There is a popular burger place in Utah that has incredible shakes. Their ice cream has a perfect consistency, they have a great variety of flavors and the mix-ins are always big chunks and fresh. There really is only one problem with the shakes; they are too big. The smallest size is big enough that they have to put the entire shake (cup and all) in a bigger cup to prevent a major shake tragedy. Not the worst problem to have if you like shakes. This is what happened when I asked Ryan Besch a few questions for the “Graphic Story” feature in the October issue of Arkade about the Nitro Cinema graphic he did. While the key parts directly about the graphic ended up in the magazine, there was so much good content that we knew it could not just end up going to waste; we needed a bigger cup (thanks internet). Not the worst problem to have if you like art and snowboarding…
Interview: Mark Seguin
First off, if you don’t mind, tell me a little bit about yourself… Where you’re from, how you got into design/art, what inspires you, who are your influences, etc…
I’m a designer / illustrator / artist from Buffalo, NY where I live with my wife and three kids. I got into art through reading underground comics, digging through my uncle’s LPs and looking through the back pages of Thrasher. Jim Phillips’ Screaming Hand illustration for Santa Cruz and the cover to The Rolling Stones Some Girls LP are some of the earliest images that I remember having a big impact on me. In the early 90‘s I found alternative books like Eightball and Hate that were being published by Fantagraphics, record labels like Dischord and Sub Pop, and the independent films that were coming out of Mirimax. All of those things were a huge influence on me. They opened up a whole scene of underground artist’s and bands outside of the mainstream, the concept of DIY ethics and the idea that you could make things happen for yourself. Growing up in a semi-rural area outside of Buffalo, being into punk rock and
skateboarding was important becasue it gave me and my group of friends something to identify ourselves with, especially pre-internet when you really had to search things out. Through those outlets I was exposed to visual artists like Art Chantry, Winston Smith, Daniel Clowes, Raymond Pettibon, Peter Bagge, Kozik and tons of others who have all influenced my aesthetic in some way. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the Pop Art movement, and the second wave of gig poster artists from the last 20 years has also been a big influence.
What is your favorite kind of art/design to create?
I would say that record packaging and snowboard / skate graphics are my two favorites, for different reasons. Music has always been a big part of my life and I like the problem solving aspect of making my aesthetic work with a band’s identity in order to make something that visually represents their music. When it works and you are on the same page, it can be great to collaborate with another artist or group of artists. The Soulsavers record I worked on is one where I felt that we were both coming from the same place and the artwork came together really easily because of it. Snowboards are great because of the oversized format and the freedom to incorporate more of my own personality into the art, as long as it doesn’t clash with the company’s brand.
I’m sure there are times when the art just flows easily and naturally, and there are times when there is kind of an “artist’s block”. When/if you are faced with this, how do you get past it?
This happens to me all of the time, but I don’t really have one certain way that I get past “artist’s block.” I usually have 4-5 projects going at one time that vary between record packaging, or branding, to snowboard / wakeboard / skate graphics. If I get hung up on one project I usually just switch over to something else that’s in a different vein, and give my brain a chance to reset on whatever it was that had stalled me out. Sometimes just getting away from a project for an hour or so can give you a better perspective on it. If I’m under a tight deadline then it’s a different story. Then I just try to power through, trust that I’m making the rights calls and that it’ll all come together in the end. Those can be some of my best and most sleepless moments.
Did Nitro approach you to create the graphic for the Cinema?
Not specifically for the Cinema deck. I’d already worked with the company for two seasons, so we had a history together. Their art director Paul contacted me in December of 2013 to see if I’d want to create ten pitches for the 2014 line. After sending my concepts over, they decided that they wanted to move forward with a handful of them, one of which was the Cinema artwork. At that time though it was just a rough version of a pin up girl in a bondage mask and it wasn’t decided until later on that it would be for that particular board.
How was working with Nitro on this project?
It was great. Working with their art director Paul Brown and marketing manager Knut Eiassen is always great. They’re both really enthusiastic about what they do and are easy to work with. There are times where a job can become cumbersome if you’re constantly butting heads with the art director and you’re just not seeing eye to eye on the direction of a project. That’s never happened with Paul, and we’ve worked on 20 boards together now over three years. I always appreciate the feedback that I get from him. His ideas really improve upon what I’ve sent over, whether it’s about a major component of the design or just a small suggestion about a particular detail. We can riff off of each other’s ideas and it always makes a stronger final product. Last year Knut took the time to send a hand written note saying thank you for the work that I did for them and how happy they were with it. That’s not something that every client does, that was something that meant a lot.
