Signs and Wonders: Frequently Asked Questions

Are Sue Hopper and Sue VanNess one in the same?

My name has changed but my mural quality is the same (or better). Don and I got married August 17, 1999 in Idaho on the way to the Spud Rally in Pocatello, Idaho. So, if you have been seeing Sue Hopper signed on murals looking like Sue VanNess’ murals it is one in the same. My husband, who goes by ‘Hopper’ builds trikes when we are home.

How do I choose what kind of mural to put on my motorcycle?

Choosing a mural can be as simple as “I like sunsets and wolves” and leave the rest up to me—or I can pick your brain and help you create the whole thing. Your mural can have your favorite animal painted with a background from a photo you took on vacation. You may have three or four pictures that you like parts of. I can take all those pieces and create a custom mural to your liking. We can change the season or change the color scheme to compliment the color of your bike. You choose the theme and I will make it look good. Sometimes I like to let the color of the bike be the background. Blue and black make good night skies by just adding stars. Yellow imitates the summer sun and the new red will make the sky seem to change as you walk by. I like to ‘take’ the customer ‘into’ the mural so when it is done they feel like they have ‘been there’. I go over the story that it tells, so they can re-tell it to their friends.

Can you paint murals with “hidden pictures” in them?

Another specialty I have is painting murals with hidden animals in the mountains, trees and streams. Once I painted a mural on the trunk back of a Gold Wing that had 49 hidden buffalo in it. People loved standing around trying to find them all. I painted a huge mural on the whole back of a Texas Gold Wing trike that had quite a list of different hidden animals and birds. Everywhere they go, a crowd gathers to look and point.

How do you go about painting a mural?

Once the idea has been developed, the furthest away thing is painted first, which would be the sky. I use a method called wet on wet airbrush, which means I first lay down the base color with a brush, then airbrush over it while the paint is still wet. The airbrush ads hints of sunset colors, soft fluffy clouds or sunrays peaking out from where the mountain will be. Next is the horizon, whether it be mountains, ocean, forest, or plains. The color is muted then gets bolder as it gets closer. This gives depth to the picture-the illusion that you can see far, far away. Then the foreground is painted with more detail the closer you get-just like in real life. Again, hints of color are added with the airbrush to soften and bring the mural to life with highlights and shadows. Finally, the main subject is painted and again airbrushed while it is still wet. This helps add a three-dimensional look to the person or animal to make it look ‘real’. Then you have a piece of art that reflects the owners taste, character, and reflects a bit of their soul, as any mural should do.

Will I need to have my bike clear coated when you’re done?

The artwork dries shiny and does not need to be clear coated, only waxed. However, if the customer desires, it can be cleared later. Murals can be bursting with color or soft and subtle. I can make either work with any color background by changing the colors within the mural to compliment the color of the bike.

Do you do pinstriping also?

Yes, I also pinstripe. A touch of color can add a whole new look to a bike. I don’t fill up the whole space – sometimes that looks cluttered. I like simple designs that compliment the bikes color and contour. When I am asked to stripe a bike, I like to first ‘try on’ colors for the owner. Sometimes what you would think would look good doesn’t and visa versa. When I put different combinations right on the bike, the customer knows right away which one they like best. Then we go to the design and I work with them on that too. Once that is decided, I complete the bike.

What are some good eye-catching graphics that I can get painted on my bike?

Another eye-catcher is the checkerboard flame; a waving flag in the shape of flame outlined in a color contrasting to the bike color. This looks great on black, dark blue, red, and yellow, especially on the new 2001 Gold Wing style. I also paint what looks like the metal is tearing back to expose a flag, or animal or a mural. It looks like you are looking inside the bike.

Do you paint on anything else?

I also paint on leather vests, coats, and chaps. I use both airbrush to put in a soft background and special effects, and brush to get the fine detail. The paint, once dry, is very flexible and will not crack or chip.

Do you get tired of painting?

I am often asked if I get tired of painting. My body gets tired at times, but I never get tired of creating and we never get tired of making people happy. That is why we spend more time away than at home. That is why we travel thirty some thousand miles a year. That is why we give up the family reunions and the weddings and birthdays. You have become our family. You have become our friends.

How long have you been painting on motorcycles?

I have been painting on motorcycles somewhere around 24 years and on most anything else before that. It all started with one, then word of mouth took over. The first year I went to four rallies. Last year we went to 24. We have been blessed to get to travel coast-to-coast and border-to-border painting on motorcycles and meeting a lot of really great people. Traveling around the country gives me art lessons that only God can give. The way the water moves around the rocks in a mountain stream, the ever so beautiful sunsets that are never the same, the way a tree grows off the side of a mountain, the mist coming up from the lake as the ducks take off and the deer look up from drinking. With no formal training, I feel that because God has given me this talent and has taught me how to use it, every mural painted is a blessing passed on.

How do I find out about where you’ll be?

You can find my rally schedule and more pictures on my web page at www.signsandwondersbysue.com. Check back occasionally, as the list will be updated as we receive information on other rallies.

How do I schedule an appointment for a rally or to have you paint for me at your shop?

You may call 319-696-3611 now for an appointment for any of the rallies listed, or bring your bike to our shop here in Lockridge, Iowa, when we are here.

Do you do any other kind of artwork for motorcycles?

I started etching on windshields and air wings this year and really enjoy it. In Springfield, I had a customer who wanted an angel etched with an image of an eagle on her dress and the eagle’s wings came up to become the angel’s wings. I sketched what the customer described and when approved, etched it on the windshield. It was awesome! The customer has a one-of-a-kind custom job and I got the chance to create in yet another way.