StickerGiant Chats The Early Days of Skateboarding, and Skateboard Design

In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Andrew sits down with Travis from our StickerGiant art team to chat about his design work for Satellite Skateboards, and how Travis' passion for designing skateboards influenced his transition into the world of custom stickers and labels when he joined the StickerGiant team. 

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Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic podcast, brought to you by stickergiant.com. If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome, and if you’re a regular listener, thanks for tuning in as we talk about business, marketing, and growth with our customers.

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Andrew: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic podcast. I’m Andrew. I’ll be your host for today. I’m on the marketing team with the rest of our podcast crew. I am very fortunate today to be able to welcome a very special guest, one of StickerGiant’s own, Travis Towe, from the art department.

Travis is going to talk to us a little bit, of course about what he does here at StickerGiant, but what brought him to StickerGiant was working on skateboard design. I’m going to turn it over to Travis to give a little background on himself and all these awesome skateboards that we have here in our studio today, and we’ll talk a little bit about each one of them. That is exciting. We’ll get some pictures up for all of you as well so you can see them, but Travis is going to explain a little bit of his designs. Travis, thank you for sitting down with us, here, in the studio.

Travis Towe: Thank you, Andrew. I appreciate it. It’s good to be here.

Andrew: It is, this is a cozy space, we’re very excited. For regular listeners, you know we’ve been working hard on getting our studio setup, a new one. In any event, Travis, talk to us a little bit about how you got into designing skateboards, and we’ll probably meander a little bit, because as a former skateboarder myself, as a youth, we end up talking about ourselves as eight or nine-year-olds. Let’s talk about how you got into designing this skateboard that’s on the table here, today.

Travis: For me, it started out as, imagine you, as a kid, and you walk into a skate shop. For me, it was in the ‘80s, you walk into a skate shop, and you’re looking at the wall. You’d just started skating, so you have no frame of reference as far as like any kind of technical ability that you present at the time. You’re looking at the wall, and it’s just mesmerizing because you’re like, “Wow, look at this. Look at the art, look at the shapes, look at the colors.” It was like just walking into a candy store.

Andrew: Or for me, a guitar shop.

[laughter]

Travis: Yes. It was really cool because what drew me to skateboarding was the fact that there were no rules. It’s one of those things where you have something that you get into and you become really passionate about, but it also has art that also represents it, too. It’s that part of the no rules and then the art, that really attracted me to doing skateboard graphics but, mainly, it was just through skateboarding that brought me to this point.

Andrew: You pick up skateboarding, it becomes one of your passions as a kid, and then, of course, still to this day, which is great. How did you get together with Satellite to design boards from? They’re in Boulder, Colorado?

Travis: Yes, they’re in Boulder. Yes. The longest running core shop in Boulder. What it was, it was actually pre-Satellite, the owners, JG and Raul, we all worked together at Brothers Boards. Right before Brothers Boards closed, we were doing a lot of ideas and I did a graphic for Brothers, and then JG and Raul started Satellite in 2002. When they did, they just brought me in as the art guy.

Andrew: Cool.

Travis: From there, it’s like I just pretty much started just doing boards regularly for them.

Andrew: They’re branded like with their name, their skate shop. Cool.

Travis: Exactly, yes.

Andrew: How did you do that? If that was almost 16 years ago, how were you designing the boards?

Travis: A lot of it would just be drawn out and scanned in, then I would redraw it on the computer.

Andrew: Hand drawn?

Travis: Yes. I would put together the stuff, like pretty much make templates and stuff like that, and then I would do the graphics according to what we want to run and ideas.

Andrew: Because you have to account for where you attach the trucks and the wheels, and then the curvature, and the nose, and the front. I don’t know the technical terms offhand.

Travis: Yes, nose and tail.

Andrew: Nose and tail. I said the front.

Travis: The concave. [laughs]

Andrew: The nose and the tail. Thank you, Travis. You have to account for that as a constraint, right? Design is all about constraints. In this case, you have a very discreet surface a lot of times to design the top, too, or how does that work? For the deck.

