Staff Photo: John Bohn Artist Ryan Cobb is the owner of Twin Pistons Customs where he creates personalized art on motorcycles. Cobb holds a motorcycle gasoline tank on which he airbrushed the recreation of a tatoo worn by the owner of the motorcycle that the tank is a part of. Cobb states that at least eight hours of labor were needed to paint the tatoo recreation in addition to the rest of the paintwork on the gastank.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ryan Cobb has painted pretty much everything.
There have been jet skis, a cigarette boat and a particularly interesting endeavor involving a biplane. There's a current project pinstriping a toilet seat (seriously).
His heart's work, what really makes his soul purr, though, is motorcycles.
"There are just endless possibilities with bikes," the Collins Hill grad said recently, gesturing toward a recently completed project, a black and blue hog with custom wheels, fenders and saddlebags.
"You go to Harley Davidson and buy a Road King, it doesn't look like that. I like the fact that you can take something that everybody has and make it your own."
In May, Cobb opened Twin Pistons Customs, his very own motorcycle art studio on North Clayton Street in Lawrenceville. One of the few true Renaissance men in the business, Cobb is a one-man show, doing his own body work, disassembly, assembly and everything else -- but the main focus is the artwork.
"I'm probably known for flames and my airbrush skills," he said. "My overall style, everything's real ... I wouldn't say hardcore because to me hardcore is motorcycles that are kind of Frankenstein bikes, kind of rough. It's a hardcore style but it's definitely made to ride."
"Everything I make, I make it to ride. But everything I own, everything I do is not to the norm."
Cobb's career in the business was launched by a chance encounter.
More than a decade ago as a student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, the Lawrenceville native accompanied a pal to a shop called Wicked Ways, where he was getting his motorcycle painted.
"I went in and they were like, 'Man, I can't get any flames down, I can't get flames,'" Cobb said. "I said I could draw it on paper but I didn't know how it related to them."
It related just fine, and a partnership was born. Cobb had an informal internship at Wicked Ways for the next two years, honing his art skills and picking up the ins and outs of motorcycle maintenance and customization over the next several years. He had the bug.
He didn't just fall into the field, however -- a healthy mix of nature and nurture led Cobb down this road.
Cobb's paternal grandfather was the head painter at the old General Motors plant in Lakewood, and his grandfather on his mother's side was a photo retoucher for RKO Pictures -- one of the oldest production studios in America, working on classics like "Citizen Kane" and "It's a Wonderful Life."
"I think that's how it kind of meshed together," he said. "I had always been around cars and hot rods and motorcycles, and was always around art, but had never put the two together."
After working for about 12 years at Wicked Ways, Cobb decided to move in his own direction and took a job with Killer Creek Harley-Davidson in Alpharetta. Though the wheels were already turning toward a shop of his own, tragedy spurred the dream on.
In April, Cobb's wife was nearly ready to give birth to twins. An infection complicated things, and both babies were lost. Obvious motorcycle-related significance aside, the name Twin Pistons Customs has a very personal meaning.
"If it wasn't for the twins," Cobb said, "I wouldn't have done this."
What he's done is put in a lot of work over a lot of years. Business at the new shop is slow but steady -- even he'll admit motorcycles are "a luxury thing."
Still, Cobb has been known to spend more than 20 hours detailing a single gas tank. Depending on the intricacy, jobs typically take a full week or two. Even with a simple, single-color paint job, he follows a detailed 16-step process.
"I'll take eight hours laying out a full paint job of flames. The next morning I'll come in, spend 15 minutes painting it and the go peeling everything off," he said. "It's cool though because it's like Christmas. You get to peel off all the paper and the tape and see what you did."