Interview: Eric McHenry

We team up with Braun to talk to the illustrator about his favorite Built to Perform possession

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A Los Angeles transplant by way of North Carolina, artist Eric McHenry applies a homespun touch to his paintings, rendering his characters in a bold, comic detail that illustrates raw, human idiosyncrasies. In 2008, McHenry’s iconic caricatures caught the attention of Insight, a lifestyle fashion brand that merges surf, skate, music and art. Embraced by Insight’s enclave of “Garage Artists,” McHenry’s graffiti-styled hand has quickly gained a following, culminating in “This Exists Now,” a recent retrospective of his work that was featured at the Australian brand’s North American flagship store in Los Angeles.

McHenry began skating in 1998, causing movement to become a pervasive theme in his work. From his early inspiration of skateboard graphics to having a world-renowned brand distributing his work, McHenry’s Built to Perform possession—a skateboard, of course—reflects the endurance and epic journey of his craft.

How did you get into drawing? What were some of your influences growing up? What are your go-to tools?

My mother was an elementary school art teacher growing up and a really great painter, so there were always art supplies around. Later on, I spent most days in a tattoo shop being completely surrounded by really creative dudes who were constantly drawing and painting with a lot of the same mediums I am using today.

My influences growing up were Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen, Sean Cliver, Norman Rockwell, Chuck Jones and Walt Disney, and the guys that drew those sports caricatures for pro player t-shirts. These all still apply today.

For tools, I try and keep things simple with a pencil, a few brushes, watercolors and some ink. I think I’ll be exploring some new mediums in the near future.

How’d you get involved with Insight? What was the inspiration behind your exhibition, “This Exists Now”?

I became involved with Insight back in late 2008. They somehow reached out to me about being a part of the Garage Artists group shows that they do. I’ve done a handful of Insight art shows, and I hope it continues forever. They are radical.

“This Exists Now” was really just a retrospective of some of the work I’ve done in the past two years and two series of works that I made specifically for the exhibition.

You created a mustache T-shirt for Insight and also “Mustates,” a mustache map of the United States, which even became a hit at Urban Outfitters. Why do you think mustaches have such a cult appeal?

Ever since I can remember my dad has had the biggest, bushiest mustache ever. And I’ve drawn mustaches on random stuff (states/countries/objects) since high school. I drew the Mustache shirt that Insight used in April of 2009. I really had no idea how well that concept would take off. I just painted that piece almost as “filler” for my blog, and very quickly Robbie from Insight in Australia reached out and told me that he’d like to use it in their new line. It’s insane how many times I’ve seen that shirt in the wild.


What types of characters do you like exploring in your art?

I try really hard to draw people realistically, but I think my mind wanders and starts adding little features here and there until it becomes unattractive and unbelievable. I like drawing people in motion like a Jacques Henri Lartigue photo and with as much expression as possible like how Rockwell always did. Oh, and cartoons and skulls and everything in your junk drawer!

How long have you had your skateboard? What kind is it?

I started skateboarding in probably 1998. That sounds about right. Ever since I started skating, it has been the most influential force in my world. A very, very large part of skateboarding is the graphic on the bottom of the deck. Since the beginning, I’ve been completely obsessed with drawing the graphics or making up my own. Eventually, it just led to less sketches of other artists’ work and a more polished, focused, original thing. I’m not always drawing skateboard-themed pieces but it is the reason I draw and paint.

This skateboard is really just a representation for every skateboard I’ve ever had, which is easily more than 100. Although, I really, really like this specific board and shape. It is a Black Label Ed Templeton guest board.

If you could design your own skateboard what would be a must-have feature?

A funky shape to keep it interesting and a graphic done by one of my favorite artists.

In one sentence, tell us why you couldn’t live without your Built to Perform possession.

I hate walking.

Images by James Ryang