Interview Ben Petersen Photo 1

Interview with Ben Petersen, graphic designer at Girl and Chocolate Skateboards

January 14, 2021

Chocolate recently released the Plantasia series featuring Yonnie Cruz, Vincent Alvarez, Steve Perez and Kenny Anderson. We talked to Ben Petersen, the artist who did this series, to learn more about his creation, his job as a graphic designer at Girl, the Chocolate genesis and legacy, and having Mike Carroll and Rick Howard as bosses.
How did you get hired by Girl as a graphic designer?
I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I lived there, I was working with this dude [Eric “Gordy” Gorvin] who is the art director at Girl right now, and he’s just a great guy. He’s always looked out for me and just had been my creative mentor. I moved up to Los Angeles at the end of 2018, a year into me trying to find work out here and he’s like, “Hey there is a spot opening up, I think you should apply”, and I was like, “All right, great, I’m not gonna do anything but just focus on it”. So, I tried doing some designs for them and show that I’m able to think like that. I don’t know, I got super lucky. I mean, I wouldn’t be here without him. It was because of him. I knew somebody, and it ended up working out you know. I definitely tried my best to always make stuff that I like. It’s so much fun working there.
Did you study art at university?
Yeah, I went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, in Minnesota. It was a good school. Actually, Gordy went there. We barely crossed over but when I was there, I saw him and all of his friends, and the art they were making, I did my best to talk to these guys. And I tried to learn from them, it’s been a journey.
Interview Ben Petersen Quote 1
Interview Ben Petersen Quote 1
How is it to work with Mike Carroll and Rick Howard?
That’s super cool. I love that so much. I kind of fanned out, I just get so excited, and it was hard to be like, “Ok this is your boss, you gotta respect him that way”. But it’s amazing because there is a skatepark in the warehouse. So, during lunch, I’d go out and skate and sometimes they would come and skate. It feels normal now, but it’s exciting, super exciting because they are like, “You should try this, you should try that” or “nice kickflip” or whatever, it’s sick! They are the nicest dudes. I think Mike Carroll is known to be kind of weird, and he totally is. But in a coolest way. They are awesome. It’s crazy that I get to work with them. I feel so blessed.
And let’s not forget about Megan Baltimore and Spike Jonze.
Absolutely! I’m really grateful for everything Megan does. Covid has been crazy here, she kept me on and did everything she could to keep everybody together. I really appreciate it. She is an amazing person. But it’s also just incredible the stories out here, about all they’ve been through. And they’re closing in on their 30th year as a company. She’s been through so much crazy shit with those dudes! I love it. You know, running a company as a skateboarder, it’s mind-boggling. And Spike Jonze is such a big part of the brand and how much fun Girl and Chocolate are. Because every video they put out, there is some super creative, like state-of-the-art technology. They still got the Yeah Right boards, the ones that were spray painted in green and they are sitting on the wall. I haven’t skated one but it’s so cool to see those. There are so many artefacts from skateboarding here. It’s amazing, there is like a museum, you could have a museum of just Girl and Chocolate. And sometimes I’d be taking my products photography shots, and happen to move something and I be like, “Oh my gosh, look at this photo” from whatever crazy event they had or some video they put out, it is history for sure.
Chocolate Plantasia Series
You did the Chocolate Plantasia series that was released two months ago. How did you come up with the idea of flowerpots?
So I’ve been working with these markers that are wide and I was into calligraphy. I was playing with these and I heard this one album by Mort Garson from the 1970s, it was called Plantasia. It was music for your plants. It’s like music for happy plants to grow or something. I was just playing with these and I started making those kinds of flowers. It was just something that happened. You know, working at Girl and Chocolate, you gotta figure out all these different art concepts and this is something I do all the time, I enjoy doing, and it feels pretty Chocolate.
This series is pure Chocolate flavor seriously!
I love hearing that because, there is Evan Hecox, there is Carlos Gutierrez, he’s working in-house, he’s been there for so long. Both of those dudes have given Chocolate a voice and their own authentic style. For me, I was excited that this could be a part of the Chocolate brand and have another series where you see the flowers in it that will always feel authentically Chocolate.
Chocolate Plantasia Yonni Cruz Top Graphic
The Yonnie Cruz deck with the white top side is as cool as the bottom graphics.
I know right. Somebody one day, I think it was Carlos, he was like, “You should make the top of the ply white because I did it on his last board, we should just keep it going”. I think it’s cool that that one skater has that one creative idea on all their skateboards. You would just flip and through, and you say, “Yeah this is the Yonnie one with the white top”.
Girl is one of the most respected skateboard companies. Is it more pressure in your work?
I feel a lot of pressure that I put on myself and I definitely want to make everybody happy. In the beginning, when I was starting to share ideas, I definitely felt the pressure. But since then, I just try to keep it natural. There has been a lot of ideas, a lot of concepts, board series that I’ve created, and they just pull them out at the last minute, and I’m like, “I gotta come back better next time”. There is definitely pressure but it’s not a bad pressure, it’s a good pressure that kind of inspires me to be better myself. And as a work environment, I don’t feel too pressured to do anything outside of just create. We’re given time to think and experiment as long as we make deadlines. It’s very freeing, it can be overwhelming, but I do love it. There is a lot of artists that have worked for Girl and Chocolate that are so inspiring to me. Andy Jenkins, Andy Mueller, Tony Larson…They’re just so talented and it’s cool to be in a place that has that history of amazing artists that have been there before you. There are people that I don’t even know about that I’ve been inspired by.
Interview Ben Petersen Quote 2
Interview Ben Petersen Quote 2
But Chocolate is where it is now because of Evan Hecox I guess.
It is! I totally agree. Evan Hecox is kind of the guy responsible for the entire look of Chocolate. I’m trying to figure out how I can become like that for Chocolate, but Hecox is the man. He did that effortless chunk and it just became the logo, it’s so beautiful. To me at least. I’m not from Southern California but I think Chocolate really speaks to the culture here, the way Hecox would do portraits of the city [of Los Angeles], different parts of the city, different kinds of sights he sees. Then likewise Carlos, the main Chocolate artist right now. He’s been born and raised here so he knows this place better than anybody. The culture here, I feel it’s what Chocolate is you know. And it’s weird for me because I’m not from here but I kind of tapped into that.
Some Girl and Chocolate series have four, seven, nine decks… What is the process to choose the number of boards for a particular series?
I don’t know the way that process works. I made five skateboards for a series and that’s the highest number I’ve ever done. But it’s a Gordy question. I think it has to do with what sells the most and also maybe him as the art director, he’s like, “I know how you work, how fast your work and we got to get this out so maybe let’s focus on three decks or four decks”. That could be it you know. I think the skaters that people want the most, they’re gonna get more boards.
Interview Ben Petersen Photo 2
A lot of small skate companies or crew companies have been created lately. How does it impact Girl and Chocolate in their graphics? Especially with the young generation of skaters.
That’s a tough question, I don’t know if I have the real answer to it. When I make graphics for Girl, there are more OG or the doll centric, this is what sells. The art kind of comes secondary there. I think a lot of kids are into Baker these days, FA, Hockey…
Well, thanks for chatting!
Thanks to you. Thanks to everybody at Girl and Chocolate. Thank you to skateboarding because I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without it. I don’t know, that sounds kind of corny. Also, the last thing I wanna say is that I love my dog Joni!
Check out more of Ben Petersen’s work on Instagram.