He’s a household name in the airbrush world, known most for his military art, but also renowned for his realistic style, his patriotic zeal and his willing to use his art to raise money for charity and just makes people happy. By teaching other fledgling artists about airbrush techniques and creating breathtaking scenes that have appeared at car shows all over the globe, Harris is enjoying his busy life as a painter, consultant, artist, teacher, inventor and mentor.
Harris, 56, has been painting for 34 years and has produced thousands of murals on metal, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and assorted mediums. He embarked on a career as an airbrush artist at the age of 19, in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, painting on T-shirts to learn the trade. After absorbing as much as he possibly could about airbrush art and refining his skills, Harris made a significant impact on the car paint art industry and today he is considered one of the finest airbrush artists in the entire world.
As a publisher, Mickey founded Airbrush Magazine in 1994, and as a respected industry leader he was elected President of the International Airbrush Association twice in the 1990s. Mickey’s work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including on the covers of King of the Road magazine, Truckin’ and Airbrush magazine, just to name a few.
Mickey has also appeared on a wide range of TV shows including appearances on Overhaulin’, Gearz, Car Crazy, Drag Race High and is currently working with an investment group for his own television show and has also been a guest on numerous talk shows and news broadcasts over the years. He was featured on the Travel Channel’s show called King of the Road, in which he was shown painting the world’s most detailed 18-wheeler, with more than 2,000 man-hours, and over a million strokes of the airbrush in 1999. One of Mickey’s show trucks captured 22 “Best of Show” awards and he also won the prestigious “DuPont Top Gun” award four times. Harris’ images can sell for as much as $100,000 and celebrities such as Jay Leno covet his work.
Traveling to shows, seminars and public appearances year-round, Harris doesn’t have a retail store or a studio where people can see his work. He works out of body shops in different parts of the country to complete his ongoing list of projects.
“I have a home in Tennessee and another one in South Dakota, so I work out of body shops in each area. I do 2–3 large projects every year, which are basically complete vehicles, but I also do 10–12 smaller projects every month—primarily motorcycles, tanks and hoods, for example.”
Mickey’s painting style is heralded for its incredible depth and detail, complemented by his knowledge of color, form and perspective. In addition to his artwork, Mickey has been teaching the art of airbrushing for over 20 years, through seminars for the United States Sign Council, Airbrush Magazine, SATA, the International Airbrush Association, Airbrush Action Magazine, BASF and Sign Business Magazine. Mickey has also painted numerous murals for the United States Air Force and painted nose art on nine B-1 Bombers.
Mickey Harris is known for many things, but his seven aviation-related paintings currently hanging in the Pentagon are probably some of his best-known, he said. “I’ve got two new paintings for the Pentagon—they’re ready to go. But I’ve really made my career doing the automotive stuff I do. That’s what I pursue and that’s where I really make my living. I’m an artist, but in the end it’s also a business, so I pursue the projects where I can make money and feed my family. The rest of the things I do, such as donating my art for fundraising charity efforts for the military, are also very important and meaningful to me.”
In 2002, Mickey’s Heroes truck gained a lot of media attention and that’s when he started being known for doing amazing, real-life military scenes on cars and motorcycles, he said.
“The Heroes truck was a tribute to 9/11 and it got a ton of exposure. So after that, people who were looking for that type of art started finding me on the Internet. All of a sudden, I received a lot of referrals for more memorial type stuff. There wasn’t any conscious effort to get into the military art, but it just happened after the Heroes truck. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this type of work. My father was a fighter pilot, so I was an Air Force brat and that’s why I have a close bond to the military and appreciate the sacrifices that our soldiers make.”
Harris greatly values his decade-long relationship with SATA, he explained. “I started working with SATA back in 2003, when I met the Dan-Am Company people from Spring Valley, MN, and immediately liked Tony Larimer at SATA. I was doing seminar programs and we started a relationship and Tony and I eventually became very good friends. Dan-Am has really good people there and I like working with them because their word is gold, and that’s hard to find. SATA and Dan-Am invited me to go to Germany for the SATA 100th anniversary and I did a painting demonstration there at the SATA factory in 2006. They had a James Bond theme at the party, so I dressed up like Bond and walked out with a couple of mini-jet guns under my jacket and painted on a canvas to the James Bond theme song. It was a blast!”
Hooking up with SATA to develop a new airbrush has been an exciting and fulfilling experience, he said. “I sat down with the people from SATA to develop the SATAgraph 4. It took two years of development to get it where it needed to be. It was introduced at this year’s SEMA Show and people immediately liked it. We wanted to come up with an affordable airbrush that was a good airbrush that can work well in the trenches. I call this the AK-47 of airbrush guns, because you can beat the hell out of it, throw it in the mud and it keeps working. It retails for $149, so it’s absolutely competitive. It’s got good German engineering in it, but one of the things I like the most about it is we’re able to make it here in the good old USA. I tell people it’s German engineered and American made.”
Harris uses SATA airbrushes almost exclusively for many reasons, he explained. “I really like all of SATA’s airbrushes, but the SATAgraph 4 has some great features. It’s got a tip protection cap that’s reversible, so you’ll never lose the cap, which can be a problem with other airbrushes out there. We believe it’s going to be the #1 selling airbrush within the next four years, because it’s a better product.”
Passionate about every aspect of his life, Harris describes himself as someone who is “old, but still running around like I’m 20 year-old.” He added, “I love what I do, but I’m starting to realize that it’s a little harder now to operate at a high level. I just hope I can live long enough to do everything I want to do. Right now, I’m very happy, because I’m really enjoying my life; working harder now and producing better stuff than ever. So it’s a good time!”