When people ask Orange County Choppers Lead Designer Jason Pohl what he does for a living, he says: “Well, I draw pictures of motorcycles, and then I color them in. So, in a way, I get paid to color.” Pohl, if you couldn’t tell, isn’t afraid to have a little fun at his own expense.
What Pohl does is actually much more elaborate, involving research and development, conceptual sketching, 3D modeling, and photorealistic rendering of design ideas. And once client-approved designs are ready for fabrication, Pohl moves on to the CNC programming and machining of the unique, complex components that comprise a one-of-a-kind bike from Orange County Choppers (OCC).
Even if your motorcycle knowledge isn’t all that vast, OCC is likely on your radar. The motorcycle manufacturer and lifestyle brand’s custom-built bikes have been featured on the reality show American Chopper and the eponymous CMT show Orange County Choppers. OCC’s designs, as Pohl will tell you, get pretty “out there.” One of the company’s most famous bikes, designed for the opening of its Beijing showroom, is wrapped in a 10-foot-long golden dragon with 3D-printed parts.
For Pohl, an art-school graduate who began his career as a video game animator, the transition to custom bikes presented itself as an opportunity to make lasting art. “I wanted to make something that I could pull out of a garage 30 years from now; rip off the cover; and be like, ‘It’s still cool,’” he says. “And that’s one thing that choppers are: They’re timeless. They’re long, they’re chrome, they’re bold, and they’re unique.”
Here, he speaks about motorcycles, art, giant elk skulls, and the exhilaration of making things.
How would you describe your general approach to design?
Complete chaos, mayhem, not really organized, not really methodical.
Do you sketch, or do you start everything in the computer?
I sketch. I’m a fine artist. My background is in painting and drawing, so I start every project with a No. 2 pencil, the cheaper the better; maybe a stick of charcoal if I’m feeling frisky; and paper. It’s really just quick conceptual sketches, and I just blast out, like, 10 in a row. Sometimes, it’s half a bike; sometimes, it’s just a headlight or a frame. Then, when I get something that I like, I zero in on it and take a picture of that one. Then I’ll go into Photoshop or SketchBook Pro, and I’ll start drawing it and adding to it—add color to it real quick.