Ron Cameron is one of the most prolific and influential artists and designers to have come out of skateboarding culture in the last 30 years.
And yet, compared to celebrated contemporaries such as Templeton and Gonz, who have a deservedly high profile name in skate art circles, Cameron has managed to fly somewhat under the radar.
It makes no sense at all when you look at the prolific output he has sustained throughout his lengthy career. Whether it’s art, design, graphics or commercial work for industry clients, Ron’s work is massively influential. You probably just don’t realise it.
As a result, trying to pigeonhole or define Cameron’s work is tricky. Ron describes himself as an ideas man, and it’s probably the description that suits him best.
There’s also the small matter of Cameron’s legendary skate career to factor in as well. He was one of the biggest early street pros, riding for companies such as Blockhead, Independent, Spitfire and Vans. Within months of riding for Blockhead, he was taking care of their design, art direction and graphics, helping to define the look of one of the most iconic brands of the era.
And so it continued throughout the 90s and early 2000s. During that time, Ron provided board graphics for H-Street, World Industries, Toy Machine, Krooked; assisted art direction for Big Brother and Transworld Skateboarding; and designed clothing, prints, ads and shoes for Vans, Etnies, Circa and Nike. Oh, and started clothing giant RVCA (the logo? It’s Ron’s), as well as creating logos and branding for many others such as the Vans Warped Tour. Yep. That’s Ron again.
Today, Cameron continues to inspire with his relentless outpouring of work – the latest example of which is his new book Nothing is Cool – the Perplexingly Rebellious Slacker Skateboard Graphics of Ron Cameron. We were fortunate enough to speak to Ron at length recently about music, art, and how creativity can take you ‘new uncharted territory and strange new lands…’
What came first for you? Art or skateboarding? Who were your early influences?
Probably art by a few years. I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. I started riding bikes around age 3. Hand-me-down Schwinns at first, until I bought my first brand new moto BMX-style bike aged 5 or 6, with my own money that I earned by collecting aluminum cans.
I got my first plastic skateboard for Christmas in 1976, a Grentec (GT) Spoiler. The next year I got an oak Banzai, the next year a Santa Cruz 5-Ply, and so on. This was all in the late 1970′s, so my influences as a kid were all over the place. I just liked anything wild, reckless and colourful. My first favorite movie was It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, because it looked like those old 1940s Warner Bros and Walter Lantz cartoons made into real life, especially Jonathan Winters in that jumpsuit and flipped up cap smashing down an entire gas station! I loved custom hot-rods and drag racing, I’d just discovered hard rock bands, first with KISS and Deep Purple, then Led Zep, AC/DC and Van Halen.
Art-wise I mostly was into old school cartoon illustrators like Don Martin from MAD Magazine, Chas Addams and Charles Schultz. I was also into Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Hanna Barbara cartoons on TV. The only real painter I knew about was Norman Rockwell. I must have noticed his art and mentioned him because I got a huge hardbound book of his art as a gift during that time. Developing my own style probably started with all the airbrush artwork on custom hot-rods and funny cars – that lettering and heavy metal cartoon style was some inventive stuff!
For me, music’s really closely linked to art and skating, whether the music itself, the energy of live gigs, album artwork or punk’s DIY ethos. How has and does music influence your work, skating and life?
Everything you just said – 100%! Without a doubt. I first learned about font styles around age 11 by mimicking the lettering from my mom’s record collection, mostly 50′s and 60′s jazz and easy listening artists. Great cover art! To this day I still scour record shops around the world, I’m always exploring new music that inspires. I’ve been collecting records since junior high for art and music inspiration. Over the past year I’ve turned a huge portion of that collection into developing a weekly radio show called The Way Out. But yeah, I see images in my head when creating, and music really helps with that. It takes you to new uncharted territory and strange new lands. The Personal section on my website has a great breakdown of music that influenced me over the years.
You’ve worked in different mediums and fields. Any favourites?
I just like designing and inventing, I’m not so much ‘an artist’ as an ideas person. It’s just the continual struggle to find outlets or venues for all the ideas I have swimming around in my head. 90% of the time I have no outlets. No one ever seems to understand what I’m trying to put out there, so most of it never sees the light of day. Probably because I have so many interests and keep reinventing myself, companies and investors see me as a loose cannon and have no idea what to expect from me. I mean what would you do with a person who loves painting, hand-lettering, graphic design, clothing design, writing, skateboarding, acting, murals, directing small films, building furniture and creating music?!
Who inspires you right now?
It goes in phases with each brand I start, or with the brand I’m helping at the time. Currently? Hmm. I’m usually stuck in the Way Back Machine looking at past creators. Especially with clothing – my main point of influence always returns to early 80′s thrift store punk culture, when we had to alter our cheap second-hand clothing by learning to use sewing machines. With skateboarding it’s hard, because most boards are heat-transfers now, which aren’t as collectable as real silk-screened boards.
In the past decade though, I’d say mostly music related. I liked what M.I.A. was doing with her cover art, fashion, and music. I also love this small record label called Ghost Box run by a music collector and designer named Julian House. All their cover art is right up my alley. Michael Sieben also does a great webisode thing on the Volcom internet channel.