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Paul Kobriger – Interview

Carroll Print Web

Hi Paul I read that you quit drawing after school, focused on your skateboard career and moved to San Diego. How old were you when you moved to SD, and how did it go?

I wouldn’t really say I quit art, because really I didn’t do a lot of art in high school other than for art class. I used to draw a lot when I was younger like every little kid does. I moved to San Diego when I was 19 just to skateboard and get out of Wisconsin. That was 1996 when San Diego was the mecca. I had no plans to go to college or anything. I didn't know what I was doing. A small part of me hoped to maybe get sponsored in Cali but I knew I probably wasn’t good enough. I moved out with my buddy Joe and with Brian Emmers actually. We piled into a pickup truck with some clothes and our skateboards, and a few hundred bucks. Emmers was sort of getting hooked up at the time and we stayed with Aaron Snyder until we found a place. Tyrone Olson ended up staying with us too so the crew back then was all the early Maple and Osiris heads. Mayhew, Snyder, Chad Knight, Emmers, T-Bone, Matt Sosa. A lot of them were from Wisconsin too.  

"We piled into a pickup truck with some clothes and our skateboards, and a few hundred bucks."

Soloskatemagazin Kobriger Ed2

How did you get the Job at Transworld and what is your main work there?

So my first jobs in San Diego were just restaurants or whatever, and then I got sponsored by a skate shop and started working there a few hours a week. I got a job at another shop and started doing the buying, and from there just sort of started working up in the industry. I worked at CCS for 5 years doing the team and marketing, and ended up at TransWorld almost 5 years ago. Shout out to Mike Fitz for bringing me in. I’m the Marketing Director and now I do sales too. We have the tightest crew right now. Everyone rips, on and off the board. I don’t always love being so immersed in the skate industry, it gets pretty damn old sometimes (not actual skating, just the industry side of it), but the art stuff has been a good reprieve.

How did you get into art ? Did you have a specific artist, or art movement you looked up to or were heavily influenced by? What made you pick it up again?

Not really, I didn’t really know anything. I started drawing with a pencil like everyone does, and never really took it much beyond that. I did some acrylic and watercolor paintings for art class that turned out okay, but those were just one-offs. I guess other people thought I was talented or should have done more with it, but I never believed it and honestly wasn’t really that interested. I really never imagined I would do anything with art. I’ve said this before but Instagram was really the catalyst for me to try to do something creative again. I’d see all these people doing rad stuff and was super jealous that I didn’t have anything going on. My excuse was that I was too busy with life and didn’t have the time anyway. I finally kicked myself in the ass one day and picked up the ballpoint. That was about 2 ½ years ago and I haven’t stopped since.

"I don’t always love being so immersed in the skate industry, it gets pretty damn old sometimes, but the art stuff has been a good reprieve."

It is really hard to believe that your drawings are handmade since they are so super realistic. Do you want to share the secret of your workflow? How do you start a drawing and where do you go from there?

With portraits, the proportions really have to be right or it doesn’t matter how good your technique is.   I’ll sketch it in pencil first and spend the extra time to make sure its right before starting in with the ballpoint. The early stipple drawings were my first works, and I didn’t really know what I was doing so by default, I went dot by dot and layer by layer to build it up slowly and precisely and careful not to make mistakes, because you can’t erase ink.

I also went through different pens to figure out which ones blot or bleed less frequently. In the end, no matter what pen you use it’s going to happen eventually. Usually you can blend it or figure it out, but not always. Some of my originals have a bunch of mistakes. You can fix them in photoshop for the prints, but the originals are flawed. I’ve recently started doing charcoal and chalk, and its lot different than pen, but I really like it. You can crank out the realism a lot faster than with ballpoint. And you can erase if you fuck up!  But ballpoint is still my favorite, it just takes so much longer. 4 months for one of the hyper real ones.

Clearly realistic portraits drawings are your thing, and I read you started to craft your own frames out of boards. Do you want to tell us a bit about the frames you build?

I did my first art show last summer and wanted to figure out a unique way to frame and display the original three portraits (Ray [Barbee], Lance [Mountain], and Gonz). I had seen frames made from recycled decks, but only with the layers facing outward. Which is how I mocked it up at first, but I thought it would be sick if the graphics showed so I spent a lot of time figuring out how to tile up the decks, and building a frame that would hold them. It was definitely a long process. I really didn’t have any woodworking experience but once I figured out how I wanted it to look, it wasn’t too crazy. For those first few frames I actually used Lance’s and Ray’s used decks that they gave me. Wasn’t able to get a used Gonz board, so I used a Gonz graphic deck. I’ve made over 20 of them now and usually use their current graphic decks or the reissues of iconic old graphics. I love making them and always try to upsell a frame to anyone that buys a print. I have the process pretty streamlined now so I can crank them out a lot faster than when I first started.

You use two main techniques for your work, the ballpoint pen dot work, the ballpoint pen scribbling and you worked with aquarelle paint for some of the backgrounds. How did it end up being those specific techniques and do you think about experimenting with new techniques and new materials?

Like I said the first works were the long-form stipple drawings. But they take three or four months to do so I wanted to figure out some different, faster techniques. I didn’t invent scribbling or anything, but I experimented with it a bunch until I felt like I had my own style. Those only take a day or two to complete, so I was hyped on that! I also wanted to break from total realism and try to inject a little bit of artistry into my work. But now I’m kinda going back to wanting the hyper real results. I feel like people appreciate those more. It's a cool feeling when someone mistakes my drawing for a photo, and seeing their reaction when they realize it's a drawing. That one reaction kind of makes the whole four-month process feel worth it. And that’s why I like the charcoal lately because you can get nice results and they only take a couple weeks as opposed to months. I started a big oil painting a few months ago but quickly decided it’s not for me. I need to make myself finish it because it’s about 90% done, but I honestly don’t like the process at all. Gonna stick to drawing and experiment with different techniques and mediums I think.

Jasonlee Forsite

Your main motives are skateboard and music legends, is there a reason for this pick? Are there stories behind it or do you even want to tell stories with your art?

I just like to draw my heroes. Skateboarding has been everything to me, and music touches every one of us. Lance, Ray, and Gonz are my top three skaters of all time. [Matt] Hensley too. It’s so hard to pick favorites but pretty much everyone I draw is a favorite for a different reason or at a different time. I still have a long list of people I want to draw so I suppose that’s what my work will continue to be. Some of them are commissions too but I tend to turn down most commission requests if I don’t have some sort of personal connection to the subject. But other times you just need the paycheck.  

Do you think about loosing it up and try different motives?

My thing is that I don’t have a lot of time for experimenting. I’m real busy with work and family, its hard to find time for art as it is, and extra hard to find time for experimenting. At some point I’ll tire of doing portraits and will want to try something different I’m sure. There’s a whole abstract world in my mind that I haven’t really tapped into, but I know its there.  

"There’s a whole abstract world in my mind that I haven’t really tapped into, but I know its there."

Do you have anything coming up? 

I do have some group shows coming up with the Punk Rock and Paintbrushes crew. Hensley and Cab and a bunch of rad musicians/artists are on that circuit too, so those are always fun. Those are London and New York in July and August. I also have a Portland show in July at Mickey Reyes’s bar called Catspaw Saloon with my pal @toybox_monster. There’s talk of a Berlin show this fall that I’m not really sure about yet but really hoping it comes together. I passed through Berlin last year on the way to Poland, and loved it but didn’t really get to experience the city. Thanks so much for doing this guys, really appreciate it!