Interview Martin Ander Photo

Interview with Martin “Mander” Ander, artist and professional illustrator from Sweden

April 23, 2021

You may know Mander from the Flip skateboards graphics he did during the mid-2010s, but the Swedish man made around three hundred board graphics for various brands since he started his career, in addition to creating illustrations for festival posters, music albums, magazines, and more. So let’s meet the artist and professional illustrator Martin Ander to learn more about his vision of skateboard art and how Ali Boulala introduced him with Flip.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a suburb right outside of Stockholm, it takes only twenty minutes by subway to go there and that’s where I started skating too.
When did you start skating?
I got my first skateboard in 1985, but that was just a small plastic board. Then in 1987, I bought a board so that’s when I started skateboarding for real.
How was the skateboarding scene there?
I always remembered skateboarding from when I was a kid seeing kids on the street doing it, bigger kids, even from the late 70s scene. I remember these older guys with long hair riding on these thin boards, like the old school boards. But I never understood that this was something that wasn’t popular at all at the time, I just thought it looked cool. So when I had a chance to get this plastic board, I was super excited. Back then, some people had a skateboard in the garage, it wasn’t really a scene. But in 1987, when that 80s boom came to Northern Europe, it just took a month, skateboarding was everywhere, every magazine had things about skateboarding, skateboarding was on television, this was the new fad. So then I was totally emerged into it, and pretty soon I started meeting other kids and I skated with the guys in my neighborhood and the guys in my school, and then someone said like, “Oh there’s a ramp in the other part of the suburb”. We went there but we had no idea where it was, but we found it and it wasn’t really a ramp, it was a super shitty street course with just a quarter pipe and just some pallets and a boardslide thing made out of wood. We weren’t really sure who built it so we were kind of scared like, “Who owns this? Is it okay for us to skate a bit?”, and some guys showed up. I’m still friends with some of them to this day and Magnus [Gyllenberg] who built it is the president of the Swedish Skateboard Association now.
Interview Martin Ander Quote 1
Was there any skateshops where you grew up?
In central Stockholm, a skateshop opened in 1988, called Street Style and run by Per Holknekt, he was pro for Tracker back in the day. They were really big, they had the contacts with all the big brands, so we quickly got a really nice scene, pros came by, doing demos and stuff like that. The first time I went there, I didn’t dare to go in because it looked so cool, I just stood in the corner looking, but pretty quickly I went in and met everybody there and they’re still around as a distributor now.
So your father was a graphic designer, and your mom was working in print edition, becoming an illustrator and an artist was the only path you had, or you wanted to pursue another career?
Actually my parents were like, “It will be really hard to make a living out of drawing, so maybe you should think about doing something else”. When I was a kid, I thought my dad was just drawing for a living because when he was at home, he made political satire for a newspaper on weekends, but actually he was also an art director at an advertising agency. I was kind of a lost kid, so I never really had any interests or a plan on what to do but I always liked drawing so I just kept on drawing. When I got a little bit older, people started asking me if I could draw something and it’s just continued from that. I don’t have any education or anything like that. My oldest daughter is 17 and when she was born, I was like, “Now I really have to make this work”, so then it got serious, and I just thought I really gotta show what I can do so people would recognize that, and I can get paid for this. So these past 20 years have been a lot of work.
Interview Martin Ander Flip Series
When did you design your first skateboard deck?
I always been drawing, when I was a kid, I was drawing on my friend’s griptape and stuff like that, and me and my friend started a skateboard fanzine and I was doing the illustration. Then I started doing work for the skateshop and doing posters when they had like a sale or something. But around 1998 or something, I moved from Stockholm, I moved to different cities, I lived in Gothenburg for a while and when I came back, some of my old skate friends had quit, some of them were pro and some of them were starting companies. One of my friends had just started a company called Bellows and he asked me if I wanted to do a graphic for them, and I was like, “Yeah! This is what I want to do”, I always wanted to do graphics. I did a graphic and they were on a pretty big distribution in Sweden who had lots of other Swedish companies, so pretty quickly they clicked like, “Can you do graphics for us too?”, and that was it. The first year I worked with skateboard graphics, I did maybe twenty graphics or something, for Bellows, Sweet Skateboards, and a company from Finland called Seven Inch, that was in 2007.
How did you come up doing graphics for Flip Skateboards?
When Ali Boulala came back from his accident in Australia, he just started hanging out at the skatepark here in Stockholm and I started talking to him because I really wanted to do some work for a bigger company. So I asked him how it’s done, he had no idea, but I think he gave me Jeremy Fox’s email address. I emailed him, he answered me one month after, he was like, “Oh this is great, we really like your work. So when can you move here [in California]?”, and I was like, “I just bought a house, I got kids, I can’t move there”. So we started working just via Skype and sending emails forwards and backwards.

