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Isle Skateboards formed in 2013 after Nick Jensen and Paul Shier left their long time sponsor Blueprint Skateboards, following the company’s sad demise. They teamed up with Chris Aylen, who aside from being a close friend of Paul Shier's, started the influential Crooked Tongues back 1999.
Isle launched with a heavy team comprised of Tom Knox, Chris Jones, Casper Brooker, Sylvain Tognelli and Jon Nguyen. Isle cemented their place as one of skateboarding’s most exciting brands with their 2015 full-length Vase, filmed and edited by Jacob Harris.
More recently Isle have added both Mike Arnold and Remy Taveira to their pro ranks. You’ll no doubt be familiar with all of the guys’ from Jacob’s Thrasher series Atlantic Drift, where they apply their skills in various locales from London’s rugged streets to more exotic destinations such as Hawaii.
Nick has been in the game for a long time, his first video outing was in Blueprint’s 1999 promo Build and Destroy. Since then he’s been a major part of British skateboarding’s rich tapestry - he’s starred in every Blueprint video, had a section in Lakai’s Fully Flared, a full part in Isle’s 2015 opus Vase, and continues to put out quality footage in the Atlantic Drift series.
Nick’s dedication to skateboarding is mirrored by Isle’s aesthetic. Alongside Chris Aylen (Isle’s creative director), Nick produces unique, considered graphics - attempting to offer a different perspective of skateboarding through collaborations with interesting artists and a refusal to churn out generic team boards.
One of the best things about modern skateboarding is the sheer variety of it all, skateboarding is such a broad church nowadays, with styles and inspiration coming from pretty much everywhere. On the flip side of this, it begs the question, how does a brand stand out from all the others?
We spoke to Nick about this very topic, read on to learn more about the ideas behind the brand, their graphics, and their vision.
Parade: Did you start out with a concrete idea for the brand or is it something that has developed over time?
Nick: I would say half mixed concrete, over time we kind of understood our vision. I remember that we had strong graphic and team ideas, however video wise we were not sure what our style was going to be.
P: You said at the time you didn’t want Isle to be a recreation of Blueprint, are there ways in which you would say Blueprint, or other companies, have informed what Isle is?
N: Definitely, I mean I learned a lot about style and creativity from Blueprint. I would say Blueprint gave Paul (Shier) and myself a good amount of confidence to start doing Isle.
P: Is there an overarching theme or idea you’re trying to curate/communicate with the brand and the graphics that you put out?
N: I reckon it’s to do with trying to come at things from a different perspective. I want to learn something myself when doing projects with people, and then let the results of these collaborations become the brand.
“We try to come at things from a different perspective. I want to learn something myself when doing projects with people”
P: What’s the thinking behind bringing in artists from outside the world of skateboarding? Any artists that you’d like to work with in the future?
N: It’s a bit like what I was saying before. I think it’s because we are interested to see how these artists approach things from a different perspective. To discover what they have in common with, or indeed in contrast to, skateboarding.
In regards to artists I’d like to work with - I’d say Wolfgang Tillmans, Michael Dean, Jan Thompson, Rob Chavasse and many more. I just love their work and feel like there are various very unique links between what they create and skateboarding.
P: Can you describe the process of how a graphic is made, from concept through to the final product? You’ve spoken before as treating the process almost like a sculpture for example?
N: When Chris (Aylen) and I make a series, we often get a feel for an idea and start to collect objects and images to work from. From there we arrange parts on my studio wall, we generally spend a day or two finding the right feel. Then we photograph them to scale, this is more often than not with Sam Ashley, thanks Sam!
P: Is this process always the same or does it depend on the inspiration or artist that you’re working with?
N: It really depends, sometimes the artist will work with us directly in the studio and at other times we will work independently.
I feel that creating skateboard graphics has informed my own art to an extent, I think I am becoming more aware of what not to include, as much as what to include. Giving things a bit of space to breathe has definitely become something I think about more and more with regards to my painting.
P: How much involvement do the guys on the team have in regards to their graphics?
N: Not always that much, but sometimes a lot, it really depends on the type of series that we’re creating. For example, a recent work in progress with Rob Chavasse, we asked each member of the team to send photographs of their beds.
“Being consistent and sticking to what you believe means you will stand out over time”
P: How challenging is it to maintain a unique identity when skate shop walls are stacked with multiple board brands? Often copying or referencing each other
N: Good question, I don’t really know how to answer it. I feel like being consistent and sticking to what you believe means you will stand out over time.
I somewhat pay attention to what other people are doing, though not always. In the past, I’ve definitely seen some things and been blown away and thought ‘shit, I wish we’d done that’.
P: Have there been any happy accidents with ideas or graphics that have worked out for the best?
N: Yeah, this happens with pretty much every series that we do.
With Casper’s Drifter board I wanted to make a perspex rectangle to fill with water, much like a fish tank, which had the same dimensions as a skateboard. Then I put objects in that fish tank, I sourced the images over time from eBay and these little antique shops, buying this plaster figurine and submerging it in water.
It comes out of experimentation. Twenty minutes before Sam Ashley was due to arrive to shoot the graphic, I hadn’t worked out how I was going to colour the boards. I had this LED light and in the end I used that against a blue plastic bag I had lying around, then for Mike’s one, I had an orange Sainsbury’s bag. It’s a bit Blue Peter and a bit fingers crossed.
P: How important do you think Atlantic Drift, and Jacob Harris in a more historical sense, has been for the brand and its perception?
N: Apparently not as many people connect the dots as you might think, we need to get better at this. Jake’s work has a very strong, hard to define look, which is a source of continuous inspiration to me.
P: With every member of the current team being pro, will you be looking to bring any amateurs on board? What can we look forward to moving forwards?
N: Darius (Trabalza) is getting flowed boards at the moment, so we’ll see how it goes, I love his skating.
I want us to keep trying to explore new avenues, maybe we will start a podcast?
P: Sounds good, and I hope you’re serious about the podcast!
See more of Nick's work on his website https://www.nickjensen.co.uk/.
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