HOW TO PAINT A VAN – The Painting of the Dream Machine

HOW TO PAINT A VAN – The Painting of the Dream Machine

We named our new van “The Dream Machine” for two reasons:

  1. We intend to “live the dream life” of adventure with it, and
  2. We were inspired by Shaggy & Scooby’s Mystery Machine!

The Dream Machine not only gets a lot of attention, but it also brings up a lot of questions, like “what kind of paint did you use” and “how did you seal it” and “did you really want it to look like that?!”

Drew was kind enough to want to share these answers and more.  Read his “tutorial” below:

(At the end of this post is a photo slide show of other vans Drew painted, and a video of the process)


Begin with a vision of what you want it to look like.  Know what your purpose is beforedesigning it.  We wanted to use our Dream Machine for a few things:  to go camping and to travel in, to have a professional artist appearance when delivering artwork to clients, and to use it for marketing.


First, make sure the van is free of imperfections like dents and rust.

The next steps are labor intensive and take a lot of time.  But it’s important to take your time and do it right.

Tape off the entire van – windows, chrome, everything that isn’t going to be painted.

Then scuff the surface.  We used scuff pads.  Be very careful not to scuff the windows or the molding around the windows where it’s taped.

TIP:  Don’t use cheap tape!  It leaves the adhesive behind, which is a pain to remove later.

Here’s a slide show of the process (Thanks to Michael R Foley, photographer, and film master Rob Elseewi for most of the photos)

Before you paint, it helps to have a design somewhat planned out.

For one side of the van, I planned it out exactly.  In Photoshop I took my popular painting titled SUNRISE and superimposed it on a photo of the van, to see how it would look and to get the composition right.  I painted SUNRISE almost exactly on the Driver’s side of the van.

For the passenger side of the van, Maria asked me to paint something “trippy”.  So I took a printout of a photo of the side of the van and drew ideas on a few different copies to see what I liked best.  Then I took those ideas and loosely painted them on the passenger side of the van.


I had a full range of colors of Montana Gold Spray Paint on hand.  My first objective is to get rid of all the white, fill  in a lot of base colors, then slowly tighten the image up with more and more detail as I work my way around the van.

When I felt I got as tight as I could with the spray paints, I moved onto airbrush.  With that I painted more detail, cleaning up the art and making it look killer.

TIP:  Loosen up and just go for it.  Have fun and your painting will flow easier.

I first applied a satin clear coat with a can all the way around the van so I could lightly wet sand it to get any bumps or anything off of it and smoothing it out.  Then we took it to an automotive paint shop and had the final clear coat applied.  That cost about $300.00.

I noticed some orange-peeling of the surface after the final clear coat was applied (this often happens) so then I hired a guy to take 2 days and polish it out.  That’s purely optional, but it’s worth the extra step, because it looks awesome!

Next we get racks put on and a ladder, so it’s easy to put surfboards and paddleboards up top.  We just ordered Mobile Business Card Holders too, so when someone sees the van and they like the art, they can grab a business card.

Taking a scuff pad to a new van was a little difficult for me psychologically.  And  the next hardest thing was having the process filmed while painting.  I did it out front of my studio, which brought more distractions of people stopping by and asking questions.  But, the benefit of doing it out front is having people stopping by and watching, and asking questions.

IF YOU’VE PAINTED YOUR CAR OR VAN:  Post photos to Drew’s Facebook page:!/pages/Drew-Brophy-Artist/170041804146 We’d love to see them.   If you have any questions or comments, please go to Drew’s FB page or write in the comments below!

WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE PAINTING: (Shot & Edited by Rob Elseewi)


Spread the love
  • Jinean
    Posted at 14:02h, 16 January

    Hey there! I am working on painting a mural on a city bus and would love to chat. THIS IS AWESOME!!!

  • PAINTING STORY: Maiden of Lake Jocassee and Eclectic Sun - Drew Brophy - Surf Lifestyle Artist
    Posted at 13:45h, 29 May

    […] paddling and exploring the lake, we met Debbie, owner of Eclectic Sun Paddlesports.  She loved our painted van and seven months later, Debbie commissioned me to create artwork for her company […]

  • Drew Brophy
    Posted at 13:09h, 06 May

    Kirsten, thanks for the comment.

    To answer your question about clear-coating. The vans are clear-coated in an auto shop. That’s the best way to do it. Clear coating can cost between $500 – $800, depending on where you take it.

  • Kirsten
    Posted at 14:23h, 04 May

    Hi, Drew :). I love all of your work! I might have my first chance to paint a friend’s van sometime this summer, and was wondering if you always take a van you paint to an auto shop to get it professionally clear coated, or if there was anything you would suggest that I could do myself? Thanks for all the inspiration and info!

  • How Taking an Adventure can grow your Business - Maria Brophy | Maria Brophy
    Posted at 13:44h, 10 February

    […] In late November, my family and I returned from a 14,000 mile, 28 state road trip in our Dream Machine. […]

  • Designing a Hat for Flat Fitty | Drew Brophy - Surf Lifestyle Artist
    Posted at 07:36h, 04 October

    […] PS:  Photo to the left is by Michael R. Foley – who shot the painting of The Dream Machine. […]

  • Joseph Tubb
    Posted at 14:52h, 28 September

    Drew awesome article! The other vans that you have painted are amazing! The Dream Machine is my new favorite and I love the video! Can’t wait to see the next van you paint.

  • Drew Brophy
    Posted at 11:22h, 19 September

    Josh – I took the van to an automotive shop and had it clear coated. Was necessary to protect the paint. Thanks for the comments!

  • Josh Hibbs
    Posted at 16:36h, 18 September

    Hey Drew! Awesome job on the van! I was just wondering if y’all had a clear coat layer sprayed over it when it was done being painted to protect your awesome paint job? I could not tell from the video. The van is awesome though. If I ever own a van, I would definitely pay you to paint it, no matter how much it would cost. Keep up the great work Drew! I am from New Orleans and was wondering did you do any paintings to help benefit the Gulf oil spill and if so, what did they look like?

  • Maria Brophy
    Posted at 17:45h, 16 September

    Thanks for the comments, Alex and Dustan!

  • Alex Sanso
    Posted at 14:26h, 16 September

    ALL of the vans you’ve painted are fantastic, Drew! I think I might get in a wreck if I saw one driving near me, just to get a close look at it. You’re an inspiration!

  • Dustan Baker
    Posted at 14:20h, 16 September

    The “Montana” master. Sick design and execution!!!

Post A Comment