I made the first graphic for them in 2012, that was a whole series, one with a lot of bikes, where you see someone riding on the bike. I just had that idea for a long time because I was really into these biker and gang vests, I thought they looked cool. I got to make one [Tom] Penny and one [Geoff] Rowley graphic, which is pretty cool. I think they were happy with that graphic so I started doing another series and another series and another series. I did like four series a year during four or five years, it was lots of graphics and also lots of graphics that I’ve never really seen in the market, like for an event or something like the Curren Caples Push part. I even did a Monster Energy one, I don’t think that ever came out, it was kind of awful actually [laughs]. I worked with Flip for a while but at the same time I also did lots of graphics for Swedish and Scandinavian companies and when the Flip jobs started fading out, I was kind of cool with it because I wasn’t really into the direction Flip were going with their aesthetic
Interview Martin Ander Quote 2
Because you couldn’t express your creativity?
Something like that. Skateboard graphics doesn’t pay much at all so I wasn’t doing it for the money, I was doing it to get to do the skate graphics I want to see. I’m not really into reissuing old graphics with new names or drawing ideas that are not mine. So I figured out that I get equally pay for doing the small Swedish and Scandinavian companies graphics, or even more sometimes, and get to do exactly what I want. I thought maybe I just work with them instead, so I haven’t had any contact with Flip in many years but I still did about 150 graphics for them, which I’m really grateful for.
I noticed that for most of your skateboard graphics, the illustration is only between the wheelbase, is this something you do on purpose?
I like it better [laughs]. That’s probably because my awakening in skateboard graphics were the late 80s and early 90s, usually when graphics just were in the middle between the wheelbase and I kind of like it that way. I’m not a fan of graphics all over the board actually, I like to get some space around to focus on the graphic a little bit more. And it’s also the classic way, like the old Santa Cruz boards, I have the graphic in the middle, the logo on the tail, I kind of keep it to stay in that tradition. But I actually just released one graphic for a company I work a lot with now, called Chrononaut, and the graphic is over the whole board, it’s a little bit time consuming. But I don’t know, I really like the whole H-Street graphics with the graphics in the middle and you can see the wood stain on the tail. Bur I’ve only done about ten boards where you have wood stain showing, the clients usually don’t want it.
Interview Martin Ander Sweet Series
Do you use your skateboard graphics to convey a message or is it purely aesthetic?
I guess subconsciously, there’s always a message whatever you draw. I try to make some kind of joke, some kind of meaning to it, I want to have lots of things happening. When I was a kid and went into the skateshop, I looked at everything and it looked so cool and I was like, “Oh this is so cool, I don’t really understand what it is but it’s gotta mean something really cool”. You made up your own story about what it’s about. I really like making people building their own stories around an image, making things to look like it has some kind of meaning to it, but I don’t really have figured out an idea myself [laughs]. Get the kids wondering, this is what’s it’s all about you know.
I think I know your answer but do you prefer designing boards horizontally or vertically?
Oh you know the answer! I’ve done over 300 graphics and I think I made two or three that are horizontals.
Is there a reason for it?
I’ve always been interested in comics and I think the best page in a comic book is always the cover, with the text on top and the image and some details. That’s probably why I do it actually because it’s the way I think. I’ve always been into poster art too, and it’s also vertical, always with the name on top or down there and there’s an image. I kind of use the same way of thinking when I do skate graphics. But I’ve also been into graffiti for a long while and that’s always horizontal and I don’t know why that didn’t catch on really.
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Most of the skateboard graphics are verticals.
It’s just more aesthetically nice to have it like this, and you can have a nice focus point in the middle of the board. If you do it horizontally, you would have to read the whole thing, and on a photo it would be upside down lots of times, when you do a backside trick or a frontside trick.
So what’s your favorite board graphics you made?
It’s usually the latest one I’ve done, or there’s some graphics that I didn’t like when I made them for Flip and when I look at them now I’m like, “That’s actually pretty cool”. And some graphics that I loved when I made them, when I look at it now, I’m like, “Dude I should have done like this instead”. I really like some of the Chrononaut boards, but I’m kind of critical of myself so I can always find things I don’t like in the graphics even though I like the graphic as a whole.
Interview Martin Ander One Offs
Do you think that the short amount of time you can have sometimes to create a board graphic doesn’t allow you to take a step back?
Definitely, especially when I worked with Flip, they were always like, “Oh we need six graphics next week”. Everything was super quick so I couldn’t think much at all, I was just like, “Do it”.
Where did you find ideas in just a week?
I like doing one-off graphics more because you can put all your thoughts into one graphic and it doesn’t have to work with other things. By doing a series, it’s like, “Oh I came up with this really nice idea, now I have to come up with five similar ideas or things that I can put in the same frame” which is really hard. With team graphics, the series should belong together, the colors have to match each other, and also the riders have their different identities, like I need some skull for the David Gonzalez graphic and something happy for Louie [Lopez]. Sometimes it doesn’t match at all because I draw different things in different styles but I usually end up making it similar. I never really understood why graphics should be released in series all the time, I don’t really remember when that happened, when did it start happening. It must have been some early Chocolate graphics.
Maybe the street series or portrait series by Evan Hecox.
Everybody started doing it then, but I like the old way, the old Powell and Santa Cruz graphics, you were more focusing on the style or the aesthetic of the rider, like the Natas boards, he still uses the same building blocks for his graphics which I think is really cool.
Interview Martin Ander Quote 4
Because it represents more the skater vision and less the artist vision of the skater?
I think the artist vision of the skater could be really cool too to see but it’s boring to do when it’s just the company’s aesthetic, you’re just making a product to look like what this company is supposed to look like. Many companies use the same artist all the time, the artist and the company style merge together in some way. If Evan Hecox did graphics for anyone else, you would always think it’s a Chocolate board [laughs].
Skateboarding is really concentrated in the United States, and especially in California. Do you think it has been more difficult for you to find opportunities in skateboarding living in Europe?
Probably, I don’t really know because I haven’t been to the US since I was 15 or something. Nowadays with all the social media and emails and stuff, I think I would probably have the same opportunities as someone living there. Of course if I lived in Huntington Beach or something, it would be easier for me to get jobs in the industry and to know some pros and stuff. But it doesn’t really matter anymore because skateboarding is so global, and there’s so many local scenes. Sweden is a small country but we have maybe ten brands here and some of our Swedish brands sell all over Europe, Sour Skateboards are big and Polar is worldwide. It doesn’t really matter where you are I think but it’s good to know some key peoples in the industry.
Interview Martin Ander Chrononaut Series
Nowadays a lot of non-skaters use skateboards as a medium to do art and graphics, what do you think about this?
I think it’s really boring. First of all, I don’t understand why they do it. People mailing me like, “Hey, we are a company that makes wall boards”, it’s skateboards to put on the wall with some kind of street art looking graphic to it, this is so stupid. The skateboard graphics are made to make the skateboard look cooler but putting bad art on a skateboard is to make the art look cooler. I just don’t really understand why they do it. Also, all these non-skate artists using skate decks as a canvas, they have an exhibition with five canvases and three skateboard decks. I’m like, “- Do you skate? – No, but it’s cool because it’s on a skateboard”. I just don’t get it.