Travis: A few times we have. Mainly, what happens is somebody will cover it up with grip tape.

Andrew: Right. I was going to say the whole thing ends up being tacky.

Travis: Yes. They’ll put grip tape over the graphic. It’s one of those things where it’s a little bit less important on the top because back when I started skating, the grip tape was split, and so you could be able to--

Andrew: The middle? What is the add design?

Travis: Yes, it was exposed so that way companies would put their logo on top.

Andrew: That’s what I remember of my boards. [laughs] But now it’s a full, like full deck is covered with tape, and so the design is not as important on top.

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: That’s interesting, cool, cultural shift. You’ve been designing boards for them, obviously, for a number of years. How do you feel like your design styles have evolved over time?

Travis: I went for a while. I just was focused more on doing designs on the computer versus drawing, so I’m going back to that again.

Andrew: That’s what this red one here with the rocket is?

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: Now that’s a cool design.

Travis: Thank you.

Andrew: Folks, it’s like I’m really into rockets and space travel, in general, but that one is cool. It’s a big USA. It looks almost like an original Mercury rocket with the thruster, and it’s the full board. It’s pretty cool. We’ll get a picture of that up. You’re designing boards for Satellite, you’re doing, of course, still with them work. You’ve been with StickerGiant now for a few years?

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: We have a great Meet Travis video out there for folks if you want to see his face and talking. What brought you to StickerGiant?

Travis: Actually, it was one of those things where -- it also ties in with skateboarding -- growing up, a lot of the companies did a lot of stickers and stuff.

Andrew: Satellite? [laughs]

Travis: Yes. And before Satellite, it’s like a lot of the skateboard companies used to make a lot of stickers. I would have tons of stickers, like a collection -- I still do at home -- that I won’t throw away or won’t stick them on anything, because to me, they’re really cool and I don’t want to throw them away, so I have boxes of stickers.

Andrew: Unsticked, unpeeled.

Travis: Yes. It’s one of those things where, I was a big fan at one point of Consolidated Skateboards, and they print out a lot of stickers. They had this way about communicating their messages that it’s like a novelty to have the sticker. Fast forward to more current, I applied to StickerGiant because I wanted to be in that part, just like I have been in skateboarding. That’s what brought me to StickerGiant.

Andrew: You’re in our art department, which means you’re, of course, putting those original skills to good use for our customers, and you’re always passing on stories to us, too, when you see great designs, which we appreciate in the marketing department. You’ve been able to merge those passions, right?

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: Safe to say, of course, when you talk about the culture of skateboarding, stickers end up everywhere. Can you talk a little bit about how Satellite and other shops use their own stickers for their businesses? Does that make sense?

Travis: Yes. It’s one of those things where you walk into a shop and you buy a board. They end up giving you stickers, so that way you can take it with you, put it on your car, put it on your board. With Satellite, snowboarding, a lot of people end up putting it on the top sheet because the bottom, of course, is on the snow. It’s one of the things where it’s like collection for people. Then you’ll see the stickers out on cars and stuff like that.

Andrew: Or poles with the lifts.

Travis: Yes, exactly.

Andrew: Right on. Talk to me a little bit about some of the-- This design here is the Satellite board. Did you design that USA flag, too?

Travis: Yes. Satellite, their birthday, it’s on the 4th of July.

Andrew: Cool. [laughs]

Travis: That’s where the flag thing comes from. This one, in particular, I wanted to actually make it stand out a little bit more than some of the other boards that we did, so I made it separate layers, so that way you can be able to put a flake on it. Did the font, an old custom font, and then ended up putting the flake on over the flag. It turned out really, really good. It was one of the heavy hitters that we did throughout the years.

Andrew: Yes, that’s a classic collector’s item, too, and it’s all signed. Is this all the crew from there, or?

Travis: Yes. Back when Satellite-- Currently is at Valmont now, but when they were on Pearl Street and they were doing their opening, they had a secret art show for me.

