Todd Francis: Work in Progress
A gritty career spent on the grind—graphically treating the boards that sharpen the city streets – has produced a unique perspective of the train wreck Todd Francis learns about with each flip through his morning newspaper. By putting a satirical spin on the dark corners of the world’s news, he’s hammered out a career by amusing the masses with a blend of restless ADD and raw artistic acumen.
The "Todd Francis Limited Edition Eyepatch™ ":oakley.com/todd_francis is now available online in limited quantities.
NB: Adjectives like twisted, subversive, flat-out brilliant…do you find the media’s depictions accurate?
TF: Flat-out brilliant? No. Subversive…maybe. Twisted – I don’t like so much. Words like ‘memorable’ and hopefully, ‘lasting’ and maybe even ‘iconic’. I would hope that when you do something that’s successful, they’d slap on words like those. But I’m the last person to say I’m anything but a work in progress.
NB: Over the years, who’s influenced your work?
TF: That’s a train car of names. A HUGE list. From the skate industry to the real world – just a ton of people. I’m more often inspired by successful entertainers who can grab your eye and keep it – whether it’s good or bad. One of the biggest would be the Three Stooges – just timeless. And no one’s been able to do it since. Howard Stern makes you keep coming back for more entertainment. Seeing design growing up in the skate industry from the late 70s and early 80s, long before I ever got involved, it just blew my mind.
NB: Your work doesn’t seem to follow any pattern. Is that intentional?
TF: A large part comes from ADD. Restlessness. I don’t have one set style -I like to dance around and do a lot of different things, maybe seem like two or three different artists in one. Uniting all the different stuff I’ve done, there ARE good ideas and concepts, but tons of stuff I’ve done has been brainless. When you have a sense of humor combined with an aggressive, instinctive direction, your work can end up heading in a lot of different directions.
NB: Your work has been marked by a proliferation of political and environmental satire. Is this a case of CNN fused with Saturday morning cartoons?
TF: I guess part of it is because I’m not 21 years old (anymore). I’m 38. I wanna take it pretty seriously. But people looking at it aren’t going to care that much – it’s skateboarding. They’re gonna scrape it or wash it off. I’m more hopeful that it will resonate in some small way with people, stick to their ribs a little. I look at it more to entertain and amuse.
NB: Your design work is steeped in that skate genre. How does it cross over – you any good on the board?
TF: I grew up skating, but nobody’s going to remember me for it. I don’t express myself on the board – I’m not that good.
NB: Your work has helped define several companies and a subculture. How do you deal with that success?
TF: Let’s be honest: there is no acclaim. I’m not famous. Nobody knows what I look like. It’s more of an ‘oh, that was you’ response. And it might impress somebody if they’ve seen it. I might get an email from someone in Serbia who wants a board. But one of the neat things is getting emails from high school and college kids who are interested in skate graphics as a career. I never reply to them…just kidding. I tell them that if they’re comfortable being a barista to makes ends meet, they can make their way in the world.
NB: Why Oakley?
TF: It was a fun idea. They literally gave me no rules, save for the spatial constraints (of the frame). They told me to stick what I wanted on it and have some fun!
NB: Take me through designing your Eyepatch™.
TF: It was a lot like what I do for a board or a t-shirt. You get a blank version and start brainstorming. And again…I just came up with what I usually like to do.
NB: The pigeons…
TF: The first time I did it was with Antihero. We had to come up with a team logo. The first idea was ’let’s do this pigeon.’ It was a sick pigeon – it had to look like someone dumped an oil change on its head. But no one bought it so it got scrapped. That’s where the eagle came in and I’ve been in love with pigeons ever since.
TF continues: I hate ‘em, too. Ubiquitous rats living in every city. As diseased and injured as the people who live on the streets. About fifteen years ago, I was living in Santa Barbara across the street from this house where migrant workers lived. There was a parkway with no grass, just dirt. And it was constantly covered with pigeons, flocks of them. I’d look over and three guys would come out, grab a pigeon, twist its neck, stuff it under their jacket and walk back into the house. They were hunting for dinner in the front yard.
NB: You’ve been doing this for fifteen years. You’ve been featured in books and you work’s been shown all over the world. What are you most proud of?
TF: I want to be most proud of the stuff the most people have seen. The stuff that seems to have lasted long enough. The recognition. The Antihero eagle or graphics I’ve done for Element or Bam Margera. But really, anything that’s lasted more than a couple of months, I’m extremely proud of.
NB: What inspires you to design?
TF: Reading the newspaper everyday. I love it – even though it’s kind of like having a car run over your foot every morning. The world is a train wreck, but horrible news, information that brings you down…my work tends to gravitate toward news that comes from a bad place.
NB: What keeps you going?
TF: Making mortgage payments keeps me going like you wouldn’t believe. I have two young daughters. Seeing that they don’t develop parasitic afflictions from living in the streets keeps me going. You know, keeping them louse and mite-free. I sit at home by myself all day and listen to music and just dream up ridiculous stuff.
NB: Project, company or idea you’re dying to try out but haven’t yet?
TF: This is going to show how low my aspirations are: I don’t think about that much. I tend to be an ‘in-the-moment’ person. I just look at what I have to complete today. It’s probably why my car is a wrecker wagon.
NB: I’ll know it’s time to hang it up when ________________.
TF: When the emails stop coming. When the phone stops ringing and everyone lines up to tell me.
TF continues: It’s how I treat basketball. I’m not 6’ and I’m the oldest guy in my league. I do well by hustling the young guys who don’t value grittiness and don’t want to do the dirty work. I’m inspired by athletes who do – the ones who are usually always injured from throwing it all out there.
NB: What’s next for you?
TF: There’s a few projects I’m involved with right now. Just finishing up a special new series of boards for Element that come out in December. Working on a DVD about me and the mysterious artistic process that goes into the creation of board graphics. And I recently partnered with Equal Distribution in San Fran to make some of my original artwork available, along with some limited edition prints and other morsels.
For the latest news on the cruddy world of Todd Francis, check out his site.