Artist’s Palette: Tanner Barkin

Artist’s Palette is a column that connects with the artists, designers and creative innovators in the music and outdoor worlds who drive the visual art we connect with.

I love a good workshop and walking into graphic designer Tanner Barkin’s shop a couple weeks ago was as good as walking into any candy shop for a 6 year old kid.

A long, tall 4-D concrete canvas, it was filled with blank t-shirts, screen-printers, prototype skateboards, and a myriad of books and magazines strewn about, with the seminal surf rock band The Tornadoes playing on out-of-sight speakers. Barkin welcomed me with a beer, way better than any creme soda from the candy man. 

Tanner and his wife Taylor are the co-founders of Moore Collection, a Denver-based screen printing business. Tanner is the head designer who illustrates all the art while Taylor figures out how to get paid for it all. They’ve been hustling most every week since 2014 when they were in college together, running up and down the Front Range at various art, craft and beer festivals. There isn’t one set artistic point of view for the company though it leans heavy on inspiration from landscapes and attitudes found in the outdoors. Simple vignettes of the desert at night or the tools of the trade for a fishing trip exude a clean and illustrated style — digital woodcuts almost — and have led to a number of partnerships, including a current run of field guides with Wild Sam

It’s Tanner’s current side project Camp Co. that has brought me to his lab today. When most people think of skateboarding they think of the current iteration of the sport that has people throwing inverted tricks 20 feet in the air at the X-games or grinding a 40-foot railing at a Santa Barbara middle school for a two-page spread in Transworld Magazine. Maybe if they are really hip they are thinking of the burgeoning thrasher style of The Bones Brigade from the ‘80’s or the longboard chill of The Lords of Dogtown in the ‘70’s. 

Tanner grew up heavily influenced by the boom of ‘90’s skateboarding, skating in middle school and drawing recreations of Birdhouse and Spitfire logos. But he wanted Camp Co. to go a little further back to when a skateboard was only a year or two removed from being a scooter. “I’m putting out something that is obsolete in skateboard culture today (laughs), since people are ollying five feet and gapping spans of 20 feet,” said Tanner. 

The company’s Roll-N-Camp boards are a massive throwback to the 60’s when skateboards were viewed more as a curious kids toy than any kind of vehicle for exploration and adventure. The boards are skinny and are accurately described as a “board,” while the wheels could literally be used on a conveyor belt. You don’t ride so much as hope you don’t fall off. But the sense of freedom and fun is as present as it ever was with skateboards and you’ll fall in love with the authentic aesthetic of the lettering, construction and packaging. They are a blast from the past that you can’t help but ride. 

“I go back to the ‘60’s. There’s a lot of opinions about where skateboards started but I read this book and listened to this podcast called 99% Invisible where they talked about these different pinpoints of where it all started. It really started in Europe and then came back to California with surfers. The skateboard was this commodity toy item as a box scooter. Then they took the box off and a lot of surfers would start carving with them when the waves were crap. They don’t have a super clear time period but it’s about the mid-’60’s.The board I made is essentially a toy, it’s not meant to be ridden around for a long time. Which is funny because this project is kind of ephemeral (laughs), but it has a long lasting style through it,” said Tanner. 

The design and earth tone colors are highlights for Tanner though the project really gives the artist the chance to showcase his strength as a historian and talent for authentic recreation. He grew up in Arizona and his dad was both a commercial printer using out-of-fashion offset machines and a historical reenactor of 18th and 19th-century fur trappers and wilderness explorers. Conservation of history was important and so was being able to recreate it in both action and style. From graphic design to historic authenticity to outside living, the seeds of Camp Co. were all in Tanner’s upbringing. 

“He went to school for traditional printing, not fine art like me, so he’s learning about letterpress and all this German stuff. I saw that as a kid and I loved it. He’s very much into western history and being outdoors which was an inspiration for me, I’d go camping all summer. 

“My dad would do period correct interpretations of a subject, which is where this new project comes in. I’m very much a deconstructionist where I want to know the beginning and where did things start, which is where history can be very important in showing you these points where stuff changes,” said Tanner. 

After an interesting tangent on fur trappers and western history — which I loved — Tanner hops on the board and glides around his workshop for a little demonstration. I imagine the sense of accomplishment must be high to have built them all from scratch by hand. He designed all the prototype boards himself and used Ebay to find the wheels, buying them from some guy who got them at an estate sale. The amount of time and research that went into them is humbling, especially when you consider the novelty of the pursuit, but the final product didn’t ever seem to be the goal for the graphic designer. 

“I think I find more validation through the process of it versus the actual launch of it. It’s just a side project. I sold stuff but I wasn’t bummed if it was lower. I don’t feel like a failure. I connected with people who would blast me pictures of their boards they had collected from this similar era and connected with other people who are starting brands and hustling. There’s this niche culture all over the world,” said Tanner.  

With Camp Co. a little piece of that culture is now in Denver, looking better than ever thanks to Tanner Barkin. 

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