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In the art room with Andy Pitts

You might not know the name Andy Pitts, but you sure know his graphics. Or at least the artworks he oversees as the person in charge. Andy is the head of the DLX art department, which means that he is responsible for the visual appearance of Real, Spitfire, Antihero, Krooked, Venture, and Thunder. Of course, every brand has its own graphic designers, but he’s the one coordinating all the creative output. We wanted to know what it’s like to constantly develop new ideas for several brands at the same time and, therefore, ventured into the slightly chaotic art room, which gives the impression of a collision between a comic book store, the bedroom of a 14-year-old skater, and a thrift shop.

How did you become the head of the DLX art department?

As a self-taught artist, I just started making stuff for friends, for our local crew, and for shops. Then I read an interview with Winston Tseng, art director for Enjoi, about him working within the skateboarding industry. His e-mail was at the end of the article, so I just cold e-mailed him. I told him that I would love to work in the skateboard industry and asked how to go about it. He wrote a long and super nice mail about how he got into it since he’s not trained in art either. I hit him up and he was very helpful in guiding me at the beginning. So I started to freelance, essentially trying to get my stuff in front of the right eyes and building up my portfolio. Then I had a couple of freelance stuff with DLX and I freelanced for them for over two years till there was an opening here. I moved out to California, took the position here, and then over the course of the past eight years, I’ve gotten to the position of where I’m at.

"I ride nothing that I’ve ever done art on"

What does your daily routine look like?

The art room here is such a rad and tight-knit little group of people that are all on the same page. We just want to make rad stuff and there’s only a handful of us for all six brands we have here. So we all really have to crank out a lot of stuff between all brands. My goal, at the end of the day, is to come up with some rad shit and look that everyone in the art room is on point in making their stuff.

So you oversee all the brands?

Well, each brand is very distinct. For example, I don’t have my hands in Antihero at all. Julien [Stranger] is Antihero. I couldn’t be like, “Hey, you should do this!” I help out. Sam, one of our artists, is Julien’s partner in that. They create the vision of Antihero.

What is it like to come up with new ideas for different brands?

I’ll have ideas or people will come up with ideas that could fit for a few things. We try to let a lot of the riders’ identities come through but still carry the voice of the brand. The ideas generally stem from needing them for a specific brand. I need an Ishod [Wair] Thunder truck, so I’m gonna have in my mind what would be good for the truck. But from time to time, it would be like, “Oh, I have a great idea for Cardiel. This would be sick.” You think that it might be a good board, but then it turns out to be a better wheel. But for the most part, it’s specific for a rider who is specific to a product.

By the way: are you bummed when you see someone skating with the wheel graphics on the inside?

I ride graphics on the inside… I don’t ride anything I have ever done. There are times where I’ve had to when the only boards back in the warehouse with the shape I ride were boards that I did – and I always get hurt, every time. So I ride nothing that I’ve ever done art on. It’s a full superstition I have that always comes true. And I’m a kind of person that likes a nice white wheel on the outside, so I flip my graphics to the inside. I’m not bummed at anybody. Put stickers on it, do what you want.

How far into the future do you plan the graphics?

I know a lot of shoe and clothing companies that will be working on things a year ahead of time. We’re very close to our deadline when products come out. So currently we are in March and we are working on stuff for summer. For Real, for example, I got a rough plan like a few weeks ago. All pros are supposed to be covered and we want a team series in there and have a rough layout to fill our own ideas into it in a very quick turnover. And then it happens again. It’s almost every six weeks for a drop because we have, like, three spring drops. 90 days, that’s when it’s getting worked on. So spring drop one: 90 days prior it all gets worked on and then it switches from decks to wheels to trucks and then you start on the next drop for boards. So it’s almost like this constant leapfrogging of stuff.

"it’s always funny with skateboarding because it’s often not so much what is trending for visuals as to who is putting that visual out. There are brands who push things into a direction and tend to push that trend because people follow it"

Do you have a specific item you prefer to work on?

For me, decks are kind of where it’s at because it’s a nice canvas. There’s a lot of creativity that can be done with the different stains for veneers, different treatments. There’s a lot of deck treatment that you don’t have for wheels or apparel. Those just tend to be graphics, but it’s cool to think a little outside of the box and try to incorporate different treatments to a deck to give it a different vibe. Whether it’s three-dimensionally or whether it’s with different inks.

And decks are the things you remember. I don’t think anyone ever came up to you saying that you did this great truck.

You try to imbue the truck a little with the personality of the rider or feeling of a brand, but I think nobody is gonna hang trucks on their wall.

