Goaltenders are always the bravest ones on a hockey team.
They stand in a 72 inch by 48 inch mesh home against an opposition that can rifle a puck over 100 kilometres per hour. Even though the job is dangerous, they might as well look good while doing it.
Steve Nash, 40, owner of Eyecandyair, creates and renders the art and designs you see on ice hockey goalie masks.
Painted goalie masks are not new to the hockey world. Players began painting them as soon as masks became mandatory. From Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden’s target face mask to Gerry Cheevers’ stitches mask, art has joined hockey in an interesting way.
It is a way for a goalie to show off what he or she likes, ranging from tributes to their favourite band as far as flag-related masks that represents their home country. Masks are like tattoos of the hockey world because they illustrate a goalie's personality in a unique, interesting way.
Nash, who grew up in Shelburne, Ont., had an interest in painting his masks and a love for the arts. Despite having no formal training in airbrushing other than a few high school art classes, he wanted a neat goalie mask for himself, so he gave it a try.
“[I] taught myself how to use the airbrush because I wanted to paint a unique design on my own personal goalie mask,” Nash stated. “It was the first thing I ever airbrushed and it turned out pretty cool. I really enjoyed it, so I kept painting.”
That was in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2003 when he opened his Eyecandyair shop to the public.
His customers aren’t your average Joes, either. He’s done masks for Martin Biron of the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick and Atlanta Thrashers' Chris Mason.
He has also done Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and for 2009 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.
Nash is humble when it comes to his work. He says he still finds it exciting every time he watches one of his works make it to the pros.
“It’s very exciting to get the opportunity to work with these goalies,” Nash said. “It gives me great pride being able to paint on a professional athlete’s mask because they can choose any artist they want to. There are painters all over the world, so I consider myself very lucky.”
Stephanie Pasquariello, 34, helps him run the shop in Woodbridge and feels the same way.
“It’s still very surreal, and I get excited every time I see work Steve has done on TV or in magazines. A lot of hard work has gone into this business, so it’s very rewarding to have these goalies come to us and ask us to do work for them.”
Although his work is worn by professionals, Nash is like most artists and never truly happy with his work.
“I look at a finished mask and there is always something I think I could have done differently,” Added Nash, “I am my own worst critic.”
Pasquariello, a native of Toronto, vouches for the hard work he puts into his art explaining how he spends “hours upon hours” on one piece of work, then paints over it if he does not feel the mask was up to par.
Nash’s favourite masks are ones that include Metallica, Rush and Jimi Hendrix, but believes the best ones are those he makes for children because the kids “light up” once they see the finished product.
His work is much like a fingerprint, so you will never find two masks looking the same. Every mask is a custom design. Nash never uses stock pattern
The masks can range in price from $500 and up, depending on the difficulty of the design.
Each mask is painted using automotive paint and takes nearly a week to be complete
Nash enjoys every minute of his work, but takes nothing for granted.
“I realized that I could actually combine my passion for the things I really loved: art and hockey. I never expected to make a full-time career out of painting masks or that I would one day see my work worn by professional athletes.
The next time you watch a hockey game, keep an eye out for Nash’s designs because it’s truly the definition of art on ice.