At a family birthday party in 2002 I met Sean Cliver (We’re not related; he was there to celebrate my nephew’s birthday). Prior to this introduction I knew he was one of the guys that worked on Big Brother magazine and had illustrated some very memorable graphics but that was about it. Ironically, we met outside of the skateboarding bubble but were soon working together on a book about the bubble: Disposable, A History Of Skateboard Art.
Before working on Disposable I’d done magazine layouts, ads, web pages, and all sorts of miscellaneous design work and had an extensive pre-press background, but had never taken on a project as big as this. Sean contacted me shortly after that first meeting and proposed the idea of the book to me. There wasn’t a budget and no real promise of this thing actually getting printed, but I jumped in headfirst at the opportunity to be a part of what I thought could be an amazing project. Best of all, I talked Sean into letting me shoot the cover photo.
There wasn’t a budget and no real promise of this thing actually getting printed
Around the same time I was working as a digital photography consultant. Photography is my primary focus but design supplements my income. While working as a consultant I was testing newly-released digital cameras extensively. Luckily I was working at a magazine publishing company so I could run real-life tests in the magazine. I was pretty confident in digital (it’s crazy now to think we could ever have been on the fence), and we decided to shoot the entire thing in digital rather than film. In early 2003 this was unheard of but it was our only option: The cost of film and scanning would have put the project so far in the negative it wouldn’t have ever been published. Funny thing was I was working as a digital consultant but didn’t even own a digital camera. Sean shot most of the boards on a 5-mp point and shoot, and any time I could go along for shoots I would. It was an incredible experience getting to spend the day at people’s houses digging through years of boards and memorabilia, with Lance Mountain’s collection being the highlight of it all.
The book was supposed to have the feel of a beat up, disposed of book to emphasize the fact that skateboard graphics are completely disposable regardless of how much time someone takes to illustrate, convert on computer, output, screen, market, and deliver. I used ink splatters to convey the idea and went with traditional methods for getting the texture.
I cracked open Sharpies and took the soft ink tube out of the middle, then smeared that all over paper until it looked cool. Once that was done it was scanned and converted to a bitmap to be placed anywhere in Quark. For the textured/distressed look of the names and titles, I printed the words on a laser printer and crumpled them up until they looked cool, then flattened them out and scanned them in. You have to use a laser printer so toner is applied to the paper. Toner is laid down on the paper and dried hard in a thin layer and will chip off if you krinkle it, for that distressed look. Inkjet printers spray ink and the krinkle technique doesn’t work.
The cover was shot at Kelly Belmars pool—a very fitting place for the cover since he paid for the construction of his pool by screening board graphics in the late ’80s through the early ’90s. To shoot the cover I brought a couple of strobes, a laptop and a new Canon 1Ds borrowed from Surfing Magazine. That was my first real digital shoot, but I didn’t tell anyone there until we were done! Before I went over to Kelly’s I set up a Quark file with the cover mockup ready to place an image into. The idea was to shoot a few shots, download them and see how they looked. We had conceptualized a few things before hand but who knew how it was going to turn out. I’d met Lance once when I was a kid at a skate camp in Oregon; I was really young and pretty sure he wouldn’t remember me. He is also my favorite childhood skateboarder so this was a nerve-racking experience to say the least.
Prior to this we had discussed a few tricks that would show a lot of board graphics, like an Indy air shot from the deck, a sweeper shot low, or an invert from above. Lance had done a shoot years ago with Grant Brittain, I think, with the same concept as we used for the invert (probably shot with a pole cam). He showed up dressed for the era, wearing a old Jeff Grosso shirt and holding an ’80s version of his board with Indys on it, but the back truck was wider and too big for the era—this would have to be changed in Photoshop.
Getting the shot was a scary situation. Belmar’s pool is at least 12 feet deep and I was perched on top of a step ladder leaning out over the deep end. A friend of mine held on to the back of my shirt to keep me from falling. The camera was extended out as far as my arms could reach to get directly above Lances invert (remember the camera was not mine and the guy who loaned it to me would have been fired had it been damaged). There were a couple times he lost his board and it hit me in the stomach, but I didn’t care since we got the shot. It didn’t take long; I think we only shot 12 images but that’s all we needed. As soon as I thought we had the photo, I downloaded it into the file to verify and we were done. There were no Polaroids, snip tests, bracketing, or shooting 2 rolls—it was visible on the back of the camera and on screen in a few short minutes. This experience proved to me that digital was the way to go. The initial cover was done minutes after shooting, and just needed some post work.
The worst part of the entire project was clipping the boards. There were over 1,000 and I think it was actually closer to 1,500. By the time I was done, my right hand had serious carpal tunnel setting in and I had to take long breaks from using the computer. Fortunately for me, I had a great boss at my day job, and she let me work on the book all day long while skipping out on my regular stuff. I also printed a few rounds of proofs for the entire book (thousands of prints) using the 11×17 color printers in the office. Most of the time I would come in early before anyone else arrived, or stay late. I would even put signs up on the printer that it was out of order so I could jam through 40 or 50 pages without anyone noticing that these weren’t car magazine layouts (which is what I should have been working on).
The book was originally printed by Concrete Wave in 2004 in short print runs and distributed by Blitz. It eventually sold over 21,000 copies, added an additional 16 pages, had a special hardbound edition, and was picked up by Gingko Press, a real publisher, for its sixth printing.
In late 2006, Sean contacted me about doing the follow-up book. I don’t know if I told him yes the first time we discussed it but in my mind it was yes from the first mention of it. This time around, thankfully, someone had already volunteered to clip the boards. The title would end up being The Disposable Skateboard Bible. I proposed an old abused bible look for the layout and Sean agreed. I based it off the King James style, and was soon down at my local used bookstore buying old bibles and books to rip apart. I scanned the stains and yellowing that occurs in books over time, and had a fun time with fire burning the edges of parchment paper (which I discovered, by the way, is extremely flammable). If this was too look like an old bible, it needed some stains.
This version, like the first, was a side project for both Sean and I, so it took about a year and a half to finish. The page count for this one is 368 and is hardbound; the first book was 240 pages.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work on the first book, but couldn’t imagine how fun the project would actually turn out to be. I’ve had tons of photos published in different publications throughout the world, and it’s always nice to see a photo I shot on the newsstand but grabbing a heavy book that you spent years putting together is a very rewarding feeling not to mention every time I see it the cover photo brings back good memories and makes me smile. These books have consumed a few years of my life and I couldn’t be more happy about it. I’m just as eager to see the final product as all the skateboard collectors.
At the time of this article it’s in the press proofing stages and is scheduled to be available for purchase in July 09.