WORDS: Eric McHenry
I love this guy’s work. Saw him on tumblr several years ago and he was showing some sketches for a 5BORO series that had just came out I was so happy to see the raw shit—the sketchbook, the good and “bad”—behind the curtain. Not in a wizard way, but in an OH. THATS HOW THINGS ARE DONE! relatable sketch-style way. I was like, “I CAN DRAW LIKE THAT,” but I’m kinda stuck here at point A, and Yaia (aka Julio) is lightyears beyond what’s going on at my desk. I could basically see how he got from sketch A to printed graphic Z in these posts.
That was a couple years ago. Now, Yaia hasn’t stopped for a breather once, doing graphics for some of the biggest brands… and not just in skateboarding.
Here we dug into Yaia’s personal stack of sketches that he recently completed for a series with the legendary Santa Cruz Skateboards, which is a bit intimidating, considering that most of the graphics that’ve come out of those hallowed doors are skateboard graphic history. These are graphics that have been tattooed on more bodies than barbed wire; this is art that literally left its mark on skateboarders. Yaia explored the Santa Cruz heritage by twisting timeless graphics with his own style. Flipping through his sketchbook, you’re able to see an idea getting pawed around beautifully by a great illustrator. Artists, when they see one of his boards at the shop, at least ask to hold it. As a fellow appreciator of skateboarding and the craft of board graphics, Yaia couldn’t wish for a more meaningful compliment.
First Skateboard Graphic Influence:
I have to say World Industries, they were the first decks I saw on the eventual trip to the city. I was really into comics so I remember spending time checking out the boards on the wall trying to find a signature, like you find on a comic book cover, something that tells me more about the artist, I always have this idea from really young, that behind products there were people/professionals. Who drew that? I want to see more artwork from that person! I want to meet that person; I want to show my stuff to that person…
Julio Is a Fan:
That determination to know about the artist behind the graphics took me to discover my Big Four (in no particular order): Jim Phillips, Vernon Courtlandt Johnson, Marc McKee, and Sean Cliver (and the brands that published their artwork). These are the pillars of skate art for me. When I moved to the city, my trips to the skate shop display were at some point a daily thing and all I cared about was the art on those boards and t-shirts… I remember through the years that Creature captured my eye with its palette, a clever art direction decision that made me realize this was an organized and well thought out product. Behind a Creature board there were people making design decisions, building an image and a brand, something that I can relate to from a graphic design perspective. With enjoi and Girl I learned about visual trends and how they shape and dominate an era; on Toy Machine I realized a skateboard can be the canvas for art too, thanks to Ed Templeton; Hook-Ups showed me that people can accept things out of their context. The big guys that made fun of me and my friends for reading comics and watching anime—I drooled over the HookUps boards art so hentai was a connecting point for a group of teenagers that on any other level hated each other.
It All Has to Start Somewhere:
On the series that I did for Santa Cruz, I remember the key inspiration visually was a series of paintings that I did to exchange with other artists. It was a group of bold iconic images with a strong set of elements and a simple palette across all of them; I wanted all that for my series so in the first pitch you can see a link to that. [It was] eventually diluted to shape an identity of its own in the art I finally submitted. On the concept level, I aimed to create graphics that feel like they where lost in some drawer in the archives of the brand, something that belongs to them but they never saw…
I remember exchanging two or three emails with Tyler Emanuel—the Art Director—and we set the schedule and stages of the project. I was nine days away from the first presentation and I had nothing—no sketches, no scribbles, no ideas put into words, nada to show. That’s pretty rare, ‘cause 99% of the time I’m not like this but this was Santa Cruz and I think I started to pressure myself to deliver something above my skills which played against me. Eventually, inspiration and hard work and love for what I am doing help me move forward. For those nine days, I sketched out every single idea I had and I wrote down every variation of a concept that I thought could work. I started analog with pencils and then put everything together digitally to present my ideas to SC. I send an exhaustive and detailed pitch to the Art Director; distance can hurt communication so I do my best to deliver a comprehensive trip through my process with this first PDF. We go from there to the next round until we shape the story we want to tell with these graphics. In this case I think we did two or three reviews until final. It was really smooth and natural; a dream on every level.
I embrace those feelings: anxiety, because my next month’s income depends on this; anger to prove all the people wrong who told me “you can’t/won’t make a living out of drawing skates and tees”; ego, to shock the client with something above their biggest expectations even when they have the best skate artist in the history (Jim Phillips); love, to invest time in this and not in my loved ones. These are just a few of the things that go through my head while I produce my artwork. It’s complicated and completely necessary. Eventually, with results come confidence, so the feeling fades away but it shapes the work forever.
Keeping the Series Consistent:
Tyler was kind enough to handle the riders’ part of the deal, so all I had to care about was art and the story that keeps the series consistent. Basically, they revolved around ANIMALS, WEAPONS, DEATH, and WOMEN.
Revisiting Past Work:
I rather do new stuff than revise old projects. What I learn will help me make the next one better.
I like CREATURE a lot and DEATHWISH too, especially the work Brian Romero did for the latter. Also, profound admiration for Ben Horton at $LAVE; and 5BORO, too.
The Role of Skate Graphics Today:
I think it’s a completely valid and diverse art medium. Skateboard graphics are proving to be more connected and relevant for telling the story of a culture than many others in the more established artist community. The same with T-shirts: not all are art, but when they are, they’re excellent AND affordable.
On Reading Comments Online:
I do. Admiration, respect, and support are always welcome. And the bad ones are okay, too, and valid. Real-life negative comments are the best, though—from the well-constructed ones to the plain hate for what you do. I miss those…
I’ve been doing some cool stuff with adidas Skateboarding. I’m really looking forward to that release: they were extremely supportive of my ideas and we shaped a nice collection together. I hope more opportunities like this from me to showcase my work come along. I like to draw, I like to reach people with my artwork, and I want to engage with more brands and artists to keep growing professionally and personally.