(Air)Brushes with Greatness
Nathan West, Sr. fell in love with airbrushing in the 1980s and has been working his craft ever since. Born in St. Louis and raised in Frankfort, KY, he has worked in 46 states. When he was 22 and first learning the ropes, he spent a lot of time on the road. “Every winter I would just disappear,” he says. “I didn’t care what it was. I used to do it all – state fairs, Harley rallies, airplane shows – I spent three-and-a-half years in my vehicle.”
West came to the Grand Strand by way of Daytona Beach, Fla. when he was hired by the owners of Suck Bang Blow to do a mural inside the bar. “I had a whole month up here, and when I wasn’t doing the mural, I’d take a break, drive down to the Boulevard and check out the school system. I found a place over at Tupelo Bay.”
A single parent of three, West saw the area as a good place to raise his kids – so he went back to Daytona and packed. Now 46, he has been here for seven years and hasn’t looked back. “I had great support from everybody at the SBB – and all of the people that went there. I love those guys.”
Nearly six years ago, he opened Airbrush 66 on South Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, an operation that encompasses every aspect of the art of the airbrush on every possible item from large to small. West says he feels like John Candy or Steve Martin in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” because he has done work on these and then some – including helicopters, tractor-trailers and boats. He also maintains an automotive decal shop nearby.
“I take a Mayberry business approach with my customers,” he says. “I am not trying to rip people off. I give them a fast, great and beautiful product – and there is nothing I don’t do.” This runs the gamut from portraits in pencil to the aforementioned mural work – anything that encompasses the world of art, according to West.
He originally became interested in airbrushing because of his sister, who started doing it first. “I really got in tune with it. We’d go on vacation to Daytona, and I’d spend my whole vacation – not in the swimming pool or at the beach – [but] in front of airbrush windows, watching these guys.” Eventually, West became good friends with all of the people he used to watch. “They brought me in and taught me,” he says. “It used to be so cool. We would try so hard to impress these guys that had been doing it for 15 or 20 years.” He says that in the mid 1980s, Daytona Beach was the airbrush capital of the world. “Everybody did everything freehand back then, and thank God for it.”
Airbrush 66 is a family business that includes West’s three kids – Nathan Jr. [Nathaniel], Jacob and Alexis. “We have one computer artist and another airbrusher that helps me out doing motorcycles from time to time.” Skyler Hall is on hand as decal artist. “We call him SkyNET 66 – like from the Terminator. He’s the decal guru.”
For seven months of the year, workdays can be grueling. “We get to work about 9:30 in the morning and we don’t leave until at least midnight to 2 in the morning, seven days a week.” And then there are the administrative duties and other tasks that West needs to deal with as a business owner. “On the 20th of every month you have to pay your taxes. I order supplies every Monday morning. But I have everything pretty visible, so I can just look inside my store and see exactly what I need.”
Airbrush 66 will add art classes in mid October.
When we asked him what he did for fun, West returned a quick “Nothing,” citing the long hours. “I love what I do, and I don’t think I could pull these hours if I didn’t.” But two watering holes are in very close proximity. “My favorite haunts are Gigi’s Beach Bar & Grill and McAdoo’s Beach Bar. We’re right in the same building and it makes it easy being artists that like to drink.”
West is grateful to call the Grand Strand home. “This town has been good to me. From Santee all the way up to North Myrtle Beach, this has been a great state to work in. I’ll be buried here.”
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