Q: "Officially, you are the Brand Manager for Socksmith Design. Tell me what your scope of responsibilities are?"
LM: "Well, it’s a pretty all-encompassing title. It runs the gambit from maintaining the brand’s integrity, establishing direction, developing marketing plans and aiding in the creation of new or emerging product categories. But I’m also a designer so I design and illustrate as well, and I help create any digital marketing that our marketing department might need help with. Pretty much whatever people need me do."
Q: "There are many things that set you apart from other "brand guys" because you’re not only artistically driven, but you also have a very sharp business acumen. Where does that come from?"
LM: "Well it certainly didn’t come from education as I had to look up that “acumen” word! But thank you! I never had any education beyond high school so had to figure things out. With the internet, college seems to be less important. Marketing isn’t a battle of products, but of perceptions. It’s also a lot easier to make what people want rather than spend money to make people want what you make.
I think egos and opinions are brands biggest enemies and they’re not objectively looking at real data when making decisions. Listen to your customers and look at the numbers. Don’t work on your weaknesses but improve your strengths. Do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t. Sounds like a no brainer but people have egos and want to shine and it can make bad business decisions. They 'thought' something did well when it didn’t, just because they liked it. No ego.
I was strictly an illustrator for a failing skateboard brand and when no one wanted to manage it I volunteered. I couldn’t make things any worse, so they let me do what I wanted and the moves I made just felt logical. They were hemorrhaging cash, taking money from what they actually sold and spending it on trying to make the brand something they wanted it to be, but threw out all their brand equity in the process. So I stopped doing that.
I realized that a 10% increase in sales of the best product they were selling would equal a 1000% increase in what they were trying to create. I felt like I could achieve 10% easier than 1000%. And that was the start. I was able to double sales every year and I also cut expenses which helped bring the brand back. I read a lot of books on brand differential and learned how to manage budgets and sales forecasting and I began managing the international distributors. This was pretty much on the fly.
Long story short, I have no clue! But I had nothing to lose. We also had to design something like 400 graphics and products each quarter so decisions had to be fast and decisive. Make it - if it worked, good. If not, no judgements, just cut it and move forward. When things are going good, it’s because of your team. When its fucked, it’s your fault. Own it."
Q: "You're an artist by nature, so when did you discover you could draw and when did you realize you could make a career from it?"
LM: "My mother was an old masters oil painter growing up and I was always around it. I’d say around 4th grade I got some praise, and it gave me worth. I had what you would call a 'bad' childhood so it was my escape and gave me value. I went in a different direction than my mom and veered into graffiti, tattooing, skateboard art, etc. I started getting tattooed around 13 years old and made my own tattoo machine and started scarring up my friends and local gang bangers. I had to interpret their ideas and think like, “hey, maybe cool aid man smoking a blunt on your stomach isn’t the best idea. How about…” and make something cool. And when you’re tattooing some Norteño fresh out of prison, you learn to not mess up, lol!
As I got older, I had no job options but someone I knew had a computer and I taught myself some basics, did logos for free and made up some companies until I had enough for a portfolio. I finally got a job in a skate shop making store signs and whatever they needed, and a local skateboard brand (Santa Cruz skateboards) took me on. Then I worked for Indy and learned apparel design and construction and away we went. Now I’ve drawn for Star Wars, Marvel, The Simpsons, Volcom, Hurley, CrossFit, etc. Wild times…
Q: "What are some of the greatest challenges you've faced in your career? What are some of the greatest rewards?"
I’d say the greatest challenge I usually run into is trying to save brand owners from themselves. I do a fair amount of consulting and getting them to get their egos out of the way can be challenging. As a passionate person, I understand. But when emotions make business decisions, we can get into the weeds quick.
But the reward of thinking up shit, making it happen and then seeing it work, is an addiction. A total high. How you do one thing is how you do everything. Years ago, I did and album cover job. They paid me $250, and they threw in a sweatshirt, a beer-coozie and 7 guitar picks. I liked them and wanted to help. I’ve also been paid $12,000 for wine label art, and I put the same effort into both jobs. The band I did the album cover for ended up getting a track used in a Volcom surf video and they asked who did the art, and it got me work for them. You never know how the universe works.
Q: "There are so many talented, undiscovered people out there. What would you say to someone who might not have the connections, confidence, or know-how to get started in a career, doing what they love?"
LM: "Patience. I firmly believe in the 10,000 hours rule. So around 10 years of doing it regardless of the results before you master something. Find what you love and let it kill you. I didn’t have a social life or friends or options. I thought I’d be in prison or dead, so this is all gravy to me. I sat and drew for 12-14 hours a day. I spent a week drawing eyes. When I admire an artist, I break down what are they’re doing that I don’t and teach myself. Steal from everyone. With social media and the internet there are no excuses anymore. No video games, no bars, no vacations, no dating. You need to sleep 6 hours a day, that leaves 18 hours and even if you have to work 8 hours a day, that leaves you 10 hours a day and the weekends. No excuses. No one is going to do it for you, and you have to want it more than other things. My family suffers when I have a show coming up or big project. Tunnel vision. If you truly love it, let it kill you and you’ll do it better than someone else who doesn’t want it as bad.
I love all the mumble rappers who tattoo their faces up. No plan B. Burn the boats. They want to make sure there is no back up. Love it. Tattoo your face and say fuck it."