Steven Harrington is a man of many talents; co-founder of National Forest, a design firm and creative consultancy in Los Angeles, graphic designer, illustrator, sculptor, and he can now add skate park designer to his list. This year, The Dew Tour, a skate competition and art and music festival held in Long Beach, California, commissioned Harrington not only to design the overall visual identity for the event but to also to create a skateable sculpture garden based on his signature psychedelic pop aesthetic.
“The best part about the project,” Harrington says, “is that it’s completely free and totally open to the public.” Pro skaters and newbies alike were invited to navigate the custom park that featured ramps in the shape of gaping mouths, and smiling palm trees, with surreal sculptures like a cartoon snake and giant pair of sunglasses dotted elsewhere.
Harrington explains that when designing for a public event like the Dew Tour, it’s important to consider the widest spectrum of visitors who will be attending. “One of the objectives was to be able to create a space that not only attracted that seven or eight-year-old kid visiting with his parents, but would also speak to the really core skaters, the stoners, or the pros who can see this playful, bizarre universe and say,
You know what? Hold on a sec. I want to 360 board flip this palm tree.
Harrington worked with California RampWorks, a company that constructs massive ramps for events like the X-Games, to ensure that his sculptures would retain the whimsical round form of his 2-D illustrations, but still be functional skateable structures. “I like constraints. As an artist and designer, having parameters just means the work is telling you what it needs.
“With the Dew Tour, a lot of the stuff we designed you kind of had to figure out how to skate it, which was part of the fun for the participants. Everything looked blocky and painted but had these perfectly angled metal pieces going across all the edges. Even the sunglasses had a little kicker ramp leading up to them and it was basically a place to grind and do street tricks on.”
One of the most interesting aspects of this project for Harrington was the opportunity to create a series of design objects that didn’t exist in a gallery setting, hermetically sealed behind glass.
Most of the time, within the art and design world, the things we make are considered very precious. They’re not meant to be touched, or if you do handle them, the resale value goes down.
When the Dew Tour wrapped, some of Harrington’s sculptures were donated to a local skatepark in Long Beach. He loved that they would get continued use even if it meant the hand-painted designs he labored over would eventually fade, leaving just the silhouette of the ramps behind.
“Nothing has a life that’s forever, and I felt like working on this project was kind of a metaphor for that,” Harrington says. “The realization that everything is temporary is something I learned as a skater early on. Within skateboarding it’s not about ‘Hey, take a photo of me doing this new trick. I’m going to blow it up and put it on my wall and keep that photo forever.’ It’s about that moment when you’re skating and you feel everything around you and are totally present. I’m happy that the work we created will be there to let other skaters experience that moment.”