It all started in 2014 during an argument with her children. Kimberly Hammond said she and her husband love attending the Houston Art Car Parade every year and taking their children to enjoy the show. That is, until the kids got into middle school.
“When they got into middle school, they started griping about it. I said, ‘Fine. You don’t want to watch the parade anymore? Then next year we’ll be in it!’” she said.
From that moment, Hammond, an administrative specialist for the City of Houston human resources department got to work turning her Honda Civic into her first art car project and has participated in every parade since — COVID year cancelation excluded.
“I’ve always loved art and I’m a ‘wannabe’ artist. My husband was a little shocked, to say the least. So, I explained it to him this way: my car is 10 years old, and it’s going to last another 10 years. Who cares what it looks like?” she said.
The Houston Art Car Parade is the oldest and largest event of its kind. About 300 cars, bikes, and contraptions enter the parade every year. They come from all over the country, with a few from Canada and Mexico, Hammond said. It’s estimated that 300,000 people attend the 2023 parade in April.
For Hammond, her art car is more than just a vehicle to express her creativity. It’s her ‘daily driver,’ she describes it.
“That means it’s my everyday car,” she explained. “This is the car I use to drive to work, school, the grocery store, etc. People often ask me if my art car is an extra car, like I have extra cars lying around! I don’t. This is the family car.”
According to Hammond, it takes about 200 hours to create an art car project. That includes, sanding, taping off windows, sketching with chalk, painting, and touch up, she said.
“Some people think my art car is a wrap, and I think what a great compliment!” she said. “But on the other hand, I want them to know that it is hand painted. I want credit for the 200 hours I invested!”
She also said she typically doesn’t paint during the summer because the triple-digit heat, choosing instead to work during Christmas break when she has time off from work. It was a valuable lesson learned about the importance of time management and planning.
“The first time I painted a car, I made the mistake of painting during the school year. I had just finished taping off everything (which takes 4 or 5 hours) when my son asked me to drive him somewhere. So, I had to tear all the paper off the windshield, mirrors, headlights, etc.,” Hammond said. “Now I paint during the holidays when I know my husband will be home and if anyone needs a car to go somewhere.”
Hammond said she has created four designs for her car entries, each with a unique explanation behind them.
“I wanted to involve my children in the parade, so I asked them to help design the car. My youngest son is a history buff and went through an obsession with Sparta,” she explained about one particular design.
“He suggested Sparta. I said, ‘That doesn’t really represent mommy.’ He said, ‘Sparta!’ I said, ‘How about puppies and kittens?’ He said, ‘Sparta!’ I said, ‘What about fruits and veggies?’ He said, ‘Sparta!’”
For another project, Hammond said she let her sons shoot the car with paintballs to create giant paint ball splats on the vehicle — hence the name ‘Splat’. Another one of her designs is the ‘Celticar,’ which celebrates her Irish heritage with green plaid and a Celtic knot trim and was also interactive.
“I gave children paint pens to add shamrocks to the car,” she said. “At the last parade, I invited Irish dancers from the Carrington-Bass dance school to join me. I played Irish music on blue tooth speakers while they danced in front of the car.”
In 2017, Hammond created the ‘Puzzling Times Art Car,’ a homage to her love of crossword puzzles. She had seen an art car decorated by a school group that had a board game on it and decided she wanted to do something different.
“I love board games and was kicking myself for not thinking of that on my own,” she said. “But then it hit me, I love crossword puzzles, too! My husband and I have a tradition of doing the New York Times Sunday puzzle together that started when we were dating.”
She decided instead of copying any random puzzles onto the car, it would be art car themed. She tried to design one herself with the names of classic art cars included on it, but soon realized creating a crossword puzzle is hard.
“It’s harder than solving one, at least I think it is,” Hammond said.
The solution? She hired a professional instead to design the crossword puzzle.
“I paid $150 to create it. I painted it on my car, but purposefully left some of the answers blank. At the parade, I gave children a paper copy of the puzzle and a dry erase marker to fill in the answers on my car,” she said.
When she drives down the street, Hammond said she might see people point and stare at her vehicle. She simply smiles and waves. Anyone who doesn’t get it would think that it’s a lot of wasted time and effort to paint up a car to be in a parade filled with similarly looking weird vehicles. Hammond would disagree.
“The art car community is a friendly and accepting group of people,” she said. “While the cars are judged for awards at the parade, the art car artists don’t judge each other. I know that I don’t have the most artistic design or the craziest car —although it’s the craziest in the suburbs! I’m always amazed when an art car artist that I idolize compliments my car. I am so grateful.”
Hammond said in the past she put too much energy into having a nice car that had to look factory perfect.
“Painting my car liberated me from those hang ups. Now I see people taking photos of my car at stop lights and in parking lots. I heard some students at Kingwood High School even created an Instagram account for photos of my car spotted around town! Art cars make people happy,” she said.