Right then Martyn – what have you been up to today, and what’s the stupidest question you’ve been asked this week in Welcome?
(Laughing), well, I had the morning off work today, which I spent chilling with the dog since it’s been wet outside for the last three months solid. I worked the afternoon at Welcome and now I’m answering these questions for you! We’ve not had anything too daft question-wise this week, but my favourite of all time is the unbeatable, “Excuse me, do you have these shoes in a half past 9?”
Is drawing something that you end up doing as part of your daily routine in the shop? Like caricatures of regular visitors or anything like that?
I don’t usually have much time to doodle in the shop, but I do get a lot of ideas from what I overhear people saying. New hypebeast buzzwords are changing and getting more stupid every second! The current classics are: “DAT IS BUM/LIT/WET/LIVE.” That never stops being funny.
Everyone loves a stale sausage don’t they? Photo Reece Leung
Your co-worker Dave Tyson is also an accomplished doodler – is there any sense of competition to come up with the best depiction of the local idiots that you encounter on a daily basis?
Definitely no competition! We spitball ideas with each other all the time though; Dave is amazing at drawing local loonies. The boxes in the stock room are covered in his drawings; it’s like his own little exhibition in there!
When and why did you start drawing, and does it pre date you getting into skateboarding?
It’s always interested me, way before I started skating. I used to copy cartoon/video game characters, logos etc. for fun when I was really young and it’s always stuck with me.
You’re formally trained to an extent though, right? You followed the academic path with Art through college and university, didn’t you?
Yeah, I always loved Art lessons at school and then I kept at it through GCSE, A-Level, and Foundation, and finished up doing a degree in Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds Met.
Why did you pick a degree in Art & Design, which has a proven track record of not exactly being vocational in terms of job prospects post-Uni? Did you sacrifice yourself on the altar of self-expression?
Before I went to University I wasn’t particularly sure what I wanted to do in the long run, which is why I picked the course I did. It was so broad, covering illustration, animation, photography, film work, creative writing and loads more. I never particularly wanted to be a Graphic Designer in an agency – that seemed like it would squeeze all of the fun out of it and I’d probably end up hating drawing. It’s much better as a hobby! By the end of the course I liked the idea of just doing it freelance on the side of a regular job.
What did your degree entail then? How much was practice and actually creating stuff, compared to the theory and Art History side of learning?
There wasn’t a great deal of Art History/Theory involved. Our dissertation was recommended to be only about 2,000 words, which was a nice surprise too! The majority was actually creating stuff and expanding your practice. It gave me an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone (pen and paper) and try out a bunch of different work methods. Throughout the course I had a go at film-work, animation, lino printing and model making, which were all really enjoyable and taught me a lot, but I find drawing and model-making the most rewarding.
What about computer-based work? That’s obviously where the commercial application of a lot of Art & Design lies so how deep into that realm did you go?
I didn’t go too deep into that really, I mainly used it to clean up and colour my drawings. I worked with computers for a bit whilst doing animation and video work too.
What about in terms of artists or ideas that you came into contact with through being in that academic environment? Did you have any ‘whoa!’ moments with any particular artists/ideas and if so, why those particular ones?
There was one in particular that really got me stoked! His art persona is ‘Seth’ but his actual name is Gregory Gallant. He’s a New York based illustrator who created a comic called ‘Palookaville’. In it, there’s a place called Dominion City, which he also turned into a huge 3D model. This really inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and try something totally unusual to me. My final project was based on this practice and I’ve recently started doing more model making now that I’ve got a little studio space set up at home!
So you leave Uni with a qualification in Art & Design – what happens next? Did you pursue any employment routes in that area or not?
I didn’t apply for anything art-based straight out of Uni, no. I was working part-time at Welcome throughout Uni, which I continued to do and have been working here as Store Manager for the last four years or so. I get a bit of art-based work here and there, which is a nice extra on the side!
You’ve done a fair bit of commissioned work within the UK skateboard world though, right?
I think the first drawing job I got out of Uni was from Nic Powley actually! He just hit me up with an idea for a drawing based on an old Black Label graphic, which I was really into. He couldn’t give me much information about it at the time but it turned out to be a logo for his shop, Skate Pharmacy when it first opened. I had no idea what it was for at the time, so it’s cool to see my drawing on a bunch of different merch and being repped by a load of rad skaters. I’ve also worked with Welcome, The Works Skatepark and Subvert, making posters and t-shirt/board designs. Oh, and a t-shirt for Heathen too! I’d love to do more like this, I just need to put myself out there a bit more and not be scared to ask…
You’ve done some work for other local independent businesses outside of skateboarding too, haven’t you? How did that come about?
