Kirk Myhre: Stellar Helmet Painting For The Budget-Minded Racer

The custom helmet is a racing driver’s signature, but not everyone can justify the cost of a professional paint job. I was one of those skinflint drivers who tried to save his schillings but still felt my helmet should be customized, so I tried my hand at painting a few cow spots. That worked for a bit, though I eventually altered the design, and the cow spots morphed into psychedelic turtle-shell.

My artwork didn't get any genuine compliments, though I did get some backhanded ones.

Eventually, the different layers of paint that’d compiled over the years turned it into something that looked like the contents of a toilet bowl after a regrettable meal at that dingy Indian restaurant. After a decade using this brain bucket, I decided it was time for a replacement with a sleeker paint job. This time, I’d find someone better at this sort of thing.

With the money I’d saved from buying a used helmet, I decided that I would turn to a professional for a reasonably priced paint job. Asking around on a few local racing forums, the unanimous vote was for one man: Kirk Myhre. He was friendly, funny, and – as we shared similar racing and artistic interests – I was intrigued. However, it was the cost-effective way he painted which clinched it for me.

An Efficient Approach to Painting

Kirk’s a renaissance man. After a life spent as a commercial artist for Microsoft, he started freelancing as a motorsports photographer, a racing coach, and most recently, a helmet painter. That last gig began when Kirk, unable to find a decent painter for less than $2,000, tried painting a simple design of his own. His tasteful work attracted the attention of Lucky Dog teammates, and quickly a trickle of requests became a flood. At first, he’d chat with his customers over coffee and sketch out designs on a napkin, but now he follows a fairly strict procedure to keep costs low and meet the growing demand.

First, he has the client supply him with several of designs they enjoy. Though Kirk will not completely copy anybody else’s design, nor will he repeat any of his designs for another customer, he will take specific elements from these designs and blend them per the client’s requests. Soon after, Kirk sends the client a rendering—three variations of a rendering, to be exact.

Three variations of the same theme, albeit with different levels of detail.

Each of these three represent a few different levels of detail—the more complicated, the higher the price. The simplest variant may feature only one stage of taping, while the highest level of detail includes plenty of shadowing, interplay between the different elements, and other additions like flake.

Predictably, he avoids hyper-detailed portraiture, and instead focuses on something that is bold, clean, and memorable. Even so, he works to balance the time and materials invested against the complexity of his design to ensure strong ROI.

At this point, he has to balance his client’s desires against what his experience has taught him. “I try to be accommodating, but I have to consider how the two-dimensional design will play out on a three-dimensional surface,” Kirk explains. He must also consider the features specific to different helmet models—what works on a Bell won’t necessarily work on a Stilo.

The odd shape of a Stilo can make certain designs difficult to apply.

My Turn

Forced to choose from all those possibilities lining the margins of my sketchbooks, I sketched up a version of one reoccurring design. This simplified design employed darker colors, featured curvy shapes, and made a nod to both Prost’s and Piquet’s memorable designs. Hopefully, it’d stand apart from the neon running shoe zig-zag patterns so popular nowadays.

My sketch (L) and the first rendering (R).

A day after submitting my sketches, I received the above rendering. We decided on the particular shades of green, black, and gold after he showed me several swatches, then we discussed which finish would look best with this color combination.

We also toyed with a name in different fonts.

After a few minor tweaks to accentuate the shape, I FedExed him my helmet. Over the next few days, Kirk happily kept me in the loop. I hadn’t enjoyed sustained giddiness like this since Christmas 1999.

Kirk’s Process

Once the helmet was in his hands, Kirk began the disassembly process; everything but the rubber comes off. Then, he starts prepping the helmet by taping off the openings and giving everything a thorough sanding.

The most time intensive period is the taping process, which can involve as many as ten stages. Additionally, Kirk prefers to let the paint dry completely between stages; each of which can take as long as eight hours. In my case, there were six stages due to the pinstriping, but simpler layouts might have two.

Two painting stages.

Fine tuning and minor touch-ups come next, after which he sends the client a photo of painted—but not clear-coated— helmet. It’s due to planning that he rarely performs late-stage alterations, but, in the odd case where the sketch-to-3D translation required significant modifications, the client will sometimes request small fixes. “If there’s anything the client doesn’t like, I’ll work with them to a mutually agreeable situation,” he assures. “Ultimately, I want people to be thrilled with the end product.”

In my case, there were no issues. The first set of images left me exhilarated, and those were taken before the helmet had even been clear-coated. The following morning, I checked my phone and saw Kirk had sent me four images of a shimmering, stylish helmet that beat anything I’d ever sketched in the corner of my notebooks. I was over the moon.

To experience this yourself, visit www.myhrecreative.com

 

 

 

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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