Q&A with James (Kaye) Kwiatkowski of Alpha 6 Corporation / Alphanamel
In our first installment of the Gnarly Magazine Weekly Features, we chat with James (Kaye) Kwiatkowski of Alpha 6 Corporation about Alphanamel, their brand new pinstriping and lettering paints.
Be sure to check out Alpha 6 online.
I was born in Dearborn Michigan, just outside of Detroit. My family is made up of artists, hotrodders, seamstresses, and entrepreneurs. I grew up in the garage with my father, who taught me woodworking and auto body work. I gravitated towards handmade sculptural objects, so the "lowbrow" culture was a perfect fit.
After high school, I got my bachelors degree from the College of Creative Studies. My time there was spent in the metal shop, designing cars and motorcycles. After receiving my bachelors in fine arts, I drove out to the west coast and looked for a job building motorcycles. I went to all of my favorite companies, showing up on their doorstep asking for a job. After being turned down by 10 or so of my favorite builders, Exile Cycles called me back. I quickly moved from Detroit to Los Angeles to start working for Russell. After a year or so, I decided to move back to Detroit and start Detroit Brothers Custom Cycles with my brother Dave. We had a couple Biker Build-offs on the Discovery Channel and did 13 episodes of the revised Monster Garage. Shortly after, I moved back to L.A. and started Detroit Brothers West. I found myself doing more pinstriping and lettering than metal and leather work. While in L.A., the local college asked me to teach their pinstriping class, which was my first connection with artists just starting out.
I was getting constant feedback on what the industry needed. Alpha 6 Corporation grew organically from there. I have been developing these products for the past 10 years. Last year I was in a motorcycle accident. While laying in bed recovering, I had plenty of time to talk with my artist friends about what product to release. I just went for it. I talked to my friend Chris Fast from Mack Brush about the product line. He ordered that day. I am forever grateful for his trust and belief in me. I am now back in Detroit with my family. We are constantly working with artists and making the best tools possible.
GNARLY: What’s your creative background and can you tell us more about what kind of art or projects you’re focusing on now?
JAMES: I come from a hot rod family. Being from Detroit, born in the 70s, hot rodding was in my blood and family. I was sanding Bondo, and bumping tin when I was 8. I Loved doing things with my hands, so naturally, I gravitated towards making stuff. I created a custom motorcycle company with my brother Dave, called Detroit Brothers Custom Cycles. We wanted to have complete control of production. To do this, we had to bring all of the processes into the shop, and it was my job to learn them. One of these processes was pinstriping and lettering.
Who makes up the Alpha 6 team and what are their roles?
Alpha 6 Corp. is based on team cooperation. We have a few employees in the shop filling orders, fabricating, mixing/developing paint, and working behind the computer. Our other teammates are out in the field. We have the best artists on our label. We consider these artists not only as diplomats for Alpha 6 but also as partners. We are constantly going back and forth about ways to make a better product. It's important to smash the ego —or try to— and to be open to new ideas. We are so fortunate to have an amazing group of people working together for a common goal.
Tell me what you were looking for in your enamel paints that you and other artists weren’t getting from the other leading brands.
What we want to do is create the best possible product (paint and tools) for our industry. It seems like we have been forgotten by the big guys. This is our livelihood and our legacy. We should have the best tools available to allow for pure expression to take place. Using a low-quality tool/paint clogs up that process.
How long was the process from the idea of manufacturing your own enamel paints to making them available for purchase?
We have only been in business since September of 2017. The ideas have been flowing around for a decade though. “Man, I wish they made this," or "Geez, this product sucks!"
How many colors did you release at first? Do you have a color count goal?
We are only releasing 20 colors now. It is extremely important to Team Alpha 6 to make a rock solid product before we get into the super “far out” colors.
What other colors are in the pipeline? Can you reveal which artist(s) will grace future labels?
Artists, colors, tools in the pipeline… Sorry, I cannot divulge that information at the current time. I can say that we ONLY work with the finest people, first and foremost. They just happen to be badass artists too! Our team is built on approachability and promoting our industry. We have a lot of teachers on board. Humble people, who want to help others learn and grow. This is the true foundation for Alpha 6 Corp.
Speaking of artist color names, what was your motivation for featuring them on the labels of your paints?
I just chose cool people, who I like. It's as simple as that. Who cares how talented or “big” an artist is? If they are a jerk, they will not be welcome on the team. Every new artist will be chosen by popular vote by our current team.
One thing a lot of artists complain about when it comes to the other leading brand(s) is that the removal of lead really hurt the quality of the paint. How do your enamels compare and why are they better?
Again, this goes back to our artists. Our artists tell us what needs to happen to each color to make it better. We then convey that information to our crazy nut job mega-smart chemist (don't worry, I say this to his face), who makes it a reality. Every business needs to make a profit to survive. How much profit is what is in question. We are dedicated to constantly make our product the best in this industry, no matter what!
Are you mixing, canning, and labeling everything in-house or is there any part of the process that gets sent out for another company to do?
The only part of the paint process we have made in another facility is our base resins and pure ground colors. We mix, can, and label everything in-house. The beauty of being small and having total control is the ability to tweak the product on the fly. Big companies have 1000's of cans premixed, so changing their product is very cost prohibitive. Alpha 6 Corp. is more like a small batch company. We want to be as fluid as possible, to respond immediately to our customers.
What questions do artists typically ask you about your enamels?
Artists ask if our products are compatible with the other enamels on the market. Our enamels can be mixed and matched with any oil based enamel paint on the market. Artists seem to think because we are new, we are making some water-based electro funky urethane mixoid. This is not to say we won't make one in the future, but let's get the enamels perfect first. The artists are hesitant to jump in, and I don’t blame them. We offer an affordable sample kit, so they can have a taste.
Will Alpha 6 painting, pinstriping or lettering brushes be available too?
Yes, we are currently manufacturing brushes too!
What’s next for Alpha 6?
What's next? We are going to continue to stay humble and be grateful for an industry that supports what we are doing. The sky is the limit when you have a good team!
Available Alphanamel colors:
- Lil’ Dame’s Blue
- Danny D’s Yellow
- Hanson’s Red
- Alpha White
- Omega Black
If you would like to be considered for a spot in our weekly feature, please e-mail us with samples of your work or a link to your Instagram.
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