Girl/Chocolate Art Department

Art for Art’s Sake

If you like what you see, there’s a reason.

Andy Jenkins¿art director/crew chief/tinkerer for all the brands that Girl Distribution creates¿is that reason. He’s been a part of the company since the very beginning. Happily contributing to the early imagery of Girl Skateboards, Andy was first choice when the company became big enough to need a man with the lofty title “director of art”¿as far as he knows.¿Kevin Wilkins

Is it important for a company to have a solid art department?

It’s totally important. What people instantly see when they look at any product is the aesthetic value. You’re going to look at it and say, “Oh, this looks really beautiful,” or “This looks really ugly.” That “look” is usually created by the graphic artists.

Rick Howard has a really big hand in how everything looks. He’s not a trained graphic artist¿he doesn’t consider himself that¿but he easily could be. And working with us the art department, he gets to see his ideas to come to life.

A skateboard is a creative thing, too. Even though they haven’t changed that much in a really long time, it’s still something thought up and made by a creative person¿if you consider skateboarding a creative endeavor, which I do. The whole thing is just filled with creative people.

Do you feel that the products created for the skateboarding consumer are more closely scrutinized because of all the creative people involved in the sport?

In a way. Looking at a skateboard, the graphics, a catalog, or even any of the magazines, is like an escape. If there’s good design or art in there, it adds even more to that escape.

I think if you’re an outsider to skateboarding, it seems unrealistic as a life, career, or even a sport. When I tell people where I work, they always kind of chuckle, you know? “You’re kidding! You have a job working at a skateboard company? How does that work?”

They have no idea it exists. I’m just stoked, man. People used to ask me, “When are you gonna get a real job? How come you’re not working at an agency?” There’s no way in hell. My best friends work here.

I think most people feel trapped in their day-to-day, nine-to-five grind¿even designers. When they look at something like skateboarding, people probably have the impression that a bunch of kids do everything, and to some extent it’s true. A lot of people in skateboarding are self-taught creatives. It’s pretty phenomenal. And those people are doing things that are influencing the greater design world, or photo world, or editorial world. It’s amazing.

What was it like to create graphic identities for completely new brands like Ruby, Royal, Lakai, and Fourstar see timeline?

The cool thing with Girl is that it’s a small company. We don’t have more than 25 employees, including warehouse people and everything. And everything done here is a real collaborative effort. Anytime a new brand comes up, it could come from almost anywhere. I think Fourstar was Eric Koston and Rick really wanting to start a clothing brand. I don’t even know if they had a theme yet, but they came in and said, “We want to start a new brand of clothing¿kind of more upscale skate clothes.” So the art department gets involved, and everyone’s asked to come up with name ideas.

We all work together really well. Any time a new brand comes up, everyone’s asked to contribute, and it gets sharpened down to a couple people who kind of take it over¿like a graphic artist who develops a logo, a corporate identity, the advertising, and the catalogs. From there, we’ll pick a photographer who will shoot catalog, lifestyle, or other creative shots. Sometimes we’ll hire outside people to do certain things, but most of the time everything’s done in-house.

Nothing here is done in a dictatorial way. It’s all open collaboration, which is reeally cool. It kind of makes everyone here feel like they have a hand in what happens. Granted, every brand starts in a different way, and eventually somebody has to make the decision that this is what it’s gonna be. It’s not like it’s too wishy-washy, though.

Rick is usually the final point-man on everything. The whole place here is his vision combined with everyone else. But since he’s had a hand in hiring everyone, he’s got people working with him and for him who are of similar vision. It’s a really strong unit that way.

Do you think there’s a negative aspect of the demand that everything in skateboarding needs to be new?

I’m not sure what fuels that. It kind of goes through cycles. Now, graphics are starting to last a little bit longer. It’s a really slow process. For a long time it was new graphics every three months, which can really burn out the creative people, but it also just wastes of a lot of material¿physical material, not to mention effort and time.

We’ve really slowed it down a lot here. Sometimes, because we’re running with a smaller staff, it’s impossible to keep up with it all. But if the skateboarding world really demanded it, we would keep up somehow. I think that Girl has gotten to the point where our identities are known enough that the pieces can last longer.

Things change so quickly, though. Every month we have a different ad for each company. That’s really a drain. It puts a strain on everyone, from the team members all the way down. They team riders have to come up with a different spectacular photo every month. We rotate guys, but still, it’s tough.

But I think that’s kind of cool about skateboarding¿the whole aspect of new ads every time. It doesn’t buy into that whole idea of general advertising, where you have an ad out there for at least four months for anyone to recognize it. I think kids in skateboarding pay attention to everything. Like if there’s a new company one month, everyone knows about it.

In some ways it moves so fast, and in other ways it moves so slow. Technologically, it’s barely changed, you know? But creatively it’s always way ahead¿so far ahead the influences don’t start popping up in general culture until years later. But on a business level, all these companies are small businesses.

Are all you guys really “influenced by skateboarding,” like the Lakai ads claim?

Rick is just so passionate about skateboarding, it’s crazy. Even when we’re super busy, he has to go skateboard. That’s the way he keeps his head straight. I think it’s awesome that the guy who runs the company is still actively professional. The cool thing also is that everyone here in the art department still skates, used to skate, or still talks about skating and follows it. It’s not like we have jobs as graphic artists and just make things for a certain age group of kid.

That shows in the product.

I hope so. We’re always really careful about that. Anyone who’s been around skating long enough sees how things come and go. Things go out when people start to forget about skateboarding¿their businesses just fall apart. Kids are smart, man. They see right through that.