I like graphics that are made for the skateboard, I’m really against big companies just buying some license for a big intellectual property or whatever and just do graphics with its logo and characters, it’s not for the skaters, it’s for collectors or something. I understand why they do it but it doesn’t have anything to do with skateboard graphics. Skate graphics is a long art tradition, a tradition that has been around and evolved since the 70s. We have our own art scene and we don’t need to make money for the corporate machine or rich artists who have been dead for 40 years. I know some of the companies do this to raise awareness, to give money to some charities or something, which is of course really good, but people who don’t skate may be like, “Oh have you seen this Andy Warhol skateboard?”, I’m like, “I don’t care!”. I like Andy Warhol canvases but it doesn’t get better because it’s done on a skateboard. But when someone says like, “Oh there’s a new Sean Cliver board out”, it’s like, “Oh this is cool”. I’ve been into graffiti a lot since I’m youth, it’s the same thing there, “Oh look at this graffiti painted motorboat”, I’m like, “Why? That’s not what graffiti is about, it just looks tacky”. I’m not excluding non-skaters from doing skateboard graphics but I just want it to be done the right way.
So what are you working on right now? What are your projects for the coming months?
Right now I’m doing lots of work that I can’t talk about for non-skateboard things, outdoor brands stuff but it’s not really corporate, it’s kind of creative and fun and with really cool people. In the skateboard world, I’m doing lots of graphics for Chrononaut and I’m working on a graphic for a skate shop in Stockholm called Bradkultur, which is a Vans flagship store here. Also doing stuff for a sneaker chain store, some music album art, some magazine illustrations. Some people know me for my skate graphics, some people know me from poster work but I also do super traditional illustrations for magazines and stuff that most people don’t see. Hopefully, there will be festivals and concerts this year so I can get back to doing posters. And I’m also doing some workshops and lectures, so I’m gonna go away in the end of April to be guest teaching in art school for a couple of days. So a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
Check out more of Mander’s work on his website and on Instagram.