Rad Cars: An Interview with Kevin Butler

February 26, 2014

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For Spring 2014, Herschel Supply has aligned with Kevin Butler for our first ever partnership with an artist. Working with Kevin, the creator of well-loved series, Rad Cars with Rad Surfboards on Them, Herschel Supply is proud to introduce a limited edition capsule collection inspired by the rad Californian lifestyle.

Kevin’s illustrations of rad cars, each topped with surfboards, re-imagines the surfer’s blissful commute to and from the waves. They harken back to his Californian childhood of sun drenched days at San-O beach, fixing old cars with his dad and working at the local surfboard factory. From an early age, Kevin saw beyond the functionality of old cars and surfboards, appreciating the romance deep behind their craftsmanship. Several decades later, he nostalgically translated these two loves into a new art form with Rad Cars, striking a chord with fans across the globe.

Read on as Kevin shares the story of his Rad Cars with Rad Surfboards on Them, and explains how everything evolved into a unique collection from Herschel Supply.

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Describe yourself in a nutshell.

My Name is Kevin Butler. I am Scarlett’s husband, Ozzie’s dad, and Betty-the-dog’s walker.

Where do you live, and what do you spend your days doing?

I live in Venice Beach. I make stuff, draw stuff, take pictures of stuff, write stuff, film stuff and occasionally make ads for other people’s stuff.

 

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How would you say that you got your start?

Instagram has helped people to see my work. But I think it really started to blow up when my well-connected friends John Moore and Mark Weismyer helped me with an exhibition. We filled the gallery parking lot with rad cars, had an installation of a 1958 Porsche with about 40 boards stacked on the roof and created a really rad experience around the art. It just snowballed from there.

Can you describe your affinity with cars and surfboards?

I just love what they both represent. I love how these two inanimate objects come together to create a feeling. Sometimes it’s a feeling of nostalgia, sometimes adventure and sometimes they bring back a specific memory. For me the cars remind me of my childhood – of the weekend, adventure, suntans, fun and optimism, basically all of the good things. The reason they all have surfboards on them is because of my love for the ocean. I grew up surfing in Santa Cruz, California and my first few jobs were at surfboard factories.

To me, cars and surfboards are not just utilitarian, I feel they are functional art. They both require craftsmanship – someone sweated over them and I appreciate that. I try not to take either of them for granted. To me, Rad Cars With Rad Surfboards on Them is a perfect marriage of my two favorite things.

 

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Are there any other influential factors that shape your illustrations?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cars I consider “rad” mostly pre-date 1980. A couple modern cars have snuck in, but for the most part I stick to cars where you can feel the designers hand. I mean, I haven’t drawn any Lamborghini Gallardos with Machine made pop-outs on them. I don’t see any romance in that. Not rad. If I had to paint a picture of my inspiration, I imagine the San-O parking lot on a sunday afternoon in 1966. I smell sunscreen, bonfires and surf wax.

What was the first Rad Car you ever illustrated? Was the concept already planned or did it happen naturally?

It was a total fluke. I drew a friends car as a gift. Then I saw a rad car with a surfboard on it and decided to draw it. I just kept going, drawing cars I saw in the San-O parking lot, on the freeway, or on my way to work. Before I knew it I was getting about 10-20 requests a week. I never thought it would get popular. It is just something I loved doing and still do.

 

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Describe the creative process behind Rad Cars.

It usually starts with a photo of a car, that I’ve taken myself or that has been sent to me. If it doesn’t have a board I think about the appropriate board to put on the roof – who would drive that car and what would they ride in the surf? I draw it in pencil on thick grade paper and go over it in black ink. Then one of two things happen – I either scan it in and color it digitally, or hand paint it with acrylics.

What is it about sketching and hand drawing that appeals to you?

I like being able to start with a blank page and at the end of it all, have something physical. That’s the thing with computers and digital photography, all you’re really making is 1s and 0s. But when all you have is a piece of paper and a pencil there’s nothing to get in the way.

 

 

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Are you inspired by any particular artists and illustrators?

Yes, I’ve definitely been influenced by my grandfather who was an artist. He sold auto parts for a living, but he had this pretty lucrative creative side project going on. He painted in oils, and did a lot of pen and ink. His subject matter was primarily old cars in fields and junkyards, I have always loved his stuff. I remember growing up, he’d always go to car shows and swap meets to display his art. He just did it because he loved it. That had a pretty big effect on me.

I also really look up to Steve Harrington and Geoff Mcfetridge. I love how diverse they get with their projects, but you can always tell it’s them. They have the perfect amount of discipline and flexibility in their work.

Did you ever envision your illustrations would be translated into a collection such as this?

Honestly, yes. I knew if I just kept drawing these things it’d end up as something, somewhere. I actually had quite a few solicitations along the way, but none were brands I really wanted to work with. I was patient and kept my head down and waited for the right partner to call. There are a very select few companies that I really want to align myself with. Herschel Supply has always been one of them.

 

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What was it like working on this collection? Describe the collaboration process and how the collection evolved into what it is now.

It was great because Herschel is a really nice sized company – big enough to get rad stuff done, but not so big that you have to go through a bunch of unnecessary layers. I sent ideas directly through to the guys and they were always very welcoming. They were collaborative and didn’t want to make anything that I wasn’t in love with. The colors for the bags came directly off of a few of our favorite Rad Cars illustrations. We then added drainage holes to the bottom of all the pieces, so they’d be totally beach proof. They were stoked on making a board sock (something they hadn’t done before) and when I said Fanny Pack, they didn’t laugh in my face. What more can you ask for?

Are you working on any new concepts, or do you plan to continue the Rad Cars With Rad Surfboards On Them series?

Yes to both questions. I am still really enjoying drawing Rad Cars and I manage to crank out a few per week. People are still discovering it and I get a few emails every day, some with requests and some just telling me they love it. So until the emails stop, I get bored, or I run out of cars and surfboards, I’ll keep going. And I always have a couple new projects up my sleeve. I just finished a children’s book for my 1 Year old son, Ozzie, and I had a blast doing it. So who knows?

 

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The Spring 2014 Herschel Supply Rad Cars Collection combines Kevin’s passion for surfing life and design credibility with Herschel Supply’s dedication to fine quality made goods and sense of adventure. Each bag features Kevin’s hand illustrated Rad Cars print and is fully drainable, ready for sun and surf soaked days. These little pieces of Californian life can be found online at herschelsupply.com and in selected stores worldwide.

Enjoyed the Kevin Butler Interview? Check back next Tuesday for the another instalment from The Journal, Issue Two.

To find your own complimentary copy of The Journal, visit Herschel Supply stockists around the world or contact customerservice@herschelsupply.com.