This is the story of a delightful and engaging project that I had the pleasure of producing on behalf of Modern Tribe with artist, Selena Zontos.
Dream It Up
Perhaps the thing I love the most about Modern Tribe is the underlying idea that if you can dream it up, then you can make it happen. The very foundation of the business is that we want to support our chosen life styles and that the company should enable us to have great adventures and learn new things every day. In fact, Shane has consistently instilled in us that we should all keep lists of dreams, things that we’d like to have, do or become, so that we can more intentionally navigate our lives towards these aspirations.
It was during our latest manager’s retreat at the Capitola East Side Eatery that it dawned on me that the beautiful skateboard decks on the wall were perfect for one of my long term aspirations: to commission an artist to make something fantastic.
So on a whim, I emailed Selena Zontos (a.k.a Skavenge Art), the artist who’s work I had been admiring, to see what she might have to say on the matter. Specifically, I asked her in mid November, if she’d be interested in producing 25-40 pieces in time to ship them for Christmas to a bunch of folks on our team and some of our customers all across the country and in Canada. This was a tall order and my expectations were low.
Let me back up a little here to explain a bit about the artwork and what drew me to it. My mother, Elfi Chester, who passed away in 2004 at the young age of 52, was a fabulous artist and a truly singular character. Though her artwork is more oriented towards figurative subjects than Selena’s, there was something about the loose movements and vivid unapologetic colors that conjured up a bit of Elfi’s spirit.
Beyond that, I could relate tremendously to the actual physical technique because it appeared to be quite similar to my own technique (though substantially more practiced and refined). I could see how Selena must have gone about creating these boards and I could imagine the feeling she must have as the images reveal themselves and the paints interact. That she loosely sprays a color coat, then spatters on or roughly sketches vague shapes. And that finally, a subject pops out which she brings to life simply by outlining it, like a sculptor revealing the art within the marble. I suspected that her experience must be less of a contrived focus and more of a joyful welcoming of beauty, that simply arrives by virtue of her process.
Meeting Selena Zontos – A Life Uncommon
Naturally I was overjoyed when I got an energetic reply from Selena. She had never been commissioned to do anything like this before and was excited to arrange a deal.
We met at my favorite coffee shop in the world, Verve Coffee, and discussed scope, timeline, budget and vision. I had been overflowing with ideas and was worried that I might overwhelm her but she responded with nothing less than pure enthusiasm.
It turns out that Selena has spent the last year of her life riding an epic wave of inspiration. She has never, in her life, produced anywhere near the amount of work that she has generated in the last few months, and I was asking her to ramp up that volume by several notches. In fact, I was literally asking her to set up a production line so that she could be working on dozens of pieces at the same time and so that they could all feel like a singular body of work.
It seems that her father had left her a note prior to passing away, and Selena only discovered it some time later in early 2013. When she read it, she realized that she was not living the life that she wanted to live. In Selena’s own words:
Feeling trapped in my daily routine, I asked for guidance and I found the letter on that same day never knowing of its existence. It turned out to be a letter about what he had come to believe was the purpose of life and wrote about his dreams for me and my brother. I took immediate action and left my all consuming job.
Instead she picked up a new job that supported her enough to allow her to spend time painting and, as she says, and as her father said, ‘living a life uncommon’.
Serendipitously, I appear to have approached her at just the right time. She was just reaching the point where this challenge would be perfectly met with her own capacity to stretch and grow. Fantastic!
Realizing that Shane and Reid might be reluctant to share my enthusiasm without the parameters of a budget and a plan, I embarked upon an effort to present this to them as a bit of a pitch. Selena and I worked out a budget that they could easily digest but that was not undervaluing her time. We also worked out an idea whereby I would create branded silk screens that she could use to playfully incorporate our logo into the decks. Brainstorming with Selena was a frictionless endeavor.
