Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards

Interview with Joshua Clements, Art Director at Thank You Skateboards

June 27, 2024

Thank You Skateboards was created by pro skaters Torey Pudwill and Daewon Song in 2018. Then we had a great time chatting with Joshua Clements, Art Director at Thank You Skateboards, from Long Beach, California, to learn more about the brand and how he helped develop its vision while capturing the youthful essence of skateboarding with his graphics.
You’re the Art Director at Thank You Skateboards but you also design graphics for Grizzly Griptape, how did you meet Torey Pudwill?
I’ve known Torey for a little over six years and his wife and I went to art school together in San Francisco. We kind of knew each other back then and several years later she contacted me and she was like: “My boyfriend wants to start a skate brand”, and I was like: “Well, who’s your boyfriend?”, she told me it was Torey Pudwill and I was like: “Interesting!”. So I literally came to his house and he gave me the pitch on his vision of what he wanted to create. He said that I was the man that he wanted to work with and so immediately from there, we were basically partners and we created everything from the ground up. We made the first graphics, the first boards ourselves, we went and did all the heat presses down in San Diego.
What was your reaction when his girlfriend told you it was Torey Pudwill and that he wanted to work with you?
It was a trip! It’s so funny because when I came over to his house, he literally had this whiteboard of all of these scribbles on it. I remember he had a list of the team that he wanted and I remember seeing a big ‘Daewon Song’ up there, I was like: “Okay, he’s really serious about this stuff”. He was actually trying to build something substantial for himself, he got to business the same way he does to skateboarding, he’s so locked in and so focused on everything he has to do.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Graphics 1
Do you know why he chose you?
I think he asked his girlfriend at the time, they’re married now, and was like: “I want to start this board brand, do you know any artists or illustrators?”, and I think she was like: “Well, here’s my friend and he does exactly what you’re looking for”. I was already working in street wear, designing apparel for brands like The Hundreds or Primitive Skateboards. I worked for them for a long time before I started working with Torey on Thank You and Grizzly, which is also part of his universe. I’ve even done work for Red Bull too. He kind of absorbed me into his world.
How is it to work with him?
He pretty much gives me the green light on anything I want to do creatively. That’s another big aspect about working with him is that he has such a high level of trust with me and with the brand. He’s always like: “If you like it, I like it, let’s do it!”.
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He indeed picked the right person then.
I have no idea how it came to be what it is but I’m so happy that it all has worked out the way it has. I feel so fortunate and so humbled it was the talent that I was given and that I’m able to use it to have a career. A lot of people aren’t that lucky. And one thing I love about our entire operation at Thank You is that it’s all grassroots and all homies, we all know each other. Torey and I are legitimate friends, we work closely with each other, we print the boards in house. I always wanted to be a part of something independent like that because I used to do video games in San Francisco before, I’m originally from there, and it was really fun and it was kind of my introduction into art but it was very regimented. I got to be there on time and I was responsible for all these other things, whereas now it is just me and Torey and I get to work directly with him and it’s our creative ideas.
So what’s your background with skateboarding?
I was always into skateboarding especially in high school, all of my friends skated. I was big into things like City Stars and Alphanumeric and Alien Workshop and all these other really cool brands. I was obsessed with Blind Skateboards and World Industries as well. The Wet Willy stuff really influenced me, but one of the main things that got me where I am today was watching the Tom Green Show on MTV. I remember he [Tom Green] got invited by Tony Hawk to go to the Birdhouse warehouses in an episode and they wanted to make a guest model for Tom. They showed the process of making the board with the artist drawing the graphic, and I was like: “That’s what I want to do, that looks so cool!”. That episode was really influential to me, I didn’t realize that people could design skateboards or t-shirts.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Graphics 2
Was this episode a turning point for your career?
Actually my parents were super influential on me, really encouraging me. They were like: “Hey, you can make a career out of this”. I didn’t realize that people did that professionally, it’s fun to do art on the side and things like that as a hobby, but actually making a career and living off of that kind of stuff was just mind blowing to me.
How would you describe the art direction of Thank You?
We’ve always wanted to keep it fun and keep it light and not take ourselves too seriously. I mean, I’m not trying to knock any other brands or anything but I feel like there’s a very seriousness to skateboarding right now especially in the graphics. That’s totally cool, there’s a lot of that stuff out there that I think is really awesome but I think that some of that stuff is particular to those brands, whereas with Thank You, I always saw us more like Enjoy and World Industries and these funner brands.
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What’s the story behind the smiling cloud logo?
It was a vision that came to me, I don’t even know exactly how that came about. I think it was because the whole premise of the brand was: ‘Thank you’, we’re trying to give back to skateboarding, we’re trying to focus on the generations that came before that got us to where we are now, which is why we’ve done so many retrospectives on old graphics with guest riders. We’re always trying to pay homage to everything that’s come before us. But the whole point of the brand was to keep the fun in skateboarding, keep it light and part of a youthfulness. So I always thought of daydreaming and having your head in the clouds all the time, that’s where that imagery came from.
Was the logo your idea or Torey’s idea?
Torey is definitely involved with creative stuff but the majority of the foundational stuff is pretty much from me.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Graphics 4
Do you use your art to convey a message or is it purely aesthetic?
