The Character: Andy Jenkins
The creative mind behind 20 years of iconic skate deck imagery
His office, maintained in its current form, would be a perfect addition to The National Museum of Skateboarding History, should one ever exist. Stacks of current and former skate decks, some of which he's designed, all of which he's touched. Filing cabinets full of original sketches and concepts, some dating back to the company's beginnings and others further back into his comics, zine and BMX magazine days. The shelves are full of art books and old skate mags, his dirt bike racing trophies and shoe collaborations; old music posters and various trinkets he's obtained over the course of 20 years as the art director of one of skateboarding's most respected board brands. And then there's the inspiration wall: cluttered with old photos of family, pictures of his son, sketches of baseball legends Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, and more music and skateboarding pieces. It all feels so disjointed, but it perfectly encapsulates the life and mind of the man sitting behind the computer monitor, Mr. Andy Jenkins.
Bespectacled and grey-bearded, at first glance he doesn't strike you as one of the most influential artists skateboarding has to call its own, but walk the halls of Girl or The Berrics and talk to the men and women who are in the know, and they'll convey just how much a boy from Wyoming means to the culture.
"Art's place in skateboarding is huge, because... it's graphics. Board graphics are really memorable. When you were growing up, all the pros you looked up to you associated with a specific board graphic – and that's the part of skateboarding brought to life by guys like Andy," said Eric Koston, who's worked with Andy since Girl opened its doors in the early '90s. "He's more legendary than some pros who've come and gone because of the impact he has had and continues to have on the history of skateboarding."
Jenkins took a roundabout path to his current status as royalty in skateboarding. While skating was a part of his childhood, growing up in an Air Force family, he was constantly moving and access to parks or even concrete wasn't always an option, so he turned to other pursuits. Through it all, art was the true constant.
Art wasn't something that was introduced to him as much as it was a part of his DNA.
"It was sort of all around me, really. My dad was an artist – he would come home from work as an Air Force mechanic and hunker down in his studio to paint and draw. Mostly Western scenes in watercolor or pen and ink," Jenkins recalled. "He had tons of art books and I used to just peruse them and try to copy the drawings. But the thing that really made me gravitate towards art was a specific project from my 4th grade art class. We cut out linoleum blocks and printed them. I remember mine being a rabbit. The teacher really liked it and pinned a print on the wall. It's hard to imagine, but right there I had the inkling I was headed towards art in some way or another."
While not a "hardcore" skater in those early years, it was a culture, or then-subculture, that he admired, and one that molded the person he would ultimately become. As he says, it "accentuated my personality and brought me out of my shell – all those clichés… it broadened my horizons. Sounds goofy, but it's the truth.
"When I started skating, I started really opening up and listening to punk and new wave, playing in a noise band, checking out abstract expressionism, making zines... For some reason those things all came hand-in-hand," Jenkins continued. "I may have gravitated toward skating because of the creative personalities I'd come in contact with."
Jenkins veered pretty far afield of his father's watercolor Western scenes, adopting a more comic book style, predominantly in pen and ink. He grew up admiring designers and illustrators like Paul Rand (you don't know it, but you know his work: he designed the logos for IBM, UPS and ABC, among many others). With a firm idea of what he wanted to do with his life – something, anything in art – he was ahead of the curve before he'd even entered high school. After art school, he moved to Southern Calfornia with a job in hand, but the following years would be a series of starts and stops as magazines launched and folded and projects came and went.
In the late '80s, in-between one magazine start-up dying and a series of side projects for Blind, 101 and World Industries, Jenkins started contributing to Transworld Skateboarding (under the pseudonym, Mel Bend).
"That was probably my earliest interaction with Andy, seeing the 'Wrench Pilot' series in Transworld," Koston recalled. "That was before I was sponsored; I was just a kid. I remember seeing that stuff and thinking how cool it was that it was a comic just about skateboarding."
"I wasn't going to be a pro skater by a long shot – not even an am, for sure. But within the comic, Wrench Pilot, I had the character Lettus Bee. Basically, he was me as a great skater," Jenkins explained. "He skates how I dream of skating. He's stuck with me throughout the years even though Wrench Pilot only went on for a couple of years. Lettus pops up every now and again. He's stuck with me because he's the 'everyman' skater."
Today, the 'everyman' skater lives on the wall of The Berrics.
After the various magazine ventures went awry, Jenkins was invited by his good friend Spike Jonze to join a skateboard brand he was launching with Megan Baltimore, and then-pro skaters Rick Howard and Mike Carroll. In 1993, Jenkins joined Girl Skateboards as its art director and has been there ever since. The everyman skater, Lettus Bee, came with.
"Andy's art is very distinct," Koston said. "For most people, even if, say they don't know Andy's name, they see his work and think 'that's the graphics from Girl' – it's definitely unique and recognizable."
While the art department began as a team of one, it has since grown to 20 contributors and is known collectively as "The Art Dump." (One of the Art Dump's alumni, Geoff McFetridge, previously collaborated with Oakley to paint a wall at The Berrics.)
The project at The Berrics, which is meant to be a representation of Jenkins and Koston's 20-year relationship, feels like a fitting milestone. The two arrived to the company at the same time. Koston arrived via his ability on a skateboard; Jenkins because of his creative mind and talent with a sketch pad. Their collaboration will now stand as a backdrop as some of the world's best skaters do their thing at The Berrics, which will, in turn, be broadcast out to hundreds of thousands of 'everyman' skaters worldwide in video parts and Snaps and photos.
The next generation's Koston or Jenkins may be watching. They may take inspiration or validation for a chosen path. They may be the next individuals responsible for continuing to push the sport and the culture forward.