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Jim Phillips: A Californian Graphic Designer & Skateboard Artist

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Jim Phillips (b. 1944)

Jim Phillips, is a graphic artist best known for his surf and skateboard art. He was born in 1944 in San Jose, California, where he has lived most of his life. California and the surf lifestyle went on to play a big part in his graphic art. He had quite a tumultuous childhood, as his Dad was in the army and he had to move around a lot—as a result he wasn’t academically brilliant, but found solace in sketching. He spent most of his youth creating illustrations based on his inspiration—Carl Barks, a member of the famous ‘nine old men’ illustrators at Disney, known for creating a lot of the iconic characters including Donald Duck.

He became heavily involved in the surf scene, not only as a hobby but also making surf boards for a living at a local workshop. In his spare time Jim would carry on developing his illustrative style and worked freelance as a graphic artist creating cartoons and music posters for the alternative scene in the 1960’s. Jim started to build a name for himself through freelance work, which lead him into a significant turning point in his career. It was at this point he received a call from Richard Novak, the owner of Santa Cruz skateboards. Jim was asked to create a logo for Santa Cruz’s new product ‘road rider’ skateboard wheels. After its initial success it was gradually applied to various mediums such as t-shirts, stickers and skateboards.

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The process of screen printing graphics onto skateboards required thick key lines and bold graphics, which in turn had a direct influence on Jim’s illustrative style. This is a fine example of a design being adapted to fit the medium it’s intended for, reflecting the manufacturing process. Jim and Santa Cruz skateboards’ relationship grew from this point, until eventually he became the Creative Director. Jim created thousands of decks, t-shirts, stickers, product illustrations and advertisements from 1975-1990.

Jim created some of the most iconic designs in skateboarding history, he helped forge Santa Cruz’s identity and their branding became a huge part of popular culture. Just as subway trains became mobile art galleries for graffiti artists, so too have skateboards for graphic artists, and Phillips is largely responsible for this unique modern art movement. 

Out of all of his work, the screaming hand has been his most iconic piece, it’s transcended generations becoming a powerful icon in youth culture. 

The history behind ‘Screaming Hand’ is rather dark. With the counter-culture lifestyle inspiring most of his work, the concept for ‘Screaming Hand’ was formed after seeing a drowning victim’s corpse on the beach. Unable to shake the image from memory Phillips drew a clenched hand on his book covers and notepads, prompting him to think about how powerful the hand is and how generations of artists have used it in gestures to express emotion. In his development process he decided the drawing needed to be more expressive—and so the addition of the screaming mouth formed the drawing as we know it today.

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The great thing about Jim Phillips is the confidence in his style and how a simple idea can become such an iconic ever-lasting brand. His design style has become an integral part of alternative culture. In the words of Phillips, 

“Your work should be the ultimate seduction in your life.” 

The ubiquitous logo has adorned everything from stickers to t-shirts in the three decades since Jim Phillips drew it. In every respect the screaming hand has become of the one of the most recognisable logos in branding and advertising over the past 30 years. In celebration of the hand’s popularity, Jim still creates one off, limited edition designs for special collaborations with big brands such as marvel. It’s a timeless brand, that is still relevant to this day in popular culture.

 If you’d like to learn more about Jim Phillips, watch a tour of his studio over here

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