I think I lean more towards the aesthetic type of thing and I’m really trying to capture a lot of the fun and youthful essence that is skateboarding. Skateboarding will always be a youth-driven sport, it’s in its DNA. I feel like a lot of people who are older are still skating because it gives them that youthful exhilaration. So I’m more about the motif and the energy of the brand.
How involved are Torey Pudwill, Daewon Song and the other riders in the design process?
This has always been a little bit like a tug-of-war, because I want to make graphics that they’re excited about and that they want to ride and that they want to promote, but at the same time they aren’t artists, they aren’t art directors. I don’t tell them how to skate you know, it’s not really their responsibility to tell me what to create or what to draw, but when I am designing these graphics, I do want to focus on their personalities and what represents them. We have Danny Hamaguchi who’s from Hawaii, he’s very Hawaii centric and so I really want to capture some Hawaiian stuff for him. David [Reyes] is this kind of urban cowboy from Denver, kind of thrash, he likes these metal bands and stuff. And Daewon’s got that old school hip-hop style. Each rider has their own little aesthetic, their own little capsule of who they are, so whenever I’m designing for them, I’m always thinking about their personalities and who they are, what the board is going to represent because they have their name on it. It can’t be like: “Well, I just found this graphic and I’m going to put your name on it”.
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What has been the most exciting thing you’ve worked on for the brand so far?
We did the Dae-Won Hundred, and we’ve been a part of bigger projects, like we helped build a skate park in Montego Bay, in Jamaica. That’s great seeing all that feedback and seeing the progress of the skate park, it’s amazing. But personally, it’s when we got our boards in the new Tony Hawk game [Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2], this a pretty big deal, that’s pretty cool. Tech Deck is another thing too, every once in a while, I’ll get a text message and somebody will be like: “I’m in Target [a store in America] and I saw your toys”, that blows my mind.
What about your favorite graphics you created for Thank You?
I don’t know, I’d have to go back through all the graphics but the one that pops into my head right away is the Flintstones graphics, it was one of the first ones we did. I really had fun doing something cartoony for the brand. I liked how those came out and how they looked, it was early early on. Those were really fun to me I feel.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Graphics 3
In the middle the Stoneage 2-deck series inspired by The Flintstones
Do you keep all the boards you design?
I have a small archive but it gets really heavy when you get a lot of boards [laughs]. We actually have a warehouse in Simi Valley, California, and Torey calls it the Vault, it’s kind of a laboratory, that’s where Torey and I make all these graphics. He’s a literal mad scientist in there, he’s trying out these graphics with different foils and types of cutouts. We have a Youtube video called The Vault and you can see Torey going through all of his little frankenstein creations that he’s made and he really gives a full showing of what he likes to do with the designs I’ve already created.
What makes a good skate graphic for you?
I think for me it’s detail. Little details like easter eggs, where it’s something in the graphic that’s sort of particular either to the brand or to the storytelling, that’s adding a little bit more of the punchline. I like to hide our little cloud logo in a bunch of graphics. I like graphics that have depth to them basically.
What about reinterpreting a skate graphic? Like the Flip Cheech and Chong graphic for example.
I tried to keep it as pure to the original one as possible, like it has the same layouts, their hat colors always match Cheech and Chong. There is something in the aesthetic about the original, whether it’s good or bad, that has essence to it. So whenever I’m trying to do some reappropriation or something like that, I always try to keep the same art style, even if you wouldn’t have designed it the same way that they did, I keep the essence of it because that’s what made it special in the first place.
So do you prefer designing vertical or horizontal board graphics?
I always almost do vertical but I don’t know why that is, I never really thought about doing more decks horizontal. I mean, when they are hanging in the shop, they’re usually horizontal but then when people hang them on the walls, they only want them vertical I guess.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Quote 4
I feel like 99% of the people I’ve talked to about it prefer vertical too. I guess we have the vision of a series hung up on the wall or the way you hold your board by the nose when you skate.
Yeah I never really thought about that, I guess you’re right. I should start doing some more horizontal, I should switch it up and do a whole full horizontal series [laughs].
Do you look out for other skate brands to find inspiration?
I try not to but I’ve been doing it more recently, it’s probably better to see what else is out there and see what the trends are. My main fear is that I don’t want to be influenced by other people. Sometimes while I start designing something, I’ll be like: “Why am I designing this?”, it’s because all week I’ve been seeing these images and that’s why it’s being portrayed this way. So I try not to but at the same time I can’t help it because I like skateboarding and I like to see what they’re making.
Interview with Joshua Clements Art Director at Thank You Skateboards Graphics 5
The Buddies boards inspired by the Flip Cheech and Chong graphic at the bottom
What is your favorite board graphic ever?
What’s popping up in my head right now are all the Wet Willy/Flameboy stuff, because they had such a fun Spy vs. Spy kind of thing. I’ve always liked that because they had a lot of creativity to them. I can’t really think of one specific graphic off the top of my head but that was really influential to me. It was kind of revolutionary, nobody else was doing that at the time, but then it got so blown out and now it’s super commercial.
So what’s next for Thank You?
We’re about to drop our summer stuff. Me and Torey are also working on some new licensing deals, we might be working with some other bigger brands. I’ve been trying to encourage Torey to do more collaboration stuff because we’ve been around for six years but that’s still nothing, we haven’t really dabbled in a lot of these other collaborations, like working with other skate brands and other hardware companies. Now that we’ve kind of built our brand up, it’s the time for us to pull the trigger on all that. But in November, it’ll be our seven year anniversary and we’re planning on dropping cool things!
Check out more of Joshua Clements’ work on instagram.