You’ve seen his artwork on billboards and in record stores, now get to know the 20 year-old sensation currently dominating the graphic design world.
Most promising football players from Southern California go on to play sports in college with hopes of fulfilling their lifelong dreams of becoming a professional athlete. Deviating from the imposed normalities is 20 year-old creative director Garrett Hilliker.
Raised 30 minutes from the beach in an average, “cookie-cutter type deal” Orange County home, the young visionary encountered a devastating injury during his junior year of high school. Left with two broken collarbones, little to no hope and a lot of free time, the growing streetwear industry immediately caught the attention of Hilliker and provided him with a new set of inspiration and ideas.
I recently chopped it up with Garrett to learn more about his roots, how he crafts iconic album art & more. Read our full conversation below.
Garrett Hilliker: It all started with my Dad’s really shitty Toshiba computer. I had an idea to start making shirts, I wanted to make a brand. Everybody goes through that phase, but I stuck with it. I started watching YouTube videos on all the questions I had because I was stuck inside all day. The more and more I dove into it, the more I fell in love with the process. It was the first time in my life that I was learning something I was actually interested in. So, I kinda gravitated towards it and spent my nights doing all that stuff instead of partying ‘n shit. Don’t get me wrong, I was trying to be the cool guy in high school too, but it’s not very cool when you’ve got two broken collarbones and slings ‘n shit.
How’d you go about physically producing the shirts and spreading the brand?
GH: At first I had to sell a bunch of random shit to get money for printing. As a 17 year-old, I sold pretty much everything I owned on Craigslist. I didn’t have a job, but I needed money to buy Photoshop and a few shirts. I was gettin’ like 15-20 t-shirts sent to me in the mail and flipping them at school. I’d take that money and throw it right back in. Eventually I met some sketchy dude who owned a screen printer, and I started driving to his house everyday to screen print shirts in his backyard. For how shitty the shirts were, they sold pretty well. At the time there weren’t any cool brands in my city so kids wanted something new. I started making money and was like fuck, this is it.
What was the name/basis of the brand?
GH: Granted at the time I thought it was dope, but I had this brand called The Tribe. It was this whole movement that I thought I was starting. We had a couple shirt designs, it was kind of like a brand and a blog and all of this creative stuff. We did our own packaging and bought these cardboard papers that we spray painted; basically we tried to make it as legitimate as possible. We really didn’t want to present it like a startup. We paid close attention to the packaging & how kids bought the product; it all had a process. At the time, I couldn’t get over the brand. It was a huge part of my process growing up.
Do you still do any work for The Tribe?
GH: No, no. That shit is long gone. I wouldn’t say it was whack because it was important at the time, but it was a terrible idea. Now it’s kind of cringeworthy.
So…how’d you get into music?
GH: I used to be a huge fan of Skizzy Mars before he had any clout and always had these crazy ideas of presenting him to people in a cool way. I used to go to his shows and take videos of unreleased songs and upload them to YouTube. They’d get like 10-15,000 views each and eventually he noticed them, along with the fan art I had been making. He hit me up and was like “Yo, do you want a shot?”. I was like “Yeah, of course” and after that we just started growing this real cool bond. Now he’s like my brother, I hang out with him as much as possible. All it started with were a few ideas and eventually turned into me running Penthouse Music‘s creative side.
Damn, that seems like a pretty pivotal moment.
GH: I would say that was probably the pivotal moment in my career. Somebody finally gave a fuck and gave me a shot. He didn’t care that I didn’t have anything. I feel like there’s a type of person like that in everyone’s careers. You know like, a person that doesn’t really know you but is wild enough to give you the go. Ever since then, everything has blown up. I’m forever in debt to that man for that. I was 17 years old with nothing to my name, ditching school to make covers for him. It was huge.
How’d you develop that signature Skizzy Mars artwork aesthetic?
