Hear the word airbrush and you might automatically picture a Myrtle Beach T-shirt stand or a novelty license tag.
Pumpkin Center resident Robbie Norris is trying to change that.
Norris, a 1987 East Lincoln High School graduate, owns Robbieâ€™s Custom Show Paint, where he specializes in turning ordinary motorcycles into works of art.
After many years of doing furniture and mill work, Norris decided to turn his 17 years of airbrushing experience into a full-time career.
â€œI always had a talent for sketching in school,â€ Norris said. â€œIt was something I just wanted to try.â€
A self-described go-getter, Norris started his business four years ago. Although he did get started with shirts and license tags, Norris shifted his focus to motorcycles and helmets and built his business from there.
According to Norris, word-of-mouth and a unique form of advertising helped him find success.
â€œIf you paint one or two bikes, word-of-mouth spreads,â€ said Norris. â€œItâ€™s like a rolling business card.â€
Having his work shown on national television didnâ€™t hurt either.
Norris painted a bike for Jason Sapp from C&S Customs in Mocksville to be entered in the Metric Revolution Biker Build Off on ESPN2. With the help of brother-in-law J.R. Woodell, Norris airbrushed Sappâ€™s bike with a complex pattern of overlapping skulls. It was an intense process for the pair.
â€œWe stayed up about a day and a half and then only slept about five hours,â€ Norris said.
Unfortunately, Sapp and his crew missed the deadline to get the finished product into the competition, but Norrisâ€™s work was still featured in Super Streetbike magazine and Norris was on television, even though he didnâ€™t know it for a while.
â€œCustomers kept saying they were proud of me,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t know what they were referring to.â€
ONE THING Norris does know about is his craft. He often does work freehand and has even invented new techniques, such as the â€œwater effect,â€ which gives his finished products the appearance of being actually wet.
â€œIâ€™m kind of like Willy Wonka,â€ Norris said of his penchant for inventiveness.
Norrisâ€™s work even extends beyond the world of motorcycles. He airbrushes guitars and drums as well â€“ including a set for the band Poison he will start on soon. Norris also painted a theme car for the Charlotte Bobcats.
When it comes to painting bikes to customersâ€™ specifications, Norris has become an expert. Often, clients bring pictures of what they have in mind and sometimes the suggestions include a number of different images or motifs. Itâ€™s his job to make it all come together.
SOMETIMES, customer requests even involve a bit of research for Norris. One man was a big fan of the movie â€œAlien vs. Predatorâ€ and wanted a motorcycle designed with images from the film. Norris watched the movie and then found an image he could use on the Internet. The bike ended up on the cover of Super Streetbike.
Additional creations vary from a bike featuring the Grinch for a man with that nickname to a boat topped with the image of a 10-foot long skeleton head burning in propane-blue flames.
â€œSince the boat has hit Lake Norman, a lot of people have asked about it,â€ said Norris.
Norris has also painted race helmets for Busch series driver Kevin Conway, as well as a bike for the pit crew manager at Race City Customs in Mooresville.
ACCORDING to Norris, he has even gone against customersâ€™ wishes on occasion and found they were more than happy with the direction he chose. Norrisâ€™ work has even been known to stir the emotions of his motorcycle-loving clients.
â€œTwo of them actually cried,â€ said wife Mandy, who Norris says has been a huge help in building his business.
The couple say they look at their customers as being much more than just people whose bikes Norris paints.
â€œWe donâ€™t have customers,â€ Mandy said. â€œWe just have a whole lot of friends.â€
The Norrises also try to be friends to their community, donating around 80 pumpkins airbrushed for Halloween to Pumpkin Center Elementary School, where their children are students.
YET ITâ€™S Norrisâ€™ work on TV-worthy bikes that pays the bills. Norris knows heâ€™s a lucky man; most people donâ€™t get to make a living doing something they truly love.
â€œItâ€™s the closest thing to happiness as far as a job that Iâ€™ve found,â€ he said.
Contact Robbie Norris at (704) 732-6831 or via email at sales@robbiescustomshow paint.net. Also visit the following websites for more information:
n www.robbiescustom showpaint.net
n customizemyhelmet. com
n custommotorcycle flames.com
by Allyson Levine