Franny Drummond’s versatility has afforded him unique opportunities that have transcended the parameters of kustom kulture. Celebrating over 20 years with his kustom paint shop, Paint Zoo Drummond affirms there is always more to learn, and his enthusiasm for the subculture always has him viewing challenges with a fresh lens.
“I love teaching! I’ve noticed people can be hesitant and lack the patience, but I firmly believe knowledge is power, and sharing techniques with people eager to learn keeps our kustom world alive! I’m open to being a mentor, and I get a kick out of how teaching makes me love kustom kulture all over again,” said Drummond.
His extensive career has allowed Drummond to witness the evolution of his beloved subculture. With technology’s hyper-speed of worldwide communication, kustom kulture has gained newfound accessibility by allowing fresh faces to build their skills in more collaborative ways. Drummond reflected on his kustom initiation and how he bore witness to the subculture’s extensive evolution.
“Kustom kulture really has blown up! I don’t agree with skyrocketing prices for rides because that puts up walls, which is not what I’m about. There certainly have been changes! Back when I got into it, all we had were a few magazines. I was big into low riders and would love how people abused paint to make wild designs! Seeing the greats take things to unseen levels inspired me, and I just immersed myself into it. The ‘90s had tons of pro-street rides, and it seems hot rods died down. Metal flake wasn’t big at all! We’d have stuff just sitting at the shop that nobody wanted at the time. You didn’t see a lot of pinup or hot rod fashion either, and that is also an integral part of kustom kulture,” he said.
Drummond worked to emulate the ‘bitchin’ designs’ he saw in hot rod magazines growing up and eventually enrolled in The International Fine Arts College in Miami, working within commercial arts. He hoped the experience would peel back the curtain and offer more insight into kustom paint techniques, but Franny recalled the school was far more traditional.
“I learned very quickly just how commercial things were. I remember one assignment was to make a record cover for either Spin Doctors or Pearl Jam since those groups were big at the time. In ‘92 there really was no internet, so it was tough meeting people with similar interests. Photoshop was just coming on and I eventually felt creatively handcuffed and it wasn’t what I saw myself doing,” reflected Drummond.
After tirelessly networking and trying to stay afloat in Florida, he eventually secured a job with Sean Slater, brother of surf legend Kelly Slater. Slater’s 11 world championships remain unchallenged.
“That was an experience I still feel lucky for having. I had moved to Cocoa Beach after completing school and worked and worked on doing kustom paint jobs on surfboards with Sean. It was fun, but there would be a lot of times with no money coming in because I learned surfers were mostly broke,” laughed Drummond.
Florida real estate was nowhere near as expensive as now, so Drummond was able to live beachside for a mere $400.00 while also working at Ron Jon. Eventually, his art career went idle and, after six years, Drummond moved back to Pennsylvania. Working on kustom paint jobs out of his shed, he eventually married and contemplated launching his own business.
“I fell into the bike industry by messing around with helmet and tank paint jobs before I had moved back. My art career was at a stalemate, so I took the plunge of borrowing money from my uncle, and that is when I launched Paint Zoo. It was nerve-wracking, and I am sure my first kustom piece was crude,” he laughed.
Paint Zoo slowly built up a clientele, mostly by word of mouth. Franny laughed and agreed that Pennsylvania was definitely not known as a kustom kulture community, but his work was earning attention and he steadily grew his business. As each final design boasted more meticulous techniques than the last, it felt like Drummond betting on himself was no longer a gamble.
“I was always eager to learn every technique I could because kustom paint can have a lot of steps, and even though you may not use every skill daily, having that extra knowledge can only help. I sometimes see people skip steps or just feel satisfied successfully copying what came before them. I think people should take risks and work to be versatile. Even the greats didn’t know every technique but eventually, they learned and built on tradition and became versatile,” stated Drummond.
His versatility sets him apart from his peers thanks to successfully bridging the gap between two sharply contrasting passions; sports and kustom kulture. His vision led to an ongoing collaboration with NHL club, Philadelphia Flyers, and a memorable relationship with goalie Carter Hart.
“Hart is such a strong kid! To play in a city that puts that much pressure on its stars is very difficult. I have always loved sports and played ice hockey since I was a young kid. Working with the Flyers started with a straight-up cold call to the organization! They were doing a charity event, and I wanted to donate some kustom panels. I got invited to the event, which was awesome, and was approached by Flyers Neil Little and the late Ray Emery. They asked if I did helmets, and I was like, ‘yeah, ok’ because I didn’t believe, for a second, anything more would come of it,” laughed Drummond.
Paint Zoo’s partnership with the Flyers began in 2009. Drummond’s personal connection intensified the following year after the Flyers lost both goalies to injury and signed Michael Leighton. The team went on a playoff run while Drummond was expecting his son. He bet his then-wife that if the Flyers earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals their son would be named Leighton. Despite not earning a finals berth, the couple remained true and christened their child Leighton.
“The irony is he doesn’t even watch hockey! I continued forming a great relationship with the Flyers and was asked by Carter Hart to collaborate on a helmet design. He surprised me and wanted to go with an AC/DC design. It was different from the other comic-themed designs, but that’s what being an artist entails, taking risks! Goalies are very superstitious, but Hart was willing to go in a new direction. It was such a rush to see the helmet live!”
Franny’s design continues earning praise, and the sports apparel company, BreakingT, utilized part of his design and reworked the basic image for their Flyers-based merch.
“To me, kustom kulture is so much more than just one thing! People ask me how I did sports-themed projects, but I firmly believe that handmade work is one of the many things of kustom kulture because it’s someone putting their heart into something. For others, they may expect handmade work to always have perfectly symmetrical lines and designs. For me, I don’t really wanna see that! Art is filled with beautiful mistakes and that’s what makes it unique. What is perfection? I chase that so-called imperfection because, in the end, it’s natural because it was made with heart and passion,” concluded Drummond.