How Combining My Passions Led to Turning the NHL Into Art. With: Artist, Frank Cipra
I have been drawing and painting since birth (what my Mom
has always said). I remember as a kid that my Mom would buy me a drawing pad every Friday on grocery day and I would fill it with art of everything that I saw that fascinated me from birds, animals, people, cartoon characters, monsters, planes, cars. You name it, I drew it.
I went to Algonquin College in Ottawa and graduated from the Commercial Art Program. I learned a lot,but the program should have been longer than two years as they crammed in so much but not enough to give me direction on what path to take.
I went on to work for newspapers, printing firms and ad agencies, but again not a career where I could be truly creative and let loose. At one Ad Agency we were asked by the Ottawa Rough Riders Football Club to airbrush a poster for their upcoming season. No one knew anything about airbrushing so I volunteered to step up and take on this challenge and it turned out amazing. But I was still bored out of my mind as I was always going nonstop trying new things, trying to find that thing that would finally click.
Finally in 1991 it happened. My friend and our goalie, Chris Lafreniere, purchased a goalie mask from mask maker Jerry Wright and Chris asked if I would paint it for him. At the time, our travelling team wore the
Pittsburgh Penguin jerseys and he asked if I could paint a mean looking penguin onto the mask. I knew nothing about painting on this 3D surface. I made a few calls and got a few answers and thought what the hell, a new challenge. We then went on to play in Chicago 3 days after I completed it and everyone who saw it would ask Chris about his mask and who painted it. It received a lot of compliments and I told my wife upon my return. She then said, “Look, you hate what you are doing, you love hockey, why not take a leap and combine your two passions and give it a go?’’ So I did and never looked back!
To paint a goalie mask takes patience, which I have none of. The mask must be stripped down, sanded so the paint has something to grab onto. But before all this I need to know what the client is looking for in a design. It’s usually about a 5 to 10 minute conversation just to get an idea across and a feel
of what they are truly looking for. After that they give me free reign and allow me to go nuts. From beginning to end it takes me about a week and a half to completion. Funny thing, when I was asked to paint for the USA Hockey Team for the 1992 Olympics, I was given three days to paint two masks. I drove
to Montreal on a Friday afternoon to pick up the masks, returned to my studio, prepped, painted, clear coat, no sleep, drove to Montreal on the following Monday morning to the airport where they were then flown
to Albertville, France. I then came home, crashed for six hours sleep, then right back at it.
The Impact of the ’92 Olympics:
Seeing Ray LeBlanc wear that mask on TV for Team USA was one of the coolest things. And from then on, the orders for painted goalie masks from the NHL, AHL, USA Colleges, Canadian Major Junior and Olympic Teams
from all over poured in. I worked seven days a week, 14 hour days (I’m not kidding) for 22 years. Now, I paint for whoever and whatever and I’m having fun. And not just goalie masks. Anything that will stand still enough for
me to paint. I like to work off of photos or images, combine them together when I paint.
Was it worth it? I really don’t know. I missed a lot especially with my wife and kids. They are very proud of what I accomplished. Me, not so much! I am very humble and do not brag or tell people who I am or what I do for a living. I just tell them I’m an artist. And when I am ask what my favourite thing was that I had ever painted and my response is “I haven’t painted it yet!”
My Most Memorable Collaborations:
Within the NHL, there are so many to mention. But there are a few that stick in my mind. Ron Tugnutt asked to have a beer splash effect on his mask. Sean Burke and Robert Esche are huge into music and asked to have their favourite idols painted. Curtis Joseph, the Cujo dog. Grant Fuhr always gave me free reign, but asked to have five Stanley Cups on the back plate of his mask. I had mentioned to Jose Theodore that he should have Gargoyles on his mask as protectors of the net. Rick DiPietro played for the New York Islanders and their home arena was the Nassau Veterans Coliseum. I gave him the idea of paying tribute to the Veterans. I then found out his Dad was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
Corey Hirsch wanted to have a scary mask so I came up with the Psycho Mansion mask that is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. When Corey came to me when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks he said he wanted something different. At that time it was kind of out of the norm because the trend was that most guy’s wanted traditional team oriented stuff on their masks. But Corey wanted this piece to be personal. He mentioned that he wanted something dark and creepy. Me, being a huge fan of old horror movies immediately thought of Norman Bates and the Psycho Mansion and he loved the idea. I also placed a silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock in the center because he made a cameo appearances in all of his films, so why not put him on a goalie mask. Using the colours of the Canucks the design really worked and it’s the first time I subliminally put my initials on a mask. You can see FC in the staircase of the mansion.
But the mask I am most proud of is Jeff Hackett’s when he played for the Montreal Canadiens. I had painted my two sons Joel and Ian playing pond hockey. I ended up painting a replica of that mask for Celine Dion. And a replica of Jamie McCellan’s Calgary Flames tribute to the Rock Band Nickelback for them. I have met quite a few celebrities over the years, painted a few things for which they truly appreciate. One item that really threw me for a loop was for my friend Andy Nulman who is the CEO of the “Just For Laugh’s” Comedy Festival. He asked if I would paint a skull on his hearing aid which is the size of a peanut.
I am still painting like a madman, not for the Pro’s, but like I said I’m having fun now and on my terms. I’m still painting goalie masks, painting car’s, boats, murals, huge into motorcycles and helmets for people from all over North America and also Europe.
People can find me at my shop in Frankville, Ontario Canada, my website www.cipradesign.com or my phone number (613) 246–0921.
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~Feature in collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra