H.C. Kustoms has been moving on it's way up throughout the custom motorcycle scene more and more. With knock out paint jobs and crazy good color schemes, this team of three guys are stepping outside the box and absolutely killing it. Based out of the Cincinnati area, it was a no brainer to invite one of the guys from their outfit to paint a tank for Fuel Cleveland which will be on display on May 28th. Donny Conrad stepped up to the plate to paint the tank and also gave me a chance to ask him some tough questions. This is what came of it, enjoy!
- Mikey Revolt
Donny Conrad, where do you call home?
D: We’re based east of Cincinnati, Ohio. In a small town called Williamsburg.
Tell us a little history about yourself and your shop.
D: Basically I've always been an artist. Mostly pinstriping, lettering, illustrations etc… Jake and I have been best friends for years and were always involved with hotrods and bikes. Three years ago Jake bought a sporty chopper that was coated in this unpleasant blue paint. So we decided to repaint it. Jake has a history in auto body and paint. So I threw some pinstripes over green and some light, novice stencil airbrush work and it got a lot of compliments. So one night Jake and I were sitting around bullshiting and we came up with the idea of doing this more. Painted all our bikes and then took on some customers. Our buddy Paulie started working for us about a year ago. So everyone has their own job. It runs surprisingly smooth.
What does the H.C. stand for in H.C. kustoms?
D: We're simple people from a simple town. It stands for Harkleroad / Conrad. Our last names. Genius right?!
D: We really just try to do what we think is cool. Our customers generally just give us tins and say, "Go crazy" or they give us a slight direction they want to go. But normally we like 100% custom, older show bike style stuff. So a lot of metal flake, pearls, tape work, stencils, murals, molding, gold leaf, pinstriping etc. we provide custom work. We don't do a lot of just "base and clear" work. That's not our bag.
What is your favorite thing to lay paint on?
D: Choppers. Without a doubt painting choppers is our passion. Custom bikes are what we love to paint but choppers and bobbers are why we paint. The community rewards originality and what better way to be original then have some dudes in southern Ohio, get weird and paint and sculpt and buff something that is unique. I mean, that's why I paint. That's why we work all day and paint all night. We don't paint cars. We paint bikes only. I will say that laying out a bagger paint job is not half as fun as a three piece chopper. (Tank, oil tank, fender) but we love to paint.
Who or what got you into art itself and what does art mean to you?
D: Originally I'm from New Jersey. As a kid was I always the obsessed with music and cartoons. So I would constantly draw instead of do homework. My mom kept a lot of my discipline papers from school. When I was about 13 years old my family moved to Southern California. That's where I kind of found myself really focusing on visual and musical art. California is where I learned how to draw boobs and not get kicked out of art class. I played in punk bands in the area and drew a lot of the flyers for local punk and hardcore shows. It was never a source of income. Just something I did. Some people would read or watch TV. I would just jam tunes and draw. My teenage years were pretty much just skateboarding and surfing and shitty garage shows and art. It's always just been my happy place. Where I released my mind and focused 100% on one thing. When I paint a tank it's the same thing. I spend hours taping them out and just letting what feels right come out. It's really hard not to come off like a hippy when I talk about art. Eventually we ended up in Indiana and now Ohio. I'm 31 one and nothing has changed since I was 15. I still like shit on wheels. I still listen to punk and metal. I still draw boobs and I still love everything different.
What got you in to motorcycles and when did you combine the two of painting and bikes?
D: I was always raised around bikes. I never owned any because my family couldn't really afford one. When I lived in New Jersey we were surrounded by bikers. I would just sit by the main highway and watch bikes, old trucks, vans, and hot rods roll by. When we went to California I was surrounded by bikes. Mostly dirt bikes but it was just a way of life that blew my mind. My only recorded criminal act is a trespassing violation I got when I was 15 for running an old Kawasaki enduro through a cattle ranch. Painting tanks was always a medium I wanted to work with but I never got the chance accept for pin-striping them. When we painted jakes old chopper, that's when I realized how much I loved it. That's when I really found my artistic focus.
What’s your all time favorite paint job you have ever laid down, what was it on and why was it your favorite?
