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ON DECK: THE ART OF MAKING SKATEBOARDS

By Jordan Kushins

Skateboarding didn’t come naturally to Chelsea Burton. “I always wanted to do it but totally sucked,” the graphic designer says of early days trying to find her balance. Learning to snowboard in high school helped, and when she discovered longboards not long after, she fell in love with the way they mimicked the movement of gliding down frozen mountains.

Now, the graphic designer rides like a pro around her hometown outside Erie, Pennsylvania, on decks she makes herself. As one of Adobe’s current Creative Residents, Burton is busy creating a new line of longboards; here, she shows us how it’s done. 

Click to see Burton’s process in a video she filmed and edited.

FORM AND FUNCTION ON FOUR WHEELS

For this collection—called “Freestyle”—Burton began with a visual concept. “I knew I wanted to do something with freight trains and subway cars using ‘flat design,’ or the most basic shapes and gradients,” she says. She went online for inspiration and research and then put pencil to paper in her sketchbook.

Burton could have used a pre-made maple wood template from a supplier, but the Creative Residency gave her the freedom to tackle all elements of production. “This was the first time I could actually design the deck itself to relate directly to the graphic,” she says. “So I had to figure out how to portray the boxy shape of a train and subway in a way that wasn’t just a big rectangle, and find out how I might give the board a little extra bend in the middle.” She determined that two small inset cuts to the center would give the board the dynamic lines and flex she was after.

Lining up various deck shape possibilities with graphic concepts.

SEVEN SHEETS OF MAPLE WOOD, HEAVY MACHINERY, AND A BIT OF A BOUNCE

Burton’s dad owns a metalsmithing shop (score!), and she had free rein to use its machinery to complete her collection. 

(left to right) Tracing out a demo deck; the veneer is made from seven layers of maple wood; the lamination process requires some heavy metal and major pressure. 

(left to right) Burton’s deck begins to take shape on the bandsaw; routing rounds out the edges. 

(left to right) Three templates (metal, wood, and a test deck); Burton hops on the test deck for a weight and spring test to make sure it has enough give without breaking; with the trucks and wheels attached, this board is ready to ride. 

Hitting the pavement for a test run.

BRINGING THE BOARDS TO LIFE WITH BIG—LIKE, HUGE—STICKERS

Though she usually scans her sketchbook pages to use as the basis for new work, for this series she just opened up blank canvasses in Adobe Illustrator CC and went for it; her hand-drawn skeches served as a general guide rather than a direct blueprint. “I knew the basics of the program, but by experimenting I learned a shit-ton more than I did before I went in.”

To refine the illustrations’ fit, she took them into Adobe Photoshop CC. “I was working with a canvas size was about 12 inches by 36 inches,” she says. “I’d develop the graphic, then overlay it on the deck shape and see how they aligned until I got it right.”

When she finished the grahics, she had them printed on “giant vinyl stickers,” she says. “They’re similar to the kind you’d use for car decals.” She applied them by hand. Mini-mess ups were common, but not a problem. “It’s a very forgiving material,” she says. “The first time I applied a decal I was way off and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to peel it off and redo, but I did and it was still just as sticky. If there are air bubbles, I’ll take a hairdryer to the deck to heat it up a little bit, then smooth it out.”

Coating the deck with a Krlyon UV-resistant, waterproof sealer ensures that the decks can stand up to the mean streets of Erie and beyond. 

The final decks with graphics.

(left to right) Burton plays around in Illustrator; an ode to “fierce and female” strength. 

The goods: Business Cards, personal brand stickers, FREESTYLE graffiti stickers, SheShreds.co stickers. 

“My mission is to encourage consumer creativity and individuality,” she says. “People can ‘graffiti’ their own freight crate and subway car to their style using words that resonate with them.”

Stay tuned to Create Magazine to see more of Burton’s Creative Residency projects.