HbD Interviews: Dave Gunnarsson
by Ally Koss
(ed. note: Dave’s body of work can be described by one word: prolific. And we can only sample a very small amount here. But all italicized links (like this one) brings a pop-up image, so we can show more of it. Images from Dave Gunnarsson)
For anyone who pays attention to goalie masks in the NHL or has been reading our roundups this season (if not, you can catch up here), you probably already know the name David Gunnarsson or at least that of his studio, Daveart. Having worked with over half of the league’s current netminders (although he admittedly hasn’t kept count of how many exactly), Dave regularly works with the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby, Ben Bishop, Antti Niemi, Carey Price and Pekka Rinne (you may have heard of them) just to name a few.
One glance at his website, Flickr or Instagram feed, and it’s clear Dave’s a pretty busy guy. However, he was gracious enough to take some time out of his painting schedule to give us some insight into his work and career painting helmets for the NHL’s elite goaltenders.
Like many artists, Dave’s desire to pursue airbrushing as a career came at a young age. “To paint has been my biggest interest since I was a little kid,” he shared. Growing up with animated Disney films, Dave took notice of and formed an immediate interest in the movies’ airbrushed scenery.
“I started to sell my drawings to save up money to get my first airbrush kit. When I was 16, I got it and I started.” Dave began by painting masks for local goalies, and as word got around of his talents, more and more work began to roll in. “When I was 20 and graduated from school, I had so much work I could start as a full time pro.”
Despite now having 19 years of experience and countless masks and clients under his belt, Dave never stopped learning or pushing the boundaries of his work. “It is said you need at least 10,000 hours of work to become really good at it. I did that and more, and I noticed I became better and better. My goal is to be able to paint the stuff I came up with in my brain.”
Debuting on the Big Stage
Before amassing his current list of pro clients, Dave first catapulted his career by working with Swedish goaltender, Johan Hedberg in the 2000-01 season. Then with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose, “he made his breakthrough with his blue Moose mask I made for him,” Dave recalls.
His work made its first appearance on the big stage of the NHL in the spring of 2001 when Hedberg was traded to Pittsburgh and made a playoff splash with the Pens. “He had huge success in the Stanley Cup playoffs [in] 2001 with [the] Penguins,” but playing in a black and gold jersey while still donning his blue Manitoba mask, earned Hedberg a new nickname. “He became the Moose, named after his mask.”
From there, Dave’s work never left the spotlight. “I am a shy country boy,” he admits. “I don’t like to be in focus, but I am very thankful when my painting gets a lot of attention…I am very happy and thankful so many goalies want my paintings and [for me to] be creative together with them.”
Dave’s work has broken beyond the NHL and made its way onto the international stage as well. “One mask I will never forget is the Team Sweden mask I made for my friend Stefan Liv for the Olympics 5 years ago,” Dave recalls. “I made that mask very old school; I used an old brush when I painted it.” Since Liv’s passing in the tragic Lokomotiv plane crash back in 2011, Dave’s sentimental feeling towards the work he created for his friend has only grown stronger. “That mask is close to my heart since I knew it was Stefan’s favorite.”
Painting a Fantasy
For those who are familiar with Dave’s work, detail, special effects and mind-bending optical illusions always seem to have a place in his signature style. From holograms and psychedelic clowns to glow-in-the-dark paint and Dali-esque cartoon animals, Dave’s style is anything but vanilla. “My strongest part has always been my fantasy,” he shares. “I love to come up with new stuff all the time.”
Crafting such intricately detailed masks though doesn’t happen overnight. “First I brainstorm, then I draw and sketch on a paper. Then I color it [and] test the designs,” Dave explains of his process. “When it feels good and the goalies like the sketch, I start to paint with the airbrush.”
Despite the rapid pace that he produces new work, the detailed style Dave loves still takes time. “I love to have a lot of stuff going on. I am very productive and I work on several masks at the same time.” But keeping up with that super-speedy pace wasn’t always so easy for Dave. “I was not this fast in the beginning,” he admits, “but for every year, the faster I get. I also have a team helping me with all the stuff around, so the only thing I do around here is paint.”
Patience and Practice
While Dave’s airbrushing success doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, he credits patience and practice for getting him to where he is today. To those looking to follow in his footsteps, “get ready for a fun ride,” he advises. “Never give up. You need patience and practice.” Along with that patience and practice comes constant growth as an artist. “I always try to learn, and every day is a new interesting experience.”