D: Oh man! That's like asking "what's your favorite band?" I'd say the ones I have the most fun on are the paint job where I'm not given many guidelines and I can just brain puke my ideas onto the tins. I'd say my favorite tins we've ever done was a Kraken mural tank and fender set we did called "red sky in mourning." It was a mini sporty tank 1.3 gallon. Molded rib panels on top and both side of the tank and a heavily molded and shaped rear fender that had been peaked half way through and came down to two scopes. Micro flake over a swamp water green candy that was marbled. Gold leaf outlined panels of rise rises over the ocean with a mural on top of a giant kraken (squid) taking down a wooden ship. We shipped it off to Australia and I haven't seen or heard anything about it since. I heard it was going on an old pre unit triumph, but I have no actual clue.
D: I read a lot of older Heavy Metal magazines. Other than that, old show bikes. That's really what gets me. Old show bikes that get ridden like hell. Mostly I just try to interpret what I see. Not copy, just take notes on what I like. I try to spin them a different way or put my spin on a good idea. No one is really reinventing chopper paint. We're all following in some footsteps or another, I’m just trying to make sure my foot prints are original one.
Where is one place on this planet you have to go to before you get to the grave?
D: I want off this planet. Honestly, my only real drive to live till I'm 80 or 90 is the thought that hopefully by then, we'll be capable of space travel as civilians. I truthfully want to just see earth from outside our atmosphere. That really would be the exact moment I'd be content with hanging my hat.
The ultimate dream machine, do you own it or are you still looking for it and what is that machine?
D: I own a dependable old Japanese bike. Not exactly my dream bike, but I love her known the less. Lately I've been way into the swing shovel head chops I've been seeing. I've really been into just simple hard tail, 6 over, telescopic, with a cream white paint job and a cream King and Queen seat with just a simple, reliable 02" 1200. I know that's basic and it's already been done. But just the simplicity of that set up with a good hand painted mural on top. Light molding, tiny frisco bars and a nice little exhaust sounds perfect to me. Gas and exhaust stains. Damn!
Do you live by any life codes or words follow any specific words of wisdom?
D: The Conrad family motto “DON'T FUCK IT UP!!"
D: I've got some customers that are working on some killer bikes. I also have a huge list of tank ideas. When things slow down we like to buy a couple tanks and paint whatever we want on them and sell them or keep them as display pieces for our booth at shows. Other than that, we're pumped on some of the bike shows coming up in the area. Boogie Farm Clam Jam II is going to be insane. Pinned Ohio is also going to be a pretty damned good time. We also plan on remodeling the shop a bit. Get some more room to spread out wings.
What was a day in the life like for 13 year old Donny? Anything you would tell your self if you could go back to when you were 13?
D: Wake up around noon. Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Go skateboarding or ride bikes. I had a mini bike chopper. So maybe cruise that turd around. Go hang out with my friend and check out his older sister and her friends. Draw some goofy monster after stealing beer from my dad’s fridge. Maybe surf or eat tacos.
I'd probably tell myself to focus your time on visual art and less on girls and wanting to play music professionally. I'd definitely tell myself to get into painting earlier. I feel like I'm a bit late to the game. I never really had any formal training, just an obsession.
- California might have shaped my art mind. But my stomach belongs in New Jersey. I'd gladly just take a big, greasy ass cheese pizza. Papa Luigi's in Pennsville. That's the dream pizza. You're worried about dream bikes and art inspiration. My real dreams/inspirations is just cheese pizza and space travel.
Anyone you would like to thank or give a shout out to?
- My incredibly tolerant and beautiful wife Heather. Jake, Paulie, Kyle, Big Fucking Benny, Boogie Farm Kyle & Jessica, Billy from Showclass, JP Rodman, Donny and Jay from Good Times Reform, Illinois Andy, Keith Baskett, Mike Burke, Josh Shaw, Dominic, Teddy Too Tall, Johnny Depp's cutier brother Zach, heavy metal magazine, stoner metal, Ralph Bakshi, Frank Frazetta, Sabbath, and Arizona Sweet Tea. I love you all!
You can check out Donny's tank at Fuel Cleveland On May 28th and to keep up with more art from Donny and his crew you can follow them on Instagram @hckustoms or their website hckustoms.bigcartel.com