On my 10th birthday, my parents bought me my first skateboard. It was a plastic NASH you could find in the toy section of Target or Walmart at the time. The thing had razor patterned grip tape with plastic yellow wheels and trucks, and a blank underside that I quickly took advantage of with some sharpies I found in my Dad’s desk drawer. After I covered the whole thing with Stussy “S”s I opened the garage door and took my first push down the driveway and into a world of creativity and alternative sub-culture.
As I got into middle school, skateboarding was the link to meeting new kids that were into hiphop and graffiti. There was something about creating a name and getting recognized for how and where you were able to “get up” that got me obsessed. The anonymity of who these writers were intrigued me, the numerous ways they could express their names, how they managed to get into seemingly inaccessible places like artistic ninjas… I wanted to do what they did.
My graffiti career was short lived. After getting arrested and suspended from school in the 8th grade for defacement and destruction of property, my parents were quick to get rid of the art supplies. My attention soon shifted into photography, DJing and surfing but I’ve always kept an admiring eye on the graffiti and street art scene.
I loved the incorporation of structured letter forms alongside abstracted type. There was a unique sense of precision and craft involved with that sort of execution to me. That lettering approach combined with the ability to create characters and themed backdrops to present their names is what I always looked for. Without even realizing it, I was being educated on an array of design principles that I would come to learn about years later on in life.
One of the guys who immediately stuck out to me was Barry McGee, or TWIST by his street moniker. Up to that point, I had never personally related to an artist as much as him. He had a cross over appeal from graffiti to gallery art, design to photography, as well as skateboarding to surfing. His geometric pattern play and line art character portraits have been popularized in recent years with his affiliation with the youth culture brand RVCA.
Another artist named Greg Simkins had a pop art slant to his graffiti approach. He used color play and font choices to make subtle references to the brand “Crayola,” a homophone of his name “Craola.” He also has an insane fantasy inspired style themed around children’s tales and monsters that have crossed over into his fine art painting that he is known for today.
Finally there’s Mike Giant, who redefined what was possible with a black Sharpie marker. From graffiti to tattooing and presently focused on vector tight illustration, he’s the “designer” of the bunch. You may have seen his work from his time with Rebel Eight clothing, the typographic interior designs in the Adobe Utah campus, and his large-scale murals in NYC that harken back to hand painted advertisements of the past.
It’s interesting now to see the shift go the other way, with the graphic design industry obsessing about hand-done type and “getting up” on social media with daily type pieces. And that’s what is definitely cool about what’s happening in this digital age; the sphere of influence has become global and it’s as wide as you want it to be. The three artists above are prime examples of that evolution with their own crafts and how they are choosing to express themselves today.