Designing the W: How We Built The Dharma Collection
Ed. Note—we launch the Dharma Collection next week, the design of which represents a departure for Wattie Ink. We've seen this year some more representational designs in collections such as the very popular Fury Collection, and we chatted with long-time Wattie Ink. designer Chris Ybarra (designer of this author's favorite Recon kit) about his process, how the design came to be, and how Picasso and graffiti both speak to him.
"Accidents are there so we can find those accidents and develop collections from them."
Chris Ybarra looks to Picasso, Francis Bacon, and graffiti for inspiration, loves accidents, and rarely looks back in satisfaction. The southern Californian has been with Wattie Ink. for years, now, working on iconic collections such as Recon ("I wish I'd done a different camo pattern") and Fury. Those familiar with the bold yellow and black of the latter collection will be surprised to learn that the Dharma Collection, which launches next Tuesday, swam out of the Fury process: a piece of design that Ybarra loved but couldn't fit into Fury.
"Fury came out of Black + White. We wanted to do something similar, using black and yellow this time, but maybe a little more pictorial. Black + White is pretty intense, and based off of geometric, abstract patterns. We developed a color board and started playing with different motifs. One of those was the landscape motif that eventually became Dharma."
One of Ybarra's in-process design images for Dharma, courtesy of Chris Ybarra/Wattie Ink.
"When I sit down, I like to spread out in different directions," Ybarra tells me over the phone on a cool November morning. "We have an idea and then I'm like, okay, let's do a concept a little bit more literal to that initial idea, but then I might go right, go left. I'll try a couple other options that are not as straightforward. I think, again, it kind of goes to that process of just keeping things organic and flowing so that accidents are there so that we can find those accidents and develop collections from them." It may surprise readers that these initial designs happened almost two years ago, in the fall of 2018, as Ybarra and Wattie Ink. founder Sean Watkins traded ideas that would eventually become the Fury Collection, which sold out in a matter of hours once it launched. In another wrinkle, the mountain pictured above isn't even the one that Ybarra originally tried to fit into Fury. They'd been playing with his landscape motif for that collection and it wasn't quite working for the bold look of Fury. On a hike with his family in Joshua Tree National Park, Ybarra snapped a dramatic image of some of the foothills there, and realized later he had the thing he had been looking for, but for a new collection.
"A couple of weeks later, I was just going back and looking over the photos and I saw how dramatic that composition was, and so I combined a few other photographs of mine to create that particular composition, and that's what we ended up going with. But what led me to take that particular photograph was just that Joshua Tree is a really cool location. There are very interesting structures that I've never really seen anywhere else, of boulders and rocks and trees."
Different possible color approaches for the collection, courtesy of Chris Ybarra/Wattie Ink.
"I wanted to create something that was atmospheric and dramatic. Something that made you want to sit and meditate, something that captured the feeling of that time and space in Joshua Tree. This kit was tricky, because the design is basically a picture, which we haven't done a lot of. We've used things like skulls and small images in Shipwreck, but this was a corner to corner image, and getting it to lie correctly on the body without weird things happening posed the biggest issue. So we played with the colors and the blocks to make sure that when someone wore it, it still looked both like a mountain and an appealing design."
Ybarra credits his eclectic background for making this process possible. He talks about learning the craft of design from graffiti, which is "the foundation of shape and those shapes' relationships to color" along with a more classical painting education, where he cites greats such as PIcasso and Francis Bacon as influences. You can certainly see both artists in Ybarra's work, as he plays at the edges of representation and abstraction. Ybarra also cites paining as the foundation for his ability to iterate. "With painting, you're in a constant process of starting and throwing away, starting and throwing away. I think that helped me learn to not to get too attached to any idea, and freed me up to make mistakes. Out of those accidents something really interesting usually happens. For Dharma, we had something we liked but it just didn't fit into Fury, but we didn't purposely sit down and say 'We're going to make something new here.' It was more that we were lucky to have a moment of vision and we caught the thing that flew out of that vision."
The kit's main design element, photo courtesy of Jake Orness
The reverse of the kit, photo courtesy of Jake Orness
BRRRRAAAAAAAPPPPP! Photo courtesy of Jake Orness
Like what you see? Come back next Tuesday when we launch The Dharma Collection, photo courtesy of Jake Orness