As a kid, Ray Bishop practiced for his future graphic artist career on toy cars.
“I was 7 or 8 years old, painting my Hot Wheels cars with Mom’s lipstick and Magic markers,” he remembers.
Now, Bishop creates masks for National Hockey League goaltenders, including the Red Wings’ Chris Osgood.
That’s right. Chris Osgood.
Osgood, who has always used a plain helmet in the past, opted for a paint job on a new helmet in 2007, though he never used it. He said the new helmet was made of a different material than his old standard, which wasn’t conducive to a paint job. The new one not only provides better protection from shots, but will also allow Bishop to paint it.
“The materials they use now you can paint on,” Osgood said. “I’ve wanted one for a little while.”
The new helmet has the same cage-style he has used for years. The new helmet has “Red Wings” written across the front, his nickname and the name of his two daughters on the back, as well as Terry Sawchuk and Roger Crozier on the sides.
Osgood said it was important for him to respect the long-standing tradition of past Red Wings goaltenders.
“I’ve always liked the tradition of the Red Wings and the goalies that played here,” Osgood said. “I find it intriguing, the goalies, the characters that have played goal.”
Osgood tried once before to use a mask with a paint job. Unfortunately, the mask didn’t quite feel right.
That helmet featured two versions of a production line. One was the fabled Gordie Howe-Alex Delvecchio-Sid Abel line on one side and the other featured Detroit autoworkers on an assembly line.
Unfortunately, it never saw the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
“That one never fit good,” Osgood said.
Osgood knew he wanted Sawchuk represented on one side of his helmet, but he hadn’t decided on the other netminder.
“I wanted Sawchuk on one side for sure and (Bishop) picked Crozier for the other,” Osgood said. “I let him pick it since he was painting it.”
That’s not uncommon for Bishop, who estimated he’s painted 700 masks in his career.
“They give me the base of what they’re looking for, but some even leave it totally up to me.”
Bishop, of Grand Blanc, Mich., has painted masks for 11years now, something he’s very thankful for.
“It’s nice to get paid for eye candy,” he said jokingly.
Bishop, who had done auto body work with his dad after outgrowing Hot Wheels, had grown bored with “sitting behind a desk” in the corporate world and decided to get a hobby. He bought an airbrush, and from there, he began customizing cars and motorcycles.
Then, one New Year’s Eve, he caught a Detroit Vipers game on TV.
“I saw the goalie had a plain white helmet,” Bishop said. “I said, `I want to paint that.’”
Although he doesn’t remember who he’d seen in net that day, Bishop’s first professional mask paint job did turn out to be the Vipers.
“Yeah, my first pro mask was Jeff Reese,” Bishop said.
From there, he teamed up with Warwick to paint many of the masks he created, some of which are displayed on his Web site, www.bishopdesigns.com.
Bishop’s first NHL mask was Roman Turek, who was with Dallas, in 1998. Eddie Belfour became a client after he won the Stanley Cup with the Stars.
Bishop’s done masks for many leagues – NHL, AHL, IHN, UHL, OHL, ECHL (“a lot of `HLs,’” he said) – as well as the CCHA.
That’s where he found two of his long-standing clients, Marty Turco from Michigan and Ryan Miller from Michigan State.
Miller, now with Buffalo, has made minor changes on his mask from year to year and this season’s had to be updated with the new logo.
Of all his clients, Miller is only one who actually sends Bishop rough sketches of what he’d like on his mask. No one does that, including Bishop himself.
Since he’s a one-man shop, time is crucial, and he’s found sketching before painting doesn’t help much anyway.
“It’s extra time to do sketches,” he said. “On paper it never looks like what it’s going to be. I call it reinventing the wheel.”
There’s a risk Bishop’s interpretation of the design a goalie has in mind doesn’t mesh, but that hasn’t happened often.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate in that respect,” he said. “In the past 11 years, I’ve only had about two or three masks that didn’t hit it off … out of 700.”
The trick is to get to know what the player is thinking. The first paint job with a particular netminder is harder, but after Bishop develops a rapport with them mask by mask, it gets easier to know exactly what they’re looking for.
“If you don’t know them, it’s hard to get likes and dislikes out of someone’s mind,” Bishop said. “They don’t know how to explain what they’re looking for.”
Most times, like with Osgood’s new helmet, most mismatches between the netminder’s plans and the actual design can be tweaked. When Osgood first got his new helmet, he didn’t feel the primary red was dark enough, so Bishop would tweak it with a truer red color.
Sometimes during a season, a player will get traded, necessitating the biggest “tweak” of all – a totally new paint job.
“Either they or the club gives me a call: `Hey, Ray, I went here and we need to come up with a new design,’” Bishop said. “And it’s usually rather quickly.”
In the meantime, traded players will wear their old masks with colored tape covering up the paint job of the old team.
Bishop can finish a mask in 4-5 days, although he prefers a bit more time. There’s plenty of that when guys join new teams over the summer.
Former Red Wing Manny Legace had Bishop do his mask while he was in Detroit, and when he signed with the St. Louis Blues last summer, he hooked up with the graphic artist once again.
“Manny and I met while he was doing his goalie school in Michigan this summer. He shared a couple of ideas,” Bishop said. “He had some pretty good ideas of what he was looking for and the rest we kind of adlibbed.”
