Photo: Yoon Sul
WORDS: Stu Gomez
One of the unique aspects of Battle At The Berrics is the champion’s trophy, made from recycled pieces of broken skateboards. Every year, a new handmade creation is handed to the winner, to be cherished as a reminder of all the hard work that went into his victory. Traditionally, the man responsible for the annual trophy has been the Japanese artist Haroshi, who would personally hand-deliver every piece (fresh off a trans-Pacific flight). As you might expect, this routine isn’t exactly sustainable for a world-renowned artist who continually shows in galleries. He needed a break.
For the eleventh Battle At The Berrics, we’ve invited a new artist to create a trophy for the champion. Daniel Howard, aka Toy Box Monster, is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and has cultivated his own unique method for skate art. His art, made exclusively from discarded skateboards, is intricate and (literally) layered: Howard stacks pieces in his work creating depth, taking advantage of the concave to add subtle curvature to each piece. From certain angles you can tell that Howard’s work was made from skateboards, but it isn’t obvious. That’s part of what makes it special—it’s a combination of tool, blank slate, and found art. And to think, most of us just throw these things away!
Howard talked to us about who he’s rooting for in BATB, his concept for the winner’s trophy, and his philosophy behind making art from recycled skateboards. (Don’t forget to tune in to BATB 11 Finals Night, streaming live tonight at 7PM PST!)
How would you describe your work, and how did you get started?
Basically I was working at a shop and we kept throwing broken boards away. When someone bought a new one we would just throw the old one away, and it always bummed me out. I knew what trick it was broken on, or it was one of my friends’ boards… I just hated that the boards were going to waste—there was so much history there. I wanted to give it a second life so I started taking the deck pieces home and would make art out of them. Whether they’re hanging on the wall or sitting on the shelf they’ll just last a lot longer, of course, when it’s been skated to death!
It was just my way of not letting those memories go so quickly. Now it’s an entirely different monster: I get so many boards from so many different people and I don’t know the stories behind them like I used to.
What would you call what you do with these discarded boards? Sculptures?
It’s just recycling them into art, basically. I wouldn’t really call them sculptures, necessarily, because with sculpting you’d have to form and shape with your hands and tools. In that respect, maybe it is, but to me that’s never really fit because I think of a sculpture as a statue or abstract art. Like the stuff Haroshi does: that’s sculpture. I’m just using a jigsaw and a bandsaw.
How long did it take you to develop the layered method that you use?
Probably about 7 months from when I started. I had only made a few pieces; I think I was 12 pieces deep. I had a couple Welcome boards—I really like skating those and had broken a few—and while I was making something else I tripped over some scraps I had. I ended up kicking them up and a Welcome board landed on another scrap, and I thought I could probably make a layered version of this. (I actually just reposted that on Instagram… it was my first layered piece from 5 years ago.) It was accidental inspiration: I was in a hurry trying to finish something else—initially they were all single-layered—tripped over it, and now 98 percent of what I do is layered!
So after having done this for 5 years, is the work pretty consistent or do you have phases when you’re more inspired to work on things?
There were 13 or 14 pieces I did in the first year, then I started getting hit up to do more for friends, and through the shop I was working at I would do a lot more for some other people. It kinda spread like wildfire soon after! Now I’ve been doing it full time for 3 and a half years.
Give me an example of a request that your friends would ask for.
A lot of the requests were, unfortunately, their pets. I hate doing pets and I hate doing portraits—I’m not gonna ever do those again! I did one of my own pet and all of a sudden that’s what everybody wanted. I wasn’t really a big fan of that.
But initially I just got asked to do a lot of my original stuff. They would come up with the idea, I would sketch it out, and then we would go from that. Then, a friend asked me to do a Santa Cruz Slasher one; after that, everybody wanted their favorite skateboard graphic from their childhood. That took over the majority of what I do these days. Eventually, I want to get back to doing only original stuff.
How did you arrive at the idea for the Battle At The Berrics piece?
I saw the logo and the “11” itself is what stood out to me. When my stepbrother was in high school he was really into Robotech. I remember looking through some books that he had and I always appreciated the art of it—they were in the same genre as Transformers. So, for whatever reason, it just sparked. They’re battling robots!
So it wasn’t a comment about the skaters being machines or robotic?
