Meet the Man Behind the Capitals’ Goalie Masks: Catching Up With David Gunnarsson

If there’s one thing hockey fans can agree on, it’s that goalies hold a special place in our heart. Opposing players can’t touch, snow or even so much as breathe on our goalie. Maybe it’s that they have a unique position in that they can’t win the game they can only save it. Maybe it’s that they stand on their head night in and night out to help back stop the team to victory. Or maybe it’s that they are one of the only athletes in the world that wear works of art for gear. 

If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered where the goalies come up with these colorful helmet creations that show off their even more colorful personalities. Well chances are, the man behind your favorite goalie’s mask is the legendary David Gunnarsson of DaveArt.

At age 16, Gunnarsson started his career in his family’s barn in Sweden, working on his airbrushing after school. After he graduated, he had enough clients to make DaveArt his full-time profession. Gunnarsson has always had a passion for goalie helmets, and as he still works from the barn his grandfather built in the 1930s, DaveArt has become an established custom paint company known throughout the world.

More than 20 years and thousands of helmets later, Gunnarsson has worked with NHL netminders like Henrik Lundqvist, Ben Bishop, and Carey Price. Oh yeah, and all of the Capitals’ goalies playing pro hockey in North America this season, including Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in D.C.; Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek in Hershey; and Adam Carlson and Parker Milner in South Carolina.

Since so many of our organization’s goalies seek out DaveArt for their masks, I wanted to know who was behind these helmets, so I reached out to David Gunnarsson to learn a little more about his process.

Working alongside his wife in the front office and an assistant who helps prep the helmets, Gunnarsson is able to dedicate all of his time to painting. “Thanks to my team I only paint and can be very effective, and since I’ve been working with this for 21 years now I am pretty fast.” But before Gunnarsson can begin painting, he needs to have a concept for the helmet.

Designs typically start from the goalies individual concepts, but often times it’s collaboration between Gunnarsson and the player. “Usually they have some kind of start idea, then we roller coaster from there and I brainstorm and make drawings for the goalies.” Gunnarsson totes his imagination as being a key part of the process, as he is “very thankful to my fantasy, it is my strongest tool, somehow new ideas pop up all the time.”

From establishing a concept, ideas transfer to paper in a sketch that the goalie gets to see before the painting begins. Then, Gunnarsson will begin painting, typically using airbrushing on his helmets, but he says, “I also like to switch paint techniques depending on style and effects, so sometimes I use a sketch pen, or regular brushes, marker pens, all kinds of fun stuff.”

In Washington, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are rocking the red like no other with Gunnarsson’s designs. Holtby and Gunnarsson have partnered up for mask designs for years. “It is such a joy to create a story from mask to mask and evolve it through the years. This new design is in the well known Holtby style and creates a subtle vintage style.” The two also partnered up for Holtby’s You Can Play Mask, which features DaveArt Trademark Super FX and tells the story that hockey is for everyone.

For Philipp Grubauer’s mask this season, goalie and artist worked together to create the “sixth chapter of his mask series.” “Every mask chapter is totally unique and it shapes a design that lives and breathes Washington Capitals. Since it is a design inspired for the capital city, his design is inspired from the U.S. flag.”

Current Hershey Bear Vitek Vanecek and recently traded Joe Cannata’s helmets were inspired by what else…chocolate! The designs are similar in that Gunnarsson says, “they are clean and old school, and I really loved the Hershey colors, reminds me of course, of chocolate, so soon comes a mask with a chocolate theme.” The newly acquired Pheonix Copley also had Gunnarsson complete his current St. Louis Blues/Chicago Wolves helmet. I’m sure he’ll be in search of a new Hershey-themed design from DaveArt soon.

Continuing the DaveArt organizational sweep, Capitals’ prospect Adam Carlson and Hershey’s backup Parker Milner are repping some sweet Gunnarsson designs, as well. Adam Carlson is new to the DaveArt squad this year. “We brainstormed together and a clean and classic design plan emerged.” Carlson’s designs is Washington through and through, and “it was very exciting to work with the classic Caps’ logos and make them come to life” for Gunnarsson.

South Carolina Stingrays goalie Parker Milner’s mask features melted chocolate forming the Hershey Bears logo, and if you look close enough you will see a hologram Willy Wonka. Gunnarsson says, “I am a huge fan of Hershey chocolate, so I had a lot of tasty fun creating this choco piece.”

As far as how much time he spends creating each helmet, Gunnarsson says “it is impossible to count because I think and brainstorm each and every mask all the time.” After he finishes putting his final touches on the helmet, they are shipped to the goalie, where we, as fans, can marvel at all the fine details Gunnarsson puts into his work.

One of the first questions I had for Gunnarsson was did you think this is what you would do for a career, he responded “no, it is like a dream for me!” As I asked more questions of him, it was clear that he cares deeply about his art saying “this is not work for me, it’s a lifestyle, every mask is a story, every mask is unique.”

So, next time you see your favorite goalie wearing a new colorful design, you can appreciate the man behind them, and how he turned his dreams and passion into a reality.

By: Tori Hartman

Related Reading:
Interview With Dave Gunnarsson: The Man Behind The Capitals Masks
Looking at The Buckets of the World Cup of Hockey
Braden Holtby’s Latest Bucket is Gorg

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