Each year, during the annual O’Reilly Auto Parts World of Wheels Auto Show in Chicago, the annual Frank H. Atkinson Lifetime Achievement Award is given by the Chicago Brushmasters, a nonprofit group of sign painters that host auctions to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. The award is given to an artist who has been an innovator, mentor and friend to the sign painting community throughout his or her career.
    Bill Diaz of Pontiac has named the 2018 recipient of the annual Frank H. Atkinson Lifetime Achievement Award.
    “He is a man of many passions and abilities, always innovating, mentoring and a true friend to our entire industry,” The Brushmasters stated in a Facebook post regarding Diaz’s award. “Welcome to this very honored group, Mr. Diaz.”
    Diaz’s son, Joe, described the Brushmasters as a group of pinstripers, sign painters, airbrush artists and others, based in the Chicagoland area, who live across the Midwest.
    “It’s just a wide range of artists,” Joe said. “The Chicago Brushmasters are part of a larger organization called the Letterheads.The group is basically made up of sign makers and pinstripe artists. They have been organizing Letterhead meets for years.”
    Joe Diaz said the need for groups like the Letterheads came about because years ago, sign artists and commercial artists were very secretive about their techniques.
    “Artists didn’t communicate much outside of their own companies and there was a lot of knowledge not being passed around,” Diaz said. “So, sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, these artists decided to come together and start sharing ideas. That group became the Letterheads.”
    Diaz said that early on, The Letterheads would host events called “Panel Jams,” where artists would show up with their paint kits and do artwork at the event that could be shared with other artists.
    “Somewhere along the line, somebody suggested that, in addition to sharing the work with other artists, they could also auction their art off for a good cause,” Diaz said. “So the Chicago Brushmasters decided they would help out the Ronald McDonald House Charities by using their skills to create panels, not just to share with their friends, but also to auction off and share with the community to raise money.”
    Ben Diaz, Joe’s brother, estimates the Chicago Brushmasters have raised more than $800,000 for the RMHC in their 10 years of existence.
    Regarding the award, Joe Diaz called Frank H. Atkinson “the quintessential Letterhead” due to his artistic abilities and interest in sharing knowledge. A post from the Chicago Brushmasters describes Atkinson as “a dedicated individual to the industry not only in Chicago but worldwide as well. Teaching his design principles, color theory, pictorials and so-so much more.”
    The group also describes Atkinson as a master of his trade, practicing a never-ending journey to perfection.
    “The recipients of this award have certainly mirrored Frank’s attributes in many ways,” the group stated on social media. “He really is ground zero. Those of you who really love this art form called sign painting know a casual approach will never suffice to greatness. Practice, practice, practice is what Frank would have encouraged.”
    Like Atkinson, the Diaz brothers agree about the importance of practice. Ben Diaz said, to him, practice means putting a brush in his hand and working on projects.
    “I don’t pinstripe, but I know enough about it to understand that there is a lot of technique and muscle memory involved,” Joe added. “It takes practice to tighten all of that stuff up. I’m not even close to getting to the level of the Brushmasters, but in order to get there, there is no better way to do it than practice. Art, in general, takes practice. I guess some of it goes back to that nature vs. nurture argument, but I honestly think there is a lot of nurture involved in being a good artist.”
    Although they don’t attend the event every year, the Diaz siblings, as well as Bill’s wife, Jane, attended the event this year. Ben Diaz said he was asked to pinstripe and create things for the RMHC charity auction last year.
    “Even though I’m not a pinstriper, I appreciate cars so I had fun looking at that stuff, too,” Joe Diaz said. “It was fun to go because I’m definitely a fan of the pinstriping.”
    “We were really proud to see him receive the award. That day, I gave a speech to the Brushmasters and the theme was how proud we are of what he’s been doing. He’s been all about teaching us our whole entire lives, not just about art, but how to be good people.
    “However, he has also had the opportunity to teach a lot of other people, too, and I think he enjoys doing it. We sometimes take for granted all the great stuff he does, because we see it every day. It’s nice to know that other people recognize it, too.”