Weekly Feature: Kustom Paint by Daniel Mana
This week's feature is on Daniel Mana, kustom painter from Italy. Be sure to give Daniel a follow on Instagram and bookmark his website.
NERODUE KUSTOM PAINTING
My name is Daniel Mana. I’m 38 years old. I was born and raised in a small village in the north of Italy, where I continue to live and work to this day. I’ve always been fascinated by art, especially music, as well as custom painting, tattoos, and photography. My journey into custom painting began three years ago when I decided to ask a local professional to teach me the fundamentals. It took me just a few hours to paint one of my first helmets, but I knew immediately that this was something that I loved and wanted to pursue! Having painted several helmets and tanks for some close friends of mine, I was soon commissioned for my first official job, and now, here I am!
Unfortunately, custom painting is not the only job I do, I have to dedicate a significant amount of my time teaching Mandarin Chinese in an Italian high school in order to make ends meet, but I’m working hard to become a full-time custom painter. I studied Chinese at university, now, when I look back on those years, a big part of me wishes that I’d studied art and design instead!
Prior to my current situation, I lived in China for almost six years, which enabled me to perfect my Chinese language skills. Living in the Orient for that length of time also allowed me to learn a lot; it reminded me how incredible life is, and that time is fleeting. It is this realization that has driven me to express myself through custom painting. It is my expressed intention to create high quality, bespoke works of art that bikers and custom painting aficionados will truly appreciate. I feel that painting something that reflects my personality is really exciting. Moreover, painting something that people love and want to display on their bikes, to show off to their friends, or to ride the shit out of, is even more exciting, challenging and motivating for me.
When I paint I feel that time slows down to a standstill – I feel like I’m “In the Zone." It’s deeply cathartic for me and makes me feel like I’m creating something special; that I’m living life to the fullest.
GNARLY: What’s the motorcycle and kustom kulture scene like in Italy?
DANIEL: It’s pretty widespread but definitely not as cool as it is in the USA, Japan or Northern Europe in my opinion. Seeing a hardtail chopper around is pretty rare. Most of the coolest bikes around are made on Evo Softails base. You get to see very few Shovelheads here in Italy, not to mention Panheads. The thing is that there are hundreds of bikes on the streets but like only 10% of the bikers want a custom bike. When I say custom bike, I mean stripping the original bike down and rebuilding a sick ride out of it, not just changing the exhaust or the handlebars, you know what I mean right? I’ve attended a few bike shows this year but I’ve only seen a few really sick choppers, most of the bikes just go through very light custom work. As a custom painter, it’s pretty sad, I get a lot of people asking for a ballpark quotation for a paint job that is nothing more than the original factory paint but with different colors. That’s really sad, isn’t it?
I notice on your website, and by the photos that you submitted for this piece, that you do a lot of tank painting. Is that your bread and butter? What other types of kustom paintwork are you doing?
I don’t exclusively paint gas tanks, I paint full bikes too, but to grow as an artist I decided to paint more gas tanks than other parts because I thought they would be easier to sell. I have also chosen to focus more on painting gas tanks because they are the part that really stands out and makes the difference on a bike. I’m planning to paint more helmets in the future — it’s something I really wanna do as soon as possible. When I started learning custom painting, I did my first experiments on helmets. That’s probably why I haven’t painted a helmet in a while, they remind me how bad I was!
Are you also an illustrator? You have a really cool illustrated skeleton Samurai dude on your website. If you didn’t illustrate it, tell us who did so we can give them a little shout out.
I am glad you’re digging that skeleton! I am not an illustrator, that was made by IAMTOKEBI. He’s a super nice dude from Guatemala that I happened to find on Instagram and I immediately fell in love with his art. I am definitely going to work with him again in the future. I want him to design all my t-shirts and any kind of merchandising that I’m gonna make the future.
What has been your biggest kustom paint success to date?
I must say there have been two, the first one was last year. One of the first
bikes that I painted got on the cover of an Italian custom bike magazine
called “Low Ride." That was a super cool chopper built on a Knucklehead base. The second biggest success was in September this year when I got a message from the curator of the Brooklyn Invitational asking me if I could send one tank to be displayed during the event. I really couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t expecting anything like that! I didn’t even have any tanks ready at that moment, so I had to ask a guy in the US to help me ship a tank that I had painted to New York for the show! I really hope I will get this opportunity again next year so I can be ready and paint some sick tanks for that event, and hopefully bring them myself too. That would be really cool.