Ash, one of the owners of Welcome Skate Store, also used to be a part of a bar in Leeds called A Nation of Shopkeepers, so he hooked me up with some work drawing on the walls in there. I’d never worked to that scale before so that was fun. I’ve also done something similar on the walls of Tall Boys Beer Market, but that’s pretty much it outside of the skateboarding world to date.
How do you approach each project? Do you have a set way of working with particular methods, or do you just make it up as you go along?
I definitely have my own set ways of working. With drawing I pretty much always have to work using references – I don’t get how people can draw from their head; it just doesn’t work for me. I’ll get a basic version drawn out in pencil, then go over it in pen and add detail. Then I’ll whack it through Photoshop and Illustrator to clean it up a bit, maybe add colours and adjust the layout etc. Model making is pretty similar again really, but a lot more time consuming.
What are your weapons of choice in terms of pens etc and why?
I pretty much always use the Uni Pin fine-liners. I get a nice, solid line out of them and they don’t bleed out and smudge like others do. With model making I’ll use paints, markers, chalks etc. to make better textures on a larger scale.
The term ‘skate artist’ almost carries a negative connotation these days I think, so with that in mind – how would you describe your artistic persona?
Pun-trepreneurial Artisté/Doodle Casual.
Obviously being a skater you’ve been surrounded by a very specific culture of imagery and graphic art – who would you say has had an influence on you and what is it about them that has influenced what you draw now?
Reading about artists in the Document +1 magazines back in the day definitely influenced me to study art within higher education – especially Richard ‘French’ Sayer! The subject of my work now has changed quite a bit since then. Now I prefer to draw things that are nostalgic to me, and anything that will make people laugh – usually a whack pun! At the moment I’m into anything by Gonz, Porous Walker, Todd Francis, Henry Jones, Brother Merle – there are loads!
What about current skate-related stuff – which brands are producing stuff that is ‘bum’ and why?
The Dime guys are definitely killing it at the moment. They do a t-shirt with a T-Rex skating a banana. Krooked do the best board graphics though! Real good colours and weird drawings!
Is there an ‘art scene’ in Leeds that you’re involved in, or is it more a case of you and Dave taking the piss out of people who come in the shop by scribbling them?
RWTB! A bunch of the crew I skate with have their own creative thing going on, so I guess that’s a little art scene I’m involved in. We had an exhibition not so long ago, which was cool – lots of different practices coming together with a joint love of RWTB!
The model you made of the Leeds Uni bank is included in the photos for this – tell us a bit about the process of making that please – how gnarly were you with scale and making it an exact replica etc?
I try and make all my models as to-scale as possible, but don’t go too crazy trying to get them absolutely perfect. I start off just drawing out the shapes onto old cereal boxes in a flat-pack style, add on the detail then cut them out, fold them and glue them into place. It’s really enjoyable taking something that I’d usually just draw and making it into something different.
Close quarters in your eye nosepick. Photo Reece Leung
Have you made any others like that?
I made a start on the Pig and Whistle bank spot in Leeds, but that one broke when I moved house. I’m planning on doing a little series of spots though!
Also – catapults? Are you moving into the world of artisan-weapon making, or are they just something you enjoy making for your own satisfaction?
I just decided to make one for myself one day and it was fun to do totally from scratch, so I ended up making a few!
What is the purpose of Art from your perspective Martyn? Does it have meaning beyond being nice/interesting to look at?
I personally just do it because I enjoy it! People make art for different reasons and it’s such a broad and varied subject that can be perceived in so many different ways.
If you had a time machine and could go back to any point in skate history and be the guy who created a particular graphic or skate-related piece of art – who’s glory would you want to steal and why?
I’d travel all the way back to 2011 and be the guy that made the Michael Jackson ‘BAD’ graphic for Craig Smedley’s pro board for Nise Skateboards.
Give us a run down of some of your favourite graphics and explain why please?
That’s a tough one because it’s always changing and there’s so many! Here’s some that spring to mind at the moment:
Krooked – There are a few different versions of this, but I just think it’s clever how the faces are all linked!
Cardiel – All of the Anti Hero graphics by Lance are sick, but the arms on this one are perfect!
Polar – Wizards eating chimney-smoked human steaks in space: what more could you ask for?
Reamers – Raemers, Partridge and scratch-off graphic all in one!
Do you have any advice to anyone out there considering following a similar academic route to your own Martyn?
Don’t bother if you want a proper job!