From airbrushing T-shirts for tourists in Florida to serving customers across the globe, Steve Ray has come a long way from when he first started airbrushing in 1990 at the North Carolina State Fair.
Ray, who now primarily works on custom painted Corvette parts, got his start in airbrushing when he moved from Madisonville, Ky. to Florida when he was 18-years-old.
In 1997, he left Florida and moved to Owensboro and started working from a kiosk in Towne Square Mall painting T-shirts, auto tags, batting helmets and anything else people would ask him to design.
“I had always wanted to make a living doing something with cars, but painting T-shirts is what was paying the bills,” he said.
But, in 2007, Ray decided to splurge and ordered himself a brand new black 2008 C6 2LT MN6 Corvette. That purchase changed his entire career.
“While waiting for the ‘vette to be built, I joined a Corvette forum to get to know a little more about the car,” he said. “While talking to other Corvette enthusiasts, I noticed a demand for custom painted parts.”
Ray began advertising his skills on the online forum and painted his first Corvette piece for a man in Slidell, La. Once he posted a photo of the artwork on the web, Ray said the news of his talent spread quickly.
Since then, he has shipped artwork to almost all 50 states and to Austria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the European Union.
In 2012, Ray sold his shop in Towne Square Mall because internet orders for custom pieces had gotten bigger than the local T-shirt business.
“It was getting too difficult trying to stay on top of both,” he said.
Ray said, looking back at this career so far, it’s tough to figure out what his best work is now that he’s painted parts for more than 2,000 customers across the nation.
“Ironically, I’d put my latest piece in the top 10, although it happens to be a Camaro part,” Ray said. “I’d say that 90 percent of what I paint is Corvette related.”
Most of what Ray paints includes hood liners, cargo shades, fuel rail covers and other engine bay parts. He’s also been known to paint the exterior of a car when he can squeeze it into his busy schedule.
Even though Ray is staying busy with a waitlist of orders, he said only about 5 percent of his business comes from Kentucky.
Ray and his company, Airbrush Inc., are located at 1413 Triplett St. For more information or to place an order call 866-926-2116.