The Accidental Painter

June 26, 2019

From trial and error to pro painter, Theresa Contreras proves her adaptability.

Theresa Contreras never meant to become a painter.

One afternoon at her family’s shop, the pinstriper never showed for a ticket due the next day. Most people would call the boss, try to another pinstriper, call in another from the team—not Contreras.

"I’m just going to do it myself," she thought. "I’ve watched them do it a million times. I know the materials—I’ll figure it out."

She decided she wasn’t leaving until the job was done and taught herself by trial and error. 

“I’d do it, wipe it off, do it again, wipe it off,” she says. 

Hours later, the rest of the staff was pleasantly surprised.

“I didn’t think I wouldn’t do it!” she says. 

Her background in graphic design certainly helped, but the fortitude to see it through is what really made the difference. It was a watershed moment in Contreras’ life and career. 

Today, Contreras is the lead designer and painter at LGE-CTS Motorsports, her family’s shop in San Dimas, Calif. What began as an auto body shop has evolved into a highly specialized custom and refinish West Coast hub. 

“We do a lot more specialty auto body repair that the local shops don't do, but we also do a lot of custom builds for the SEMA show and automotive industry manufacturers with our own custom designs."

Growing up, Contreras was drawn to the industry. When she was 16 years old, her parents took her to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas with its nonstop spectacle of the expo floor coupled with over 100,000 attendants and seemingly as many vendors.

That was really a game changer,” she says. “I’d see vehicles at the shop but to go there and see them on display was really something. I thought, ‘Yeah, I want to do this someday.’ 

“There’s a different aura of how excited everyone is about what’s happening at SEMA. It’s about trends. SEMA looks to the future and not the past.”

The future is exactly what Contreras has set her sights on. She’s passionate about the growth of women in the industry and wants to foster more transparency and hands-on opportunities to grow that demographic within collision repair and paint.

“People often say it’s a dirty job, it’s a blue-collar skill,” she says. “Really, it’s a fun, cool creative thing. People are taking notice. Woodworking, painting, welding—it’s all coming back. It can be creative and sexy and cool. Our goal is to make sure women understand that there’s nothing to be intimidated by—neither the work place nor the tools.” 

The Real Deal Revolution

She cites one of her proudest projects as an all-female Ford Mustang build conducted in 2012 by the SEMA Women’s Network (SWN). It was the first all-female build to ever be displayed at SEMA, and she was able to connect with other women in the industry and keep fostering that growth from the top down. 

Along with Jessi Combs, Contreras helped foster the Real Deal Revolution, a project devoted to revolutionizing the perception of skilled trades and womens' roles in them. Through RDR, Combs and Contreras host workshops, events and rendezvous, all intended to expose the trade, grow shop skills and brainstorm for future events. According to the RDR website, “Real Deal is a dynamic collaborative of legit automotive and industrial women who crave to empower and educate others" regarding the positive influences associated with design, speed, being hands-on—everything that occurs in a paint shop.

Theresa cites social media as a major tool for promoting women in industry and for making connections across the country. 

“It’s an open and inviting community. We want to help further other women in the industry. It’s hard to get good at anything—any job, any career, any project. Nothing is easy--go through the hard stuff to learn the skills.”

Since her first foray as a pinstriper, Contreras has done just that.

“We get people involved,” Contreras says. “She’ll do welding and I’ll do pinstriping or airbrushing and we’ll conduct a hands-on workshop. We take that intimidation factor away and get people excited. You hear women and even kids—we recently worked with about a dozen Girl Scouts—their excitement about doing something like that is palpable. I derive so much out of what I do; When you build and create something, there’s a different sense of pride and workmanship.” 

To see more of Theresa's work and the Real Deal Revolution, check out @RealDealRevolution on Instagram. 

Theresa's Tools: PPG Paint Systems

We use the PPG Envirobase High Performance waterborne paint system. I really like the Vibrance collection for special effects. All of the custom colors that they have are really nice. Color is my thing.

Having a color bank at my fingertips literally makes the possibilities endless. Get to know the amount you need to spray and how much you will use to minimize waste and save money. Remember that stirring and straining the color is an important part of the process. Familiarize yourself with the toners so you know how that toner will affect your formula. When mixing, if you don't know where to start, PPG reference formulas are a great guide. If mixing custom, you can modify the process from there to further understand it.

I enjoy mixing custom colors. If I’m doing a full vehicle build, I mix all the colors with Envirobase. I like having the mixing bank because I can custom-make my own color, record the formula, and have it perfectly color-matched every time.

I also use 1 Shot® paint. which is now owned by PPG. What I love about that product is what I said—I was able to teach myself with it because I understood its properties. Once the paint was on, I used mineral spirits to wipe it off without harming the vehicle. It enabled my trial-and-error process until I was successful.

The Painter's Playbook is presented by PPG and SATA/Dan-Am Co.

Also from Painter's Playbook

Sponsored Recommendations

Best Body Shop and the 360-Degree-Concept

Spanesi ‘360-Degree-Concept’ Enables Kansas Body Shop to Complete High-Quality Repairs

How Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrow Collision Center, Achieves Their Spot-On Measurements

Learn how Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrison Collision Center, equipped their new collision facility with “sleek and modern” equipment and tools from Spanesi Americas...

ADAS Applications: What They Are & What They Do

Learn how ADAS utilizes sensors such as radar, sonar, lidar and cameras to perceive the world around the vehicle, and either provide critical information to the driver or take...

Banking on Bigger Profits with a Heavy-Duty Truck Paint Booth

The addition of a heavy-duty paint booth for oversized trucks & vehicles can open the door to new or expanded service opportunities.