Tom J Newell Interview (Skate Shop Day)

 We've been friends with Tom since the mid 90's. We met him skateboarding at our local Tesco car park. Back then he was either doing graffiti (shhhh) or drawing in a sketch book. As the years went on Tom never stopped drawing and now his talent has developed into an art style he now makes a living out of. Tom creates so much work just for the love of drawing whether it be commercially or for charity its very difficult to tell you everything, as he never stops!  Last year Tom did a guest graphic for Fos's Heroin Skateboards which you'll deffo recognise. So with that we thought we'd share this interview on Skate Shop Day with our pal.

Can you remember your first visit to a skate shop? What graphics are still burnt into your brain from that day?
Yeah, in Chesterfield we had J. E James the bike shop down the road from us and they started selling skateboards with a big window display that I would pass everyday on my walk to school and it just blew my mind seeing everything in that window. This was all mid ‘80s Santa Cruz, Powell Peralta and stuff. I couldn’t afford to buy any of it, but my mum would take me in to buy stickers. I got hooked on the sights and smells of this big box of fluorescent stickers that they would pull out from under the counter. That’s the first place I saw all the Jim Phillips and VCJ imagery and theirs were the first skate graphics that totally burnt into my tiny mind, yeah. In 2009 I made a comic strip of 'Lil Jimmy Phillips' and how the Screaming Hand was actually his hand as a kid and he gives this other kid a high five and his hand bites the kid's fingers off.

I remember when I first met you in Tesco car park you had a New Deal Bert and Ernie slick! Was this your first skateboard?

Yes! The New Deal Rene Matthysen. My first slick. I wore the nose down to white plastic doing noseslides on the Tesco curb. 
My first proper deck that I bought new was a Death Box Rune Glifberg with Cluedo graphics from Boat World on London Road in Sheffield. I was watching the Spirit of The Blitz VHS everyday at that point and would’ve really preferred the Alex Moul board, but they didn’t have it in stock.

(Our mate Ben Dominguez kindly took photos off his personal artefacts. An original slick bottom that was never applied to a board and the actual Bert and Ernie dolls from the photo taken for the graphic. Ben won these when he was a kid from HSC (New Deal) they ran a competition in a zine they did.)

Who are your favourite skateboard artists?

Well I mentioned Jim Phillips and VCJ before, but back then I just knew them as the Screaming Hand and Bones Brigade guys. I didn’t know where or who any of this stuff came from, I just took it all in as one whole thing. After them it was all the Death Box artwork and stuff like the Pacer Hogs logo, and then with Blind doing Foghorn Leghorn and other Warner Brothers characters and Plan B doing Star Wars and whatever else they wanted, there seemed to be this copyright lawless time where anything was up for grabs, and that was exciting to see. I suppose it was happening at a similar time as HipHop sampling flying under the radar. But yeah, I never knew any artist’s names through all that. By the time of Flameboy and Blind’s reaper I had lost interest in a lot of graphics and was just buying blanks. 

Alex Moul Pro Model Advert From RAD Mag 1990. Courtesy of Neil MacDonald @scienceversuslife)


(Blind Jason Lee.WB ripoff series -1993. By Marc Mckee)

(Young Tom some time in the late 90's)


How did you come about doing graphics for heroin?

This was sort of a long time coming, and until recently I didn’t really think it would ever happen. About 12 years ago, I had an art exhibition in a skate shop at the top of Brick Lane and they said Fos had been in and that he liked my work. We chatted online a few times over the years, but nothing really came together until this Mandy board, which I was really happy to work on as I dug the film, too.

(Tom's Mandy x Heroin Skateboards Rain Dog Shape.)

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For your Mandy deck I remember you said you picked it from a list of shapes? What drew you to rain dog?

Tom waits until he sees the Rain Dog shape and then Tom picks that one. (Dad jokes allowed as Tom is a dad, lol) 

Tell us how you then draw the graphic knowing it’s going on a shaped deck?

I start by printing out the board shape and sketch things out on there. I always like the graphics to sit as perfectly as they can onto the shape of the board and not be cropped, so I always work within the templates.

Tell us about some of the other skateboards you’ve worked on with companies and shops?

I haven’t done too many actually, but would love to do more. I did one recently for an Element shop board with Black Sheep in Manchester. My first proper illustration job was designing a board for my mate’s old skate shop ‘Pie’ in Chesterfield. That must’ve been over 20 years ago now, but I’ve lost track. I still have one of the boards up on my wall and it doesn’t look too bad, ha. I drew the design with a biro on printer paper and gave it someone else to scan in and stuff. My process hasn’t actually moved on from that too much, but I have better pens and paper and my own scanner now.


(Tom drew this graphic for our mate Harry who owns Black Sheep Skate Store in Manchester and this deck is dedicated to the memory of Chris Barrett and David Beveridge fallen members of the Black Sheep family. This was made possible by Element skateboards with all proceeds going to Mind charity.)

(Pie Skate Store shop deck, Circa 2000)

You been doing stuff for vans. Can you tell us what the initial project was? And how it’s continued?

Yeah, I’ve worked on a few things with Vans. They always seem open to artists doing their own thing and to just use the shoes as a canvas. I’ve hosted a few custom workshops at the Oxford Road shop and I put together a recycled window display in the Meadowhall shop, where I painted over the old display and painted stuff on scrap pieces of wood that I found in skips and pebbles that I fetched out of the river in my local park.


I remember books like Fuck You heroes and Dysfunctional being very prevalent when everyone would go back to your attic after skating. How influential were those books on you?

