Everyone finds their way to art in different ways, for Bear Walker it was the culmination of many of his “accidental passions”. By this he means his love of skateboarding, pop art and culture and his training as a carpenter. Walker, you see, makes collectible skateboards, handcrafted and good enough to hang on gallery walls as well as sanding rails. This is very modern pop art for a modern audience.
Today Walker is famous for making artistic skateboards, carved out of wood before being spray-painted, carved, etched and burned, depending on the designs. As we speak, behind the artist is a wall of his skateboard designs, one designed with tactile fish scales and another retro Spider-Man. There’s a long tradition in skateboard art, and we’ve highlighted some of our favorite skateboard graphics in the past, but Walker’s boards is his art.
Walker’s latest project is a series of limited edition collectible Pokémon skateboards officially licensed by Nintendo. These specially designed, special edition Pichu, Pikachu and Raichu deck designs are now available in the US and, for the first time, in the UK from the Pokémon Center. “The fans go crazy for Raichu,” Walker tells me excitedly.
Bear Walker, get inspired
After studying graphic design in college, Walker got a job making custom signs and props, and it was during one of these projects that he was inspired to adapt the techniques and tools to something more personal. “So I carved this first skateboard just for me,” he reflects. “Then people started asking where I got it from, so they started taking customer orders, and that was 11 years ago now. It’s kind of snowballed.”
The design process is very personal for Walker, even, perhaps more so, when creating some of his collaborations with famous brands, including Marvel and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He explains how he remembers what he wanted as a child and aims to create that vision. There’s a direct line from Walker’s childhood to his art, and it’s one that strikes a chord with millennials.
“I always design things for ’90s kids, where you have that nostalgia, that feeling for something that you were passionate about when you were a kid. But now you have a little extra money to get something for your personal collection,” says Walker.
He laughs as we discuss how ’90s design nostalgia is one of the latest biggest trends, saying: ‘It’s all worked out. […] So it just happened that when I started making these higher quality boards, skateboards started to become more popular for pop culture and decoration.”
Walker makes only 25 custom boards each year and has a two-year waiting list. So it is not surprising that the artist has his celebratory fans. can name check actor Jason Momoa, “Shazam!” stars Zachary Levi and Billie Eilish as owners of his custom boards. But he maintains that sense of authenticity about his creations, telling me that his limited-edition skateboards are made in pairs, “one for riding and one for the wall.”
The idea that people collect his boards as works of art was surprising. “When I first started, I built these things to ride,” he says, explaining that they’re “super durable” and he spent time perfecting the grip of the boards and even built his own truck and wheel company to ensure the wheels fit. perfect with the board.
“I was almost kind of offended after the first couple of years where nobody was riding them and everybody was hanging them on their walls,” he admits. “Then it hit me that this is really good, they like them so much they don’t want to destroy them.”
There is an art to wear
It’s the rough and scratched versions that Walker loves. He designs his boards to be hit. Every scrape and scratch adds to the design. “It’s a complicated process,” he admits, “because I strategically put where I want texture […] I have to think about where your legs would be in this design and where I need to add more texture where I can have a flat area, where I want to put darker colors against lighter colors.”
The creative process begins with pencil and paper, Walker also uses Procreate on an iPad and has begun teaching himself ZBrush. His designs must be studied in three dimensions because they are carved from wood, and care is taken to ensure that texture and detail work harmoniously. Each panel is hand painted and the gradients are airbrushed.
Walker now uses CNC routers, large mechanical woodworking machines, to carve his boards. These are similar to newer laser cutters that you can buy for your home. It’s also hands-on, creating around 20 prototypes for each board design. His workshop and gallery in Miami has a room filled with over 200 boards that never made the cut. “If you open the door, it looks like a terrible Harry Potter library archive,” he laughs.
Interestingly, Walker’s designs are built to wear, with the gradients getting deeper and richer as the rider’s feet hit the board. “It really must look cooler as they get older,” the artist says with a laugh. “As you wear it, it will almost have that ombre effect where you’re just adding to the gradient as you wear it.”
Walker’s work crosses between traditional Pop Art and a contemporary textured, sculptural approach. “I’m always trying to find a way to play with your eye or play with your senses by making different textures and having different colors and blank spots,” he says explaining how surfing as a child and his love of skateboarding influenced his art. but it really “pays [his] debts to pop culture and the realm of art and craft and woodworking […] there I tell more about my story.”
Pop culture, collectibles, and art have always gone hand in hand, and in 2023 I feel like art is easier to discover, own, and expect than ever before. “I feel like we’re in a new renaissance for this kind of thing,” Walker comments. “We got to this point, I feel like in the early 2000s, where mass production and convenience were oversaturated, and I think slowly, over the last five or 10 years, the more personalized, handmade things have become more valued.”
Now the generation of 90s kids has grown up and is looking to buy art and collectables that remind them of their childhood but in a unique and creative way. “Nostalgia makes people spend some of their money on things that remind them of their childhood,” Walker says, and he has a point: according to one report, “kids” are responsible for a quarter of all sales of games per year. (opens in new tab).
Walker says his collectors are looking for something that reminds them of their childhood, but in a unique way. For him, it’s the “little imperfections” that make the difference.
A DIY attitude
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As we speak, it’s hard not to be drawn in by Walker’s infectious passion for his craft, and he mentions that everything he does is self-taught. “I couldn’t airbrush so I taught myself,” he says, “I’m learning ZBrush from YouTube, when I bought my first CNC machine I needed to learn CAD programming,” he adds.
There’s an excitement in Walker’s voice when he discusses how he got started and where he is now, and there’s no sign that he’s about to let up. He also points out how now is the best time to be creative. Whether it’s software like Procreate, technology like Glowforge, or the ability to set up shop and sell your art online, Walker sees no reason why artists can’t succeed.
“There are so many opportunities to create out there now and so much really cool technology that you can use to create these things that, yeah, it’s actually kind of limited by your imagination,” enthuses the artist. “And yes, it’s a crazy time to be a creator.”