.

      1. I get some questions, but probably worse is when people don’t ask questions. It’s like they understand that ‘shallow’ is a perfect vanity plate for the likes of me. haha!

  18. Hi Janis

    Wow! Jesus’ camper is amazing. In truth, he has a very good eye when you see each individual sculpture. Each work of art is very well thought out.

    Nice he was so forthcoming with information. Does he sleep in the camper?

    I’ll be on the lookout all summer for local cartists

    1. I thought that he was pretty artistic too. Different parts of the van were decorated in specific themes so it wasn’t all random. Jesus said that he had a house so his van was mostly used for day trips. I think he enjoyed parking it in places where he’d get a lot of attention since he liked talking to people.

  19. “I am grateful that they have the creativity and courage to pick up that first piece of whimsey and glue it to their car.”

    That first step…the all important act in all of life (how profound, but your post encouraged this observation!)
    These photos are amazing and the people are intriguing…
    Thanks for a great post, Janis!

    1. I think some cartists (isn’t that a great name?) start with a fully envisioned concept – like the tiki van – while others start with a single piece, not knowing where it will take them (or maybe not even understanding that they have started a journey). I hope to see more of these art cars here and there, and I look forward to talking with their creators.

  20. I love this post! So interesting! I live on the east coast and have never seen a cartist. I’m guessing most are in places like California? Where it doesn’t snow? I can’t imagine digging out one of those cars after a blizzard. 🙂 I drive cars with boring colors, but I have always wondered why car manufacturers don’t take more chances with colors. I wouldn’t mind driving a lavender SUV.

    1. The “craziest” car color I had was a pretty teal, and I loved it. I can’t understand why there are so many white cars out there, but I read somewhere that white is the most popular color. I guess the manufacturers pick colors that they think will appeal to the greatest number of people… and most of us are rather boring 😄.

  21. How fun! I never heard of car art. Here in New England, it’s much more conservative (plus, in the cold and freezing temps, I don’t think the art on the cars would last long….) ;-0

    1. I’m realizing more and more, based on these comments, that it has to be a regional thing. Not that we have these art cars everywhere here in the west, mind you. They still are a rare sighting (we really aren’t that crazy out here, despite what they say 🙂 ).

  22. Wowza! I’m like you. I’d rather run around in a staid old car with as few dings as possible. The closest I ever came to having an art car was when my former husband snuck a couple of bullet hole stickers and paw prints on my old Subaru years ago. But this collection of art cars is quite amazing and fun to looks at.

    1. I have always appreciated people who take it upon themselves to make the world a little more interesting (although, I’m not sure if bullet holes are my idea of interesting 🙂 ). Me, on the other hand, I’ll stick with conventional.

  23. According to a friend from Barbados, white is the best colour for a car if you live in a hot place because white reflects sunlight, so the car does not get as hot inside.

    My practical self wants to ask, what happens to an art car when it finally breaks down and cannot be repaired? It would be sad to abandon it after all that artistic effort. Does it end up in someone’s front yard as an art car sculpture?


    1. Yes, definitely a white car is preferred in a hot place! I’m not sure what happens to these art cars when they can no longer be driven. I imagine they end up in junkyard like other cars. It does seem a shame that all the hard work would go for naught, but at least the owner got to enjoy the process and the attention while it was running.

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