Andrew: Cool.

Travis: It was like one of the things. I was working that day, and then a little bit later, I got on Instagram and I saw that I was having an art show, to my surprise. [chuckles] They signed that board for me. Then I ended up giving mine to JG because he didn’t have one. That’s pretty much why I have one that’s signed all up.

Andrew: That’s awesome. Where did you get into design art? When did that come together for you?

Travis: I’ve always been into the graphics on the skateboards and stuff like that because, throughout the years, you can see the evolution of it and then you see different artist’s take on it. You see early stuff like VCJ for Powell-Peralta, he would do just a lot of amazing stuff like old Tony Hawk graphics, Steve Caballero, Mike Vallely. He did one, it was the Mike Vallely one. That was the first board I ever bought, but it was the elephant. It was just one of those that you just become so mesmerized with the graphics.

When you’re skating, it has a lot of, I would say, physical and mental memory in it. You identify with the graphics as you skate because it ends up being like a little bit more than just art. That’s what’s really cool about skateboard art is that when you’re getting into it, and as you’re growing and as you’re skating, you become really in tune with the boards and stuff like that.

What’s really cool now is a lot of companies are doing reissues. Now, they’re taking the older graphics that they had and they’re reprinting them, so that way people can have a keepsake of their memory of a kid. It’s really cool when I was growing up just seeing all the art, and then seeing the messages and stuff that would be on some of them. Some of them would be political based, and it was just really cool to be able to associate with that, with their branding stuff.

Andrew: Yes. It’s a lifestyle.

Travis: Yes. There’s a few artists that really stood out to me. Todd Bratrud was one. He did a lot of stuff for Consolidated for many years. He did some of the stuff. Like some of the writers would present ideas to him, and like Scott Born, he is one of the pros for Consolidated, and it would be really heartfelt and it was like pain and joy stuff.

To be able to illustrate that on a board, because when you look at the graphic, you can identify with it because you knew how much you would struggle skating, and doing the tricks, and stuff like that, and how much it would just really be in your psyche. The board, the graphics that he did for those time frame, were such like life-lesson boards and the graphics illustrated that. That’s what was really cool for me and that’s what pushed me a little bit more to want to do graphics.

Andrew: Were you always a doodler? Did you study it in high school, college? How did that come? When were you able to activate that passion, like really take what’s-- I guess my question more is, how do you come up with those ideas? Do you collaborate with the skate shops, do you come up with some on your own, do you have a sketchbook, what’s your creative process look like?

Travis: I do. Sometimes it’s random, but it’s ideas that I would share with the skate shop or they would share with me. Like, “Okay. Let’s look at this. Let’s do something like that.” For example, the rocket one here, is one that we’re going back to the theme of Satellite and the theme of exploration.

Andrew: Sure.

Travis: That’s why we recently did this one, because this is one of those things that’s classic and illustrates what Satellite is about.

Andrew: Yes, that’s cool. I want a poster of that one.

[laughter]

Andrew: I don’t even skateboard anymore, but I love the art. It’s a very refined style, but it’s kind of weather-worn look with this sort of textures, which I presume when you drew it, or you scanned it, or whatever, you have to knock that out just to make it transparent to the wood underneath. Do you have any favorite woods to work with or are all skateboard wood the same? How does the construction of the board influence the design?

Travis: It doesn’t really.

Andrew: Okay. [laughs]

Travis: It’s one of those things. I would say one of the aspects of that would be probably the color of the wood stain. That way, if it’s going to be a certain stain, then you’d be able to work like the colorways with that. Outside that, it doesn’t really matter with the wood.

Andrew: Sure. It’s not like a guitar where you try to match the pickups if they’re bronze or silver to match the wood of the guitar itself, something like that, because then, of course, you could put any colored wheels, or trucks, or whatever, screws, that accent that same design from top to bottom, which is fun, of course. Do you have any cool ideas coming up or any shows coming up that you want to plug a little bit?

