Ideal Handmades is a one man operation run by Adam Costa out of Las Vegas, NV. Usually when people think of custom skateboard art, they immediately think of cheesy griptape customizations or spraypaint stencil graphics, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Mixing woodburning, markers and stains, Adam creates each deck by hand from blank boards and turns them into unique little masterpieces.
Q & A with Adam Costa the artist / designer
How long have you been customizing skateboards and what made you start?
It’s been about 10 years now. It all started with growing up in a house with a garage and and tool bench. I’d sand down old boards, trying out different mediums and figuring out what stuff worked well and what didn’t. It kinda felt like when you re-grip a board. You didn’t have enough money for a new deck, but that fresh $5 sheet kinda fooled you for a little bit. I eventually got my hands on a box of blanks through this company back in New Hampshire called Creepshow that I was riding for at the time and brought them to the local shop to sell.
When you’re just starting skating, like your first board… all you care about is the graphic, and then pretty quickly you get taught to only focus on the size and shape. But then as time goes on, you kinda start to realize that the graphic CAN matter too. To those that let it, it can really set up your psyche for when you’re skating. Enjoying the way your board looks is just another one of those little intangible factors that can put you in a positive and confident state of mind.
What were your first customizations like and how did they progress?
Oh, the subjects were just the lamest! Cassette tapes for backpack rap cred, probably some gasmasks… just really played out imagery even for back in ’03. I started with pencils and stencils. I’d draw and cut out designs on manila folders and tape them down and then paint through them. The first handful turned out really sloppy, but it felt similar to the process of working in a darkroom developing photos, which up until that point was the medium I had the most fun with.
You’d come up with some imagery (snapping a photo) then make your stencil (developing the negatives) paint through it (casting light through an enlarger on to photo paper) and then be surprised by the final product showing up “on its own” all at once. I know that I had done all the work leading up to that reveal, but it was still like opening a wrapped present.
After a little while I started adding different mediums into the mix like markers and stains, just experimenting with anything that would leave a mark. I fell out of love with just plain stencils because at that point they all started to look like half assed finger-paintings by comparison. The step by step process still appealed to me, but the final product looked so boring, unfinished, and similar to what every other suburban white kid that picked up a spray can was making. I stopped thinking of solid layered flat imagery, and got more into the nuances and subtleties of detailed renderings.
Many years after that, I took a stab at adding in woodburning and kinda fell in love with the idea that my work wasn’t just laying on top of the board, it was IN the board. Maple as a hardwood, is awesome for burning because it takes a little bit longer to fully darken than a softer wood like pine. That means that you have more time to control the line and the tone of what you’re making, kinda like airbrushing compared to painting with just a roller.
Explain the woodburned decks. Does it affect the deck’s integrity? Do the graphics “come off” like screened graphics when they’re skated?
Nah, it doesn’t really affect the deck’s integrity because you don’t really need to burn through multiple plies. In fact most of my designs don’t even go through a single full ply. It’ll fade and get scratched off over multiple skatings, but where the industry standard heat transferred graphics chip and flake easily, the burnings don’t. It’s like when companies still screen printed their boards instead of this cheap iron-on crap they’re all forced to do now because they have to produce such large orders and keep their bottom line in check.
My stuff is really not a cost effective way to put art on a board. Compared to how much profit a big company can make per board by the thousands with a brainless production line, I am ripping myself off. Can you imagine if Plan B or Zero had to spend multiple hours working on a single deck? They’d be bankrupt in time for lunch. But I am not really willing to sacrifice what makes what I’m doing different just to try turning a buck at what everyone else is doing. My numbers are always going to be smaller, and I’m okay with that.
That being said, I’m actually working on a large series of boards that’ll combine a production line transfer graphic AND my handmade stuff. Each one will be both from a series, and 1/1 unique at the same time.
In terms of cost effectiveness, you’re selling your boards at a price competitive to other companies despite the obvious amount of labor from a one man operation. You also mentioned doing a larger series of boards. Do you plan on keeping this strictly a side deal or would you like to expand it into a larger operation?
I would love for it to expand into something larger, but not if it means, in any way, compromising the quality or intent of my work. Since I’m my only employee, and I have other employment, I don’t feel the pressure to force growth out of what I’m doing. I want to make as many of my boards as I can, and see where that takes me.
I decided to make my pricing competitive because I want people to actual use them as skateboards. I spent a bunch of time getting a hold of boards from Generator woodshop specifically because they make the best decks I’ve skated lately. The whole “wall board” culture kinda bums me out. Treating skateboards so preciously, condemning them to a boring existence hung from a shoe string. The art ON skateboarding will never be as good as the art OF skateboarding. So if I priced my boards for the amount of actual labor that went into them, no one would buy them, and certainly not to be used. I’m willing to get the shit end of that stick if it means that my boards will get out there and be one that you’ll remember skating.
Ideal seems like it is something that would thrive off collaborations with other artists, potentially even ones outside of skateboarding. Are any plans in the works?
I’m always open for offers to work with good people on cool stuff. But at the same time, I don’t do requests on a board to board basis. I’m not a brush for hire in that way.
I’m currently working on something with Orchard in Boston, which is gonna be awesome. Pretty sure that’s gonna be debuting in the late summer/fall this year. I’m also making a couple frames for a show Tim Olson (of Tim&Eric Roger fame) is putting together. I’ve had scattered talks with Karl Watson about maybe doing something with Organika at some point down the line. I’d really like to work with Brian Downey (FalconBowse) on something, that dude is incredible. I’m a huge fan of basically all the brands under the Theories of Atlantis banner.
This new interconnected world we live in makes so many things possible so many places. I don’t have any problem with working with people outside of skateboarding, but from what I’ve seen from INSIDE of skateboarding, it’s a pretty awesome talent pool to draw from (or drain and skate around in). Smaller companies and individual artists with big ideas and a good sense of taste, and even ones that are on their way to becoming much larger and are still maintaining their credibility by not letting the numbers inform their decisions. How could you not want to work with people like that?
Check out more boards or get one yourself over at Idealhandmades.com
Words: Luke Physioc
Intro: James Lee
Luke Physioc is an artist specializing in tattoo, music and skateboard art, as well as a music reviewer. To view Luke’s art or read his album reviews, visit http://www.lukephysioc.com
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