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Rob-L X Soleheaven Customs Interview

Date: July 31 2008

By: Sneaker Freaker

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Finally we have an in-depth interview for all you heads that need a custom fix! We were fortunate to cop a chat with Puma aficionado Rob-L who delves into his catalogue of collaborations and gives us an unaffected step-by-step guide into creating the ultimate custom on one of the ‘underdog’ trainers, the Puma Clyde. Rob-L recently hooked up with UK online sneaker joint Sole Heaven to create the Pimp My Clyde shoe, and we were lucky to go along for the ride as we discover how one young kid’s blagging turned into a customising monster machine!

Give us a bit of background into yourself and how you started customising sneakers.
I’m 31. I live in Bristol, South West England, but I’m originally from the North. At the age of 12 I started doing graffiti, and that’s something I’m still active in aside from my design work. My custom work originated from the earliest stages of really needing to get fat laces for Pumas and not having them, so making them myself, stuff like that. More recently I did some work on trainers with what you might call ‘traditional’ graffiti, but I quickly moved into pattern work from that. Now what you see from me today is purely pattern and colour based and is under my real name as opposed to a pseudonym.

What was the one thing that got you into the game?

There was not really just one thing, it was a mix of things really. At school in the ‘80s, the influence of English football terrace style and a bit later Hip Hop style, meant that brand name trainers were playground essentials. You could get some real stick if you wore Hi-Tec or Dunlop. I guess that ingrained the power of the big brands into me at an impressionable age. Of course you then enter the whole world of blagging your parents that a brand name equals a longer lasting pair and all that, and somehow you convince yourself at the same time. Really you’re just trying to survive and also look good, so I guess that is the root of it all.

We rarely see the Clyde getting the customised treatment. Why did you decide to use this as your canvas?
I’ve been wearing Pumas since I was like 13 or something. I started using them as they were already my shoe of choice to wear, and when the all-white suede versions appeared in 2005 it was something I could really work with. Also, I like the ‘underdog’ aspect of not using Nike I guess – not that it’s an underdog shoe, more that it’s the easy choice to do something that’s always in use and well loved like an AF1 or a Dunk or whatever.

What was the inspiration behind the art on the Pimp My Clyde? How do concepts for shoes come to you?
Well, I’d already done a couple of Polygon pattern shoes, but they were just runners with small panels of the pattern. That pattern is so labour intensive that I wanted to do it as an all-over design because I think there’s little chance that somebody else would have the patience for it. I guess that’s a key motivator in my work anyway. When people realise those Clydes took 40 hours of painstaking work they look at me like I’m mad, but I kinda like that. Soleheaven asked me to do something for them right at the time I had that in mind, so I hooked it up for them.

40 hours!!! You must be nuts, with a whole lot of patience!
It was spaced out over about 10 days, like after work and weekends. I did a couple of solid 10-12 hour days on them, then the rest was when I had time. It was by far my most labour intensive piece ever, and I have to say, I’m not desperate to do another pair like that. By the end I was just willing myself to carry on, like some sort of marathon runner!

How did you become involved with Sole Heaven?

The guys at Sole Heaven were tracking my work and when we spoke, were very appreciative of my previous projects. They gave me carte blanche to freestyle and design without any restrictions. They wanted me to go nuts and showcase what I’m really about. This was music to my ears and couldn’t wait to get on with the project. On the back of this I also really liked their store and the effort they were putting into the sneaker culture elements of their site. It made a real change that a UK based store had these ideas and wanted to follow their passions. The Custom Kicks series is a great project and I’m sure they’ll be lots of other great designers following in my footsteps with this. I know they’re already talking to C2 and couple of others regarding the next instalment. Check out www.soleheaven.com/custom-kicks for more information.

Is this the first time you have collaborated with a store or brand before?

I’ve done all sorts of commercial work for big brands over the years. Strictly trainer-wise I’ve done a project for Crooked Tongues (XR Runners in Dec 07) which was 10 pairs of hand inked shoes. I’ve also done one-off pieces for Puma, and of course the main Rob L Clyde release for Puma from June 08 as well.

