Sam Davidson Delta Mojo Dogpiss Magazine Interview
Introduction by Julien Stranger
the older i get the more I appreciate the menagerie that skateboarding is. All the people, personalities,, small scenes, mainstream weirdness , freaks, streets, motives, generations, and on and on and on... all of it stewing together in this strange fantastic world that we all contribute to every day. Alive in real time just like the act of skating itself.
Hey Sam! Let's start with the basics: Where are you from? And how old are you?
Ben! Dude– thank you so much for having me here. Real honour to be on the radar here at DogPiss Mag.
I’m originally from Athens, Georgia in the South Eastern United States, and currently live on the West Coast in Oakland, California.
In September 2022 I turned 35 years old.
Right on Sam. So stoked to have you here too!
Your work has a very physical quality to it There's textures and aspects, that no matter how polished the final result, always come through. How much of the work you make is created physically and how much is made in a computer?
There’s always at least some part of each project I work on that’s hand-done. It could be just the sketch portion, or maybe it’s the entire thing start-to-finish. The computer is an amazing tool, and you’ve got to treat it that way. It’s a tool, and you shouldn’t let it be in charge of you.
I’ve done plenty of projects that are fully digital and I look back at them without the same satisfaction that I get when I see projects that have been hand-penned… Having said that, there’s likely very few art projects I’ve done that haven’t involved a computer. Whether it’s making final tweaks, or trying out some hail-mary ‘what-if’ scenarios that would’ve completely altered the course of the project in the drawing stage… It's a great help. I’m stoked to be able to have this contraption at my disposal.
You use woodcuts pretty frequently. What is it you love about this technique so much? It seems like it would be an enjoyable process to work with!
I’m really influenced by my dad’s art style. He’s worked in a lot of different mediums over the years, but he’s a true artist in the sense that he can’t help but make things. Sculptures, paintings, collages.. etc. When I was growing up he’d carve linoleum blocks, and make relief prints on a press we had at the house. I’d sit there and watch him carve for hours as a kid..
The technique I’ve been using recently kinda mimics that style, but isn’t really a woodcut. It’s a bit of board called ‘clayboard’ with a thin layer of white clay applied to the surface. You apply ink to it, and use a palette knife to scrape away the black ink, making white lines, similar to how a relief print looks. Folks also call it ‘scratchboard’. It works well for the scale I like to work in, and you don’t have to think of the image in reverse the entire time you’re planning it.
Back pedalling a little. How did work at Deluxe come about? Were you already out in San Francisco by then?
In 2012 I was working as a bartender in my hometown having just graduated from college with an art degree– I had two of my best friends move to Oakland, and I’d taken two cross-country trips out to see them and get familiar with the bay area.
After cold-emailing everyone I could find in the art & skateboarding industry, I’d developed a good rapport with Amanda Fox in the DLX Art Dept. – She is an amazing illustrator, and a badass human all-around. She really stuck her neck out for me and vouched for me to interview for the entry-level position in the art room, as she’d taken on a new level of responsibility managing all the Krooked art, while still creating graphics for Spitfire, Antihero, Real, Thunder, etc.
With my illustration degree, and an amazing lack of experience, I moved to California in March 2013 and began to look for apartments.. The next week I started work at DLX as the in-house production artist. It was a bold move and I don’t regret it. Thanks to Amanda for sticking up for me.
You have been travelling quite extensively around Europe these last few months. Any highlights from these travels you'd care to share?
Dude, I’m still trying to figure that out… I’m still kinda coming back down to earth after an entire summer of rad times and over-stimulation… Still trying to figure out what just happened…
Getting to meet you and the Bristol crew & skating Dean Lane was a real highlight for me actually..! Thank you for having us, Ben.
And any personal revelations? Often travelling like that changes people's perception of life?
Just that America is just as fucked as i thought it was. I hope all of us in the U.S. know it– but spending the last three months in Europe has really highlighted that by just providing an example of how societies can be. For the most part– as far as I can tell– Europe has a much better distribution of wealth than the United States, a much more civil healthcare protocol, and way fewer guns. All that adds up into a better quality of life, which Americans are really missing out on. This is all kinda old news, but it was really something that I was tripping out on the entire time I was out there. We are so caught up in problems of our own making over in the U.S... It’s shameful.
Is there anything special knowledge that you've learnt in your time at Deluxe that you could share with the reader?
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned while getting to work with the folks I work with is how to not burn out. I actually haven’t even learned the secret of how to not burn out, but I know that you have to continue to fight against it to keep yourself interested and engaged.
I think folks that are true artists cannot help but evolve and change– it’s a way to defend from boredom. Some people will see an artist’s departure from a successful style and be confused or disappointed, but I think it’s healthy for creative folks to resist being boxed into a certain style or look– it’s freeing– and a way to extend your interest and longevity as an artist.
I’m talking like I know what I'm saying, but dude I'm still floundering and figuring it all out. I’m so far from being a true artist– I know that. So it’s an exciting and life-long journey to keep striving for that.
