Behind the Graphic: Automaton Snowboards

21 Sep, 2009

Behind each snowboard graphic is someone’s ideas. A graphic can be born from a long car ride with friends, a silly design they walk by, in a dream they have…the list goes on.  I caught up with Automaton Snowboards to find out what goes into each graphic, first talking with Brenton Woo the owner and brains behind Automaton Snowboards and then talking with three of Automaton’s artist about their graphics they have created.

Shay: How do you come up with ideas for Automaton?
Brenton: I like topics that the general public will pick up on quickly. One thing I don’t like about the traditional art scene is work that isn’t easily understood. Ever gone to an art museum and wondered why the pile of whatever you’re looking at is in there? I’m sure there’s a historically significant back story to it, and if we took the time to learn it, it would make sense as to why that piece is in a museum. But what’s the point of that? That seems like a very inefficient method of conveying information to me. For Automaton, I like to work with themes that are common life experiences for people. Art is created for expression (emotional, political, social, personal, etc). But what’s the point if people don’t understand the meaning? For example, 09/10 is Shred Today (Because Tomorrow It May Melt). Most people have experienced the regret of wasted time. Generally I see something about how our world operates and try to come up with an idea for artwork that will make fun of it. Try to get the viewers thinking and acting, and hopefully changing.

Shay: How do you find and select artists to work with Automaton snowboards?
Brenton: So far, pretty easily. Most of the artists find Automaton. On average I’d say a new artist contacts us once a week. But that’s good because visual art is a large part of our brand, and I’m glad Automaton’s becoming known for that. I also like to keep the artists on rotation so that the work stays fresh and everyone has their chance. Since our product line involves 2 snowboard models, we work with 2 artists per season. I prefer to have a more established artist take care of 1 model, and have a hungry up and comer for the other.

Shay: What gets your creative juices flowing?
Brenton: A lot of the time it’s specific triggers. I can’t think of most of them off the top of my head right this second, but one example is when someone says that they’re unable to accomplish a goal. That really gets me fired up. Why can’t they? What’s stopping them? Most of the time, it’s nothing. It’s their personal fears, which in reality are nothing. And then I start scheming practical ways on how that person can accomplish their goal. Dreams are worthless unless you do something to achieve them. And the best way to get something done is to go ahead and do it. The concept of self-empowerment is how I came up with the idea for the graphic of a boy armed with his wooden sword, facing down his monster for the Ferris 150 (done by Ferris Plock) 4 seasons ago. I’m not calling myself an artist, but I’ve heard that great artists know great pain. I think this is true whether it’s music, visual, film, literature, or snowboarding.

Shay: What is the process for creating and completing a board graphic?
Brenton: The first step is to agree on the season’s theme. We have to stay at least 18 months ahead of the game, so this winter 2009/10, we’ll be working on winter 2011/12. Then I need to come up with 2 graphic concepts that complement that season’s theme. Usually, 1 of the 2 artists from the current season’s line is returning, which means I need to find only 1 more. From the artists that I know or have been contacting me, I’ll go through their portfolios and see whose style I think will work well with the graphic idea. A lot of artists will do some quick pencil sketches of their idea so we’ll know what to expect and to also finalize the general layout. Sometimes they forget that things like bindings will eventually obscure the viewing area. Once all the preliminary issues are set, I let the artists have total control on the rest of the creative process. They can use whatever tools and mediums. However, the graphic ultimately needs to be digitized either in vector or bitmap format. By March of every year, I’m uploading these files to the factory in Austria to start sample production. Proofs come out at the beginning of summer. The art department at Elan is really on top of their game. Colvin’s team definitely knows how to translate artwork into a finished board.

Shay: When it comes to graphics, do you keep with an image or look?
Brenton: The only things we keep consistent are the Automaton logo and red sidewalls. Obviously people need to know that what they’re looking at is Automaton. In branding, we call this visual cohesiveness. But the rest is left up to the artist. I like to share the feeling that things are fresh and new, which is why I’ve set up our art program like it is. Having an established artist teamed with an unknown often creates a great dynamic. Even though they work independently of each other, sometimes they get sort of competitive and want to feel like they’re out doing each other when I think the end results are great on their own merits anyway.

Shay: What is your inspiration for Automaton graphics?
Brenton: The skate industry. The skate industry has the strongest brands in snow/skate/surf, and part of it is due to the graphics. Skate brands really speak to and for skaters. Brands that can’t or don’t stay relevant go away. The same thing happens in music. One band’s style can’t stay popular forever. (Bands that last constantly have to reinvent themselves). At Hood, some kids came up to me and said they thought Automaton was Toy Machine snowboards because of the graphics. I take that as a compliment, not because I want to bite Toy, but because Toy is one of my favorite skate brands. Maybe subconsciously I was biting Toy. My favorite brands for graphics are: Toy Machine for Templeton’s unique vision. I like Zero for the opposite reason of why I like Element. Element is good clean design, whereas Zero is raw. The word “Zero” along with the skull logo is just so strong. I’d love if Automaton’s logo and name had that kind of power. In my mind, Popwar split the difference between Zero and Element. Consolidated cracks me up, yet often makes good points with their graphics. Anti-Hero is great, too. Other brands I like, but wouldn’t necessarily say inspired me include Pig, Foundation, Bueno, Saturday, Santa Monica Airlines.

Shay: What are you working on now?
Brenton: There’s always something. Right this second I’m waiting for the 09/10 decks to be delivered. Should be here this afternoon. Get them inventoried and shipped. After that, the Automaton site is due for an update, so I gotta get my head back into thinking code. It’s not that fun.

