AN INTERVIEW WITH EVAN HECOX




Evan, do you have a bit of time to talk?
Yeah, I sure do.

You just got home from Tokyo, right?
That’s correct, I went over for the Chocolate show there and got back on Saturday.




Did you see some of the other shows this year as well?
I saw the LA show installed a couple of days before it opened, but I actually had a prior family commitment so I didn’t make the opening.

How does it feel to see the “20 Years of Chocolate” shows, which are largely made up of almost 20 years of your commercial and sometimes personal work on display?
It’s pretty interesting. There are so many things that, I don’t want to say I’ve forgotten about them, but they are maybe stashed away in deep storage in my memory. Things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s interesting to see it all in one place. I’m used to just seeing things one season or one catalogue at a time. To see everything in reality, in one place, is pretty awesome. In some cases, there are boards I haven’t even seen as finished skateboards before. I’ve just finished them on my computer and sent off files to them to get boards made, but I never did see the real boards. So it’s cool to see graphics I’ve done actually put on boards.

I guess you are probably far past the point of collecting everything you work on.
Yeah, I don’t know where I would put all of that. Part of that is a consideration for the company too. It is product that’s worth money, so for me to just horde it doesn’t really make sense. I’ll ask for the occasional ones, sometimes. I have a small archive of some things, but mostly I keep a digital archive of the work. I did have quite a few for a while, I was getting boards and I had a storage unit. My unit was broken into though; someone broke the lock off and stole a good amount of my old archive of skateboards.

Did they ever turn up on Craigslist or something?
No, and honestly I didn’t really do a whole lot of stealthy work. I didn’t want to try to track somebody down. It was just a bummer. Whenever you get ripped off it sucks, and probably whoever did it didn’t even realize what they were stealing, a sort of important archive. So I do still have some boards I keep in my studio, a small amount, but by no means anywhere close to a complete selection of what I’ve done. Even the show, as many boards as there are, doesn’t even come close to a complete archive. In some cases, I maybe did a series of seven and they took out two or three to show. Some didn’t make it in at all. Or ones with just the word Chocolate done in a graphic way, without really having an image, some of those didn’t really make it in there. There are probably twice as many graphics out there beyond what was in the show.

That’s quite a body of work. Tell me what your upbringing was like in Colorado.
I was an only child and both of my parents were really creative people. My dad was an artist and my mom was an artist and teacher. It was pretty mellow. I grew up in a small town and despite that got into skateboarding. I was only one of a few kids in my town that got into it. I had kind of limited places where I could go skating, but I tried to make the most of it by building ramps. Drawing and skateboarding through junior high and high school was how I used most of my time.

Were you drawn to skateboard graphics as art right away?
Yeah I was. I got two sides of it. My parents were artists and had really sophisticated tastes in art. They would take me to art museums whenever we traveled, and I got to see a lot of really high-end fine art. At the same time, I was really into stuff in skate magazines. Jim Phillips, Pushead, all the VCJ graphics, those were influential to me. Stuff from Mark Gonzales and Neil Blender, that was all pretty cool to me too. So I was pretty evenly influenced by what I was getting from my parents and what I was getting from skate magazines.

Did you ever see work at galleries and museums that you knew had an influence on skate art?
I would see things for sure. My dad had books by people like M.C. Escher. Some of the early Powell graphics were based on his work. There was a correlation there. For a long time I was really into Japanese woodblock prints. I had a lot of books on graphic design from Europe and other places. There were kind of some similarities to things in skateboarding. But the skate stuff was also, especially during the ‘80s when I was growing up skating, it had a lot to do with underground art and comics. It had a lot more in common with that stuff than what my parents would have been into.

Did you parents ever show any interest in the art on the skateboards and in the magazines you were buying?
Yeah, I think they appreciated that there was a creative aspect to skateboarding.

Had you done any skate graphics before Chocolate?
No, not really. When I was a kid in high school I had imagined being an artist for a big company and wondered how I could break into that. I would do sort of mock skateboard graphics, but nothing that ever got produced on real board. I would draw a bit on my own boards too. But I had never done any commercially produced skate graphics before I started working with Chocolate.