Who has the last word when it comes to the graphics?

Jim [Thiebaud] is at the top of our pyramid. To be fair, that’s just me giving him shit. I run everything by him and Jim and I have a nice relationship where it’s generally like, “Yup, yup. Good to go.”

Are there riders who are really specific about their ideas?

For sure. Mostly there’s two camps of guys. Guys that don’t care at all and guys who have ideas of things that they like. Or if they see something they think is awesome, they ask if there’s any way to turn it into a board.

So all the brands have a different style of graphics and the riders have different tastes or ideas. I saw the work you do for yourself – do you sometimes have to hold back your own graphical taste?

Each of the brands do have their own voice and identity. Some of my favorite stuff just doesn’t sit with those. And all of the artists in the art room right now have to work on all these different plans and change their mindset from putting together some Mark [Gonzales] art for a Krooked board or working on a Thunder truck. I think being that Swiss Army knife of availability, bringing your creativity to it but knowing that you’re not doing your personal favorite thing, is okay in order to bring a bigger creativity picture and be able to do a variety of things. And you bring, like, a sublayer of you, of creativity, to all these brands and let them speak in their voices. On the side, you get to do whatever you want.

What’s a good graphic to you?

That’s a tough one. Honestly, that’s like a Tinder question. There’s so many styles and tastes for different things. For me personally, things I enjoy and like I’m gonna swipe right on and there are things I’m gonna swipe no on. But everyone has a different thing. And there’s such a variety of stuff, I don’t think I could choose a favorite. I could hold up two very different boards from different brands and be like, “Yes!” and “Yes!” Virtually everything in the world is subjective.

Did you recognize a change in board graphics over the years?

There are waves of how things go. It’s easiest to see these waves in retrospect. It’s easy to point at some boards from the mid to late ’80s and know that they are from that period. Even from different brands, there are styles that come together and create a certain time frame for graphics. It works for the ’90s and it works for the 2000s. Any chunk of time will be attached to a certain style in retrospect. And I think currently we are just building what people will look back on in x-amount of years and go, “Oh, that’s a board from 2018.”

I think that not completely colored decks where you can see the wood shining through are totally 2018…

Yeah, as I said, you’ve got parts of a decade that mark a certain style. You might think that everything is so different now than it was six months ago, but I think it only presents itself within a five- or six-year time span. But if you look at the past six years of skateboarding, there have been a lot of different things going on. It’s not only the Tumblr post collage thing. Sure that happens and is going on, but there’s also some highly illustrated things going on which are really detailed and there’s also very clean, vectory types of graphics. As far as what’s trending – it’s always funny with skateboarding because it’s often not so much what is trending for visuals as to who is putting that visual out. There are brands who push things into a direction and tend to push that trend because people follow it. Generally, it’s a brand that pushes what people perceive to be a trend. While they are doing that, there’s a whole bunch of other people who are doing stuff, but it’s easy to focus on what’s new and what’s happening right now from the coolest people. I don’t know how scattered that sounds, but I think that within skateboarding there’s more to trends in art than just what the art is because there’s so much on the back end of what pro it is, what company it is. How trends work is not always artistically related.

How do you normally come up with ideas? Are there certain ways…

So much drugs. [laughs] No, I’m a Moleskine guy. I always have it with me because the inspiration is out there in the world. If we’d went for a walk around the block, we could come up with six different ideas for stuff. The world is out there. For me, it’s just paying attention to the world around me. I have stacks of Moleskines that are the shittiest sketches but enough to jog my memory later when I’m back at work. That has always been the way to operate for me. Often I mis-hear or mis-see things, like, “Oh, is that an alligator doing this and that?” – “No, but that’s a good idea,” so I write it down. That’s a lot of me misinterpreting the shit I see in the world.

Do you have a favorite DLX graphic?

I did so many boards that I have to be reminded on the stuff I did two weeks ago by seeing it. And there are so many boards I have never physically seen. It’s rad when you’re cruising around on your bike and see someone with the exact graphic you haven’t seen for yourself yet standing on the sidewalk, ready to go. There’s a fun little thing I always do. There are crazy homeless encampments in San Francisco and you always see skateboards in there. Who knows where they came from, but there will be, like, a shopping cart with a skateboard in it and you’ll see a lot of DLX stuff in the homeless camps. And every time I find a board that someone who’s in the art room did, I try to zoom in and send it to them. Here you go, your board is in one of the homeless camps.

How many boards did you design in your life?

I should look into it and find out. Three years ago, I tried to update my portfolio. When I looked through all the stuff, it was gigabytes of pictures. It was overwhelming and I just quit it.