WARNING: Imminent Departure

Not only am I leaving the country (sort of) on a top secret mission involving snorkeling, I have also left the realm of wood and woodworking for this post.
This is ostensibly the original custom motorcycle 'Black Death 3' from the epically bad Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man starring Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson, albeit in an aged and distressed condition.  While the 1991 flop is considered by some to be a cult classic, it only caught my attention in Middle School for one reason: The Marlboro Man (Don Johnson) defeats the bad-guy by virtue of the fact that his cowboy boots are held together with duct tape.  So yeah, I only remember the ending.  The heavily modified 1989 Harley Davidson FXR however, is indisputably a cult classic in its own right.
Many bike enthusiasts want to feel like they own this bike so there have been a lot of working replicas created over the years, fan-made like the one pictured above, for sale by independents at bike shows, and commercially licensed with the lettering reading "BLACK DEATH MOTORCYCLES."  The latter were sanctioned by Mickey Rourke himself, who is a long time cycle enthusiast and serious rider with rumored ties to the Hell's Angels.
My friend Jay in Tennessee is building one now for a bike show in Florida, and he approached me about doing the artwork on the gas tank.  I've never painted on a curved surface like this before so it was bound to be a challenge.  After a lot of figuring and discussing our ways and means, we agreed that he would supply the tank with rough blocking and I would work from there.
Here the tank is detached from the mommy bike and begins its young affection for washing machines.  This is how I received the tank.  There were problems at the sign shop where he had his stencil made and the font is really not adequate.  But I don't back down from a challenge, even when it needs to go from that to this:
This is a screencap from the movie, so I'm just waiting for the MGM goons to come and break my kneecaps tomorrow.
I started with the yellow outlines to begin correcting the proportions of the lettering, and then painted in the white linework over light pencil in the center of each letter.  Comparing this to the original it is very clear that there should be a lot more space inside the letters.  Also, the basic shape of some of the letters is just too far off to pass, so I use the yellow to morph them as much as I can.
The layout and spacing were actually well-done, but Norm assumed I would be working inward, when in fact I plan on moving outward. This presents a major problem; above you can see how tight my spacing is already and I still have a black outline to apply as well.  Again, I use the yellow to smush things around as needed.
It's starting to get chunkier and take on the form of the original, and I'm ready for the black to bring it on home.  It goes on smooth but I need to do a lot of touching up and then make the outline super-thick for that final punch.  I'll be using marker for a lot of that and it doesn't flow well over tacky enamel.  As expected, the 72 hour window is a bit of a crunch . . . while I wait for everything to dry it's time to move on to the centerpiece. I start by penciling it in:
The initials painted on BD3 are rumored to be deceased individuals connected to Mickey and/or Hell's Angels.  Conventional wisdom says to alter them and also not to use those of anyone still living.  This is why family got some phone calls asking for the given names of some Great-grandparents who died while I was young or in-utero.  With penciling complete, I can go from primarily using One Shot enamel professional sign paint to a high-grade paint marker for detailing and touch-ups.

TIP1: you can shave down the tip of a marker for a finer point but it will wear down pretty quickly and as you whittle away you may end up with no tip at all.  TIP2: Tips on refillable paint markers are removable, making it much easier to shape them as desired.  TIP3: If you can't find the handle to your big fat #2 Xacto blades, and you are forced to push a blade down with your index finger, be sure that the blade edge points down, not up, or you may slice into the tip of your finger:
That was grand.  At least I didn't get blood on the tank.  We don't need doctors Richard Gurley Drew invented adhesive tape in 1923 (no offense, Mom).
So it's really close to finished as pictured here.  I think after this I did another round of touch-ups and made the black outlines even thicker.  Norm should be sending nice high-res images soon, and at some point a few pics of the final product, of which I am but a crumb.
The jokers were fun.  Here they are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.3x life-sized.

Rest In Peace
9John and Jean Runyon
8Frank Deegan
8Bessie-Mae Runyon
8Jack Hess
8Dorothy Hess
AJoe Strummer
AYou (we all go some time)
AJohn R. Cash
SchellendeutschschweizerBlatt.svgNicholas Eilenfield


  1. Nine of diamonds: a friend says my July 6 birthday makes ME nine of diamonds. How do you derive cards for specific people in this system? B

    1. It sounds like your friend is into the Tarot. I don't know much about it.

      My system was to place the names as they most closely resembled the original initials. It just so happens that the two famous singer / songwriters became aces along with the YOU. And Nicholas as the joker is just so apropos, but it came to me only because NE most closely resembled the original TF.

  2. Your email makes so much more sense now....

  3. sexy...i like it man! good luck on your Bond adventure!

    1. Thanks Jordan and others for all of your positive feedback!

      It looks like Norman is having me work on another new bike with a cinematic theme. This time it will be Citizen Kane's Rosebud. Does that conjure up ideas for anyone? I haven't seen the film (yet).

  4. if you haven't already done it.. you can make a skeletal biker on a sled going through the snow...
    it would look cool as hell...i like your replication... you could probably make a living just producing these tanks as well as the 'then came bronson' sportster tanks.. hmmmmm. good luck- i'm a fellow artist.

    1. Norm put the Rosebud on hold for the moment. When he gets back to it, the skeletal sledder idea is excellent! I'm not sure if I want to do this for a living; it is very rewarding, but also tedious. But as a compliment to furniture, photography and various forms of painting it is a nice break from my routine. I am certainly available to anyone who needs a custom tank. I hope to start on another one soon.