Monday, March 01, 2004

Masking My True Feelings 

I play hockey. I'm a goalie. I've never played at a higher level than recreational leagues here in town, but I enjoy playing and I take it as seriously as I can. It's great exercise and It's a fun challenge. Everyone should try it at least once.

I've been playing hockey for over 8 years now. Not an amazingly long time if set against the entire history of the world, but I try to improve every time out and I think that, from time to time, I play pretty good. I've also got very nice equipment, and it matches. A far cry from the mismatched, used and outdated equipment I started with. I know I sound like an old man, talking about the great depression or walking uphill in the snow without shoes to school 20 miles each way, but 8 years can really be a large gap when it comes to the sporting goods industry...I was injured a lot early on, sometimes due to my shitty old equipment, so having nice stuff is important to me.

I'm often asked why I don't have one of those cool airbrushed masks like the pro goalies have. I'm often asked "Why don't you just paint stuff on your mask? Aren't you an artist or something?" ...It's really not easy, and I don't want it to look like an elementary school art project. Yes, I am a professional artist, but I'm not an airbrush artist. Plus, I don't have the facility to paint a mask. So there.

My Mom has told me repeatedly that she'd be happy to paint my mask for me. She once painted the words "S.S. Popeye" and a small anchor on the side of a bicycle I received for my birthday when I was 9. I've told her this doesn't qualify her to paint my mask, but she won't listen...

It's not that I wouldn't like to have a cool airbrushed mask that features some of my own cartoons...Logically, that idea has resided in my mind for the entire 8+ years of my limited playing career...I've talked to many airbrush artists, some of whom I've had the pleasure of working with, and I've designed and redesigned a mask for myself a thousand times. Maybe I have a fear of commitment, but it's hard for me to settle on only a few drawings because I'm constantly drawing. (also why I'll probably never get a tattoo). I'll literally fill sheet after sheet of paper just doodling, sometimes 10 sheets per day. It can be a daunting task to whittle that kind of turnout down to just a few choice images.

In addition, there's the cost of the mask, I'd want a nice mask, with a cat's eye cage, I prefer chrome and I'd have to be able to send it away to be painted, so I wouldn't be able to sell my current mask to raise money for the new one. I'd have to actually SAVE.

I found a way around that. It's called "Christmas." My wife and my Mom collaborated to purchase me a shiny new Simmons 991 pro cat's eye mask. I received this for Christmas LAST YEAR (Christmas 02). I then had some motivation to narrow down the design and get the damn thing painted... I researched different mask painters via the internet and finally settled on David Gunnarsson, who resides in Sweden and makes his living painting masks for Swedish Elite League goalies and some NHL goalies including Johan Hedberg (yes, he did the Moose, if you're familiar with it). I like his style and figured he'd do the best job recreating my cartoons. If you're keeping score, at this point, I've got two pieces of the puzzle. Now comes the hard part...

Piecing the design together was frustrating. There are holes, straps and odd curves on a goalie helmet...You may see a great design in your head, but when it comes time to see if it'll fit on the helmet, you realize that pertinent details of your magical design will be covered. Being that I make my living as a digital artist, I made digital mockups for my mask to see what would fit where. I finally decided IN DECEMBER of 2003 (yes, I'm slow) to just thumb through the stacks and stacks of doodles, pick 4 cartoons I liked best, clean them up MAKE THEM FIT and LIVE WITH THE RESULT...I did this. It was then time to discern if I had enough money to pay Mr. Gunnarsson for his hard work. Work that he had no idea he was going to do.

I had been saving money toward this goal and was pretty far along. With a little Christmas help from my family, I had enough money (I estimated) to get the project done. Now I just had to let a guy who was thousands of miles away ACROSS AN OCEAN and who didn't speak any english that HE WAS MY FIRST CHOICE TO PAINT MY MASK! Slap me five!

Luckily, Mr. Gunnarsson has a North American representative who can speak the English Language. I received a price quote, booked my painting and shipped my mask off to Sweden (being the impatient geek-boy that I am, I used the tracking number to determine that DAVID GUNNARSSON himself signed for my mask upon receipt. Wheeeee heee heee). Now I have to sit and wait. I know he has my mask. He also has the masks of countless other goalies from around the world. Right now, I'm just a number. A place in line. I'll post more when I know that my mask is being worked on, which I wish it were, because I'm really friggin' excited about getting it back...I'm gonna be the coolest. I'm still gonna lose, but I'm gonna look good doin' it, dammit.

And that, evidentially, is all that matters to me. And, no. I don't still have the S.S. Popeye bike.

Postscript: as of the last update on David's website, my name is STILL not on his list. It's been about 6 or 7 weeks and I'm becoming quite impatient. I guess I could call, but I don't speak the language. Also, I finally won a game. A 4-0 shutout win against the 'Blue Dawgs." WE AREN'T THE WORST TEAM EVER, EM-EFFERS! yeah!

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