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July 5, 2024

Art and autos: High school students at Hennepin Tech learn a professional’s painting techniques

Mike Iverson has been professionally lettering and pinstriping vehicles for 40 years. High school students in the Hennepin Technical Pathways program are just starting to consider their careers. Instructor Jeff Goergen brought them together recently in his auto body repair class at the Eden Prairie campus of Hennepin Technical College.

“Sometimes students who take the class are really artistic, and they see what they can do with their art,” Goergen said. Speaking to his class, he said, “I just thought it was something that needs to be taught because some of you guys probably never even knew something like this existed. This is something that, if you want to do it, you just have to learn how to paint and then take your art skills with you and learn how to apply it.” 

At the conclusion of the class’s paint unit, after their experiments and practice, each student will take home a metal panel they have individually painted and customized. Photo by Gillian Holte

Hennepin Technical Pathways offers classes at the technical college in subjects such as culinary arts, certified nursing assistant, automotive technology, and outdoor motorsports to students from high schools, including Eden Prairie High School, which are members of Intermediate District 287. 

“It’s actually really awesome,” said Eden Prairie High School junior Ivan Gusman, a student in Goergen’s auto body repair class. “We can just come in and experience and work on things we might like in the future as high schoolers.”

After a classroom introduction to Iverson’s work and work history, which includes painting stripes on fenders for auto body shops and painting lettering and signs on collector vehicles and for display at car shows, the class traveled to the shop. There, as Goergen said, “We’re going to get Mike to show you his toolbox, what he uses to make all his money. And then he’s going to talk about his paints a little bit, and we’ll talk about how much they are. And then we’ll talk about the brushes, and then he’ll talk about how to palette it all up and know when you’re ready, and then you guys are going to do some.” 

Eden Prairie High School juniors Toni Ombe (left) and Wilbert Sanchez practiced the lettering and striping paint techniques Iverson demonstrated for the class. Photo by Gillian Holte

“It was fun, seeing how he makes a living,” EPHS junior Toni Ombe said as he made his own attempts at lettering and striping. “I thought it would be easy, but it’s actually really hard.” 

Iverson uses both enamel and urethane paints, with sword striper paintbrushes used for making long lines such as pinstriping and lettering quills used for lettering on signs. He stores his brushes in motor oil so that the bristles stay soft and they don’t dry out. As a palette for mixing paints, he uses free pamphlets and publications printed on glossy paper, which stops the paint from absorbing.

“Other stripers have other techniques. They use Dixie cups and measure and mix it so it’s the right consistency, but everybody’s different,” Iverson said. He uses his homemade palettes to mix his paints until they have the right consistency. “This comes with feel; it comes with experience,” he said. As he’s doing his mixing, he’s adding paint thinner as needed from a squirt bottle. Iverson also uses a spray bottle filled with wax and grease remover to clean the panel he will work on and to clean the oil out of his brush. “You don’t want oil in with your enamels; it’ll never dry,” he said.  

Mike Iverson (right) has been painting vehicles and signs professionally for several years. Here, he shows the auto body repair class his method for holding a brush. Photo by Gillian Holte

“We’ve been looking forward to today since last week when we first heard about it,” said Eden Prairie resident Kenzie Brosnahan, a high school senior in District 287’s Gateway to College program, in which students aged 16 to 21 complete high school requirements simultaneously with college degree or occupational certificate courses. “It opens up options in cars and detailing,” added Khalid Omar, a Bloomington resident who is also a Gateway high school senior.

Students in the class create their own custom panels as a project they can bring home. “Their panels are all prepped,” Goergen said to Iverson. “Monday, I showed them a bunch of techniques on video; yesterday, we did it in the paint booth; today, you’re here to show your stuff, and then I turn them loose to do all their own artwork, and we see what we end up with.”

Goergen, who worked professionally in auto body repair before becoming an instructor,  has been inviting Iverson to visit his classes for more than 10 years. For the past decade, Leah Gall, who airbrushes custom paint designs on motorcycles, has also been a demonstrator. Gall was ill during the 2023 session, but airbrushes were available in the shop for students to use, in addition to practicing the hand painting following Iverson’s instruction.

When not practicing hand painting under Iverson’s tutelage, students in the class experimented with painting via airbrush techniques. Photo by Gillian Holte

“When you stripe, you basically use the last quarter inch of the brush,” Iverson said. “You pull the brush. I use two hands, some people don’t, to steady your hand. And it goes by pressure, so if you apply less pressure, you get a thinner stripe, (if) you apply more, you get a fatter stripe out of the same brush. And then when you’re doing a corner, you twist the brush, kind of turn it in, keeping it flat to the surface and then turn it the other way.”

EPHS junior Wilbert Sanchez mentioned, as he worked on applying Iverson’s instructions to his own painting, that auto body repair is his favorite class. He enrolled because “I just wanted to explore more options for when I go to trade school of what I like to work on,” Sanchez said. 

Gusman enrolled after Goergen gave a presentation to a careers class at EPHS. “I thought, ‘I like cars, and I like working on cars,’ so this class would probably fit me,” he said. 

Brosnahan found the class through her friendship with Omar, who took the spring session of the auto body repair class during the 2022-23 school year.

“I fell in love with welding and got signed up for this year,” she said. “I started looking forward to going to school because of this class. I love everything we’ve been doing.”

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