GH: I’m huge on attention to detail and I wanted to make some shit that felt like Skizz. His music was different that all the music I had heard elsewhere. I thought it deserved something new; something different and something fresh. The whole textured feel and realistic vibe is huge. The kids that listen to the music also fell in love with what was in front of them. They saw there was a connection between the art and the music. Skizz always made it clear that I was an artist on my own, and so was he. It was almost like a collaboration. The art was just as important as the music and he made that super clear from the jump. Fans started to break down the covers, printing them out and putting them on their walls ‘n shit. It became part of the process of releasing music – having that cool piece of art that kids could criticize. Something tangible, something they could see. Most artists don’t care about the art, but Skizz made it about the whole process.
Getting more into the creative process, how do you typically start a piece?
GH: I always listen to the music first. Typically, I’ll go for what I think is the centerpiece of the music. For example, the “Come Back” cover with Marc E. Bassy with the tear in the middle is important because the picture on the cover is a girl that Skizz was talking to. For whatever reason it fell out or whatever, and I happened to know about it so I wanted to make it feel like that actually happened. So, I took a picture of the girl and tore it and put “Come Back” behind it. Obviously I’m breaking it down very simply, but I feel like there’s an underlying vibe behind all of it. I always try to find that “thing” only me and Skizzy, or only me and Halsey know about and put it in the art subtly.
What programs do you use to make your art?
GH: Mostly I run with Photoshop. Some people like Illustrator, but Photoshop is more of my home deal. I can do everything I need to do in Photoshop but I definitely go between them both.
Do you have a specific approach to actually making the design?
GH: Usually I’ll have a couple drinks or some undisclosed substances, whatever they may be. I work on them in one sitting usually, but it’s usually between hangin’ out the window and having a couple cigarettes and a drink. Then I’ll just sit down at my computer and knock it out. Occasionally I’ll throw out the ideas and start over, though. With Skizzy it’s pretty easy, but with some other artists they’re more specific and super strict on deadlines. And with Ashley (aka Halsey) there’s always other things that need to be done and refined, like Urban Outfitters releases or separate covers. But once I figure out the initial concept, the rest usually falls in line.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
GH: To be honest, my favorite part of the process is the stress and anxiety I have when I go into it. The reason I say that is because, whether its a big artist or not, I’m always put pressure on myself that it has to be better than the last one. I hate it at the moment but I put that pressure on myself because when it’s all said and done, it’s so much more of a payoff and through that process I learn a lot about myself that tell me a ton about my brain and my creative process. Sometimes it takes stress to get that really good idea out.
Do you like having input from the artist while you’re brainstorming?
GH: Usually, it’s all me. Whether it’s Skizzy or Halsey or anybody else I work with, they send me the music and know that I’ll go in a good direction with it. So yea it’s mostly just me and my ideas, that’s how I like to work. I like to work with people that trust me and know I ‘m gonna go in the right direction.
Is there a different approach taken towards an album cover versus a single cover?
GH: Obviously there’s a lot more people involved with an album cover, but I approach them fairly similar. I know that the album covers have a lot more pressure, but I try to make them both just as important and just as high on my scale. Albums are really refined because of things like the back cover, the layout & the billboards; they all have to flow.
Do you try to represent the entire body of work with album covers?
GH: Yea. I usually try to connect with the artist to see what the particular album means to them. With Ashley’s new album coming out, she has this whole idea and we sat down for a couple days on-and-off and talked about what we want kids to know, and what we want them to feel. There’s a lot of hidden things that you probably wouldn’t know unless you’re in the circle. Some kids figure it out, some kids see what it means. But typically, the art is representative of the whole body of work. I’ll start with one concept, and I’ll just go from there and try to get an idea from there for the whole album cover.
I know this Halsey is ’bout to start rolling out, but do you have any other plans for the future?
GH: Always, there’s gonna be a lot of cool stuff that happens this year but I’m my own worst enemy so I try to keep shit as unimportant to myself as possible until its done. For now, I’m just messin’ up and trying to see how everything works.