Thirty years ago, Pamelina H. snuck into the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Expo with a mission. Fender was about to debut a custom-built guitar line for artists, and she wanted in. Her idea: splash them with paintings.
At the time, she was working for a guitar maker who encouraged her to visit NAMM and pitch the idea. She grabbed a gorgeous, baby-blue guitar painted with an image of a lady with wings and showed it to John Page, a master luthier charged with helping to start the Fender Custom Shop. Impressed, the two began collaborating—and she quickly became one of the most acclaimed guitar painters in the music world.
"It's a challenging canvas, but the jobs came so fast and furious . . . and nobody else was doing it," says Pamelina. "It didn't just hang on the wall; it made music. I mean, how perfect is that?"
Painting was encouraged from age 2, as it was a family tradition. Her artwork was first published in Vampirella Magazine when she was only 10, and she was already selling embroidery to shops in her hometown of Carmel by 13. Pamelina went to Europe upon turning 22 and worked the art scene in the Netherlands; when she returned to the States, she jumped into the music industry. In addition to painting on instruments, she created artwork for albums and tours and worked on merchandise for MTV, Lollapalooza and the Scorpions, among others.
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She got into painting on guitars after a member of the Persuaders requested a simple white design, airbrushed over with black-and-red highlights. Her designs favor realism aesthetics, though with unreal landscapes: a bear chomping on frets, a Marilyn Monroe series, even one featuring the monsters of Universal Studios. Pamelina's skills were such that she quickly built a celebrity client base who wanted her work on other items, too; she's done a gong for Mick Fleetwood and a drum kit for Sheila E., a motorcycle for Justin Timberlake, even a mobile home for Shaquille O'Neal.
"Me falling into guitars was a very happy accident," she says. "I think what I'm most proud of is that I stuck to what was important to me."
Pamelina donates her work to everyone from the Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation to MusicCares. "I had an unstable life growing up through early childhood," she says. "But I had art, and it saved me. My job is to bring beauty into the world and something positive, you know?"