The Professionals - Richard Stevens

Richard Stevens is the artist behind the mad paint designs seen on nearly every helmet in the British Superbike Championship

HOW DID YOU GET INTO PAINTING HELMETS?
Completely by accident, actually! I raced Championship motocross for a few years professionally, but in 1999 I had a big accident that finished my career. It was at this time that I was introduced to Troy Bayliss, he was looking for a helmet painter and it went from there. Previously I'd just done motocross helmets for mates of mine, but the first road bike lid I painted was his Axo BSB helmet. Troy ran with my design for the final three rounds of the Championship and won the title wearing it, and that started the ball rolling. I didn't initially plan on being a helmet painter, I was going to go into law, but the coverage Troy's lid got kick-started my career.

SO WHOSE LIDS HAVE YOU PAINTED NOW?
I painted Neil Hodgson's the year he was BSB champion, James Toseland's when he was in WSB, Leon Haslam, James Haydon, Michael Rutter, John McGuinness, Chris Walker, Shayne Byrne, John Reynolds, Karl Harris: basically most of the Arai or Shoei riders in BSB. It's been mad!

SO WITH ALL THOSE DIFFERENT RIDERS WITH DIFFERENT IDEAS, HOW DO THE DESIGNS COME ABOUT?
Either the rider comes to me with an idea and we work on it, or they haven't got a clue what they want and it's up to me to generate something. I come up with three or four different designs and we work from there. I prefer to get to know the riders personally, I find that the most successful designs are the ones that reflect their personality the most. Once they put their lid on you can't tell who they are and unless you know them well you don't know what their character is like. For example with Leon Haslam's lid it's an angel on one side and a devil on the other, a reflection of his personality. I like to sit down and chat to the riders for a few hours so I know a bit about them before I do their design.

WHEN IT COMES TO RACEDAY, WHO IS THE WORST FOR CRASHING AND DESTROYING THE HELMETS YOU PAINT?
Ha! This is such a sore issue. Initially, it was James Haydon. When he was with Virgin we actually put a warning in his design that read 'rider may eject at any time.' He was getting so much grief it seemed quite apt. I don't think he was offended! At the time he was going through a lot of lids, but currently Cal Crutchlow is leading the way. I've done four of his bloody helmets already this year...

[#1.2]AND WHEN YOU SEE A RIDER CRASH IS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT 'BLOODY HELL I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PAINT ANOTHER' OR 'I HOPE HE'S OKAY..?'

The first thought is 'I hope they are all right' but as you get a bit of a close-up of them walking up the track I check to see if the lid has any scuffs. Monday is a nightmare, that's when I get the calls from riders asking for a new helmet because they have destroyed the old one. Sometimes I just want to turn the phone off, especially if I have loads to do. It takes about 20 hours to do a helmet if I rush. That's pure work time, but different designs take longer. It can be hell if the race is bank holiday Monday and the next race is the following weekend, I work through the night quite often.

AND HOW MANY LIDS DOES A RACER GET IN A SEASON?
Most contracted riders will get four at the start of the season and it's a top-up system, if they destroy one they will get an instant replacement. At the start of this season I had to get 64 helmets ready just for BSB riders and I reckon I'll paint about 20 replacements over the year. On average I would say that a top class racer goes through about six lids a year.

WHAT'S THE WEIRDEST DESIGN YOU'VE EVER BEEN ASKED TO DO, AND HAVE YOU EVER REFUSED?
A guy asked me to paint a portrait of his wife on his helmet, but then went on to tell me she'd died a few years earlier. I turned that one down, I didn't even find out if he wanted her painted with clothes on or off! I did once paint a jar of Marmite on a lid. The bloke had some kind of fetish for the stuff. It was actually a really cool idea and looked fantastic.

SO TELL US - WHAT'S THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
I love the creativity and having a free reign over it. The only restrictions I have are that the person I'm designing it for has to like it. Also I get to work with people I really look up to. I painted John McGuinness' helmet and also Colin Mcrae's, they are both heroes of mine and it took a while to sink in that I was going to work with them!

HAVING DONE THEM BOTH, HOW DO CAR RACER'S DESIGNS DIFFER TO BIKE RACERS?
With a car driver it's more important for them to have a design because it's their trademark, so what goes with their name is their helmet design. Motorcycling is more flamboyant, more of an individual sport so riders change their design every few years. Car drivers will generally stick with one design from the start to the finish of their career. The designs are also more basic so that from a distance fans can tell who the driver is and also the graphic needs to be of a font that doesn't interfere with a sponsors logos. Bike racers don't usually have sponsor's logos on lids.

AND WHAT'S THE WORST BIT OF THE JOB?
The hours. Between New Year and the first BSB race I work seven days a week, 15-16 hours a day. I have weeks when I only get four hours sleep a night and I often work right through the night. If a lid needs painting I have to do it, there simply aren't enough hours in the day sometimes. But hey, it's a small price to pay for doing what I love.

www.richartconcepts.co.uk

I did once paint a jar of Marmite on a lid. The bloke had some kind of fetish for the stuff.

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