Take a Mental Vacation to California With Ariel Wilson’s Vibrant, Laid-Back Artwork

We asked the Long Beach-based artistic maverick about the transformation of skate culture and the benefit of wearing many hats, all the time.

With a sun-soaked colours and an almost slapstick painterly style, Ariel Wilson‘s artwork exudes all things California. Which makes sense: over the past ten years, the artistic maverick has honed her skills while situated in between San Diego, Temecula and Long Beach. And we don’t just call her a maverick to sound fancy: Ariel paints, illustrates, makes videos, creates murals, teaches and consults. As a result, her body of work is undeniably diverse – she’ll create intricate floral patterns one day and juxtapose photos of skaters against painted landscapes the next – but is united by a red thread in its vibe. Looking at her work makes you feel like you’re in somebody’s head—somebody who has a sense of humour, doesn’t take herself too seriously and is hungry to experiment with classic design elements as well as test out new formats just to see if they work.

Ariel also comes from the skate world, which is why we were lucky enough to nab her to exhibit her work at our upcoming group art show at The Growlery in San Francisco. In the meantime, get to know Ariel below and find out why skate culture continues to drive her and why she thinks storytelling matters most.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey, Ariel. Who are you and where are you from?

Ariel Wilson: I’m Ariel! I live in Long Beach by way of Temecula where I grew up, and San Diego where I went to art school (UCSD).

What do you do for a living, and what job title would you give yourself?

I’m a freelance designer, illustrator, muralist, teacher, consultant, painter, etc. Working freelance is great because I get to wear a lot of different hats, so to speak. This suits me because I have a lot of different interests and can get restless easily if I feel stuck in one mode. In addition to making art, I also run an art group twice a week with at-risk/special needs youth at a residential treatment center called Oak Grove Center.

How long have you been working as an artist?

I’ve been working freelance full time for the last ten years, but have been making art for as long as I can remember. I don’t have a dedicated studio, and I don’t see myself having one in the future. Right now I share a work space with my boyfriend, Darien, who is a skate filmer/editor. I work best when I can kind of dip in and out of work at home next to him editing near all my creature comforts. I’ll do some design work on the computer, play with our dogs, fuss over my plants and work some more at night once they all go to bed.

You seem to not contain yourself to one type of work: you’ve got your vector style work, but also have a series of more folk-like paintings. How do these different styles come together in your head?

I definitely have a different approach to each medium, but I think there are some stylistic threads that are consistent across the board. My colour palette is a pretty unifying force and I like making work that feels both simple and meticulous at the same time. Whatever I’m working on, I’m really motivated by storytelling and history.

How did you roll into the world of skateboarding?

My dad got me a skateboard while we were camping at the beach. I was in elementary school and I guess that was my first introduction, but art was really the catalyst into the skate world. As a kid I loved (and still love) all of Evan Hecox’s work for Chocolate, and was super into the art direction for Alien Workshop and Habitat. When I was fourteen, I found an issue of TOKION magazine called The Disobedients. It had features on Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton, Barry McGee, Evan Hecox, Andy Jenkins, Tobin Yelland, Mark Gonzales, Harmony Korine… Basically, most of the artists that were later in Beautiful Losers. I was so hyped on it. It had all of my favorite creatives in one issue, which was really inspiring to me at that age. I found a community through skateboarding because of the intrinsic overlap between skate and art culture.

You’ve been making artwork for some skateboard brands as well. How did these projects come about?

Really just through friends, as a result of growing up alongside so many talented and kind people. I barely skate now, unless it’s to go to the store of get shit out of my car, so I feel grateful that I’ve been embraced by so many people in the skate world despite being an “I used to skate” person.

For the Girls Are Awesome show at the Growlery you’re exhibiting a series of skateboard paintings. Can you tell us more about this series?

A year ago I started working on a zine, mostly as a way to force myself to get better at InDesign. The idea was to make a small book that explored the relationship between skateboarding and art by interviewing my friends who are involved in both. When it came time to make a cover for the zine I wanted to make something that covered both bases, so I made an image that was a fusion of my friend Wissman’s photo of Robbie Russo and a gouache painting I did of the background.

I was really excited by how it turned out, so I reached out to other photographer friends of mine and asked if I could look through their hard drives for photos to paint. At that point I’d been working alone from home for so many years that I was starving for some kind of collaborative project. We all see so many skate photos day in and day out, and it was cool to just sit with one photo for a couple of days and really study the spot as a landscape set aside from the figure or the trick. I worked with Brian Shamanski, Alex Papke, Andy Wissman, Collier Ott, and Adam Small.

What is the most exciting thing in skateboarding to you right now?

Right now I’m excited by how many independent skate brands are popping up with really fantastic and thoughtful art direction. The skate community is made up of really creative people with unique and often very specific visions. When I was a kid, there were a handful of companies whose art direction I was really stoked on. Now, there’s a ton of fantastic, art-driven companies for kids to identify with and draw inspiration from either as skateboarders, artists, or more often both. I’ve also loved seeing skating evolve and return to its roots as a more inclusive space for women.

Final words of wisdom?

I realize this is cliche, but if you’re lucky enough to find something you’re good at that gives you a sense of purpose, just keep doing it.

Thanks, Ariel.