In the shoe that might not have seen the light of day on a retail level, we take the opportunity to speak with Vancouver, Canada’s Jeff Hamada regarding his design for the Converse (PRODUCT) RED campaign as well his approach to graphic design and art. Following a Fine Arts diploma at Langara College, Jeff Hamada would go on to earn a Bachelor degree in Media Arts at the respected Emily Carr Universtiy of Art + Design. Going forward, his talents were immediately recognized by Electronic Arts as he quickly developed an efficient methodology towards commercial art. For most of you, you’re perhaps most familiar with Jeff Hamada’s work for various street and snow brands such as 3sixteen, Soul Assassins, and Endeavor among others, yet this commercial work should by no means be indicative of the full talents of Jeff Hamada. Most recently this Converse project as well as his upcoming work with Livestock are a more rounded take from a truly artistic perspective from the talented individual. The launch of his Converse (PRODUCT) Red All Star High begins tonight, Thursday, February 19th, 2009 with a special gathering hosted by Vancouver sneaker store Livestock’s 4th Ave location. The event begins at 8:00 pm and runs until 11:00 pm.
Interview with Jeff Hamada
Eugene Kan (EK): So how did the opportunity for this project originally come about?
Jeff Hamada (JH): Well I guess I would be lying if I said it had everything to do with my skill as a designer. It mostly came about because I did the friendly Canadian thing and offered to show some people around Vancouver.
EK: So basically you exchanged tour-guide services for the chance to do a shoe?
JH: Yea pretty much. My friend John asked if I would show his friends from Boston (Dana and Damion) around town. It turned out that they were both working for Converse and we really hit it off. Shortly after they returned home they contacted me about the project (Converse (PRODUCT) RED). I pretty much jumped at the opportunity. So I didn’t win some contest (many people assume this for whatever reason), I just kinda weaseled my way in there haha. Somehow I ended up being the only Canadian on the project aside from Tokyo Police Club, who are musicians.
EK: You’re a friendly guy so I don’t doubt it. Would you say this Converse project is probably among your best career highlights thus far?
JH: Yea definitely. I have wanted to work on a shoe for a long time and this project was so wide open – like I could literally do anything I wanted. There was no guarantee that it would ever see the light of day as a retail production shoe but it would tour as part of an art show, at the very least. That meant there wasn’t really any pressure. I didn’t have to worry about coming up with something that would sell or anything like that.
EK: In terms of balancing the act of creating something commercial or product-related versus creating art, are different mindsets needed? How do you approach each of them differently?
JH: I left art school and went and worked for Electronic Arts and that’s pretty much where I did most of my technical learning. I think it really affected the way I make things now. I wouldn’t say in a negative way but it really was about producing commercial work fast, and as efficiently as possible. So I got really good at emulating styles. I sat with 7 different artists and for the first 4 months and I just tried to copy everything they did. I wanted to learn as many different ways of doing things as possible.
Now when someone asks me to make something for them I go about it in a really systematic way – robotic – its just a matter of problem solving. I have the person describe in detail what it is they want and I get a picture in my mind of what that is. And then I’m done once I’ve created something as close to the image I have in my mind as possible. When I’m making art for myself it has less to do with the finished product and more to do with enjoying the actual making of the art.
EK: Having seen your work for the Livestock artist series and becoming instant fans, do you feel that perhaps your work done on behalf of yourself does have a great deal of commercial factor to it? All this time it seems as though people have come to know Jeff Hamada as somebody re-appropriating the desires and themes of others.
JH: Here’s the thing – I don’t have a distinct style. Most of the stuff you’re referring to (my work for various clothing companies) I don’t consider personal work, but even in my personal work I don’t have a specific style. Maybe that makes me less legitimate as an artist, I don’t know.
Like as soon as you see the X’s you know it’s KAWS but I just haven’t been building my own visual language that way. I’m coming from a film school background so I’m not trying to be a KAWS or a Shepard Fairey, I guess I’m trying to be a Danny Boyle! Boyle directed Trainspotting and then switched it up with 28 Days Later (horror), Millions (family movie), and Sunshine (sci-fi) before making Slumdog Millionaire. I like the idea of being able to tell a story in a completely different style if I want to.
I don’t want to be known as the guy who is just “re-appropriating the desires and themes of others” but as a freelance designer you need to be somewhat chameleon-like to survive until people will hand you money and say “do whatever you want”. Which is essentially what Converse did (except for the money part – charity gig).
EK: That’s an interesting personal insight into your style. I feel as though there’s still a lot more to be seen regarding your work. Back to your Converse shoe, what was your concept behind it? What factored into your choices for colors?
JH: Well I had two concepts. The first was an image I had of people walking around carrying all these ladders. Bundles of them! There are so many ladders that people are actually just throwing them into piles and setting them on fire and burning them up just to get rid of them. Meanwhile there’s all these other people trapped down all these really deep holes in the ground and they’re calling for help.
EK: Was your goal to set out and re-create a whole story rather than a pattern, sounds pretty friggin’ complex.