Was this board different than ones you’ve done before? What is your favorite part of designing snowboard graphics?
It was different because it was the first time I had created a series of graphics for each individual size of a particular deck, but other than that the process was the same as the others. I grew up surrounded by skateboarding and snowboarding, but didn’t have the coordination or balance, so I kind of gravitated towards the artwork on the boards more than actually trying to ride them. So there’s nostalgia there. I like the freedom to be able to incorporate a lot of myself and my personal interests into the graphics. I also like the idea that some kid might be going through a catalog or checking out a friend’s board and be inspired by something I’ve done the same way I was inspired 20 years ago. Be a small part of the sub culture.
You mentioned you have worked with Nitro for the last couple years. How did that relationship begin? Is there any correlation between your own brand "Your Cinema" and Nitro having a deck called The Cinema?
From 2006-2009 I worked with Mark Brickey and Beth Manos as part of Hero Design Studio here in Buffalo. Screen printed gig posters were a big part of our focus and every year the studio would travel down to a gig poster show called Flatstock that is organized by the American Poster Institute. This particular Flatstock is in Austin and runs at the same time as the SXSW music festival. There was a boom in the popularity of gig posters in the mid to late 2000’s and because of that, a lot of people began looking to hire studios that were known for gig posters for projects outside of that world. Mike Dawson was Nitro’s art director at the time, and he bought a few of my posters from our booth. He gave my partner Mark one of his cards and asked him to pass it along to me because he was interested in having me work on some stuff for Nitro. I got in touch with Mike right away, he was a super cool guy and we exchanged a few emails, but for some reason nothing ever materialized from it. After a few more attempts I let it go. It happens sometimes; things don’t work out, no big deal. Fast forward to 2010, I’d left Hero the year before and started Your Cinema. I was cleaning off my desk and came across Mike’s business card from 2007. On a whim, I thought, what the hell, let’s give it one more shot and sent Mike an email. I heard back from him that afternoon, and I’ve been working with Nitro every season since. I’m not sure if there was a correlation between them naming the new board the Cinema and me doing the artwork for its debut. I tried looking for the emails from Mike from that time, but can’t find them. It’s possible I suppose, or might have just been a coincidence. I don’t remember.
The Cinema has been around for a few years now, and this, in my opinion, is the best graphic to adorn it. Did you look to the past boards at all when designing the graphics for this year’s board?
Honestly, I think I’ve designed all of the Cinema graphics. The Cinema was the first board that I ever designed for Nitro, but originally that art was going to be for another board of theirs called the Addict. About half way through the project their art director sent me an email letting me know that they wanted to use it on a new board called the Cinema instead. He was in the middle of leaving the company at the time though, so we didn’t communicate that often during the project and he ended up adding a lot of his own artwork to the design that I turned in. My artwork is in there, but it’s more of a background element, so I don’t really count that one as my first. I still like the original design though and have it up on my site.
Did they give you any guidelines for the art, or did you have freedom to do what you wanted?
Once we knew that the pin up girl concept I had submitted was going to move forward, we talked about the direction of the board and bounced some ideas back and forth. Since the basic concept was already there, Paul just let me know the demographic for the board and that he wanted to do a series of them, one for each board size. After that I created a rough black and white version of the first deck, spoke with Paul, made sure everything was on the right track and we just went from there. If anything was getting too dark or seedy Paul let me know and we’d change things accordingly. Really though, it went pretty smoothly, there were only a handful of revisions that I can think of.
For me, when I see the base graphic, it screams “cinema”; it evokes something of an edgy nostalgia of what going to the movies back in the day would be like. Was that the goal, or am I insane…?
That was the idea, although I was aiming more for the vibe of going to the porn theaters or peepshows of Times Square in the late 70’s or the aesthetic of the old XXX marquees. I love mining the look of that stuff in my work, I think it’s great.
The topsheet graphic seems to have that same feel to it, just with mischievous looking ladies in masks and bikinis, haha! I really like it. How did that come to be the topsheet graphic?
