Helmet and Harleys – Part 1

Jun 29, 2019Being an Artist

A snippet of life in my studio, working on some custom projects

Hello again.

In this blog I thought I’d talk about my custom paint work, focusing on one job in particular, a bike helmet I’m the process of painting for myself and/or as a shop demo. After painting a good few guitars for ‘Emerald Guitars’ I found myself with the itch to paint more custom stuff.

Initially I wasn’t too sure about what to focus on but a renewed interest in motorbikes helped me make the decision.  This came about as a result of my first custom guitar project for Emerald. The guitar was created for Country Music singer ‘Robert Mizzell’, who also happens to be the proud owner of a Harley Davidson, a bike that I may just get the opportunity to paint in the future, a custom project as not yet confirmed.

Due to this connection, my personal interest in bikes and a recent trip to the Harley Davidson Centre in Dublin, I felt that motorbikes and all that comes with them was the most exciting route for me to take.

I had previously contacted a few bike shops and while the feedback was great on my guitars, they wanted to see my work on a helmet or two first as well. I was more than happy to oblige. Having had a bike once upon a time I still had some gear lying around, a helmet in particular so I dug it out of the attic, dusted it off and began prepping it for new paint. I also asked around some mates that I knew were into bikes and might have an old helmet that could be repainted. Inspired thinking right there !  Along with my own, I soon had half a dozen helmets to get stuck into. Epic scenario !

When deciding on ideas for personal projects I tend to get so many at once I don’t usually have enough surfaces all prepped and ready to work on, but having so many helmets ready to paint made things a lot easier this time. I’ve been following a photographer called Stefan Gesell on Instagram who takes some amazing photographs and my hope was that I could find a project where I could utilise some of them for inspiration somehow.  My helmet project was the perfect opportunity.

His photography is so great I could have picked any number of images but I found a couple of shots I thought would flow particularly well and started making plans for a layout. Normally I would mask up and draw my idea straight onto whatever I was painting but I had done a workshop a while back with Cory Saint Clare where he demonstrated the cutting and the use of stencils as a tool. This was the method I opted to apply here. With the two photos printed I started cutting. It’s a slow and tedious job but it’s worth it in the end ! The stencil allows you to lay down your image as well as reintroducing key features if and when you need, which I find of great help over just having your reference to go with.

This was the first time, in very long time, that I had undertaken painting a helmet. I had bought this helmet a few years back with the intention of painting it myself but loved the artwork that came on it so much I just kept putting it off.

That aside, the helmet was now in base coat ready for artwork. With the stencil ready I worked out the placement and taped down the first image. Spraying through the cuts of the stencil I laid down the first paint, a light coat of over reduced mid tone to start, 70% reducer to 30% paint. Developing it from a basic stencil to a more realistic image takes time and patience, building up from light to dark, while always trying to protect your highlights. I’ve learned from experience not to rush through the various stages. Getting to the end quickly was something I used to try do but I’ve learned to have patience.

This is one lesson I’ve been happy to learn and am happy to pass it on. It really does help the end result.  A difficulty I’ve come across with painting on a helmet is it’s curved so wrapping something like a paper stencil around it took a bit of adjusting. This is a important part of the process in order to keep the image looking right and not end up distorted. The challenges of working on the guitars is different in that I’m always trying to create the natural look/flow of the flag. The difficult part is always around the point where the neck meets the body and getting the folds right. I suppose all jobs will have their challenges!

(pic.1 and 1a: My helmet, a Shark S500, striped, sanded and in base coat. I use Createx paint in all my artwork, so Createx AutoBorne sealers are my go to paint for that first layer)

(Pic.2 and 2a : I have fixed the stencil where I want it and started with a light dusting of my skin tone, establishing some of the features and reference points for free handing in more detail.)

(Pic’s 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8: Continuing to use the stencil as a guide I build up the detail, always remembering to look after my highlights. It’s better to work this way as reintroducing white as a highlight can look a bit unnatural and take away from your artwork.)

(Pics 9 and 10: With the first image well established I set up the second stencil and started to introduce the next character in order to make sure I had the right balance and flow)

(Pic’s 11 and 12: More progress on the second figure. Really enjoying how this is turning out)

(Pic’s 13, 14,15 and 16: With the figures well on, I started to work in some of the other parts, script on the top front and work in the background. The chin area still looks a little empty so I’m going to play around with adding some text or a logo I haven’t quite made up my mind)

(Pics. 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21: These pics show where progress stands so far, it’s almost finished. Really happy with the way it’s looking.)

As the painting progresses I’m getting excited about how the end project will look. The image is starting to come to life and I’m loving the way it’s turning out.  I’m doing all my fine detail with the Iwata custom micron as supplied by SM Design. I love this airbrush. It allows me to work finer, adding details I never could with any other airbrush I use or have used. I highly recommend it as a creative tool for the airbrush artist. This helmet is a work in progress, not yet a finished article, but on completion it will showcase what I’m capable of doing and the level of detail I can bring to a project.  Keep a look out on my site for photos of the helmet when it’s been clear coated and reassembled.



Written by Keith O Brien


  1. John Carroll

    Absolutely astonishing work, love it. If I get back into biking, you are definitely doing a helmet for me!!

    Best of luck.

  2. Carolyn Burke

    Love you work. Keep it up

  3. Caroline Lewis

    Amazing detail Phil. I’ve an old helmet from a previous life. Kids use it on their go-karts !

  4. Björn

    Hello, very nice airbrush work. Keep it up.


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