In his father's footsteps

Jimbo Phillips, son of legendary artist Jim Phillips, talks skate graphics, rock posters and what influences his art.

This year marks four decades since Santa Cruz Skateboards was established, a boast that no other skate company can make. But the truth is, it wasn't until 1974, when they hired artist Jim Phillips, the man who would graphically design the look and feel for the brand that exists to this day, that Santa Cruz really took shape. His contributions to the skateboarding landscape with classics like "The Slasher" and "The Screaming Hand" forever changed the way skateboard graphics were thought of.

It's rare to make such an impact once, let alone twice, in a lifetime, but that's just what Phillips did when he brought his only son, Jimbo Phillips, into this world. Jimbo followed in his father's footsteps and adopted the very distinct family look and feel. When he turned 18 Jimbo got his first paying art gig for Santa Cruz, and he continued working for them in the late '80s. He took a hiatus from the brand in the '90s but returned in 2000 and has been creating graphics for them ever since.

At 43 years old, Jimbo is still reinventing the brand we've known and loved for the past 40 years while always tipping his hat to his father's past creations. We recently caught up with Jimbo to learn about his humble beginnings and to see what he's been up to lately. How did you first get into drawing? Did your dad push it on you?
Jimbo Phillips:
No, it was just part of our family's thing. My dad was always drawing and it's kind of natural that you want to do what your dad does. I didn't have any brothers or sisters, so I had a lot of time to myself to draw weird stuff.

Artist Jimbo Phillips

When you started, did you want to draw like your old man or did you not want to be like him at all?
I definitely was attracted to what he was doing. I never really banked on doing it as a career, except in the back of my mind, because he always warned me of the pitfalls of being a starving artist. As I got older it seemed better and better.

Did you have lean years? Or did you get to skip that because of who your old man is?
I did have some lean years, but having him pave the road for me helped a lot, for sure. He had already established a name and a look, it definitely helped early on.

I think he was highly unappreciated early on. A lot of his stuff was ahead of his time. People really appreciate it now, but back then it wasn't as appreciated. Now that it's stood the test of time, people really regard it highly.

Can a kid live off of just doing skateboard graphics? When I started out I was a comic-book writer, but quickly dropped that as soon as I learned I'd starve to death in that profession.
I think there's certain gigs you can get that pay the bills, but they're far and few between. And there's a lot of competition for those jobs, so if you're going to be just an underground skateboard artist, it's probably really tough to make a living at it.

I'm lucky enough that I cover a couple different genres so I can spread it out. I have skateboarding, surfing, music and between all those areas it fills in all the gaps.

You started working for Santa Cruz in the late '80s, and they were around long before that. What do you think it is about Santa Cruz that allows them to weather every trend and era in skateboarding?
I think one part of it is their history in skating. They've been around for 40 years now, so their longevity makes them iconic. And I think my dad really established a strong graphic style that stood apart from most companies back then, and now that there's a whole new generation appreciating those graphics with all the reissues and everything, it really has shown that it can stand the test of time with its classic vibe. With all those elements, I think it helps propel them along, plus they have really good products as well.

"The Screaming Hand" has gone through a huge resurgence in recent years. Is your dad sick of drawing it?
Actually, he's not. He's embraced it as his stamp and his claim to fame and he's really enjoying it and is stoked to have something that has had that much impact.

How often do people confuse you and your dad?
That happens a lot, especially with the names. My friends started calling me Jimbo and that helped separate us, but people still get confused.

People think I drew "The Screaming Hand" or "The Slasher" and vice-versa. Most people that are in tune with it know what's going on, but I definitely get asked that a lot.

Who are some current skate artists that you like?
I like Bobby Brown, some of the Creature stuff, Zero stuff; there's definitely good graphics being done. There's a lot of logotype -- simple stuff, too -- but I think skate graphics really perpetuate the radical, anything-goes art on the bottom.

When I was growing up the graphic had to jump off the rack to make me want that board, and so many companies nowadays are going with these very generic, logo-driven, uninspired graphics. How do you feel about that new direction?
I don't like it that much, but I understand it. It's more brand driven than individual-graphic driven these days. Kids want the new P-Rod board regardless of whatever graphic is on it; it could just be his name in block letters and they're going to buy it. But I think there's always kids that are drawn to the crazy, bright colors and graphics and cool artwork. I think there's always going to be a market for that stuff.

A lifetime ago Neil Blender said, "Haven't we had enough skull graphics?" Here we are decades later, still doing skull graphics. Will we ever have enough skull graphics?
I don't think so. As much as they've been done, I think skulls are just one of those cool things that there's always a new way to approach it and it's a bada** image. There's not many things in this world that are that bada**. I don't think it's ever going to go away completely.

What do you have coming up in 2013?
We just did the "Skate Trash" app that just took off and we're looking to add more content and add other pro riders that are going in the game, like David Gonzales, Lizard King and a bunch of guys. I got some new skate graphics coming out on Santa Cruz for Emmanuel Guzman, Justin Strubing and Shuriken Shannon. I have some helmets coming out on Bell Helmets, and I'm trying to get my book finished up. I can't promise any release date, but it's in the works.

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