Auckland-based pinstripe artist Charlie ‘Chaz’ Allen spends his working hours painting cars at Moselle Panel & Paint, but after hours he’s been piecing together some of the coolest custom art the country has ever seen. After seeing more and more of his creations recently, be it vehicle pinstriping, lace painting, wall-mounted canvases, car parts, or helmets, we thought we’d better check out exactly what the process of creating them involves. The helmet you see here is one that Chaz plans on keeping for himself, but it is similar to a few customer jobs he’s done of late. All up, he estimates that around 20 hours have gone into it, and, while it’s by no means a cheap or quick process, he charges a lot less than he could for the work he does, as he enjoys doing it.
The visor mounting points and plastic edging of the retro-style helmet are masked, with a plastic bag used to protect the foam inside the helmet. After being wiped with wax and grease remover, the helmet is scuffed with a Scotch-Brite pad to remove the factory gloss finish. From there, a standard silver car paint is sprayed over the scuffed surface without any primer.
A mild metal flake mixed with clear coat is sprayed over the whole helmet. As with any metal flake, great care must be taken to ensure a consistent finish — something that’s tricky on a round shape such as a helmet.
The bulk of the area not to be painted is covered with masking tape. However, a fine pinstriping tape is used to ensure a smooth edge. Plenty of time needs to be taken here to make sure the lines are perfect and the tape adheres firmly, as any issues at this stage can result in the whole thing being a disaster.
Here’s where things get tricky. Lace fabric, as used in your grandmother’s curtains, is wrapped around the areas to be painted next. Making sure the fabric is taut but the patterns are not warped is tricky, but well worth the time and effort, as it’s this lace that sets the finished product apart. Various lace materials are available from fabric shops, all with different patterns, so you need to take your time to find one that’s right for the task at hand. In this case, the pattern is laid so it is identical on both sides, which is a bit more complex.
Although it is hard to see, the lace areas are sprayed lightly with a charcoal colour and the masking is ready to be removed.
With the masking and lace removed, the effect is soon obvious. The new pinstripe tape is about to be joined by more masking over the entire laced area.
Another layer of charcoal is then sprayed over the thin gap between the two tape lines.
Step eight and nine:
Once dry, the freshly painted area is reverse masked, the green tape running over the top of the thin blue pinstripe tape to ensure the lines are still perfect.
A light layer of gold candy is then applied over the exposed areas. To ensure that the work below is not lost, the colour used is quite transparent.
With the masking coming off, you can see that the lines the pinstripe tape has produced are wrinkle free, so the paint will have conformed perfectly to them, leaving no sharp edges or unwanted overspray.
A steady hand is required for the next stage, as the red is sprayed on the gold area without masking. The red paint is purposely oversprayed, creating a fade. While it looks odd now, it’ll all become clear shortly.
With the pinstripe tape removed, the silver below is exposed, creating a great contrast.
All masking is removed except the most central blue lines, and the helmet is now reverse masked, exposing the areas that were previously covered. Rather than sticking tape to them, plastic is used to cover the painted areas, to ensure that no damage is done. The areas that are now covered will not be getting the next colour on them.
A light gold candy is sprayed, being given more life by the metal flake under it. While the gold itself looks metallic, it’s simply a see-through dye.
The central section of the helmet is masked; again, the masking tape is applied over pinstriping tape for accuracy.
A bronze candy is then sprayed, not in a full coat, but along all the tape lines, which will add depth to these areas.
With all masking tape removed, you begin to see the number of different layers that have been applied, each and every one of them time-consuming. A layer of clear coat is applied to the whole helmet. It brings the work done so far to life.
The whole helmet is masked again, leaving just the last bits of straight silver exposed. What you don’t notice here is that the masked areas are actually smaller than the total area of silver.
A full coat of flat white is applied. This time it’s not just dusted on. While it looks like it could be a big mistake, we can assure you it’s not.
Pinstripe tape is used to mask out a design. As painful as this task is, the design needs to be precise, as the helmet is set to get a whole lot of attention once completed, and the last thing needed is someone pointing out imperfections!
The edges of the masked area are dusted very finely with the same charcoal colour as was used earlier, and then the tape is removed.
With all masking removed (apart from along the plastic edges of the helmet), you start to see the finished product.
While the rest of the work is done at home without a spray booth, the final coat of clear is applied in a dustless booth. As you can see, the helmet is secured in a way that allows easy access to all areas, and the edges are re-taped to ensure they don’t add any contamination.
The clear coat is mixed up ready to be applied. With the shape of the helmet, great care must be taken to get the mix of the clear right. It would be a major task to fix any runs.
The helmet is wiped down with grease and wax remover before the final clear coat is applied. (See full-page image at start of story.)
The finished product in all its glory! About eight layers of paint and 20 hours later, the finished product looks amazing — just the thing for wearing in a nostalgia front-engine dragster or similar.
If you’re keen to check out more of Chaz’s work, or to commission a piece for yourself, check out his Facebook page or catch up with him at events around the country, such as Hot Rod Blow Out, Muscle Car Madness, and the like, as he often has pieces for sale, ranging from iPhone covers to desk lamps, canvases, and more. Our thanks go to Chaz for his help with this article, and to his three-year-old son, Cooper, for taking some of the photos.