When players join new teams, there’s a lot of brainstorming to figure out what should be on a new helmet.
“It’s all pertaining to the team and the things that they like,” Detroit equipment manager Paul Boyer said. “The team and the symbols of the club.”
When Dominik Hasek joined the Ottawa Senators, he talked to members of the organization to find out what might be fitting for his new team.
“They’ve been living in that city for a while, and it’s a good idea (to get their input),” Hasek said. “Usually every city’s connected to something.”
Up until he joined Detroit in 2001, Hasek had the same non-painted helmet that Osgood did. But in his time with the Wings, he’s had car-themed helmets.
“I had my first painting in Detroit,” he said. “We said Detroit, except for hockey, is famous for the car so it must be something about Motor City,” Hasek said. “Everybody agreed it was the best thing.”
Of course, ultimately, it’s up to the player to determine his mask’s theme.
“I think it’s an expression of themselves and the things that they like,” Boyer said. “Everything on the mask that the goalies put on is a part of themselves.”
And netminders are the only players who get the opportunity to express themselves with custom paint jobs.
There are a couple of reasons behind that. One, Bishop said players’ helmets, however protective, are still plastic and therefore not conducive to long-lasting paint jobs.
“You could paint them, they hit the ice and paint’s flying everywhere,” Bishop said.
It’s also a safety issue, Boyer said. Helmets have a shorter shelf life than goaltender masks.
“I like to put a guy in a new helmet every year,” he said.
Although goalie masks are updated with new paint jobs, the mask themselves usually stay the same.
But hockey’s also a traditional sport, Boyer points out. History dictates that forwards and defenseman have plain helmets, and players respect that.
And it’s refreshing that in a league driven by revenues, it’s nice to still have something devoid of advertising.
“I’m actually surprised. When you see those international tournaments they have advertising everywhere,” Kirk Maltby said. “I’m sure it’s been thrown around.”
Maltby joked he wouldn’t be opposed to if some corporate business wanted to buy ad space on his helmet, if he could dictate where the corporate dollars would go to.
“Sponsor my baseball team,” he laughed. “Maybe Louisville or Easton would be interested.”
Of course, if Maltby did have the opportunity to paint his helmet, those corporate ads would have the share space.
“I would probably incorporate my daughter’s name in it,” he said.
Like Osgood, most Wings asked would also feature their kids’ names and their own nicknames. Beyond that, it’s hard to get ideas because no one’s ever considered it.
“Man, I haven’t put any thought into that because it’s not an option,” Draper stalls when asked what he’d display if given the opportunity.
“Um… I would do something with the Production Line, definitely have my kids’ initials on there, then obviously something with the winged wheel,” Draper said. “I’d go with a nice classic look.”
Of course, there are many ways to depict the Production Line, with Osgood’s reverse of Detroit autoworkers and Howe, Abel and Delvecchio.
Draper wasn’t sure with how he’d represent them, but theorized he’d list the numbers on one side and the players on the other.Johan Franzen
thought he might go with a different line – his own Grind Line.
“Maybe the line with Draper and Malts,” he said. “I’d put them on there.”
But really, he’d prefer some of his favorite players from way back, but he’d update it now and then.
And would a nickname like “The Mule” make it on there somewhere?
“Nah,” Franzen said before conceding, “Well, maybe. Really small.”
Osgood’s nickname, “Ozzie,” is on the back of his helmet, sandwiched between his daughter’s names and with the Winged Wheel as the “O.”
Nicknames make popular mask décor.
“I definitely like Eddie Belfour in Chicago,” Hasek said. “It was his nickname, the Eagle, and it was related to hockey. It was really cool. This was my favorite on the other side.”
Bishop styled Nikolai Khabibulin’s mask with his nickname, “The Bulin Wall” well documented. And “Miller Time” has decorated Ryan Miller’s mask since his Spartan days.Tomas Holmstrom
might consider sticking his nickname on his helmet if he could.
“I’d put `Homer’ down,” he said. “It’d probably get some laughs.”
Holmstrom comes across as a minimalist on his would-be paint job. He’s a fan of Osgood’s old helmet – the one with no paint.
“The plain one,” Holmstrom said. “It’s a classic.”
Jason Williams would go the other way. After just a moment’s hesitation, he launched into a vivid description of what his potential mask would look like.
“Something to do with cars and probably country music, ‘cause I’m a car guy and Detroit as well,” Williams said.
A Brad Paisley fan, Williams decided that “Mud on the Tires” would adapt to a design with the winged wheel.
And on the other side, he’d have a 1969 Camaro.
“It’d have to be red and white,” he added.
That, Williams said, would fit his personality, which is what stylizing a helmet is all about.
“Showing your roots, that’s what some guys go for,” he said.
Mostly, players want to honor the history of the team and the players who wore the winged wheel before them.
“I would really like to tie the history of this organization into my helmet,” Draper said. “That’s what I would do.”
But despite an artist’s skill and creativity, not everything can be put on a mask.
“I would do the original Grind Line,” Draper said, “but there’s no way I could fit Mac (Darren McCarty) and Malts’ heads on my helmet, so I couldn’t do that.”