After we came up with a proposal, I ran it by Shane and Reid and was met with unbridled enthusiasm. Although, this sort of project is not Shane’s wheelhouse, he humored me and countered with some insightful questions about how we plan to hang the decks and who’s handling shipping, etc.
Reid, of course, loves this sort of thing so pitching to him was preaching to the choir. My only regret in this whole project is that I didn’t work more closely with Reid. Unfortunately the tight deadline resulted in some missed opportunities for collaboration. For anyone considering doing something like this, I strongly suggest allowing for a bit of a longer timeline.
One Man’s Deck is Another Man’s Treasure
Selena mentioned on several occasions that people tend to gravitate strongly towards some of her pieces and not others. And that different people have starkly contrasting tastes. I didn’t really comprehend this fully until she finished the first set of boards and Shane and I met to map the boards to our Christmas list.
Immediately it was apparent that Shane and I have polar opposite tastes regarding Selena’s work. His favorite boards were my least favorite and visa versa. Furthermore, we quickly realized that picking boards for our team was going to be a completely futile exercise so we concluded that we would photograph the boards and ask the team to pick for themselves.
I put the images in dropbox and set up a shared google doc and started a skype chat with the folks in question.
Peter Chester Ok, so here's the skinny there's this secret project the Zontos Deck project that Modern Tribe has embarked upon. Jonathan Brinley is intrigued Peter Chester to commission a local artist to make epic skate decks as gifts for our team Daniel Dvorkin http://www.troll.me/images/joseph-ducreux/tis-of-great-mystery.jpg Peter Chester we managed to get everything in line in terms of timeline Kelly Groves :x Peter Chester but in the end Shane and I decided that it's better if we invite people to chose for themselves instead of having us choose and having things just show up on your doorstep Ryan Urban well this is fun Rob La Gatta: ! seriously, thats awesome. thank you peter reid and shane :) Peter Chester so it is with love and appreciation that I present the Selena Zontos skate deck project Kyle Unzicker WHOA DIBS Kelly Groves Gorgeous! I love the tentacles. We are a cephalopod-centric household. Ryan Urban wow this is really really cool you guys rock Ryan Urban yeah seriously thanks guys! Kelly Groves Thank you! Daniel Dvorkin awesome! Rob La Gatta seriously, this is easily the most thoughtful gift ive gotten from anyone outside my nuclear family in a long long time Kyle Unzicker ♥‿♥ Kelly Groves (heart) ...
One thing became immediately apparent here. This is a fantastic way to handle distributed gift giving. Rather than have everyone silently receive things… get everyone together and share the joy. This is definitely the way to go.
Judging the Book by its Cover
It’s a well documented fact that first impressions heavily influence our sense of value. It is our very nature that we pass judgements early and often and that it’s hard to shake those judgements.
As such, I felt that the decks themselves will be valued more highly if they came well packaged. So I set about, what I thought would be, a small packaging project. Which in fact ended up consuming the better part of 4 days.
Using the silk screen and about $15 of raw wooden skirting board, I inked a bunch of wooden labels and wrote a greeting and hanging instructions on each board. I tied fishing line to the skateboard truck screw holes so the deck could easily be hung up upon arrival. Then I wrapped each one in construction paper and raw hemp rope. I was completely delighted with the packages and was subsequently crushed when Fedex informed me that I’d still need to wrap them in cardboard before Fedex would accept the decks. Sigh…
All in all, the packaging was the hardest part and was not a trivial expense relative to the cost of production.
Note to self: next time, contract the artist to manage packaging and shipping as well.
Sponsor an Artist!
Now it’s your turn. I challenge you to find an artist and lift them, and yourself, by partnering to make something spectacular.
This is especially directed to my peers in the information technology world, where we spend our days making perfect virtual products that we can never hold, smell, or feel. Getting your hands dirty. Making something physical. Sharing a space and moving materials. Igniting a spark and burning the fuse to launch a brilliant explosion of creativity and inspiration. This is a path where artists are our guides. I implore you to support one (or more) of these stewards of imagination and let them remind you how to let go.