How involved are you with ‘Break Free’ Skate shop in Oakland? You did the shop logo and all the other art for the shop right?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with Break Free from the beginning. Julien approached me at some point in 2020 and let me know that there were plans to open a new shop in Downtown Oakland. I was of course more than down to be a part of it, and even was included in some of the early planning stages. I kinda settled into the role of the ‘art guy’ which I am absolutely comfortable inhabiting, and which has probably been to everyone’s best advantage since I've got extremely poor skills as a businessman.
I created a batch of logos that kicked things off, had a hand in gutting, cleaning out, and building out the space, and even painted the sign that hangs above the door. The shop opened in March 2021, and I’ll continue to make art for what I think is the most killer shop in the country, for as long as the doors are open.
Thankfully Oakland is rich with talented artists, who regularly contribute to the shop’s look, so the burden doesn’t all fall on me. Santiago Menendez, TurkeyNeck Jake, Mike Gigliotti, and Ahren Boudinot are all killer artists that have contributed, plus Raney Beres and Big Hongry are both sick-ass photographers in their own right, which only thickens the sauce.
And big shoutout to Brian Seber of Ignition Skateshop in Lancaster, PA for all the extra juice he provides for us.. East Coast Powerhouse..!
You mentioned earlier the influence your dad's art has had on your own. That's so rad that you are, in a way, continuing not only his genes but his style! Were your parents as influential, or at least supportive, in your skateboarding life?
My folks have always been nothing but supportive. I know I’m exceptionally fortunate to have had them as a foundation & example. They encouraged my interest in skateboarding and were both always fascinated by it, still are, in fact.
They are both artists, actually. My mom has a masters degree in painting and makes beautiful abstract acrylic paintings. We share a studio space when I’m back in Georgia. So yes– both of them are heavily influential on my art-life as well as my skateboarding-life. I probably couldn’t have avoided making art if I tried...
Can you remember the beginning? Of your life as a skateboarder that is?
Was it something that you slipped into through friends or family? Or was it a conscious decision by you to get a board?
I don’t really remember it. I know I was pretty young when I first started criddling around on my uncle’s leftover 70’s Hobie banana-board, getting fibreglass bits stuck in my hands.. Next memory is playing ‘skateboard wars’ on the hill outside my house, which involved rolling down the hill and trying to sabotage each other with rocks, pinecones, sticks, etc…
First board was a freebie that someone had left at the photocopy shop. My dad was friends with the woman managing the place and she gave it to me when she heard I'd taken an interest in skateboarding.. She actually came over to dinner at my folks’ place last time I was in Georgia… Thank you Deonna. The setup was a Kenny Hughes Element deck with Independents and Spitfire classic 60mm’s.
When did you start to think that art and skateboarding could be merged together into a career.
I didn’t have a clue… In 2011 I graduated with a degree in ‘Scientific Illustration’ which for those unfamiliar, think: Medical Textbook Illustration… transparent bodies… Skeletons.. Organs.. Cross Sections.. Surgeries.. Etc… We spent a lot of time in the cadaver lab drawing & identifying parts of the human body, for both Scientific Illustration courses and life drawing courses… pretty intense stuff.
When we graduated they made us write a 5 year plan, just to make sure we were thinking about getting jobs. When faced with that question I wrote that I’d be living in California either working in skateboarding, or in the record industry doing graphic arts, and that pretty much came true… It's really freaky when that happens…. Write down your dream goals and they will come true– in a certain iteration…
So what's the environment at DLX like to work in?
Dude, I have so much fun working there. It’s really weird to say that, but I do. I know a lot of people can’t say that about their jobs, and a lot of folks are probably thinking ‘This asshole likes his job??’ But It’s true– I love going to work and laughing my ass off in the art dept. I love the whole art room, and I’m really fortunate to have a place at DLX.
Wasn’t always the case though– when I first started, there was a really gnarly vibe in the room, which probably helped make a ton of really great skateboard graphics over the years, but really made it so you had to stay on your toes to not get clowned on.
After a couple/few years of doing all the production art for decks/trucks/wheels, and making graphics here & there, Julien asked if I’d help out making Antihero ads, after our old Art Director got let go. With the training wheels fully on, Frank G. and I laid out our first Antihero ad together, and we fully fucked up the entire thing. Printed the crop marks in Thrasher and everything. Too many faux-pas to mention– and I’ve been trying to fish myself out of the deep end ever since. Big thank you to Julien for taking the chance on some dingbat from Georgia to help steer the ship at Antihero… Thanks J.
I'm sure plenty of people reading this are wondering how they go about getting a job at Deluxe.
Do you have any advice for people trying to enter the art side of the skateboard industry?
Zero advice other than be cool and try and make as many of the most genuine connections that you can make. They go a long way.
I really can't thank you enough for taking the time to talk.
Is there anything you'd like to say before we sign off?
Not a goddamn thing!!! We’ve pretty much covered it all.. Thanks Ben.