Custom Helmet Painting and Hard Rock: An Interview with Element 9 Graphics’ Craig Scott
Craig Scott is the main who wields the airbrush at Element 9 Graphics, a Scottish custom helmet painting company with a rising reputation. Craig’s artwork adorns the skulls of some of the world’s fastest MTB and motocross racers as they whizz downhill clad in one of his distinctive custom-painted lids.
Ed Uncovered spoke to the Aberdeen-based artist to gain an insight into how he goes about creating his custom helmet designs before meticulously painting them. It was also an opportunity to discover the music Craig works to, which fellow artists he looks up to and which part of the painting process he hates.
What do you prefer – working to a client’s detailed design or having free reign to get creative?
It definitely helps to have some kind of guide to what the client wants. As much as I’d like to try out a few ideas I have in mind, it’s often hard to get started on a design as I could put a lot of work into creating something cool only for the client to not like it, so even a little direction is good. I prefer to have a conversation to start out, as that way we can discuss ideas and I can get a feel for the kind of design they’re after.
How do you usually start a design?
95% of the time it starts with a pencil sketch on a helmet template. It’s the quickest way to see if something will work, or sketch out a few ideas and combine or edit them. Then I’ll take it onto the computer and draw it up in Adobe Illustrator. This is great for trying out different colour combinations to see how they work together. And of course it’s great for editing the design too.
Which helmet are you proudest of so far?
I still really like Sam Allan’s blue and yellow design (pictured below). The pearlescent blue on that helmet is amazing to look at, and it really has to be seen in person to appreciate it fully! It’s also a design I struggled with a little at the sketching phase, but I forced myself to keep working at it and I think it turned out as one of my nicest designs.
Are there any themes or concepts you’d like to tackle when the right commission comes along?
I’m always saving ideas I want to try to a notebook, so there’s heaps of ideas I want to try; chrome, gloss/matte finishes, foils etc, and I’ve yet to do a helmet with gold leaf (I did use it on my own Transition TR450 though), and combinations of all these too, so there’s plenty to explore. I want to get into more graphic and illustrative designs too. Gotta practise.
Describe your helmet painting style in less than six words.
I don’t know if I’ve really developed my own unique style just yet but it’s something I’m aiming for. Let’s go with: clean, bright, and contemporary.
What other artists do you look up to or have inspired you?
Brett King is one of my favourite helmet painters as his style is so recognisable, and different to what most painters do. Tyler at Helmart as well for similar reasons. From the non-helmet painting world, I’ve been a graphic designer for over a decade so I definitely take some influence from that and I love Godmachine’s work, and Dan Mumford’s older style. Jordan Debney is doing some cool stuff too, as well as graffiti artist Kiptoe’s work which is just incredible.
What’s the worst thing about the job?
Sanding! Each helmet has to be prepared by stripping it down and sanding the surface smooth, which is done by hand and can be a bit laboursome/boring. And I don’t think people realise how much work goes into painting these things. Every line has to be masked out accurately and in the right order, which sometimes takes a lot of planning and measuring!
What part of the helmet painting process do you enjoy most?
It’s always fun working with cool colours and effects paints. Taking the masking tape off to reveal a completed design is probably the best part though.
Who’s been your most distant client to date geographically?
I’ve sent helmets to New Zealand, for Wyn Masters, so I don’t think you can get much further away than that!
What riders or teams would you love to paint for?
I’ve been lucky enough to have painted a few helmets for Junior Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion Ruaridh Cunningham, and also up and coming Scottish Elite rider Reece Wilson, who’s absolutely killing it this year, making history by becoming the first Scottish Elite rider to podium at Fort William at the World Cup there back at the start of June. Not to mention FMD Racing’s Tahnée Seagrave, before she got on Red Bull, and New Zealand/GT’s Wyn Masters.
Still though, there’s plenty of teams and riders I’d love to get involved with doing custom helmets for so I’m usually found pacing the pits at Fort William World Cup handing out flyers to riders and team managers. World Champs is a special race that riders usually get custom painted helmets and bikes for; I’ve done helmets for Worlds before but after painting up my own bike with a custom pink camo design, I’m keen to do something special for riders competing at World Champs. Then there’s motorcycle racing, Moto GP etc, motorsport…heaps I’d love to get involved in!
Name some MTB riders whose skills or style you particularly admire.
I love Aaron Gwin’s measured approach to racing which seems to pay off for him, although it can get boring when one person wins just about every race. I’ve always been a fan of Minnaar’s ability to excel on any type of race track. Of the younger riders, Kaos Seagrave has style for miles, and is going to be a force to be reckoned with very soon I think, and Finn Iles has come up really quickly from being a junior rider to being a podium contender every race.
If 12-year-old you could see the work that grown-up you has produced, what would their critical opinion be?
He’d probably expect that I’d be better than I am by now!
Favourite music for painting to?
I often check out new tunes while I’m working but I’m a fan of older rock too – so The Flatlines, Iron Chic, Red City Radio and the new Cancer Bats get some regular spins, as well as stuff like AC/DC, Corrosion of Conformity, and Sabbath.
Check out Craig’s work at Element9graphics.com and on Instagram.