• Goodnight Moon —

    Geoff McFetridge and Yong-Ki Chang create skate dreams with Solitary Arts

    Story — Jason Black
    Images (of Geoff) — Andrew Paynter
    Images (of Yong-Ki) — Kate Adams

    Suite 203: The square, brushed-metal sign on the door says, “Solitary Arts.” This must be the place.

    Stepping inside S.A. HQ is like entering a skateboarder’s Fortress of Solitude. Colorful boards hang in a row on the whitewashed wall. Piles of black and white printed T-shirts, Solitary Arts logo stickers and boatloads of skateboard memorabilia are strewn about. In the back, there’s a small workshop for building boards and filling incoming orders. It also serves as a chill, well-lit space where Yong-Ki Chang, one half of S.A.’s dynamic duo, dreams up new designs and tests out new shapes.

    After coming back from a regular morning session at Pacifica Skatepark, he’s sitting quietly at his computer banging out emails while music plays in the background. He’s in the midst of making arrangements for S.A. to join an upcoming artist showcase in Los Angeles. Pulling away from pressing biz, we dive into the formation of the brand.

  • In 2005, Chang was inspired by a T-shirt graphic by artist Geoff McFetridge, which boasted the words “The Solitary Arts.” It was an idea McFetridge had created in 2000 as a poster for an art show, a concept derived from the amount of time he was spending drawing and creating as well as the things he did for fun: surfing, skating and bike riding.

    Inspired by this artwork, Chang decided to build an entire skate brand around this concept of “solo creation,” so he sat down and developed a business plan. He also designed his first board, Big Red, inspired by a red, plastic ’70s-style cruiser he bought right out of someone’s garage. Finally, with plan in hand and a strong sense of purpose, he reached out to the artist to get his blessing. Later, the two pow-wowed in LA.

    “In the beginning, I wanted to get Geoff’s approval on what I was doing,” recalls Chang. “It was important for me to get his OK. To my surprise, instead of just saying ‘Yeah man, go for it,’ he wanted to create a partnership and do it together.”

  • Fortuitously enough, McFetridge had been itching to start his own skate brand. “So we started talking and Yong-Ki had good ideas. He also knew everything about board design, and the business aspects of running a skate company that I had no clue about. It was a good fit.”

    From the start, it was a genuine partnership. Chang, in San Francisco, handled all the product sourcing and day-to-day business while McFetridge, in LA, handled all the graphics.

    For the newly born company, the first task on their to-do list was to develop a logo. This is always a daunting endeavor, but especially within skateboarding brands where there are a multitude of classics: the Independent Trucks’ cross and the Girl Skateboards’ feminine symbol, to name a few. They designed and piloted many, but only one made the final cut: the waning moon.

    “That logo really stuck,” opines McFetridge. “My friend calls it ‘moon and pizza,’ which I think is great. Actually, it’s a moon with a little armless character on his chin. The logo felt quiet and dreamlike. The little guy is night surfing, riding on the moon. It’s very graphic while maintaining an ethereal quality.”

  • Chang wholeheartedly agrees: “I make stickers of everything we do. Stickers are a huge part of skateboarding and a perfect test for any artwork. And, in everything we were doing, the waning moon continually rose to the top.”

    “Solitary Arts is about re-thinking skateboarding,” continues McFetridge. “We don’t want to be outsiders really to skateboarding, but maybe we are like when skateboarding dreams. If skating is the day, then we are the night.”

    He’s right. Through its logo and the vibe of the brand as a whole, Solitary Arts has a certain whimsical, dreamlike air to it reminiscent of popular children’s nighttime stories like Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are. And it’s all by design, perhaps because 40-year-old McFetridge, who has been skating since he was 13, has kids.

    So how did the concept behind the brand come about?

    “As an artist, you have to self-critique. I’m always trying to gain perspective on what I am doing. For S.A., I just applied this technique to looking at skateboarding. The surprising thing is that I didn't see anyone else looking at things in this same way.”

  • Instead of focusing on the technical side of skateboarding, where you can easily get consumed by progression and endlessly learning trick after trick (otherwise, you’re not participating in real skateboarding), the S.A. brand is content with gliding and carving down the street. McFetridge’s mantra is simple: “Sliding over concrete is AMAZING.” This stylish perspective is counter-intuitive to the “all lip, no flat bottom” way that modern skateboarding is seen today. “But what about everything else?” he asks.

    In essence, S.A. is a re-exploration of the ’70s sidewalk-surfing roots of skateboarding. And that’s just the way the guys like it.

    Now, with logo in hand and a few years of experience under their belts, they have an entire product line in their arsenal, including boards, wheels, T-shirts and, of course, plenty of stickers. Alongside the original Big Red are two more freewheelin’ models: the mini-cruiser Pocket Horn and the longer, pointy-nosed Piano Pinner. Along the way, S.A. has even done a few board collaborations with Girl and Undefeated. But Chang remains ever-vigilant and super protective of the brand he’s built alongside McFetridge. There won’t be a full-sized street model anytime soon.

    “It’s all about maintaining a niche market. We’re dedicated to producing a quality, handmade board, and everything we do is made right here in California. We’re proud of that. For most, a skateboard is the only piece of commercial art they can afford, so we try to make it worthwhile.”

    The ongoing, dreamlike, sidewalk-surfing art project that is Solitary Arts is also a good way for McFetridge to simplify and then amplify his ideas through basic black and white graphics. And, like skateboarding, the ideas just flow.

  • “The ideas behind S.A. are so clear to me that I draw things all the time that just scream out S.A. They just sort of leak out. Because, really, when I talk about S.A., I’m really talking about creativity, and much of my work has been always been about creativity. To me, creativity and skateboarding are interchangeable. I guess that’s a central idea of S.A.”

    Chang concurs: “I think it’s been good to harness Geoff’s work in skateboarding while, at the same time, it gives him a real commercial outlet. For many fans, it’s their entryway into his work.”

    Through his studio, Champion Graphics, McFetridge has maintained a successful career as a commercial artist working on notable brands like Nike, Pepsi, MTV, Stussy, Chocolate Skateboards, Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records and many others. At the moment, he’s even doing some work for Bushmill’s Whiskey. But his S.A. graphics will always be his most pure and personal work, closest to his heart.

    The next stage in the brand’s evolution is sponsoring team riders and developing prototype models for them. And, in classic S.A. fashion, instead of promoting a few young guns, Chang and McFetridge opted to pick up two experienced pros who are in their 40s: Jef Hartsel from Honolulu, Hawaii and Venice Beach, California, and Bob Lake from Virgina Beach, Virginia. As McFetridge explains, it’s been a real creative challenge to create graphics for these skateboarding icons.

    “Everything sort of goes out the window when you are dealing with guys like that. It is hard to do work that lives up to the depth of an individual. And those are some exceptional dudes.”

  • So far, Chang is stoked with the results. “I think it’s important to push people, even Geoff,” he says. “It’s always the best way to get great work.”

    Looking to the future, the guys will keep stretching, pushing themselves, the brand and skateboarding as a whole, in new directions. Fulfilling their dreams.

    “I’m an idealistic person,” says McFetridge. “I’m always trying to make my life better and part of that is making my art and my life one. On the flip side, inevitably, as my life changes, my art changes too.”

    And Solitary Arts rolls on.