For me it was just the “11” and the fighting part of it, but they are for sure robotic. I wish I could have my tricks locked down like that every time!
Are you a BATB fan? Rooting for anyone in particular?
Yeah, I was rooting for Cody [Cepeda]. I remember that he blew me away in BATB 7, but I just recently found out he’s my friend’s cousin’s kid! I didn’t know that until we were talking about what I was up to, and I told him about the trophy and he was like, “Oh, my cousin’s kid is in that.” But Joslin took him out. If you’re gonna lose to somebody, it might as well be Joslin!
Haha yeah. That guy really is a robot.
Yeah, I mean all these dudes are. Like, I’m watching Luan and I like how fast he skates. Most people will say, Oh I better take my time and do this trick right. But Luan’s just going Mach 10! Like, “Whatever, I got it.”
“There are so many different aspects of BATB that I love.”
That’s probably just an intimidation factor with him. I’d be shook.
I noticed a lot of times, when that first trick gets messed up, there’s a little bit of time where it’s like, “I don’t know if I got this.” At that caliber of skating, they should always feel like they have it! But I guess everybody gets psyched out at some point.
Yeah, it’s definitely a different scenario in the arena with people watching. It gets really quiet and serious, like a golf game.
Yeah, and then Sewa has to pop every trick neck-high. It’s like, we get it—you can pop! There are so many aspects of BATB that I love.
How long have you been skating?
I’m going on my 31st year now. I’ve said this before, and unfortunately it’s no exaggeration: I’m 16 mentally; physically, I feel like I’m 80 but I’m only 43. It’s a very confusing time in my life!
When you say you’ve been doing recycled skateboard art full-time, that’s kinda like your main gig…
It allows me to be a stay-at-home dad. I mean, all my kids are old enough to be in school, but I can see them off to school in the morning and I’m home when they get out of school. But most of my time I’m at home working on art.
It seems like it would be hard to stay motivated on something like that all day long. Does inspiration come pretty easy for you?
It depends on the project. On some I’m completely into it when I’m working on it, but others it’s like any other job—I’m not totally stoked on it and I’ll hate my life. I mean, I still have it pretty good, but it’s an arduous task. Like anything you do in life, there’s good and bad.
Do you have a big project that you’re working on now?
I have 4 shows that I have lined up for next year, in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and maybe one in Vista, California. And… there is something big, but it’s a secret that can’t be made public yet. It’s the biggest piece that I’ve done to date.
An original piece.
Wow. How big are your pieces on average?
It varies so much, but the average size is usually 16 to 18 inches, if I’m lucky. Using decks that are 8 to 8 and a half inches wide it’s hard to make them really big, unless I get the right subject matter. So I always figure out what the widest part will be and then go from there, and build the layers up accordingly with the size.
For instance, if I’m doing the Ray Barbee “Rag Doll” sitting on the fire hydrant, the points of the hydrant are going to be the widest part of the cutout—the way I do it, anyway. I have to make sure everything else fits accordingly. If I were to do it in reverse—like I have it where his arm meets him head and his other arm—the hydrant would end up being cut off at the edges, unless I had a really wide board.
That’s the only problem with doing stuff with skateboards all the time: the size limitation. I’ve tried to get people to let me use other woods for certain projects, but everybody still wants skateboards! It annoys me a little bit but that’s all right.
You’re a victim of your own success. You can’t even broaden your canvas!
Yeah, I’ve only done one [non-skateboard] piece—I had a maple wood sheet and I got to do one cutout from that. Otherwise, everything’s out of skateboards. But if people stop giving them to me and I run out of them, then they’ll have to let me use another wood!
For your average skater who breaks a board, what would be your suggestion for what to do with the scraps?
Make something yourself. I know a lot of people make benches or shelves, but there are so many things you can do. If you’re inspired to do something you can always find a use for it. Otherwise, I would say find someone in your community that’s using them for that. I know a lot of people aren’t going to exert that much energy, they’re just on to the next board. But there are a lot of other people that are creative or concerned for the environment, so they can find a use for it.
Just find inspiration, even if you have to look at what somebody else is doing to get an idea. For instance, I have friend who just cut a bunch of noses off of his old boards and now they line his vegetable garden. There’s always something that can be done to be creative.
An original piece.
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