Automaton Artist Alex Funderburk

Shay: Did you approach Automaton with an idea or did they approach you with an idea for a graphic?
Alex: Brenton and I collaborated on the concept.

Shay: Describe yourself as an artist?
Alex: Aggressive, loose, with a flowy swagger.. I paint like I make love. Sounds sloppy right?

Shay: Which snowboard is your artwork featured on?
Alex: This season I designed The Time Fighter series.

Shay: What are your tools for creating art? What about this specific design, what did you use?
Alex: I use acrylic paint, inks, adobe cs and the old brain muscle. For this particular project I used design markers and sized and colored it in Photoshop.

Shay: What was the process like for turning a piece of art into a board graphic?
Alex: I created the art with shape of the board in mind. Basically just a canvas with a snowboard shape.

Shay: What was your inspiration for this graphic?
Alex: The Orange County Milf scene.

Shay: What are you working on now?
Alex: Paintings for a November show and tons of graphics for Paul Frank. Also working on an album with my band the Skullcocks.

Check out more of Alex’s work at:

Automaton Artist Justin Lovato

Shay: Did you approach Automaton with an idea or did they approach you with an idea for a graphic?
Justin: I’ve known Brenton for a while so I’m in his roster of open-minded artists. He felt confident in giving me a theme to work with. The Unnatural theme just happened to fit my style real well!

Shay: Describe yourself as an artist?
Justin: A little bit comic book cartoon illustrative style mixed with 14th century European, mixed with surreal mixed with weed and beer and awesome.

Shay: What snowboard is your artwork featured on?
Justin: The Unnatural series from Automaton. Three different sizes, three different graphics!

Shay: What are your tools for creating art? What about this specific design, what did you use?
Justin: I use acrylic paint, house paint, spray paint, cell vinyl black, ink, wine, coffee, spit, sweat, blood, and lots of other cool shit! For this I used a little bit of all of those things, especially spit and sweat.

Shay: What was the process like for turning a piece of art into a board graphic?
Justin: step 1. Make cool looking shit like fat dudes with beers jammed into head because they ran out of orifices to drink with and popes that look all evil and docile and dirty. Draw til’ your hand hurts.
step 2. scan in drawings.
step 3. put scanned in art into Illustrator, arrange it, color it, put on the board template and send to printers. (Don’t forget to wait ’til the last minute to do all this.)
step 4. Look at the clock and say “Oh shit! It’s 4 in the morning! Why did I stay up this late for this board graphic? I was supposed to meet my friend with my road bike in Sacramento so we can ride our bikes 150 miles to Berkeley at 7 in the morning!”
Then say fuck it, sleep for an hour and go do it anyways! Damn i was tired when I got to Berkeley. (True story)

Shay: What was your inspiration for this graphic?
Justin: My inspiration was people and they’re habits and lifestyle that they choose to place themselves in. No matter how detrimental it may be to their health, psyche, and environment.

Shay: What are you working on now?
Justin: I have a solo show at Upper playground Sacramento hanging right now. The opening went super well. I have a brand spanking new print for sale on my website. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever made and everybody should get one because its awesome looking. You can get that here!

Automaton Artist Joe Polillo

Shay: Did you approach Automaton with an idea or did they approach you with an idea for a graphic?
Joe: Somewhere in a lucid dream, a while ago we spoke of doing a board about pirates but we all sat down and spoke over a cup of mushroom tea and decided that we should just trust me.

Shay: Describe yourself as an artist?
Joe: Something short of a modern day realist serialist.  Not so much an artist more or less a painter, I’m inside my own box without any rocks and a few dark thoughts you know where the wild things are.

Shay: What snowboard is your artwork featured on?
Joe: My first and favorite is the Trust Me and the Oddball was a smash.

Shay: What are your tools for creating art? What about this specific design, what did you use?
Joe:  A time machine that I use to enter the gas world where my thoughts pore from my mind like piles of worms. Lots of ink.  I normally go and get paint mixed tell them I’ll be right back to pick it up but here is the twist I come back a few day later and it is on the opp’s rack I get it for cheap, I’m a sneaky fuck.

Shay: What was the process like for turning a piece of art into a board graphic?
Joe: i hope no one takes this wrong but a lot of masturbating layers paint cutting your self off from friends, really creating ideas aside the norm.

Shay: What was your inspiration for this graphic?
Joe:  A lot of broken relationships, gals I would chase around unnatural things, distractions, drinking parties, lies, made up ideas, looking into religion, reading the skys flowing cem trails all the way down to costa mesa where I now live.

Shay: What are you working on now?
Joe: Kind of backing away from decore pieces, I would rather paint big and huge then chill on some art show pieces that will hang for a mouth and then disappear into a house to never be seen again.  Short lived art is what owns my hart…

Joe P is working on a showing with Alex Funderburk in Costa Mesa for this November. He’s also currently spicing up The Closet at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

About the author


From the beginning of time, I was Shannon. From the beginning of snowboarding, I was Shay. From the beginning of online communities, I was Shayboarder. In the end, I’m the writer, photographer, editor, publisher, guru of sorts, product tester, curvy girl, and most importantly the snowboarder behind it all. Follow me on this journey through snowboarding, mountain biking, traveling and fun experiences!

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  1. September 22, 2009

    That was AWESOME! Automaton has some seriously cool graphics and artists!

  2. September 23, 2009

    Rad interview!!! This was very interesting to read. I met Joe once in Tahoe, hahaha, he’s a cool guy