A Different Kind Of Pen Pusher
When at his drafting table concentrating on a job or enjoying time-off with his wife, Sandy, and their three young daughters, Costas Schuler looks and acts like any easy-going professional fellow. He lives in the western Sonoma County town of Forestville and works as a graphic artist in nearby Sebastopol for a marketing and advertising firm that designs logos, posters and brochures. But when he gets into his automobile, this 37-year old individual becomes a totally different being.
Costas Schuler owns an art car. Specifically, he drives a 1981 300 SD Mercedes, a vehicle so transformed by 10,000 pens, he is now known far and wide as “The Pen Guy.”
Human desire to personalize property probably goes back to cave painting days. No doubt early pioneers decorated covered wagons in some artistic fashion to express their owners’ individuality. Just when the automobile became a serious art medium is hard to say but certainly in the late 1960s passersby began encountering unusual looking vehicles, especially VWs, customized and stripped Detroit models, low riders, graffiti covered hippie buses and cars sporting Day-Glo or psychedelically-painted patterns.
Today, art cars appear nationwide: Houston, Tex., Douglas, Ariz. and Baltimore, Md. are among cities featuring art car museums; the growth of Nevada’s Burning Man Festival increased art car visibility; civic events such as last month’s Sacramento Auto Show at Cal Expo and September’s Art Car Fest 2008 in San Francisco attract huge displays. Weird and wonderful cars are seen everywhere. They’re featured by media and are favorite fair and parade attractions.
Many outstanding names have contributed to this phenomenon that defines art cars into two basic categories: “those street-legal vehicles permanently changed into mobile sculptures by paint and/or affixed objects;” On the other hand, “mutant vehicles” are so altered they must be towed or transported like floats. Books and films now cover this world of automobile creativity. One outstanding volume is Art Cars: The Cars, The Artists, The Obsession, The Craft by Harrod Blank, (2002, Lark Books, N.Y.)
Visit Blank’s website, harrodblank.com to understand how the 144 pages of this book with 337 colored photos tremendously influenced Costas Schuler’s life. Though he was born and lived in Greece through the sixth grade before his family came to California, he calls himself “old country.” Costas says his dad, an engineer, always urged, “Go for it, son!” Schuler attended DeAnza College, and chose as his credo: “Get a job and a wife as insurance, and then follow your dream.”
He was given the old Mercedes Benz to which he glued 20 pens, in June 2005. This car has clocked over 260,000 miles. Schuler’s blog, is kept current yet chronicles his past three years. Presently he’s covering the interior car ceiling with pens. “What with replacing ones that come off and adding new ones, it’s an ongoing project.”
He says, “I’m on a budget so I’m a grease monkey too and do all the maintenance of the car myself. Fortunately, my family is behind me all the way . . . When people ask why I do all this, I explain I want to inspire others to follow their dreams. I found this niche so it’s a joy to make people laugh and appear as an inspirational speaker or comedian.”
People send pens from all over the world. A friend told of shipping shoes to an orphanage in Mozambique. “The Pen Guy” decided to mail these children new pens that he sometimes receives from thrift stores. He asked the youngsters to send their old pens with their names on them. They’ve become part of the many “stories” recorded on the Mercedes.
Schuler enjoys making guest appearances showing his car at clubs, schools and retirement communities. He attended last month’s Sacramento exhibition but maintains, “I don’t need special weekends such as Burning Man. I just want to have fun, but it does turn into a job keeping up with it all, adding and replacing pens.”
He describes future ambitions such as wanting to be on Jay Leno’s show. “And I want to cover a newer Mercedes Benz and a giant Diesel RV that will comfortably sleep a family of five for our road trip across America.” So he urges folks to get in touch with his “Pen Guy” persona by concating him.