Aircraft, ships or the sides of buildings might be the pinnacle of surfaces for airbrush and graffiti artists to personalize, but the plethora of charter tourist coaches in Thailand provides an equally good surface, while being much more abundant.
Though charter tourist coaches in most countries are fairly conservatively decorated, in Thailand the sides are mobile works of art with Thailand tourist coaches just as likely to be finished with paintings of Japanese Manga characters, through to Hanna-Barbera or Disney classics, or even space fantasy themes.
The most funky and blinged out tourist coaches in Thailand – generally only used by groups of Thai’s – have every surface covered by lavish airbrushed artwork, and then are finished off with rows of sparkling reflectors, floodlights that use more electricity than a small village to power, and mega sound systems with external and internal speakers.
The seemingly unquenchable thirst for tourist coaches in Thailand has seen a whole sub-industry develop, with teams of freelance airbrush artists plying their trade on a per-bus basis around Thailand’s two main tourist coach building cities.
The city of Bang Len in the central Thailand province of Nakor Pathom is one of Thailand’s two largest tourist coach building centers, with the dozens of coach engineering works there tracing their origins back to one family and evident by the Meesang (have light) word in their company names.
Khun Somchao (Toan) Taveesabchai, is the head airbrush artist for one of the 10 or so freelance teams servicing Bang Len coach builders and panel shops and says he has been decorating the sides of Thailand tourist coaches for about 10 years.
Claiming to be the first person in Thailand to employ adhesive stencils produced by computer printer- plotters to mask the sides of tourist coaches, Khun Toan says originally everything was done freehand, making it very difficult to produce artwork with geometric shapes or where hard-lined edges were needed.
Working with two assistants, Khun Toan and his team take up to four days to design and apply the stencils on a Thailand tourist coach, and about seven to 10-days to airbrush the design.
According to Khun Toan, when we used to do it without the stencils we would finish about four or five tourist coaches a month, but the designs are much more complex and detailed now. Every tourist coach I paint is different, even if they follow a similar theme, but Thailand’s coach owners keep asking for more complicated and color rich designs”, he said.
Focusing predominantly on fantasy themes and those featuring Korean or Japanese Manga and cartoon charters, Khun Toan said a customized design costs Thailand tourist coach owners between $US1,300 and $2,300 ( Bt40,000 to Bt70,000), depending on the complexity.
The funky airbrushed artwork on the sides of Thailand tourist coaches isn’t purely an aftermarket addition either, with large coach engineering builders such as the Mee Saeng Bus Body Co., employing a team of five airbrush artists who decorate the majority of tourist coaches built their before they carry their first passengers.
Turning out about 100 tourist coaches a year for the Thailand domestic market, Mee Saeng Bus is one of Bang Len’s largest coach builders, with Khun Krisanapong (Shane) Sathasooth responsible for the airbrushing on every tourist coach.
“Probably 98 per cent of the tourist coaches we build here get airbrushed. I talk directly with the owners to see what they want, and then I produce a layout of the design on computer for them to look at. Once the owner approves the design we produce large stencils using a [printer-] plotter and apply them to the coach and start airbrushing”.
Khun Shane said preparation of the bus for airbrushing and the design and stenciling cost about $3,000 (Bt90,000), while the painting costs could be up to $1,500 (Bt45,000), meaning most of the work was done on new tourist coaches coming off the production line, though it was sometimes also done on tourist coaches sent in for refurbishment.
The ever increasing amount of artwork and design placed online by animation houses, production studios and graphic artists has provided a boon for Thailand’s tourist coach airbrush artists, providing them with ready access to the latest cartoon characters and fantasy artwork from around the world, with Disney, Marvel Comics, and DreamWorks Animation websites all regularly and well patronized.
© 2011 John Le Fevre
Thailand tourist coaches the world’s most artsy buses,
He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me