To celebrate the launch of our new collaboration with SML Wheels, we chatted to Aaron Brown (SML) and artist Ariel Wilson, to find out what drives their work and what inspired them to get involved with SkatePAL.
Aaron Brown Interview
Tell us about the history of SML, when did you guys start out and what was the idea behind it?
I feel like the history of SML is kinda long so I'll keep it short. I've always had random companies since I was in Jr High. Once I got into High School I started working at Liberty Boardshop and saw a whole new world of skateboarding. I was so fresh haha. Liberty is where I met everyone. At one point James, Austyn, Rob, and myself have all worked there.
Once I got a job at Liberty I started hanging and filming a bunch with James Craig, Gershon Mosley, Danny Garcia, and Ronnie Creager. Once Austyn was old enough (13) we let him start cruising with us. too We would make these crew videos called "Razor Sharp" and have a party for the premiere when somebody's parents went out of town. After hanging/ filming with James long enough I turned into the Blind filmer, James and I would pretty much skate every day all day together.
Fast forward a couple years, James and I are skating/ filming and are having a really good day. He gets some tricks and we decide to call it and give our friends a call to play poker. We all meet up at James house. This is before your emails went straight to your phone and I remember James would check his email everyday as soon as we walked in the door from skating. So we're all in a good mood starting to get the cards out, grabbing beers and stuff and I just see James' face changing as he's reading an email. He let's us all read it and its this super generic office space-type email thanking him for his services at Bones wheels and saying that he wasn't needed anymore. It was straight copy and paste style.
We later got to the bottom of it and there was a certain Bones rider who didn't think James was "Elite" enough. A couple days later one of our friends that rode for Bones told them he was going to quit because they kicked off James, Bones called James and asked him back on the team but it was too late we already started brewing up SML. I think James still has that email haha.
You've got a pretty diverse and heavy hitting team, with Chris Jones and Tom Knox holding down the London connection - how did you guys all meet and get involved together?
Yea its pretty much my dream team of skateboarding minus a few. I love all these dudes styles, tricks, spots they do the tricks at, and just the overall way they look at skateboarding. As for the London crew, Chris Jones was the first London dude we got on the team. That happened through Wes at Rock Solid. Wes shares a similar perspective on skateboarding as us and knows what we like. He showed us some footy and I passed it around to the team and they were down. Tom came on after Chris, to be honest I'm not sure if Chris or Wes talked to him or if he reached out but I'm super stoked that he's on.
Mike Arnold is the latest guy on the team and is from the London area [Bristol - ed.] as well. All these dudes are so fun to watch. I trip out everyday when I see the people that ride for SML.
What made you want to do the SkatePAL wheel? Did you know much about Palestine or the charity before getting involved?
We're always down to give back to skateboarding any way we can. Us being a small company its hard for us to do that sometimes. Chris brought SkatePAL to our attention and let us know what you guys do and that he's a part of it. He thought it could be cool to do something together. Any time a team rider brings something to my attention that is important to them I'm always down to try and make it happen. We all got copied on an email and it just went from there. Now we got a rad wheel collaboration and some new friends!
Is this a full time job for you? What are you up to when you're not working on SML?
SML is a full time job but we have yet to pay ourselves haha. It takes up a considerable amount of time and everything just goes back into the back account for the next season or whatever comes up in between. I'm really lucky that I'm able find work in the skate industry. When I'm not working on SML I'm usually filming or editing, thats how I pay my bills.
I mostly film and edit skateboarding stuff for different companies, but I've done a bunch of random stuff. I do behind the scenes stuff for Snoop, a lot of videos for Rastaclat, some stuff of models, I did this 13 day time lapse for this artist DFACE which was pretty fun. I was doing some stuff for this headphones company for a bit so we'd shoot a lot of NBA players. Went to Eddie Murphy's house to shoot a little Christmas video of him and his family. It's all random and fun.
What is the importance of 'play' to you? Both in your work and the world in general…
It's kinda hard for me to put into words. I'm fortunate enough that my work is my play and play is my work. I'd go crazy if there wasn't an element of fun to everything I do, that's what keeps me going. New, fun, and exciting. I guess you could say everyday is a Monday or everyday is a Saturday depending on how you look at it haha.
What's next for SML?
Next for SML is just trying to put more work and energy into it. I feel like we could do so much more that this is only the beginning. Everyone in the SML family is stoked and ready.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Have fun, be happy.
Ariel Wilson Interview
Tell us about your background - how did you end up getting involved with designing skate wheels and what's your link to SML?
I’m a freelance illustrator/designer based out of Long Beach, California. Working freelance has been great because I get to work in a lot of different modes, and with a lot of different people. I got involved with SML after Aaron saw my work on Instagram and reached out to me. The brand seemed like a natural fit for my work and they are all really great guys so I was grateful and excited to work with them. When I’m not working from home I teach art to residents of a treatment centre for at-risk and special needs youth. I also try to squeeze in time for personal projects and painting. I’m never bored and get to live off of my favourite hobby so I’m thrilled.
You obviously do a lot of pretty varied work, including wheels, board designs but lots of stuff outside skateboarding too. Where does your inspiration come from for your designs?
I’m really drawn to work that has a story or a unique point of view, and most of my stuff has an underlying narrative quality. I love storytellers. In keeping with that I’m really inspired by folklore, personal or communal histories, and memories. Most of the work I do outside of the skate industry is for non-profits or small businesses.
What's different or difficult about designing for a skate wheel over doing something for print etc?
So much! Any time you are designing something you have an allotted amount of design “real estate” to work with, and the real estate for wheels can be tricky for me. For one thing they are small, or in this case SML (sorry couldn’t resist) which means you can’t get crazy with tiny detail that won’t translate well in printing, and on top of that there’s a hole in the middle of the design. Most of my work tends to fit in a perfect square so designing in a circle is a fun challenge.
What made you want to get involved with the SkatePAL wheel. Did you know much about Palestine or the charity before getting involved?
I do a lot of illustration work based on different cities/cultures, primarily because it creates a situation where I have to do mini research projects on different places around the world. It’s like a fun homework assignment for me to learn about stuff I might not otherwise. I try to take all that research and translate it into simplified icons that are easily recognised by people that know the place well, while also easily understood by people who don’t know the place. I didn’t know about SkatePAL prior to working on the wheel. When asked to design something for you guys it seemed like a fun opportunity to do a little research, but this time for a great cause rather than for my own amusement. Win Win.
What are you up to next?
I’ve spent the last 6 months working on making an art book that explores the relationship between skateboarding and art. In the first half of the book I Interviewed some of my favourite artists who skate, and included images of their work. The second half of the book is a collection of collaborations between me and a few skate photographers. I made gouache paintings from their photographs and then fused painting/photo together. Right now I’m working on finalising edits on the first proof, and trying to organise an art show/book release somewhere in Long Beach by the end of summer. Aside from that, lots of fishing and camping.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I think kids having an outlet/mode of expression is one of the most important things in helping them grow into well rounded and thoughtful adults. So I admire and respect the work that you guys are doing and am grateful to be involved! Cheers, Ariel.
Thanks Aaron & Ariel!
Join us for the SkatePAL x SML Wheels launch event at Brixton's Baddest Skateshop, this Thursday 6th July, 7pm.
The SkatePAL x SML wheel will be available in the UK via Rock Solid Distribution. A portion of sales from the wheel will go towards helping us build more skateparks in Palestine.
Look out for the SkatePAL x SML Wheels edit coming soon!