We get asked by a lot of peeps trying to get into the game of customising, what the correct or perhaps the best paints and materials to use are. Can you give our readers a heads up?
For me, the best material to paint onto is nubuck. It is uncoated leather, so doesn’t require stripping and all that shit. Paint it with Angelus leather paint and you can’t go wrong, www.turtlefeathers.net is the place I get mine. It’s basically bonded into the nubuck and has a commercial leather looking finish once it’s done. There is nothing better in my opinion. I know you can mix up your own paints and all that, but Angelus has a really good finish to it which is very much what you expect from leather. I’d suggest that instead of buying millions of colours, you just need a big pot of white, then the primary colours red, blue and yellow, plus a green, brown, black and purple/magenta. That way you can mix up everything you want without buying loads of paint. I get these glass pots to mix the colours in from a pharmacy and that’s the job done. When it comes to suede I use alcohol-based graphic markers like Pantone, Copic, Magic Marker or ZIG Kurecolor for patterns. You can also do some all-over dying work on suede with Dylon Hand Dye, but it does change the feel of the suede a little.

Has there ever been a time when you have messed up a shoe so badly you have had to bin it or are your customs well thought out and planned before you start putting brush to canvas?
I aim to not fuck anything up at all on a shoe because it’s costly. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I rarely fuck anything up and also I know my materials well so I can usually sort out problems if they do occur. I guess that comes from 20 years doing graffiti as well - fucking up is not an option as your name is on the line, so I have the confidence to know I won’t, and that applies to shoes now too, most of the time! I also have test shoes and a bag of leather/suede that I do experiments with, so when I go onto a shoe it is pretty much a foregone conclusion what will happen to it, and I just execute it. If I imagine myself somehow making a mistake while I’m working I touch some wood to ward it off!

Is there a strong community feel with customisers like there is for sneaker collectors? Being in such an isolated world of just you and your sneaker, do you have any connection with other artists?
I do have various contact with customisers all over the world. I want to do some more collaborative work too, but for now I’ve been focused on being an individual with it and carving out my own style. As for the community aspect of it, well I’d say it’s more like a peer group than a community really, and sometimes I’ll get a message from a customiser who’s letting me know what they think of a piece via MySpace or email or whatever. I do the same, but it’s not like I sit and discuss everything in depth with a lot of people.
Saying that, I do think it’s good to share technical info with other heads, but I think it’s maybe a bit like you have to earn the right to learn some things from some people. Fair enough I guess. I know heads who mix their own paint formulas for midsoles and stuff like that, and they have to do a lot of testing and trial and error stuff to get it right. I think it’s cool if they don’t want to let everyone know, so maybe that’s again where the peer group or community aspect comes in.

Who do you think is holding it down in the customising game right now?
You know, I’ll be honest with you, my approach has been very solitary in some ways. I can’t honestly say I have seen other customs and thought ‘I’ll do that too’, I just did it my way and it’s somehow relevant to an existing ‘scene’. So, for that reason my outlook is maybe not as wide as it could be. Some of the heads that have caught my eye and regularly impress me are: Ghettrocentricity, Sekure D, Emmanuel Labor, S02/Sharp, Evolved Footwear, Nash, Mache, also Jor 1 is great at what he does too. Like I say, I don’t know everything, and I know there’s a lot of seriously talented people out there too, so if I missed anyone out I’m sorry!

What’s next for you and have you ever thought of branching out with your artwork into other areas?

Yeah, I’m actually doing all sorts of stuff at the moment. I worked with Mini to make the vinyl-wrapped Clubman that was at my show in London, and I’m looking into doing more with them at some stage. Also I’m setting up a clothing label at the moment, which will be coming into the world pretty soon – www.fromstore.com. Shoe-wise, I have been talking a lot with Puma about various things and I’m hoping to do more work with those guys into the long term. I also want to do a show in Tokyo next, with something like 10 x pairs of hand made shoes available from just one store. Stay tuned.

www.rob-l.com

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