Drawing was the only thing I could remember that I had liked prior to skating, but I wasn’t very good, so it was more or less starting from square one.
Coming from Sweden, please meet Stefan Narancic, illest creative brain behind the one and only Polar Skate Co. imagery, alongside long-time close friends Pontus Alv, Jacob Ovgren and photographer Nils Svensson. Not just a skate illustrator and graphic designer, Stefan – who grew up during the 80′s and 90′s golden decades – is a true free artist that express a lot of personal feelings and ideas in his work. Something that has of course, contributed a lot in Polar’s growing success.
Hello Stefan, could you first tell us how you started making art and graphic design ?
Stefan Narancic : I started pursuing the visual arts as something to replace skating which wasn’t doing it for me anymore and I needed something that eventually could give me a career. Drawing was the only thing I could remember that I had liked prior to skating, but I wasn’t very good, so it was more or less starting from square one. Once I did the switch, I got completely sucked into it and forgot about everything else, even skateboarding. Since then I’ve practiced, explored and worked in many disciplines within the visual fields. illustration, graphic design, motion graphics, 3D visual effects but I’ve always been drawn back home to traditional art, drawing and illustrating.
Looking back, the late 80′s and early 90′s had the most impact. I wasn’t doing that much artistic work at all so I wasn’t paying much attention to what artists made what artwork. It’s only recently that I’ve found out who those artists were. It was the companies as a whole that caught my eye. Their entire profiles in videos, team attitude and products. My first big company love was Powell. They had a real strong professional profile that made a huge impression on me. Later, I was in love with what I felt was the opposing team, H-street. Companies had such strong character to them back in those days. The teams looked a certain way and skated a certain way and in no way would a skater from one team fit on the opposing team. I still watch Hokus Pokus and Propaganda, those seem to have stuck the most. This big cloud of intense impressions is what I still look back to. Of course, also what happened later in mid and late 90′s with Plan B, 101, etc.
What does skateboarding represent for you today ?
S.N. : It’s a sport and a spiritual practice. I’m not a practicing skateboarder. I roll very rarely and I don’t keep up with the industry at all. My interests are completely elsewhere these days. But the question is a big one and skateboarding still means lots, even if my only involvement today is the graphics. It is still my foundation. For me it opened up so many doors. Therefore, it represents something very spiritual to me. Early on it gave me a sense of identity and an expressive platform to view and experience the world in ways I doubt I would have, outside of skating. To have been in contact with these feelings, just knowing they exist, has made anything after that seem possible and meaningful.
As a long-time skateboarder myself, I was really pleased to see Pontus starting Polar as a new european skate company, like Palace, Magenta and of course Cliché some years ago. How did you start working with him and how are things going ?
S.N. : We grew up together, skating since our pre teens in 87. Loving and hating the same things in skateboarding. Our view of skateboarding comes from the exact same sources, days, events and each other. Jumping forward a few chapters to our 20′s, when Pontus moved back home to Sweden from his career abroad. He had just started to get more into arts so this time, our friendship started revolving around art. Eventually, after a few years, we ended up moving in together and working on « The Strongest Of The Strange » film. This was our first skateboard related collaboration. After the film was done, we went in different directions again for few years.
In January 2011, now in our 30′s, Pontus told me he was ready for the next chapter in his skateboard life, by starting a new skateboard company that reflected everything we had loved in skateboarding and that he felt was missing today. He said he wanted to put all his efforts into creating that vision and wanted me to be the art department together with photographer Nils Svensson, who is also a long time friend of mine. Later, Jacob Ovgren came on board on the art department and it’s been so great to have him as a drawing colleague.
Starting Polar was the most obvious move for Pontus to do but back then, I wasn’t convinced straight away how it would work. I won’t go into details other than to say, although Pontus is very intelligent, he always used to live far outside the norm, making bold unexpected decisions, being impatient, and not always in line with people and how stuff works in the real world. We, who know him closely, had a hard time imagining him talking proper business moves with people and doing administrative legit by the book company stuff so I was reluctant for a two three days but then, I also knew about his stubborn sick will power, focus and dedication so I agreed to join him. We drove around, knocking on warehouse doors, looking for a cheap office space. We talked a lot in the car about what we wanted it to be, and what we liked in skateboarding. It would often trigger Pontus into sick rants that made me nauseous. The name Polar rang in my head and I told Pontus about it, coincidentally he had the same name in his head and from there the name was decided. I then designed the logo, animated it, we found a small office and took it from there.
The same focus, dedication, and love that Pontus has put in skateboarding and filming in the past, he has now also applied to running an international company and he is doing the business side all on his own wholeheartedly.
Taking care of the team, taking care of orders, traveling, filming, editing, doing DTP work, making calls, doing his own artwork, skating and so much more. For no personal financial profit!!! When he sets his mind to something, he is gonna do it and learns on the way. He is a true doer. I can’t express enough how impressed I am with the hard work I’ve seen him do to get Polar up and running to its level, in such a short time, and how much he’s matured himself in the process.
How would you define Polar’s art direction compared to other skate companies ?
S.N. : We put so much effort in our artwork and we have the freedom to do whatever we want. I would describe it as a combination of playful and serious. The only spoken rule so far is no logo boards.
I try to make every board a piece on its own and not part of a « series » or theme. When that’s happened, it’s been after the fact. The trio « Paranormal Happenings » for example was a huge piece too big for one board, so we cut it up in three.
We really don’t have a planned art direction whatsoever in this skate co. and I haven’t done much research into what other companies do, except for youtube clips Pontus or Jakke rarely show me, so its hard for me to compare. I’m stoked on Welcome Skateboards, I follow them on instagram and watch their videos. Besides them, I’m completely disconnected.
Polar’s board graphics, stickers, tee-shirts, goodies… It’s all about those crazy visuals and messages, but it’s also serious in some ways. How you guys work on that ?
S.N. : We all work on our own these days. We used to sit together in the Polar office and work more closer. But these days I’m in my studio drawing boards. Jakke draws at home and Pontus drives to the office every day. When I work, I listen to lots of audiobooks and various internet channels and podcasts. Art trips to museums, practicing and studying art is a very big part of my daily life. Much of this info ends up in my Polar work one way or the other. Then we meet up and check what we have done. Usually, we have a small battle about color tones and then piece stuff together and ship. From there, Pontus does all the ads using our illustrations and Nils photos and makes some serious DTP work. Alv decides what becomes stickers and such.
What can you say about the team, pros and amateurs ?
S.N. : Just amazing !!! I’m so stoked and proud of our team. They are so productive and are all killing it. It’s just fantastic seeing such a good balance and dynamic of talents directed and pieced together to a team. And It’s all about skateboarding, from morning to evening.
What are you currently working on with Pontus and Polar, what are the next moves ?
S.N. : I don’t want to jinx anything by talking too much about the future, but there is so much new work coming up. Clothing, more art, animations for the Polar film. A proper website for once. New office, so we all might be moving back together again.
To conclude, what else are you working on apart from Polar, any other personal projects ?
S.N. : At the moment I mainly do Polar as well as illustration work that I get handed to me from my representation One Louder Agency in Paris. I signed with them this year and I’m super stoked about that. I love them very much. The rest of the time I’m working on my personal art and studies.
For more info : http://www.narancicgrafika.com