Art on the Move: The Link between Brendan Droppo and Superman

You’ve probably admired the art of Brendan Droppo before and never realized it.

You won’t find his work hanging on the walls of the MOMA in New York City or see his masterpieces on display in the halls of the Louvre. And his artwork’s style, form and color will probably never be studied in an art class alongside Michelangelo, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Warhol.

But make no mistake about it, Droppo is an artist … and an excellent one at that.

Instead of locales like the Big Apple or Paris, you’d have to travel to places like Daytona Beach (Fla.), Fontana (Calif.), Concord (N.C.) and Loudon (N.H.) to enjoy his talent.

And even then, you’d need a keen eye to catch his artistry fly by at speeds approaching 200 mph. Or you could get a special pass to arrive early and view the art up close as its canvas sits stationary in a garage … for the time-being.

Although Droppo is very much an artist, he isn’t your typical artist. Instead of paper, canvas or something similar, his medium is cars. In particular, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race cars.

As a child, Droppo was a big NASCAR fan, especially Bill Elliott. He was part of Elliott’s fan club and once wrote to the popular driver requesting an autograph. The response? An autograph along with a nice message.

“My favorite driver was Bill Elliott growing up, maybe because I liked McDonald’s,” Droppo quipped. “I used to collect all the McDonald’s cars and then it just grew from there. I took an interest in all the other paint schemes, besides just the McDonald’s, the more I grew up.”

Designing paint schemes for race cars was something that always interested him, even long before he began doing it professionally.

Droppo stated: “It all started with me when I was real young, like six, seven or eight just drawing the cars after race day. I used to watch (NASCAR) with my dad. He introduced me to it when I was a child, but I would always draw the race winner of the race that we just watched and maybe I’d do a second drawing and come up with a different paint scheme for it.”

Then in 2013, Droppo’s life changed when he got his first professional gig with a NASCAR race team. Gone were the days of drawing fantasy paint schemes on Sunday nights after races that only a few people would ever see.

This was his entry into the NASCAR world … the big time. His first NASCAR contract was with Xxxtreme Motorsports’ No. 44 Ford, driven by Scott Riggs, and their sponsor No Label Watches.

These days, Droppo is designing paint schemes for the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS driven by six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. He’s also designed several paint schemes for the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Droppo’s work with Xxxtreme Motorsports caught the eye of Chad Knaus, the crew chief of the No. 48, who put him in touch with the Sports Marketing Manager at Team Lowe’s Racing. It wasn’t long before the artist was working with Lowe’s on new paint schemes for Johnson’s car.

“I got affiliated with Chad Knaus through a connection and he really liked the work I was doing,” Droppo stated. “I’m sure he had in the back of his mind the new paint schemes for 2015. … Our first project we got to work on was the 2015 primary that you see on the track today. We worked on that in 2014. That was the first project of many.”

Since the start of the 2015 season, Droppo has designed all of the paint schemes for the No. 48 with the exception of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation car he drove last year. And you’ll see more of his work on track in the upcoming weeks and months.

Of all the paint schemes he’s created for Lowe’s, the coolest and most challenging design was the Superman design the No. 48 ran during the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway back in March.

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“I feel it’s probably one of the cooler ones I’ve done with the amount of detail in it. A lot went into it,” said Droppo. “You have to take into account the feel of the movie and for this movie it has a little more of a grungy dark feeling.

“It was a challenge implementing all the graphics and laying them out in a way that was eye-catching yet still made the 48 and the Lowe’s pop from the spectator perspective. There’s so many details in that car.”

When it comes to the amount of details on the Superman car, Droppo isn’t kidding. From the design on the sides of the car that mimics the metal on Superman’s suit, as well as the Kryptonian script that covered large portions of the costume, to the car numbers and Superman logo overlaid with a special pattern, it’s obvious that no corners were cut or details were left out.

The paint scheme also includes a cool muted red cape that flows over the roof and down the back half of the car as if it were in motion. The car seemingly even has red eyes peeking out from below the headlights to simulate the red lasers Superman shoots from his eyes.

When the No. 48 Superman car finally hit the track in Southern California, Johnson did his best Superman impression by winning the race by 0.772 seconds over second-place finisher Kevin Harvick. Johnson led the race six times for 25 laps, including the last two. When he arrived in Victory Lane, he broke out Superman’s red cape.

