Words & Interview: Alex Khatchadourian
In Ed Syder's eyes, skateboarding and art are one and the same. The Sheffield, UK artist has been shaped indefinably by not only the act of skateboarding, but the visual art that surrounds ever aspect of it.
From Thrasher magazines and H Street videos, to Mike McGill decks, Syder was raised on a strict diet of what we now regard as some of the most legendary skate video parts and skateboard graphics. These visual components are what have fueled Syder's existing creativity, a multitude of illustrations, comics, books, and zines. Syder takes a discerning eye to all things graphic — thanks to his skateboarding ephemera obsession — and shapes his own vision cleanly, and as simply as possible, on the page.
We had a chance to catch up with Ed where he told us about the importance of print media in skateboarding, creating a book devoted to Natas and Gonz, and who the older, cool surfer guy in his pieces is.
You’re a skateboarding fanatic, can you recount the your first interaction with skateboarding? How were you introduced?
I saw a Mike McGill deck hanging on the wall of a BMX shop and couldn't stop looking at it. This was probably in 1988. I got a cheap setup that Christmas and I was away.
Tell me about your motley cast of characters that are at the center of your work. Who are they? Where do you draw from to create them? Are they real people in your life?
I'm aiming for simplicity, so I'm always redesigning them. They're not based on any particular person, more a mix of various people. There's always an older, cool surfer guy. He's based on people I knew growing up in Cornwall.
Where do you think your overall aesthetic and drawing style comes from most?
I get a real buzz from getting it as perfect as I can on the page. So I get quite obsessed about neatness. I draw quite big so I can let my arm move around quite freely in the page. I grew up with skateboard graphics and later on was drawn to comics like Love & Rockets and Eightball. I see it all as problem solving, like how can I get this idea I've had across to people as simply as possible?
With everything seemingly being published digitally, what's the importance of your work in the physical form (books, zines, posters)?
I'm old fashioned and don't really feel that things really exist unless you can hold them. It feels like you've actually completed something when it's printed and you've got it there to show people. I collect skateboard ephemera, old records, in fact I just bought a load of old skate mags on eBay.
When you’re making a zine or putting together a book, what type of process do you go through from concept to putting it all together, choosing a cover and presenting it?
Put it this way, I'm always drawing front covers, so I keep going until I've done the best one I can at the time. All of the other covers are what makes up the inside pages. The book I put out about Natas and Gonz started out as an idea to make a kids book about those two skaters. Then I thought of asking a couple of people to do some art for it. Then it just spiraled into having a book with contributions from about 30 artists.
In your opinion, what’s the importance of print media in skateboarding?
It's really important to me. I still have all of my old mags from the 80s and 90s. They're my treasured possessions! Maybe it has less of a meaning to kids skating today. I don't know if kids today will feel nostalgic about that 90-second video clip on YouTube in 20 years. Maybe it's better that they won't.
What’s your personal favorite era of skateboarding and the media surrounding it?
It's the stuff from when I was younger, so Thrashers and Transworlds from the late 80s and early 90s. Skate videos and their soundtracks from back then were gateways into me being obsessed with music. I heard all of those SST bands and punk rock in things like Wheels Of Fire and the H-Street videos.
What do you think are the greatest challenges of being an independent artist?
It took me a long time to feel confident enough to actually feel like I deserved to get paid for doing this. There's a hell of a lot of people that expect you to work for free. I have to work as a teacher sometimes and I do art workshops to keep my head above water. But things are getting better for me right now.
Why do you think art is important to skateboarding, and vice versa?
I think they're one and the same. I saw someone skateboarding down the street before I saw a skateboard graphic. But once I'd seen both, that was it for me. The visual art that goes with skating will hook you in. I can just quickly scan a magazine, or a shop display and know if something interests me. I think skateboarding media has taught me that or at least fine-tuned that skill. Sometimes I hear some people talking, saying things like "I don't know what I like," and I just know they're not skaters. Skaters know what they fucking like!
How would you describe your art?
That's not my problem.
If you could explore any other art form what would it be?
I'd like to do some model making or sculpture one day. I'd like to turn some of these characters into toys or vinyl figures. I'd also like to do some animation. My time is pretty limited right now (my wife and I have a 19-month old son) and what I do takes time, so I'm in no hurry.