– By Russell Dow, project manager, senior experiential designer
How Skateboard Art and Culture Influenced My Career Path
It was a crisp clear spring morning, the humming sound of wheels on Masonite screamed and I hit the coping. The feeling of landing that trick creates an instant rush – that is skateboarding.
I’ve been skateboarding for 35 years now, yes 35. I started skateboarding in 1980 at the age of nine and didn’t know then how much skateboarding would come to develop who I am today. As an illustrator and designer, I have come to see the influence that artwork and graphic design in skateboard culture had on me, from the magazine spreads, graffiti tagging, clothing, personal expression, and especially deck graphics.
Deck graphics became big in the early ’80s when skateboarding spiked in popularity from coastal cities to small town USA. Starting with Dogtown and Powell & Peralta’s skull and tattoo-like graphics and moving into more illustrative and colorful graphics from Schmitt Stix and Vision Skateboards, I was hooked. Although those brands were great, it was Santa Cruz’s Rob Roskopp’s Bullseye from artist Jim Phillips, listed as #2 deck designs of the 1980s, that impacted my art at the time.
Roskopp’s Bullseye was different and new to skateboarding but closer to what was sketched on the front of my Pee Chee folders at school. It was punk rock meets surfer, it was Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. After seeing this deck, at age 13 I decided to build, sketch, and then silkscreen my own deck, for which I have no photos (before digital photos, sorry). It was extremely cool to have my own board; but being 13, I couldn’t let it sit there as art, so I used it and eventually broke it. That was my last design until 25 years later.
Somewhere in the mid-2000s, as aging skaters started to get nostalgic, we saw a spike in deck artwork in gallery shows, personal art, and DIY decks. I loved seeing the creativity that the deck canvas brings and seeing what people do to it.
Decks were exciting, bright, fun, and could accent each skater’s personality. I would sit and sketch these graphics over and over, paint them on grip tape, binder covers, and incorporate them in school projects. They were, along with comics, the reason I loved to illustrate. So today when I buy my kids their boards, it excites me to see which style they buy and how they look at those graphics entirely differently than me and then wonder if it will have an impact on them as well.
From skateboards to roller coasters, not too far of a jump. The experience sketching on my notebooks and illustrating skateboards led to my interest to create artwork and helped me focus on advancing my creativity to where I’m at today. I think that being an attraction designer is probably one of the coolest positions in the world; where else do you get to draw wild creative things that get built and where you get to work on projects that become destinations for thrill seekers like me!?