Yeah, pre-internet it was books like these and skate magazines that were everything. The newsagents, book shops and record shops were like a window to see a glimpse of what the rest of the world was doing outside of Chesterfield. There was a short lived uk magazine called ‘Phat’ that was amazing, too. That one and some other self published ones by skate shops where they just threw anything else in there alongside the skating, like an article about how to get into Alton Towers for free, walking down a path round the back and over this bit in the fence or something. I'm often inspired by the compositions and shapes that are created with skate photography, too. Recently the Science Versus Life account on Instagram posted up of a 1993 Rick Kosick photo of George Morales, and I was really taken with the shapes and movement within the image so redrew, exaggerating the curves and stuff. When I reposted it Kosick loved it and we've spoken about putting a print out... I have to get back in touch with him about that actually, ha.

(System Magazine,1993 - Alton Towers article, Courtesy of Neil MacDonald @scienceversuslife)

(1993 Rick Kosick photo of George Morales Courtesy of Neil MacDonald @scienceversuslife)

(Tom drawing of 1993 Rick Kosick photo of George Morales)

 Speaking of records You do a lot of drawings for musical acts. Can you tell us about some of the musicians you’ve made posters and album art for?

Yeah, I love providing visuals to accompany music. It’s always an honour to create gig posters and stuff. One of my first proper posters was for a Daniel Johnston show and I ended up signing the prints with him backstage. He kept ordering hot chocolates and must’ve had about five cups as we chatted. He told me that he loved my drawings and that I should work for Marvel Comics.
My friend Drew Millward and I curated a poster show for Tramlines over a couple of years too. We invited a bunch of artists to make posters for acts on the line-up and they were all exhibited at the Millennium Gallery over the festival weekend. For the second year we’d done it, I made a poster for Wu-Tang, but it ended up that they cancelled last minute. Tramlines managed to get Mobb Deep and De La Soul in their place and I made a new poster for them on the flight back from my honeymoon.
I finally got to do an updated version of the Wu poster for their show in Phoenix Arizona last year, too.
When I did a poster for Madlib, my wife Helen and I went to meet him so he could sign prints. Helen was pregnant with our son Eddie at the time and we just chatted to Madlib about babies and stuff. He asked to put his hand on Helen’s belly and felt Eddie kick, which was a nice moment. I always play Madlib’s music to Eddie and think it’s wild that he sort of had that contact with him in a way.


You have a prolific portfolio of work it seems you draw everyday. I’ve noticed MF doom is a recurring character in your drawings . He’s the man right? I remember you playing me doom first in the early 2000’s.

(“All caps when you spell the man name!”) MF DOOM is up there with Captain Beefheart as one of my favourite artists ever, yeah. I got to draw a poster for a DJ set he did in London and went to the show, but there was talk afterwards that it hadn’t actually been him and he’d sent someone else in the mask, ha. I’m quite into how he took the piss like that. Always an incredible artist to follow through that journey of reinventions though. From back when we used to hear Dee Rock and Danielson spin ‘Rhymes Like Dimes’ at NY Sushi, and then I picked up Operation Doomsday from The Store record shop on Division Street, I always checked in on what The Super Villain was doing. He ended up living in Leeds over the last few years apparently, which is wild. DOOM forever.


We’ve always had a shared love of hip hop as youths. You had the record decks and everyone brought records round to your attic. You DJ on the regs now. What are your favourite current hip hop artists right now?

Yeah, music and skating are such great ways to bring people together as kids, eh? Having other people bring their record collections over to spin was a big thing too. I still only play all-vinyl sets at my monthly residency on Mondo Radio and regular sessions at Picture House Social and Church, so I keep that excitement for picking up physical copies of music to share. New HipHop I’m into right now is billy woods and anything on his Back Woodz label, Quelle Chris, Sonnyjim, Little Simz and everything that Inflo works on… oh, and I always love what KA does and just his whole approach to putting stuff out. I'd say I'm probably more inspired by musicians and their creative drive and output than I am by other illustrators. There's a similar energy there and with skateboarding too, it's all just self expression and just trying to mess around with how things are done in your own way within a specific framework...

Why are skate shops important to skate communities? 

Ah, independent, skater owned skate shops are obviously such an important part of the community.. Whether it’s for the people from the town and the surrounding areas that a shop is in, or for people visiting from anywhere else in the world. That’s the place you’re going to head to first and know that you’ll probably be able to meet someone and be welcomed by the people there. Me and my friend Leigh (who later opened Pie Skate Shop in Chesterfield) went out to New York when we were about 18 with no real plans. We found a skate shop and some of the local skaters took us under their wing and that was it for the rest of the trip. Skate shops have that magic. When Sumo arrived in Sheffield as the first proper skater-owned shop that we had up here, it was just everything to us as kids. That was passed down to Story and then now exists with Slugger. It’s so easy to see through a chain store’s agenda and independent skate shops, record shops and all the other businesses with real passionate people at the helms are vital to giving a place an identity and creating a network of like-minded creatives worldwide… They’ll probably give the kids some free stickers too, which my 3 year old son Eddie has already figured out, ha.
So yeah, big shout to Slugger for Skate Shop Day. Much love to Louis & Martin, AGD Crew, 619, Pie, Sumo, Story… and everyone who read this far. You can see more of my artwork on my @tomjnewell page on Instagram, and I play records at my monthly residency on if you’d like to tune into that. Cheers and Happy Skate Shop Day!

(These photos of Tom where taken with a disposable camera in New York, 1998 By Leigh Davis.)

(Tom did a Jake Phelps drawing that become a T-Shirt for us a while back, and the frog stickers which where part of an independent shops campaign for Sticker app, ...but we'll have to sort out a new shop board design soon!

This photo has to be included.. We went to the A-Team demo at Wakefield Rehab skatepark in 1997, Tom had just had his head shaved and decided it would be funny to get Rodney Mullen to sign his head. Rodney being a good lad thought it was very funny also. 




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