So how and when did you start with Chocolate?
It was 1997. So I haven’t been with them for the whole 20 years. It’s been 17 of 20.
I was working for a snowboard clothing company called Twist in San Francisco at the time. I was doing logos and t-shirt graphics. My stuff was appearing in snowboard magazines, and all the skate industry people get those too, so the guys at Girl and Chocolate had seen my work and were interested in me. Andy Jenkins, the art director for Girl and Chocolate, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing skate graphics.

At the beginning, did they ask you to do most or all of the artwork for the brand?
No, I think they were just testing the waters early on. They didn’t really have one set artist for Chocolate necessarily. Andy was doing some and commissioning other people to do stuff as well. Geoff McFetridge had actually done a series of boards before I did. So they didn’t really have a set artist, and I don’t really know that they were looking to fill that role. Andy was just hiring freelancers to do Chocolate graphics. I don’t think when they hired me to do those first couple series of graphics they thought it would be an ongoing thing, and I didn’t really expect that either. I just thought of it as a project together.

How did it swell from there? Was there a certain point where they said they wanted you to take on most of the graphic work?
I think it was just that the first couple of series’ I made did well, those being the portraits of the team at the time and then the continuous city series that went across six boards. Those were both really popular at first, and they took the portrait images I did and had them blown up for a trade show booth at the time, so we got off to a strong start together. It just sort of felt right; the stuff I was doing seemed like a good fit for the direction they wanted to take the company in. So they just started asking me to do more the following season, and the graphics seemed to be popular again, so the ball kept rolling after that.
I
n the beginning, did you feel pretty confident in your abilities and comfortable enough with the team involved to know it would all turn out well? Or did you worry about how the graphics would be received?
I think it’s kind of somewhere in between. I don’t know if even now I am 100% confident in what I’m doing, but you just sort of have to go with your instincts. I think partly with what I’ve tried to do with Chocolate is not worry too much about the audience, and not worry too much about what other companies are doing. I deliberately try to not look at other skate graphics, or compare what I am doing relative to other companies. Rather than trying to keep up on what’s been cool in skateboarding at various times, I’ve tried to just keep my distance a bit. It kind of helps so that I don’t get too self-conscious or think about the market and what they want.

Over the years, especially early on with Chocolate, was there ever any pressure to move down south to work in-house with them?
We talked about it a little bit. When I was working in San Francisco, I would just be emailing Adobe Illustrator files to them, and it was working pretty well. There was a time when my wife and I were thinking about moving to LA because we thought it might be a better place to make career connections and possibly buy a house. It was so expensive in San Francisco. So we entertained that for a while but never ended up doing it. I don’t think I ever got a lot of pressure from Chocolate to move down there. There probably was a time when they would have liked it if I had moved, but honestly, if I had moved, I don’t know that I would have ended up doing graphics for them for as long as I have. The fact that I have had some autonomy and had the freedom to work on my own from my own studio, not having to report to the office for work every day, has made it easier for me to want to continue for such a long time.

Ultimately, you moved back to Colorado. Was that primarily for family reasons?
Yeah, there were a number of motivations. I have some family here, and so does my wife. I wanted to be closer to them, not be so detached, and also, as much as we like San Francisco, it’s very expensive and difficult to own anything there without being wealthy. Colorado seemed like an appealing place to have a good quality of life, buy a house, have more studio space, and be closer to family.

Have you always done a lot of personal work in addition to Chocolate? Has it been hard to balance, especially early on?
I have always done my own stuff, and around 1998 or ’99, I was going through, I wouldn’t exactly call it an artistic identity crisis, but I was trying to figure out how the work I was doing on my own time balanced with what I was doing for commercial work. I felt like they were very different. Some of the commercial stuff I was doing was a bit more cartoonish and less serious than I wanted it to be, whereas my personal work was at the opposite end of the spectrum. It was more fine art looking, painted and rough, and the two didn’t really feel like they matched at all. They looked like they were done by two different people. That kind of bothered me. So I think I found a way to move the commercial work more towards the fine art, or the fine art more towards the commercial, and they met in the middle. My fine art became a little more simplified and graphic, and the commercial work became a little bit more sophisticated and cartoonish.

Having experience with the arts from such a young age, did you find it to be an easy transition to enter the art world outside of skateboarding?
I think whenever you are doing work for hire or illustration, there is a certain sort of snobbish attitude within the real art world that you are selling out because you aren’t doing fine art. Any true artist doesn’t really do that. I hadn’t really had work shown in galleries before I started working, and it’s kind of hard to carry that stigma of being an illustrator trying to be a fine artist. I think ultimately though if your work is good enough and people like it, all of that washes away. That’s what I was able to do with some early group shows, and then some of my own. I was showing a good body of work that people liked and it sold well. It started to gain some momentum that way.

