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Friday, 15 May 2020 18:08

Paint Specialist, BASF Tech Training Assistant Accustomed to Ups and Downs in Field

Written by Victoria Antonelli
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Eric Lopez, 28, started working on his own brand in 2017, Mister Lopez. Eric Lopez, 28, started working on his own brand in 2017, Mister Lopez.

Eric Lopez, 28, is a freelance paint specialist whose clients include BASF and various electric auto startup companies.

The unpredictability of an independent contractor lifestyle has prevented him from being too fazed by the coronavirus lull.


“Being self-employed is never stable, at least not for me,” Lopez said. “I’m always adjusting and improving and expecting a worst-case scenario at all times.”


Lopez added that since a lot of his projects have been paused during the current situation, he’s taking this time to prepare for more opportunities to come.


“I am still doing some projects remotely but not the normal routine,” he said. “I have turned to canvas painting these few past weeks.”


Lopez’s love for art led him down a somewhat unconventional path for someone pursuing the collision repair field.


“I began creating works of art with various mediums as a hobby in middle school,” he said. “I never thought someday somehow I’d be able to connect everything and incorporate it into a career.”


Lopez said in high school he didn’t have any plans to attend college. However, he heard about El Camino College (ECC) in Torrance, CA, from a cousin who went there, and decided to enroll.


“Going to college, all I had was a bus pass and my skateboard; I started out taking only general education and art classes,” he said. “About a year in, I bought my first car and I cannot remember how I decided to take an automotive class, but once I did, I felt pretty confident about being able to do that type of work.”


Lopez said after he took that automotive class in 2010, he began filling his schedule with collision repair and refinish courses.


“I would leave home at 6 a.m. to be at class at 7 a.m.,” he said. “I would come back home around 10:30 p.m. and repeat the next day.”


Thanks to “intense dedication and preparedness,” Lopez landed a four-month internship with Honda R&D Americas in the fall of 2012.


“The internship was through my collision repair instructor, Patricia Fairchild, and the ECC Automotive Collision Repair & Painting Program,” Lopez said.


“I could tell right away Eric had artistic talent,” said Fairchild. “I have an art background too, and I can relate to the uncertainty of finding the perfect career mix of art and cars and a living wage, so when the internship at Honda R&D came up, I sent Eric right over.”


Right after that, he got an internship with BASF.


“I was referred to the BASF internship by an instructor at Compton College, Brent Kooiman,” Lopez said. “There was an open opportunity to send a college student to a BASF course and he suggested I go.”

Lopez said he hasn’t stopped working since.


“Although I have yet to officially graduate from ECC, I received an accomplishment certificate around 2014 from the college’s collision repair and paint program,” he explained.


After interning with Jess Ramirez, training manager at BASF, who Lopez said encouraged his creativity in the field, Lopez was picked up by an electric vehicle startup called Faraday Future.


“I worked with the startup’s color material and finish design team to create colors for concept models,” he said. “That’s when I realized I could use my art and refinishing skills in this field and earn a living.”


“In 2017, I began building my own brand under Mister Lopez,” he said. “I currently specialize in color development in automotive design for prototype and concept vehicles.”


CANOO is an example of a startup car company Lopez has worked with since he went solo. He also continues his professional relationship with BASF by assisting technicians at the training center in Buena Park.


“When painters go into BASF training, they will learn hands on paint prep and application on day one and hands-on paint prep and blending application on day two,” he explained. “A classroom portion is included both days where students are lectured about safety, current products, new products and the process and application for refinishing vehicles.”


Lopez added that even though the trainings and shop visits have been put on hold, he still assists shops with troubleshooting.


“This can be for computer system issues, system installations, speed training and more,” he said.


Depending on the time of year, Lopez said he’s either working eight-hour days, or up 24 to 30 hours straight finishing projects.


He added pulling all-nighters was rough at first, but he has gotten used to it.


“On a typical day, I frequent the local colleges---Compton and El Camino---automotive paint shops, ArtCenter College of Design, as well as BASF’s training center,” he explained. “I can be painting something, networking, updating social media or preparing for five steps ahead. Chaos!” 


Autobody News asked Lopez how he would advise other students who may be thinking of taking a more “out of the box” approach to collision repair, and he said the following:


  • Take art and automotive college courses or find a job similar to what you want.
  • Working for free can be good when you are starting out. 
  • Be prepared for opportunities. The dirty work up front can help open doors in the future.
  • Make sure you actually love it. If you don’t love it, you will break down during hard times.


For more information on El Camino College, visit elcamino.edu.

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