Travis: Satellite has been doing like say a drawing night. They’ve been inviting artists like Mike Giant, for example. He’s a pretty big artist, I would say in the skate urban culture. They would do that on every other Wednesday and then it would just be like a drawing session.

Andrew: Oh, drawing. Not like win a board like physically drawing?

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: Got it.

Travis: Sorry, physically drawing. They’ve been having that. They’re looking at a space next door to where they want to start profiling different artists.

Andrew: Awesome. Like a gallery, so to speak?

Travis: Yes, exactly. Just a smaller space that people can start hanging up stuff.

Andrew: Boards, or art, or whatever?

Travis: Yes, anything.

Andrew: Mixed media, you name it.

Travis: Yes, mixed media. For me, there’s a new board that we have ready that maybe releasing January that I’m really psyched about.

Andrew: How long does it take to do something like that, just to come up with the idea, proof of concept, whatever, and then how long does it take to create it to get it on the board?

Travis: It really depends on when the due date is.

Andrew: Fair enough. Very close to the due date, it’s more close to done hopefully.

Travis: Usually, it’s one of those things like, “We need a board now,” always ends up working on it, but it really depends on how complex the art is and stuff. Like the new ones that I’ve been working on can take up a couple weeks, even to a month, depending.

Andrew: It’s back and forth with the client. Do you have anywhere that people could see some of your artwork online or anything like that? Do you have any sort of, other than going to Satellite, of course?

Travis: I’m working on it, actually. I’ve been collecting images, because the boards that I have here are pretty much less, it’s pretty much a quarter of all the boards that I’ve have done.

Andrew: Folks, there’s like 12 boards in the room already.

Travis: Yes. These are some of the ones. Some of the ones I gave away friends like, for example, like their birthday or something like that. I happen to see on Facebook, my friend Anthony posted one of his favorite Satellite boards, so I end up surprising him and give him a board for his birthday. It’s one of those things where I feel that it’s cool to be able to like, “Oh, I will hang it on the wall, but what if he hangs it on the wall?”

Andrew: Of course. I would hang that rocket ship. In case you all can’t tell, I’m pretty psyched about the rocket ship. Where did you grew up, and where was your favorite place to skate growing up back in the day?

Travis: I’m from Seneca, South Carolina. It’s a pretty rural place in South Carolina. I didn’t really have a favorite place. That’s the really cool thing about skating is you’re in the moment. That’s what’s really cool, because you’re there and you’re taking everything in at the moment.

Andrew: Being on your board was your favorite place to skate?

Travis: Yes. It’s one of those things where there was a grocery store called Ingles in our hometown. Behind it, there’s a little bit concrete banks and stuff that we’d skate, and then years later, they tore it down. When you’re discovering skating and you’re discovering the things that you can do and where you can go with it, it can take you so far.

It’s one of those things where you start in a small area and then you start picking it up, then you start going to other place or travelling, like Greenville, South Carolina, they had a skate park there. It’s just one of those things where you’re stepping it up. You go in to Atlanta and skating there, it’s like you’re starting to get into a bigger pond, and it starts opening you up to so much more possibilities and so much more terrain to skate.

Being with your friends is really amazing, but being in the moment, it’s one of those things where you remember each board that you had. That’s the thing. That’s a really cool thing about skateboarding, it’s so disposable, like the art. The art is amazing but it’s going to be rubbed off.

Andrew: Right. We’re talking about it as we unpacked them actually. We’re like, “Man, I’m glad this was never been skated on. It’s not all scuffed up.” I mean, it’s not the back, the tail isn’t chipping. You know what I mean, because you’ve been cranking on it. You know what I’m saying?

Travis: Yes. Pre to doing graphics on the board,

you don’t think about it, it’s like you get the board. It’s all in the moment. It’s like you slide it. It’s like the graphics come off of it.

It’s one of those things where it’s like there’s so much in that experience where you remember that board. It’s like I can go back in my head and think about this board, “I remember this experience. I remember skating these spots. I remember hanging out with these friends.” It’s really cool because, that’s the awesome thing about some of these reissues that are coming out, people can be able to have that fond memory by having the board.