Fortunately, Droppo was there to experience the victory first-hand.

“It was the first victory I’ve been a part of,” said Droppo. “It was like a childhood dream-type feeling, and it was a blast to be able to share that with my wife.”

When it comes to how well the Superman was received, it was pretty positive from both the fans and the team, including the driver.

“It definitely got a lot of social media responses, more particularly on Twitter regarding ‘how awesome it was,’” Droppo stated. “Jimmie winning that race was icing on the cake.”

“Even when I was in Victory Lane I got to talk to Jimmie at the end of it and made a joke that the paint scheme gave him powers to do that last-second maneuver. I know he really felt a part of the whole thing too. He was really involved, especially with that cape. So, he was definitely a fan of it too and everyone at the sponsor, at Lowe’s, really liked it.”

In case you’re wondering, Johnson’s No. 48 Superman car wasn’t the only car he designed for the Auto Club 400. The No. 88 Batman Chevrolet SS of Earnhardt, Johnson’s teammate, was also created by Droppo. And it’s not his last.

Droppo stated: “The Batman car was actually my first 88 design, and you can tell if you look at both designs side-by-side that the 88 has the same kind of feel as the Superman one.”

Actually, Droppo got hooked up with Earnhardt’s primary sponsor Nationwide through his connection to Lowe’s.

“Lowe’s was nice enough to introduce me to Nationwide during the time of the Batman/Superman project,” said Droppo. “I don’t think we were sure what Nationwide was doing, but with me making the Superman design and the sheets to go out internally, we felt that it’d be appropriate for the Nationwide car to match that feel.”

The process and time behind designing and producing a paint scheme, regardless of whether it’s a primary design or a special paint scheme, is long and involved with many steps and often several revisions.

For special paint schemes, like the Superman design, designers usually have less time to create a design than they would a primary. Depending on the project and the rush, the drafting and designing stages could take anywhere between a couple weeks to a couple months.

However, the whole process starts with input from the team and sponsor on what they’re looking for.

“It starts with a brief from the client and they’ll say ‘we want it to convey this feeling.’ Or maybe, ‘here’s where the logo goes’ and ‘we want to have this color palette’” Droppo told Splash ‘n Go during an interview. “That’s why Lowe’s is so great to me, because they’ll give me tons of creative flexibility.”

And for Droppo, inspiration could come from anywhere.

After copious amounts of research looking for ideas and inspiration, he’ll start sketching several designs with a pencil and paper before drafting them on the computer. During the drafting stage, he usually creates six different concepts and passes them on to the sponsor for review. From there, the number of designs is cut down to about three, which will go to the CMO or other executives within the company for review. They narrow it down from three to one remaining design and they go from there.

“There may be one more edit in terms of what the final selection is and preparations … from the application point of view – this stripe has to be here or this color has to be like this,” said Droppo.

It’s important to make sure every design element is perfect and there are no issues with the colors, sizes or shapes before the car is painted or the wrap decal is created.

Droppo: “Sometimes [designers] can be involved in the color selection. I know with the primary of the Lowe’s one there was kind of a debate on what the blue should be like. I did some research and saw how nice the blue was – I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the Corvette with Laguna Blue on it, it looks really, really nice. When I saw that picture, I was like, ‘Wow, that has to go on the Lowe’s car.’”

“They told me in the beginning of the project they were looking to go a little lighter on the blue because the 2014 one – the one he won the championship with – was really, really dark, almost like a Midnight Blue.”

Throughout the rest of the 2016 season, fans will see more and more of Droppo’s work on the No. 48 Chevrolet SS and several more on the No. 88. But, he doesn’t want it to end there.

If he had his wish, he would design paint schemes for all the NASCAR teams. He realizes how unrealistic that may be, but as long as he works hard, remains dedicated and has faith, the number of cars running a Brendan Droppo original paint scheme may increase.

“Basically, you have almost your resume on wheels out there every weekend with the Lowe’s stuff and now Nationwide,” Droppo said. “It’s definitely growing in the right direction. That’s definitely the goal – to design more.”

And for Droppo, nothing beats a race track for displaying his artwork … not even an art museum.

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