Over the weekend, the word made its way through the automotive community that Mike Lavallee had passed away. Mr. Lavallee’s name may not be a household name, but his work has been seen by millions of people. He has also inspired countless others in the custom paint and pinstripe world. Let us join with the automotive community as it takes a moment to remember him.
Mr. Lavallee began drawing at the age of 2, picking up papers and crayons and trying to refine his early skills by creating dinosaurs and other animals. He was inspired by one of his English teachers to enter an art competition, which proved to be the spark he needed to know what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Mr. Lavallee went to the Butera School of Art in Boston, initially to take sign-painting courses. In 1979, after the two-year program, he got work sign-painting. A year later, however, he opened his own shop in his parent’s garage. He used that time to add pinstriping and airbrushing to his skills.
At a friend’s suggestion, Mr. Lavallee went to a motorcycle rally in New Hampshire. It was a good weekend for him. He made more at the rally than in a month of the sign business. From that point on, he traveled the motorcycle circuit from Maine to Florida and even South Dakota.
In 1999, Mr. Lavallee would again set up a shop again. Killer Paint Inc. is an airbrush studio in Snohomish, Washington. About that time, he decided to set up a booth at the Seattle Roadster Show. Before the show opened to the public, Mr. Lavallee strolled through the displays and came across a car that caught his interest, but it also had a scratch on it. He offered to fix the scratch.
The legendary Chip Foose, of Foose Design, ended up being the one to pay Mr. Lavallee to fix the scratch. That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. Since then, Mr. Lavallee has been on television shows such as Overhaulin, Monster Garage, West Coast Choppers, Rides, Miami Inc, Rock the Boat, Hot Rod TV, and Evening Magazine.
Along the way to stardom, Mr. Lavallee was quick to realize his technique of creating real-like flames was his niche. As a pioneer of the real-like flames, he decided to brand some templates he had created and made them available to other artists so they can reproduce his flame techniques. He called them True Fire templates. He also started Youtube videos and a blog for instructional purposes, as well as for branding. Auto and motorcycle enthusiasts could not have enough. The templates and instructional videos are still popular today. Consequently, between the shows, the templates, and the Youtube videos Mr. Lavallee’s popularity has risen to top-of-mind awareness among pinstripe and hot rod flame artists world-wide.
Sadly, Mr. Lavallee passed away due to complications from a stroke he suffered. The stroke left him with the need for surgery, which he had and according to his website, killerpaint.com, he seemed to be recovering from. Nevertheless, on April 14th, he passed away. He was 60 years old. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with expenses, and some of his artwork will be auctioned off as well.
Mike Lavallee’s work is so pronounced in automotive culture today that if one walks into a custom paint or airbrush shop and asks for real-flames, the shop will know that you are referring to a paint job using Mr. Lavallee’s True Fire techniques or templates. Those techniques have since been copied by endless strings of artists and videos. None-the-less, Mr. Lavallee’s impact has changed the industry. He will be missed.