Norvin Motorcycle Mezzotint

This motorcycle print is of a motorcycle that I rebuilt and rode when I lived in Seattle.

Norvin Motorcycle Print Final by Chris NowickiThis Mezzotint represents many things to me, perseverance, ambition, patience, determination, hope and satisfaction. These words can be used to describe the mezzotint print or the actual motorcycle because they both were long term projects and, including the difficulties, I enjoyed them both immensely.

I bought my first motorcycle in Toledo, Ohio when I was 18 years old. It was a Triumph Thunderbird. And it had the affectionately named ‘Bathtub’ rear fender. I owned it for about one and a half years. After that I had another Triumph, this one was the more desirable ‘Bonneville’. But it turned out not to be very desirable because it was problematic and a money sump. But it taught me how to work on motorcycles and proved to me that at that time Lucas Electrics was indeed the ‘Prince of Darkness’. I was in a vicious cycle of having a motorcycle in the summer and selling it to have money to return to the university in the fall. After the Bonneville I was looking for a Norton when I found a nice 1950 Harley Davidson ‘Panhead’. This was the last motorcycle I owned in Toledo. When I finished at the university, I moved to Los Angeles, then Big Sky, Montana (before the now famous ski resort was built) and then to Seattle to go to graduate school.

After a few years in Seattle I could afford to get another motorcycle so I started looking for a Harley but ended up with a very nice Norton. It was a 1975 Mark III. It had been tuned at Sunset Motors by T.C. Christiansen a world famous drag racer. I finished this motorcycle with more balancing, carburetion, big valves and suspension and it ended up being the nicest and fastest Norton in Seattle at the time. This motorcycle was my only transportation for the first nine years I lived in Seattle and contrary to most 60’s and 70’s English bikes it was very dependable.

The Norvin shown in this print was more special than I thought when I was first looking at it in boxes. I bought it in Anacortes, Washington. As I said it was in boxes. After sorting through the parts I had to decide if I wanted a project that would take a few years to complete. I decided yes. I found the truth in the old restoration project adage, “When estimating the time to finish a vehicle restoration decide how long it will take – double the length of this time and then add a few years”. I did all the work on this motorcycle myself with the exception of help from Carl Rader who put new valve seats in the heads and seated the valves for me, and Pat at Pat’s Top Hat Cycle who rebuilt the front cylinder head. I rebuilt the engine and transmission myself and built the bike from the ground up. I was on a minimum budget and the project took six years. The motorcycle you see in this mezzotint is that finished Norvin project.

Norvin Print First Proof
Norvin Motorcycle Print First Proof by Chris NowickiBut motorcycles were only one important part of my life. I also had ambitions to become a fine art printmaker. In Seattle I had a studio where I went after work to make prints. I finished my Masters degree in etching technique but at my studio did mostly screen prints and mezzotint. About 1987, a year or two after I finished the Norvin I was invited to have an exhibition in Wroclaw, Poland. After visiting Poland a few times I decided to pursue my printmaking career there. The only way I could do that was to physically move there so I sold the Norvin and used the money to live in Poland. I moved there in 1993.

As you can imagine it was a difficult decision to sell the Norvin. It had become part of me and my identity. I found out as I was working on it that it was a custom built machine. It was built in San Francisco by a company that only made six motorcycles, all Norvins. This one was run at the Bonnevile Salt Flats and held the two cylinder speed record for a while. Then the second owner, who must have been an idiot, blew up the engine because he didn’t keep the valves adjusted. He took it apart but never put it back together. He sold off some of the parts and I bought the rest. When I finally decided to sell the finished motorcycle I sold it to collector John Caraway in Sacramento, California.

Norvin Motorcycle of Chris Nowicki in Seattle photo by Kelly NowickiI think you will agree that especially for the 1960’s this was an amazing and beautiful machine. That is why I always have wanted to do a print of it. I actually started a print about 4 years ago that including it but during the remodeling of my studio here in Poland the partially finished copper plate went missing. It was a totally different image than the one here but it always bothered me that I didn’t get to finish that print. So after letting it bother me for a few years I decided to start another Norvin print to get the idea out of my system.

This Norvin mezzotint print is the result of about three months of work. For the most part it is an accurate representation of the motorcycle down to the number of spokes in the wheels. Some details have been left in the shadows but this is because of the dramatic lighting I wanted and not lack of determination or energy. This print is a portrait. It is like a portrait of an old friend, I know this motorcycle inside and out. I put every screw, bolt, spring, spoke and clamp on it myself. I painted it myself and even designed and printed the tank emblem. Like the motorcycle, this print has a sentimental value for me. It represents a time of my life that was very important to me not only for the accomplishment of this motorcycle project but for the immense decision of moving to Poland. This move was very difficult but like the decision to bring together the pieces of this magnificent machine and get it in running order, this machine allowed me to get my scattered life together and change my future.

There are so many more details that I have omitted from this small text; details about building the exhaust system, researching paint, figuring out the valve timing on my own and just appreciating the wonderful craftsmanship that was standard at the Vincent factory. I think I have included the basics of the situation so at least you can get an inkling of why I made this mezzotint print. Both projects took a lot of time but both have given me immense satisfaction.

Plate For Norvin Mezzotint
Norvin Motorcycle Mezzotint Printing Plate by Chris Nowicki 35cmx25cmThis is a photo of the mezzotint plate that I am working on right now. There is a long story about this motorcycle and I will fill in details as I show photos of my progress.

It has taken me about one month to get to this point. Rocking the plate took almost three weeks since I rock by hand and only rock about 2 hours per day. This past week I have been scraping but there is still a lot of work. I scrape a plate about three times. The first time is to get the image on the plate. The second scraping is to work on the light and shade, and the third time hopefully is just making final adjustments but I almost always have to do final adjustments more than once. After I finish the motorcycle I will still have to decide what to do with the background. That’s another story.

This print has been in my mind for a number of years. I started a plate with this image about three years ago. I made one proof to see how it was going and then the plate disappeared. I have looked everywhere but it is not to be found. It has bothered me for two years that I didn’t get to finish that print so I decided to start a new and better one.

This is a unique motorcycle. It is a Norton frame with a Vincent engine. There are other Norvins but they are all custom built so they are all unique. I bought this one in ten boxes and rebuilt it from the tires up.

Also here is a photo of the only proof I have of a plate that I started two years ago and then lost. It is just a print of the plate after the first scraping. This print is only about 6 inches long. The new plate is 11 x16inches.

Author: Chris Nowicki | Archive | Email | Voicemail #14
    Professor of Printmaking at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland.

Categories:Fine Art Technique:Mezzotint