For the past 25 years, I have worn custom-painted helmets. I didn’t seem to like OEM paint jobs, even the ones with graphics.
Mike Taylor Designs painted all of my first four in Redwood City. Mike was a talented and creative painter. This is the first one he painted for me. My bike hero was Mick Doohan and I wanted his graphics style in a different color scheme.
In this shot, I’m training another track rider taking him two up to show him just how much lean angle you can have and how hard you can brake. Since this 260-pound guy didn’t listen and didn’t put his hands against the tank to brace himself when I used the brakes, I stopped and told him to walk back to the pits since he couldn’t effing follow instructions.
After I discovered that my Arai Quantum II was way too old to protect me, I tried to find out if Mike was still in business.
Alas, he was not. I was very disappointed since the custom paint on my most recent helmet (the third copy after crashing twice on track) was sentimental because it represented my family and Mick. I started to search for a new painter and several of the ones I contacted never responded or stated they didn’t do airbrush painting.
Daneen was one of the painters I contacted using her website web form. I just figured like the others I’d get no response. Two weeks after I sent her an email, I got a response! Halleluiah I thought to myself. Someone in this day and age responds instead of a no-response FU.
She stated that she would be interested in my project. We went back and forth via email since the helmet I ordered was delayed in delivery a couple of times. That was a mixed blessing because I got a better sense of who she is as a person from her writing. She gave me the price,$1,000 which is about what I expected for a job like this.
And since I too am a creative which I’ve done as my sole living for the past 12 years, I know the value of time and skill. Some have asked if I have an hourly rate since I offer either a half-day or full-day rate. I simply say I’m like a legitimate hotel, I don’t rent by the hour.
I finally drove out to her shop in Livermore on November 13, 2023, to take her the Arai Corsair X I had purchased in plain gloss black.
I wanted to know a bit about Daneen during our first get-together. This project had much more meaning to me than my prior lids. I had just finished writing a book about my uncle. He was the very first Japanese American US Naval Jet Aviator and flew over 100 missions in Korea.
His service was after being imprisoned for simply being of Japanese ancestry during WWII. He was awarded a citation from Vice Admiral JJ Clark for his bravery in an attack on guns that were attempting to shoot down his squadron leader. So this one was very personal.
I found out that in 1997 Daneen started with rattle cans, basically spray paint cans in her parent’s home. She began as a sketcher using pencils and derived her inspiration from magazines, concert posters, and canvas paintings she saw as a teen. She’s a bit of a Goth Girl and I appreciate that since one of my gal pals is a Goth Gal, who skates in roller derby. A true badass.
Her first actual airbrush project was her boyfriend’s guitar. Self-taught, she took it apart, at least those parts that she could. She is drawn to old-school pin-up girl art as well as dark death imagery—quite the dichotomy. Think Playboy pin-ups get intimate with the Grim Reaper and you get the styles that instill her creativity. Gothy eh?
I had viewed her website before visiting and although her displayed work looked great, her site was just Meh to me. My intent was not to ask her to build my website, but instead to look at her work. She has some painted items in her shop, some Harley tanks along with other painted parts like guitars.
The most striking thing about my first meeting with her was her laser-like gaze. I seldom if ever get intimidated by someone staring me down. But in her case, her eyes are incredibly piercing. Like a cop looking at you and you know your blood alcohol level is over the legal limit. So WTF does that have to do with painting Mark!? I could see in her expression that her attention to detail and the nuances of things as she spoke were incredible. Match that with the work she has in the shop and it became a no-brainer for her technical prowess.
There were only four ‘must haves’ for this project. The two squadron insignias my uncle flew with were the Black Knights and Pukin Dogs, our last name in Kanji. Our last name means North Mountain. And finally, the 8 Ball nose art which was on my uncle’s training plane. I had sent her some printed work from my uncle’s book in addition to a few photos.
After examining the examples I sent along with some of her research, she asked if I’d like a few items she’d like to include. The name of my aunt, Harvey’s wife, and a reference to something I told her about a flight I took with my uncle.
During that flight in his Bonanza VWing private plane, he told me to “Look down at your belt buckle Marky, and don’t look up.” I did what I was told even though I had no idea why. At that very moment, he started to pitch, roll, and sway the plane in what I thought was a violent manner at 10 years old. He then told me to “take the yoke” and I asked, “What is a yoke!?” to which he calmly replied “The steering wheel.” I then looked up and the entire world was rolling, pitching, and completely disorienting. He then told me to release the yoke. In about 4 seconds the plane leveled itself. Thankfully I had not shit or pissed myself.