How old is your daughter? Is she interested in art?
She’s 11. I haven’t really pushed her in art. She doesn’t seem to be as interested in drawing and painting as I am, but she’s creative and makes more three-dimensional things, like crafts and jewellery. I think she has a good visual sense, and she’s a creative person. I wouldn’t say she’s following in my footsteps, and I wouldn’t push her to do that, unless she naturally wants to on her own.

Are there art classes in her school? Do you think art classes are more or less prevalent in school compared to when you were there?
She goes to a Waldorf school actually, which is interesting because they don’t exactly have an art class like other schools. They essentially integrate art into every class, and sort of make their own textbooks. Last year, as part of Math studies, they were drawing portraits of the mathematicians that developed the decimal system. So within her math homework she was drawing portraits. So she’s drawing all day long, but not exactly in art classes.

That seems cool.
Yeah I think it is. When we have parent/teacher conferences and get to look through the books they are making over the course of the year, it’s like looking at someone’s really cool sketchbook or something. Just page after page relating to the studies, really rich with detail and colour. We get to see a lot of her personality through it. So she’s drawing all the time through school, and it almost becomes the same as writing, just part of what they do.

Just developing drawing as a base skill, like printing.
Yeah, and I’ve always been able to do that, just to sketch things and get ideas down on paper. It feels like a form of literacy to me. I know not everyone can do that but it’s so second nature to me. Thinking about something like a piece of furniture I want to build or some other art project, being able to sketch and draw that is just sort of fundamental.

You mentioned furniture building; do you pursue some things in the three-dimensional realm of art as well?
Yeah, I don’t know if I would exactly call what I am doing art, but thing that involve woodworking, like the chairs and table in my studio, I’ve built. It’s all fairly simplistic and I really enjoy it. I get that from my dad, as well as the painting and drawing. I’ve inherited a lot of his woodworking tools.

As we speak, you’re working on a Chocolate deadline. What’s the process with them? Is it a daily thing or more seasonal?
It tends to be more seasonal. They have two big catalogues that come out each year, and the deadline for the Spring 2015 catalogue is just before Christmas, so I am just finishing up stuff this week for that.

When you’re home, do you keep your day-to-day life pretty regimented?
I try to make it kind of regimented, but it can be tough because of different variables. A typical day is taking my daughter to school, coming home to my studio, just a building behind my house, and just trying to stay focused and work until the evening, about dinnertime or a little after. If I’m especially busy I will work a bit after dinner as well. I just try to stay productive and make the most of my hours. It’s nice working at home too because I can always get an extra hour or two of work in just on the fly.

Do you get out skating very often these days?
Well, I’m 44 now so I don’t skate as much as I used to. In the summertime, when the weather is nice, I’ll get out to meet friends at the Denver park on the weekend. I have a smaller little goof-around board I’ll ride around the neighbourhood too, just for transportation, but I don’t really go out for long street skating sessions like I did when I was younger, unfortunately.

Have you had to perfect any sort of falling technique to protect your hands?
I do have a wrist guard for my right hand when I go to the skatepark. I worry that if I hurt my right wrist I wouldn’t be able to draw. The whole falling thing on concrete in your 40s is not very pleasant, and I try to avoid it as much as possible. There’s not much I can do about it though.

There aren’t a lot of other pursuits that lead to 40-year-olds falling on concrete often.
No, not many, occasionally maybe on your bike. With skateboarding, you’re definitely falling a lot on unforgiving surfaces.

One last question for you before you get back to work. You said earlier you don’t keep up on new graphics or much else to do with the skate industry. Is there anything you do see in passing or at shops that looks exciting?
Yeah, I mean I watch videos and do see the graphic side of skateboarding, and every once and awhile I catch clips that I really like. That’s more my kind of my connection to skateboarding these days: just marvelling at the creative side of what people are doing on skateboards, rather than the graphics and the industry side of things.

I’ll let you get back to it. I appreciate you making the time.
Yeah, no problem. Good to talk with you.

Interview by Jeff Thorburn. Portrait by Andrew Paynter.

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