JH: No no, this was just my first idea – all that imagery is just the way I feel a lot of people in North America relate to what’s happening over in Africa. Like we have all these resources and there’s people that could use the things we have access to, but we don’t give it a second thought. In the end I decided this was too negative and it really didn’t encourage anyone to get involved so I decided I would make something that showed what it would look like if EVERYONE got involved. The hands on the shoe are grayscale to represent all cultures lending out a hand towards Africa, and there’s a bit of blue in there to represent hope.
EK: Prior to the PRODUCT (RED) project, did you have a lot of awareness or first hand experience with the way of life in Africa? Aside from those Saturday morning infomercials that play on Canadian TV.
JH: Well I have had Christian friends over the years kind of get obsessed with Africa. I wouldn’t say overboard, but in a way that was abrasive and actually put me off of the idea of helping (I am not bad-mouthing Christians, I grew up Christian myself). So I have been familiar with what’s been happening over there long before getting involved with RED. For me it has nothing to do with religion or any of that, it’s just clear to me that as a human being, we’re designed to help others.
EK: Although your relation with Africa isn’t direct, I think you’ve done a good job of presenting the current situation in a light that will be relevant to others. Luckily with a brand like Converse and sneakers, you do reach a whole new demographic that might otherwise be un-educated or ignorant to exactly what’s going on outside their world. Others who may turn a blind eye when presented in a different format now find relevancy in your cause.
JH: I think most people know about what’s going on in Africa, it’s not like everyone who’s into sneakers or streetwear is clueless about things like this – its just really cool to kind of catch people off guard by having brands like Converse and stores like Livestock really push the message to their customers and say, hey we care about things like this too.
EK: I think the term “lifestyle” gets thrown around all too frequently, and with doing so that’s not to say there are some genuine “lifestyle” movements as you just mentioned. With the creation of your creative website BOOOOOOOM!, what was the premise behind that? Where do you want to take that venture?
JH: Well I really just wanted to create a site that I wished already existed haha.
EK: So you basically filled a void, and did so remarkably well I might add.
JH: I just found I was always looking for things to get me stoked to make stuff. I like finding creativity and I wanted to somehow document it and share it with people. So it started out just as a personal blog and I didn’t expect it to get so big as fast as it has. I really want to push the community aspect some more though. Right now it is primarily a resource for visual inspiration such as photography and illustrations – there’s a lot there. I am just brainstorming ways to make it more of a… not a club, but something that people feel more a part of.
EK: Were you always instilled with a strong creative ability. I’ve always viewed your surroundings as having a large impact and Vancouver in itself seems to be a hub for that sort of creative development.
JH: I think it was just built into me. When I was in elementary school I used to invite people over to my house and I’d say “lets draw” and we would draw for the entire afternoon. It wasn’t until I was older I realized that most people probably hated coming to my house and doing that. I just assumed everyone would want to draw or make something.
EK: It’s always ironic that you connect the dots only after things happen. In a typical design environment for you, what do you have going on? Any particular things playing, music? movies?
JH: Yea I am usually listening to music. I can’t have a movie on because I end up just watching the movie. So yea usually music although I often put my headphones on and forget to put on any music. So I end up working for 45mins or so with my headphones on before I realize that I’m an idiot.
EK: Hahaha, what sort of music do you listen to? Who’s going to blow-up in 2009?
JH: Kings of Leon could be big in 2009? I am not so good at predicting this kind of thing, but their latest album, Only by The Night is amazing. I know this is where everyone reading this forms an opinion of my intelligence, like if I like bad music that’s it, that’s the third strike but here goes – I like Iron & Wine, the Dodos, Midnight Juggernauts, Radiohead. I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop but mostly when I’m drawing or designing something I listen to film scores, especially westerns. Ennio Morricone! It makes you feel pretty bad ass drawing while you’re listening to The Good The Bad and The Ugly. 310 to Yuma has a great score.
EK: Your music snobbery surpasses me, cause I am familiar with only a handful of those bands haha. Aside from your work, what other things do you do in your free time?
JH: Hahaha trust me man, there are no music snobs out there listening to the 310 to Yuma soundtrack! Haha that is the least cool thing to admit to, listening to soundtracks. I snowboard and I recently bought an acoustic guitar so my new hobby is learning to play from Youtube.
EK: So when’s the Jeff Hamada un-plugged CD coming out? Should I subscribe to your Youtube Channel?
JH: As soon as I learn to play guitar I am going to create a Youtube channel filled with guitar instructional videos but the trick will be that the chords will be all wrong and I will sabotage future generations of musicians making myself the last guitar player EVER.
EK: You’d do that too wouldn’t you. Before we go our separate ways, what does Jeff Hamada have up his sleeve in 2009?
JH: I have a lot happening with Booooooom.com that I don’t really want to reveal just yet but it will be good. It is now averaging 700,000+ visits per month so I am really starting to take it seriously. I have a bunch more work for Endeavor Snowboards on the way for this upcoming season so look out for that and I’m writing a film so we’ll see what happens with that.
EK: I’m sure I’m not the only one that says I’m looking forward to everything. Thanks a lot for the opportunity Jeff.
Livestock presents: Jeff Hamada for Converse 1Hund(RED) Release
Thursday, February 19th, 2009
8:00 pm – 11:00 pm
1709 West 4th ave. Vancouver