How often do you get tank paint orders from the United States? Your work is amazing, so I have to assume you’re getting orders from around the globe.
Well, first of all, thank you for appreciating my work. I’m working very hard doing the best I can. I want to keep growing and keep getting better and better. Actually, most of what I do is sold abroad, especially in the USA and Northern Europe. I started getting orders from the United States about half a year ago. I was really surprised at the beginning and now I’m dealing with people every day from the USA asking me for quotations or commenting on my work and it’s just great! I have always been connected to the USA somehow. I was in New York on September 11, 2001. I have very good friends all over the States and working with American people makes me very proud. I believe that my clients appreciate not just the paint job but also all the bodywork that I do to bring the paint job to another level and also my customer service.
It’s a cliche question, but I ask it of everyone: Who are your biggest influences and why?
I was asked the same question in a different interview a few days ago and I’m going to answer the same way. When I started painting three years ago, I didn't know shit about custom painting. I had no idea where to start from — I only knew the names of a couple of custom painters! I used to buy a lot of magazines and that's all. All I knew was that I loved bikes and had a lot of ideas that I wanted to put on people's bikes or helmets. Here in Italy, there are a few big names but sadly, as I said earlier, custom painting doesn't fall on fertile ground here. So, when I started learning, I found out that Instagram was the best place to go to get to know what's out there, especially in the US. I think that if I had to name the first painters that I started to follow on Instagram, and who have somehow influenced me, would probably be Buck Wild and Chemicalcandy. Both of them lay down some killer work. Nowadays there is almost zero unexplored territory in pretty much everything — art, technology, custom painting, whatever. In the past ten years or so it has become very hard to stand out in this world. That's why my motto for 2019 is "Daniel, go crazy." I'm gonna start spitting colors instead of spraying them probably.
What kind of motorcycle do you ride? Is that what you did all your practice painting on?
Ha! I owned two bikes and I had to sell both of them for different reasons. The first one I bought in 2008 was a 1992 Sportster and the second one was a 1993 Evo Softail. I had to sell them in 2012 before I started painting, so the answer is no, I didn’t practice on my bikes. Haha! I am working my ass off to save up some money and get a bike next year. A custom painter without a bike is not credible!
Do you have a dream bike? If so, how would you paint it?
I have so many ideas and I change my mind so often that I think I would want to repaint the whole bike like three or four times per year! My dream bike would be a super skinny and minimalistic chopper, Panhead or Shovelhead. But I’m pretty sure that I will only be able to afford an Evo... eventually!
Some of the tanks look like there’s a good bit airbrush artwork under the clear. Are you doing that airbrush art as well? Or are those transfers?
If you refer to those tanks with Frazetta or Vallejo art those are transfers. I wouldn’t be able to airbrush those! I really like this technique though, I think it gives the original art more value and credit.
Have any funny or embarrassing paint stories?
Not really on my side (I hope LOL), but something funny happened during the show I attended in September. A guy came to my booth, he was super excited about the tanks I was displaying and after asking me for a quotation and being ok with it he was like, “I can remove the paint job anytime and the original paint job will still be underneath, right?” I literally fainted! This is part of the kustom kulture here. Haha.
What’s the big project on your workbench right now?
I’m waiting for four full bikes to paint. I can’t wait to sit down and think of the colors and the design. Aside from painting, I’m also looking for a better place where I can work better.
Any final words for the Gnarly Magazine readers?
I had fun replying to this interview! I really hope you guys come and visit my Instagram page. I’m doing my best to keep ahead and to post interesting content. If you are in the USA or anywhere else around the globe and want to get a paint job, hit me up and I’m sure we can work something out. The cost of shipping a tank or a fender to Italy is only a little over sixty bucks so it’s not a big deal, I guess. I want to thank the Gnarly Magazine for this amazing opportunity, I want to thank all its readers, I want to thank everyone out there who are supporting me. You guys are my fuel who keep me going! Cheers from Italy!
Be sure to check out our previous Weekly Feature:
• Q&A with James (Kaye) Kwiatkowski of Alpha 6 Corporation / Alphanamel