Though motorcycles might strike most people as simply a mode of transportation or something to ride for fun, when Jeffrey Bryant of Beebe sees a motorcycle, he sees a canvas.
He spends his nights and weekends airbrushing bikes to create superheroes, cartoons or portraits of loved ones.
Though his customers primarily bring their bikes to him to paint, he doesn’t limit himself to motorcycles.
“I always say, ‘If it stands still long enough, I can paint it,’” Bryant said.
He grew up with a pencil in his hand, he said, but his airbrushing career really took off about seven years ago.
“I just started reading, and I’m pretty much self-taught,” he said. “I started painting in 2000, doing automotive collision work; then it kind of slowly morphed from there.”
When he first started airbrushing, Bryant said, he wanted to airbrush portraits.
“No one around here was doing them, so I bought me an airbrush and started practicing. I read books, magazines and watched videos,” he said. “Anything I could get my hands on that could teach me something, I read [or watched] it.”
It took Bryant a while to find his first customers.
“I was my first customer,” he said. “I used to paint my bike at least twice a year because nobody knew me. I’d paint it, ride around, sand it back off, then repaint it.”
Bryant said he mainly paints for local people, but he has received some national attention.
“I get people from all over. I’m expecting two motorcycles coming here from New York at the end of February,” he said.
Like any artist, Bryant has some favorite things he enjoys painting on motorcycles.
“My favorite would have to be Iron Man. I love painting Iron Man,” he said. “I’ve done about three Iron Man motorcycles, and I also do some work for Regal movie theaters. Every time there’s a big movie coming out, I’ll try to paint up a bike and have it sitting in the lobby.”
Since he does custom work, Bryant said, he gets to know the people he works for, and their reactions are priceless when he shows them their products for the first time.
“There’s nothing better. I think the best reaction that I had, I did a bike for a lady whose son had passed away. He had drowned,” Bryant said. “She wanted his picture on the front of the bike. So I did the bike up and put a sheet over it and uncovered it, and she just screamed. That was about the best reaction ever.”
Getting started on a project is Bryant’s favorite part of airbrushing.
“I sit there and look at something, I draw it on with a pencil, and then I figure out all of the colors that go into it. I mix every color that goes into each bike,” he said. “I mix all the colors, and then I just sit there looking at it like, ‘Man, now it’s time to get to work.’”
Over the years, Bryant worked with almost every artistic medium before he found his true passion—airbrush.
“I started off with watercolors, and I moved over to acrylics and oils and charcoals. I can pretty much paint with any medium, but then I found an airbrush,” Bryant said.
It didn’t take Bryant long to figure out how to paint using an airbrush, he said.
“Once you actually learn the equipment, anybody who paints can pretty much airbrush. I think another thing that sets [my art] apart is, when I look at a picture, I see colors. That’s how I paint.”
Bryant said that when he looks at a photograph, he can pick up on undertones in a skin color.
“If I see a greenish haze, I’ll pick up green, then put colors on top of it,” he said.
Though he enjoys painting portraits, Bryant said, sometimes they give him some trouble.
“I like super realism. I want [my portraits] to almost look like a picture,” he said. “It’s difficult because a bike is such an odd shape. To actually get it on there and get your proportions right, it normally takes me about three days to do a really good detailed one.”
Though Bryant’s formal training only got as far as high school art class, he has developed his love of color and painting into a distinctive art form that is his own.