To celebrate his latest series of decks for Toy Machine, we chatted with legendary artist and certified CSC OG, Phil Morgan, to find out what he's been up to.
Hey Phil, how’s it going? For those who don’t know you, want to tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Phil, and I'm a self-employed artist/illustrator from a little town called Penarth, just outside the city of Cardiff.
How did you get into skating?
I started skating back in the mid-eighties. I believe I was eight years old when I discovered skateboarding. I wasn't into playing sports at school. I preferred the freedom of finishing school and skating in supermarket carparks.
How did you first combine your love of skating and love of art?
I was working in the oldest skate/surf shop in Cardiff called City Surf, back in the early 2000's. I've had so many different jobs since leaving school at 16, and when I hit the age of 27, I decided to go back to school to learn how to become some sort of graphic designer. While I was in college, I was learning all these computer programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Cinema 4D etc. It was all pretty overwhelming at the time. I didn't complete the course, but I took what I had learned from the courses and started drawing digitally. Art has been the one thing I've ever really been any good at. While I was at City Surf, my good friend Matthew Ryan was starting a skateboard company called Crayon, which was when the ball started rolling as far as doing board graphics. It was also around the same time I was getting involved with doing illustrations for CSC.
How did you first get involved with Toy Machine?
It's a long story! So, I had been approached by a customer at City Surf to create a personal commission for their son's 21st Birthday. They wanted a painting with references to his favourite things—skateboarding and photography. I went back home and started sketching this character riding a board and holding a camera. While I was working on the design, I decided to make a quick funny sketch of Ed Templeton in a similar pose. (For those not aware of Ed Templeton, he's a professional skateboarder, a world famous artist and photographer in his own right. He's basically the overlord of the best skate company in the world.) I decided to take a picture of the little painting and sent it directly to Ed through Instagram. He liked my picture and shared it on his personal Instagram page. After that I reached out to him asking if he was interested in me having a go at pitching for Toy. I sent him three possible ideas for a board series and that's how it all began.
How many graphics have you done for Toy Machine now?
I have worked on seven graphics for TM. The first board series, a single graphic for Leo Romero, and now the three recently released pro graphics.
Photo: Phil's first series of decks for Toy Machine, the Hand Puppet Series.
How did you come up with the designs?
I've done a lot of graphics over the years, creating them digitally. In recent years I've been hand painting them and sending the scans off for print. For the new series of boards, I reached out directly to Leo first to see if he was interested in me working on a new graphic after the last one. He was down with me giving it a go, and it was his idea to have a guy wearing a big fuck off cowboy hat. While I was working on the graphic, he mentioned maybe doing a hat series for Toy. I started sketching out the idea for CJ Collins, as he's always wearing a beanie. Every idea I had for the rest of the team didn't look or feel as strong as these ideas, so I gave up. I worked on a couple of ideas for Collin Provost, but he jumped ship from Toy to Creature, so those ideas went in the bin. The Daniel Lutheran graphic came about as I was drawing these characters with massive hands. His graphic is actually the first board I've designed landscape. I got in touch with Ed with the scans. He reached out to see if CJ and Daniel were happy, and then it got the green light.
Which other skate brands have you designed graphics for?
As I already mentioned, I first started designing for Crayon. I then started working closely with Tim Olson at The Friendship Skateboards (TFS) in the States. After that I did a graphic for Surprise Skateboards in LA. I reached out to Ryan Gallant, who I had previously done a pro graphic for for TFS. He started a new company called Visit Skateboards. I designed another pro board for him and team rider Kelly Hart. Cardiff Skateboard Club. I have a new board graphic that just came out for the Carve Wicked guys, and I have a board coming out shortly for Jeremie Daclin's company, Into The Wild Skateboards.
In your experience, are skate companies better or worse to work with than other companies?
I really enjoy working for skate companies. If they are into what you do creatively, then they're always keen to see what ideas you have floating around. I make very little money from skate brands though. Don't get me wrong, it does pay, but it's far less than what I would get paid for working for a big company like Vans or The Body Shop. I like to help smaller companies with design ideas as much as I can. I like being a part of something. And if I can help out with scribbles to keep them going, then I'm all about it—more than the big companies, if I'm honest.
What would be your dream company to do graphics for?
I've already ticked that box!
What’s your favourite board graphic you’ve ever done?
I get asked that question a lot. My personal favourite graphic is the first one I did for Crayon. The Owl Graphic. If I didn't do another graphic after that, I would've died a happy man. If you love skateboarding and creating art, who doesn't want to see their own artwork on a skate deck?!
What’s your all-time favourite board graphic?
That's a really tough question. Probably one of the original Sean Cliver or Marc McKee boards hanging on Jim O's kitchen wall. He has an insane collection of vintage skate decks!
Which skate brands have your favourite artwork right now?
I'm really into what Uma Landsleds are doing right now. Great artwork across the board. Thomas Campbell, Nat Russell, Richard Colman, creating great artwork—original artwork. Anti-Hero make great original graphics, because they have a great artist like Todd Francis working his magic. If I can be honest, there are a lot of companies these days putting out shitty graphics. Big surnames across the bottom—that sort of thing. There's no thought in that.
Should Dykie bring back Crayon?
I would love to see Matt bring back that company. I'm not sure if it has any relevance with the younger generation of skaters, but I'd always be down to work with Crayon again if it came about.
Are you still skating much these days?
I very rarely skate these days. I am ashamed to say that. I'm too busy working on art projects! I can still roll around a park, but I stink these days. Am I officially out of Cardiff Skateboard Club Now?
Want to tell us a bit about the book you featured in recently, Artisan United?
I was asked by artist Jason C Arnold to get involved with the book project. He's been working his ass off to put it together over the last year. I am so honoured to be included in this book. It really means a lot to me.
Doing work for Ed Templeton and being featured in a book alongside legends from Beautiful Losers, you must feel like you’ve made it now?
Far from it. Once I'm a character in 'The Simpsons', then I've made it.
So your artwork is known for being really bright and colourful, but your tattoos are all black. How come none of your tattoos look like your artwork?
I like my artwork... I don't want to look like my artwork.
What else have you been up to recently?
I'm working on an exciting project coming to Cardiff for the Peanuts franchise for The Dogs Trust Foundation. Thats all I can say right now.
Any artists we should keep an eye on?
You have your eyes on him already! Give Lee 'Beef' Bennett a chance to do a board graphic for CSC!
What’s next for you?
I'm focusing now on going back to the States in the summer of '22. I have work lined up there already. The whole COVID thing has kept me here for the last two years. I have plans to go back to Virginia, LA, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle with a bit of luck. I'm also looking at going to Japan in 2023.
Cheers Phil, looking forward to seeing what you get up to next!
That's enough chit-chat though. Head to the shop now to check out the latest collection from Toy Machine, featuring artwork by the man himself, Phil Morgan. Safe.