Painting Realistic Flames

It's On Fire

1. All the sheetmetal was stripped off the bike and sent to Martinez Custom Paint. Danny informed us that his shop paints bikes from all over the country. He said once a paint scheme and price has been decided, people ship the pieces to the shop, then Danny will have a consultation with the owner over the phone. He said he'll even paint sample pieces and ship them to the owner before he begins painting so that the owner can see exactly what a color/color combination looks like in person.

2. Before he started laying down the paint, Danny smoothed out the fenders (removed all the rivets, divots and holes). Martinez Custom Paint has full fabrication capabilities, from stretching fenders and tanks to fiberglass work for extending saddlebags. They welded the fender extension/filler panel to the rear fender and added about 3 inches to the back of the front fender so it would flow with the rear better.

3. Once all the fabrication and prep work was taken care of, four coats of House of Kolor Blue Blood Red was laid down as the base coat. Once the basecoat was dry, the outlines of the traditional flames were laid out. Danny told us he spaced the traditional flames further apart than he normally would to allow for more room for the True Fire to flow up in between.

4. The traditional flames were then back masked (filled with masking tape), then a razor blade cut away the excess tape. When Danny's done painting the True Fire will be flaming all around the traditional style flames and the traditional flames will be negative flames in the Blue Blood Red basecoat.

5. Along with all the materials needed, the kit is also available with a Mike Lavallee True Fire stencil kit and Secrets of Airbrushing True Fire DVD.

6. Danny showed us the House of Kolor paints and materials he used for the project. He got the materials from Coast Airbrush. Coast Airbrush has compiled kits with all the necessary materials to do Mike Lavallee's True Fire. Included are colors such as, Molly Orange, Chrome Yellow, White, Pagan Gold, and Tangerine.

7. Danny informed us that the basic goal is to apply the colors in layers. Each color is laid down in a one-coat/one-pass manner, creating a transparent effect where the colors are still visible, but they build upon each other to create depth for that realistic look. The darker colors are applied first and take up the most area. The darker colors are also more prominent towards the outer edges of the fire where it's cooler, whereas the lighter (hotter colors) are more towards the center/base of the flames. Danny began by using a spray gun to put down the first layer, which was Red Candy.

8. Next, Danny used an airbrush to spray Molly Orange. He said in this photo he was freehanding/free flowing some flames where he wanted the fire to be.

9. Still spraying Molly Orange, Danny then used the stencils to add crisp edges to some of the rounded areas of the freehand flames. The entire process is a mix between varying colors of freehanded flames and sharp radiuses, along with multiple colors of candy layers in between.

10. The stencil kit comes with a wide array of patterns to create varying positive and negative flame effects. Danny continually used different radiuses from various stencils to build upon each layer.

11. After the Molly Orange, Danny sprayed a coat of Tangerine Candy. Then he used Chrome Yellow and freehanded/stenciled fire over some of the areas where he laid down the Molly Orange. Danny said that he made sure to lay fire against the outlines of the traditional flames, because it will help the traditional flames pop out from the True Fire.

12. Here you can see the layers of colors start to build upon each other and the traces of True Fire emerging.

13. Next, a Harley-Davidson logo was masked out and applied to both sides of the gas tank.

14. Danny used a mixture of Chrome Yellow with a little bit of white, which will help give the logo a ghosted effect in the center of the flames.

15. Once the Chrome Yellow/white mixture was applied over the logo, Danny sprayed a layer of Pagan Gold Candy. Danny said the Pagan Gold Candy takes the starkness away from the previous layer and helps everything blend together.

16. The last layer of fire Danny applied was white with a little bit of yellow. The white layer of flames is the hottest, therefore was applied in more concentrated areas, but in the least volume. Once again a combination of freehand and stencil flames were used.

17. Lastly, one more layer of Pagan Gold Candy was applied. Here you can see how the Pagan Gold Candy helped to knock down the white and blend it in with the rest of the layers as Danny sprayed the gas tank from back to front.

18. Here is a look at a finished saddlebag with True Fire blazing through traditional style flames. Danny did an excellent job and the owner will be very impressed. However, it's still not done. Check back next time when the paintjob is finished off with some Rich Gold pinstriping, and then everything is bolted back onto the bike.

In Vol.40 No.11 we ran an article on making over a Road King in which we lowered the front fender with a kit from Fireman Joe's, added a Russ Wernimont Designs fender extension/filler panel, installed new bag latches from Klock Werks, and a new smooth dash from Milwaukee Iron. With all these pieces in place we were ready to move onto the most exciting part, the paint. The owner of the bike is a retired fireman with the Oakland, California Fire Department, and when he saw the '05 Firefighter Edition Road King on the showroom floor he just had to have it. However, like most of us, after a while he wanted something a little hotter than the Fire Engine Red paint the bike came with. The owner had seen a few bikes with realistic style flames and really liked the style and decided that's what he wanted.

As you would expect, real fire is a style in which the flames look so lifelike you almost want to hold your hands near them when it's bitter cold out. The style has gained popularity over the years, with the advancement in technique honed by its innovator, Mike Lavallee. Mike even has a trademark on the term True Fire. Whereas most people would keep their tricks and recipes closely guarded secrets to take to their graves, Mike encourages painters and paintshops to learn how to apply the style through his instructional DVD's and training courses.

Fortunately for us, we have a paint shop in our backyard, Martinez Custom Paint and Design, in Orange, California, that has incorporated the True Fire style into its wide repertoire. A family owned and operated paint facility since 1952, the shop is headed by the father and son duo, Al and Danny Martinez. Originally the shop focused on painting hot rods and custom cars when Danny's great grandfather started the business, but a little more than 10 years ago they shifted their focus to specialize in custom paint for motorcycles. Al runs the front desk while Danny handles all the painting. Martinez Custom Paint has been one of the top paint shops in the SoCal area for many years and we have featured several bikes and tech articles from the shop. As with any industry, you've got to be continually learning and adapting with the trends if you want to stay ahead, so several years ago Danny immersed himself into learning Mike Lavallee's True Fire techniques.

When approached with the concept for this bike, it was pretty straight forward. The owner wanted a bright red base coat topped with True Fire blazing across the fenders, tank, and saddlebags. There was also a special request to have a skeleton with a fireman's helmet and fire axe bursting through the flames on the front fender. Danny was very receptive to the ideas, and like a true artist offered up his own spin on the idea; intermix two styles of flames, True Fire and traditional. At first the owner was a little weary of mixing the two styles, but once Danny showed him a couple samples the owner was on board. Follow along as Danny shows us how he laid down some traditional style flames with True Fire licking throughout.