I asked my uncle why I had to look at my belt buckle. He told me that doing so prevented me from becoming disoriented. Something pilots encounter during situations like that and how to prevent becoming disoriented. So after telling Daneen that story a week before, she told me that she would put this on the helmet with two arrows pointing down.
And then she said she’d like to put my uncle’s handwriting on the helmet. Since I had included his photographs along with his handwritten notes in his book, she knew that something so personal would be an incredible part of the helmet.
After these two ‘suggestions’ which she approached me about in advance, the rest she just did without asking. And that was fine with me. When I’m hired to create something, I hope the client trusts me enough to allow me to create. I know I don’t tell a plumber how to do their job when I hire them for my home. Well, except to not have a ‘plumber’s crack’ while my gf is at home.
For right now, I’m just going to shut up and display what a true creative can do. Because Daneen is wicked effing smart her observation skills and ability to put what she observes into practice is just delicious, my highest form of compliment. Probably because I think about food so much. So here we go.
And no I did not stay around for 2 months while she worked on my lid along with the multitude of other projects she had going. I would have liked to do that, but I’m sure she has weapons in the shop to keep AHoles like me from attempting to linger around. I will say that when she sent me photos of the effing RIVETS on the lid I was BLOWN AWAY. And even now as I sit with the helmet, I run my hand over those rivets and expect to feel them. They are THAT GOOD.
I did ask if I could photograph as she worked on some other stuff. She’s a pleasant person so she agreed. Here’s some of what I saw.
More things she added.
The date my uncle prevented the ground-to-air munitions from taking out the flight leader for which he was awarded the Citation.
Jet intake ducts
My aunt’s name is on the end of the pool cue.
Aircraft warning area markings on my center vent.
Rust patina that occurs on aircraft on carriers. This was done throughout the helmet.
I requested that Daneen replace the face of the 8 Ball woman with her own to honor what she had done.
Daneen works in two different areas in her shop. For her airbrush work, she simply sits at a workbench and happily sprays away. For her larger work like car hoods or when she is clear coating products she does so in a spray booth.
I was not about to let an opportunity pass to photograph another creative. I did this under the auspices of “creating the perfect banner shot” for the article.
Here I have Daneen holding the book I wrote for my uncle
We each choose how we spend our time, money, and actions. What is important to each person is as individual as each of us. Discovering someone who could create something so personal to me that not only represents the honor and history of my family but also protects me. Protects me as I enjoy the freedom of riding. I lucked out.
In addition to her incredible talents and skills, I discovered that Daneen and her shop mate Ginger hold classes for women of all ages from 12 and up on various metalwork skills including welding, bodywork, and prep work in addition to others. Her motivation is to pass on what she has learned to other women. It is so inspiring to meet people who are not only talented but take the time to help and teach others.
For those of you who want a custom-painted helmet/car/surfboard/guitar/dental chair (Yup she’s painted those too!), etc, I wrote this piece to document my experience. Each of us has our reasons for having anything custom done. FINDING someone is the challenge. And no, I don’t make money off recommending anything I endorse here on Web Bike World or get discounts. I write here to help other riders or small businesses that I’ve used be recognized since unlimited marketing budgets are not part of their lives.
The longer and closer I examine the helmet, the more details I see, and I marvel at how a creative, when left to create on their own is wonderful. I’m not sure how Daneen did some of the things she did, but no matter, I’m not doing anything more than appreciating people like this exist.
Daneen is close to where I live, but so much of her business is mail-in, or in the case of other locals like me, in person. Had I not been local, I would not have experienced her wonderful face-to-face personality. Having said that, even before our first face-to-face meeting, I could tell how intelligent she was through her written conversation.
Sure it’s ‘just a helmet’ Mark, but for me, its meaning and what it represents is so much more. Now as I ride, I’ll speak or more accurately ‘think talk’ to my uncle and father. It’s as if both are here riding with me, and protecting me at the same time. Up until now I never considered naming my helmets. Bikes, almost always. But this time I will name my helmet. Her name is Nadeen. And I will introduce her to Joy, my 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4S Sport.
Incredibly talented, focused, intelligent, and passionate about her craft, Daneen’s combination of skills exceeded what I expected. Not only that, she’s way too nice to be that good-looking. Thanks, Daneen, I’d recommend you to anyone who needs anything creative.