Well originally I just sent in a rough image of a pin up in some bondage gear with a backdrop of various ads from the back of old porn magazines. That was the basic idea. No real reason other than that I liked the imagery and have always had a thing for that type of found material. Ads that weren’t really created with any specific design style, but were just supposed to be functional. They have a certain naiveness about them that’s really hard to duplicate. Anyway, once it was decided that it was going on the Cinema deck, I started fleshing out the concept a bit more. Paul came up with the idea of doing a series of five girls, one for each different size board, so that got me thinking about how I was going to carry a single concept across the series. I started off by creating a background made up of old blow up doll ads and text from XXX theatre marquees. Then I started working on the pin up girls that were going to go on each. I wanted them to have the feel of an old movie starlet, but perverted into something fetishistic. I tried to make them a combination of as many weird fetishes as I could (podophilia, punk porn, s&m, acrotomophilia, etc) and make them these hyper sexualized objects. People already turn celebrities and woman especially, into these fantasy objects so this was just supposed to be an extreme version of that. I had a lot of fun with it. Some of them got a little too dark and we had to reel it back in a bit.
With that said, the nature of the graphic could scare some people off and you mentioned there were some revisions done to the original art. Was that something between you and Nitro or did things like shop feedback catalyze those changes?
Some of the revisions were made just because I had made some of the imagery too seedy for the target demographic of the board, which is mid teen to early twenty something. For example, the girl with the biker helmet on originally was wearing a mask that had a huge phallic nose on it. It was a cool looking image, but ultimately something that was too dirty for a 16 year old. This is also one of the Nitro decks that is purchased for use as a rental board by ski resorts, and some of their buyers were a little nervous about the imagery. It wasn’t a big deal; we just created a revised version that was the background collage without the pin up and that solved the issue. It’s actually pretty cool looking too.
Was SIA the first time the graphic was shown to a larger audience? How was it received there?
I’m not sure where the board was first revealed, but I want to say it was ISPO Munich. From what I heard from the Nitro guys, it went over well with retailers and riders. People were digging it.
Do you have a favorite graphic from the Cinema boards you designed?
I think my favorites are the pin up wearing the biker helmet and the pin up with the prosthetic peg leg and eye patch. I like the naturalness of their poses and they also have a post-apocalyptic / Road Warrior type of vibe going on that I dig.
Criticism is part of what you do, and I'm sure sometimes it's easier to take and other times it can feel like a punch in the gut... How do you handle it and how do you adjust to clients' feedback and criticism while staying true to your own vision?
It’s never personal, that’s the biggest thing to keep in mind. Not to say it can’t hurt your feelings or bother you when you think you’ve nailed something and it gets rejected, but ultimately you and the client are working towards the same goal, which is to give them something that best represents their brand and connects with their audience. I’m German and can be pretty stubborn, but I try and keep an open mind. If I feel that the clients suggestions are ultimately going to hurt the end product and it’s successfulness in helping them achieve whatever it is they’re trying to achieve, then I will try and explain to them why I think it’s a bad idea and lead them in what I think is the right direction. I’m being hired for my design abilities and artistic talent, but also for knowing what is hopefully going to connect with their audience. Sometimes you just have to know whether it’s worth it to fight or best to just let it go through too. It’s a give and take. As long as everyone is respectful during the process, there shouldn’t be a problem. I know it’s not true in this world, but I believe that no on benefits from being an asshole. It’s just not a mentality that I’ve ever been able to stomach or understand. In all of the years I’ve been working freelance I’ve never had a project end on bad terms with a client. There are times where afterwards you know that maybe the pairing wasn’t that great, but I never leave any bad blood or burn any bridges.
(Other boards designed by Ryan in the Nitro 14/15 line)
Are you planning on creating more art/graphics for other products within the snowboard industry?
You can never really plan for anything doing what I do for a living, but if they’ll have me back again, I’m there.
What sage advice would you pass on to up and coming artists?
There’s not really much that I could say that hasn’t been said before. Believe in what you’re doing, know what you want to go after and work hard at getting there. You will make bad work and miss the mark sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world. Learn from it and move on. Don’t be an asshole to people. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re shitty to deal with no one is going to hire you. To use on of my dad’s favorite lines, try and see things from the other person’s perspective. That’s helped me a lot in dealing with clients, especially ones that are coming from a totally different world than what I’m used to. I think that’s about it.