It’s like some boards I’m getting some of the reissues that I had when I was younger, and some of them I want to skate because I want to feel that board under my feet again. This is one those things, you identify it. For me, I like skated in the ‘80s. It was like you saw the shapes, you saw the graphics, and it takes its own personality. Each board has own personality and it had its own function to it.

It’s like the newer boards now are a little bit more like of a symmetrical shape. They all kind of look, kind of popsicle shape and stuff like that, but it’s like the graphics are what it’s going to set it apart. As you’re skating it, it has little nuances, say the tail angle is a little bit higher.

Andrew: Right. It changes how you stop or how you turn.

Travis: Yes, exactly.

Andrew: Around here, in the sort of Denver, and Longmont, Front Range, where are folks getting together to skate, or is it, like you said, just anywhere is good enough for you?

Travis: Well, I mean, we really lucked out. When I first moved to Boulder, and this is back in ‘98, they built Boulder Park in like late ’98, ‘99. That was the starting point. I mean, there were other parks, but that one was like the starting of the concrete revolution that you know happened in Colorado. There some, and I don’t know, there’s probably like 200 parks in Colorado. Arvada has got a huge one at the Apex Center. It’s weird because when I was growing up in the ‘80s--

Andrew: There was nowhere to go. [crosstalk]

Travis: They were tearing the parks down. It’s one of those things where it’s like we heard about like, “Oh, there used to be a skate park here.” We drove to Easley, which is not too far away from Seneca, but it’s one of those things where there was like a mobile home sales area over this land, and it was dirt over at skate park. It’s one of the things when they started to change it and started to change the landscape, you started seeing remnants of it. It’s like one those things where it’s like Indiana Jones thing.

You’re like, “Oh, my God, this used to be a skate park here,” and then it’s like somebody would clean up a little area and you get to skate that little patch that used to exist like back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

In my hometown, there was a big skate park, and it’s like bulldoze it down and built like Hardee’s, which is like a southern Burger King, but it’s like they built it over. It’s like you see photos of it and you’re like you missed it because you grew up a little too late, but then they tore everything down because skateboarding, the popularity died.

Andrew: Now, it’s definitely resurging, and that’s why we see all these awesome designs. Of course, design really helps drive a lot of things. Like you said, you have a new board coming out you said in January, and of course, your work is available at Satellite Boardshop, which you said is at Valmont in Boulder.

Travis: It’s on Valmont.

Andrew: If you find yourself in Boulder and you’re looking for any of Travis’ designs, of course, you can find them there. If you are a customer of StickerGiant, there’s a high likelihood that Travis has helped proof your art to get it out the door, to get it printing. We, of course, thank Travis for what he does for all of our customers, for sure. Any parting shouts for us or anything you want to say?

Travis: I would just thank all the customers that are sending their designs our way. I would like to shout out since this is a podcast.

Andrew: Yes, it is.

Travis: The Nine Club, Chris Roberts started a podcast where he interviews skateboarders, and artists, and people in the industry. If you’d like to hear, I guess, similarities, The Nine Club, and he’s been doing a lot of stickers through us, and he’s really stoked. I see different artists that’s been using us, which I’m really stoked about. Yes, I just like to thank everybody. I like to thank all of my friends out there and my family out there. I like to thank StickerGiant, I really appreciate you guys.

Andrew: We appreciate you and we, of course, support your passions for skating. That’s the cool part about StickerGiant, everyone comes from somewhere and our team is growing, of course, and we’re getting to help a lot of small businesses make those dreams come true just like Satellite.

Thank you, Travis. Thank you for everybody listening into this Stickers on the Mic podcast for this month. Again, our guest has been Travis Towe from our art department. Travis is very passionate, in case you hadn’t noticed, about skateboarding and the design itself of skateboards. Thank you, again, for listening in, and we will see you next time.

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Thanks for listening. Remember, every sticker has a story, what’s yours.

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