You Don’t Own Your Idea

“Ideas are worth just five cents” — Art School Teacher

Sometimes it’s the simple lessons that you need to re-learn over and over to really comprehend. As a young art school student you mutter to yourself after class, “That old guy is being a dick. He doesn’t get my concept.”

True story time. Foundation year of art school: painting assignment. On the day it’s due we gather to show and critique our efforts. One charming young man (not me) decides rather than make a painting, he’s going to explain, in words, what he intended to paint.

Our professor quickly cut the youngin’ off…

“I don’t care about what you wanted to paint. We’re here to look at what people actually did. Ideas are worth 5 cents. It’s what you do with that idea that matters. Who’s next.”

Fast forward years later. I’m a working designer. I have a lot of side project ideas and not all of them are good. This is normal, we all have ideas. Once in a while, I do have a germ of something that I sit back and say, “Wow, I might be on to something here.” I spend some energy, do a few versions and maybe it gets better. Often it does not get better, and I move on.

I had one of these ideas in late 2013. I grew up skateboarding and even worked in the skateboard industry for a little while. It’s in my blood. I stumbled onto some old VHS blank tape box art: like this link, but better. These images, got my wheels turning and I started digging for more.

Skateboarding, like many subcultures is full of niches–micro-cultures that are amazing and curious. One such niche is the curious realm of skate videographers, or ‘filmers’. I was aware of a few filmer wheels made specifically for this task. Bigger, softer wheels to make following a flying skater easier to track, with less noise and more smoothness. But beyond, wheels there wasn’t much in terms of skate products.

My big idea was to create a skateboard brand around the filmers. This had been done in the past with artists and skateboarding. Shepard Fairey did this in the early 90s: pairing artists and skateboarding to create decks and shirts, using artists in place of pro skateboarders. The results were amazing, but the idea was ahead of its time. I combined the two: instead of skateboarders, VXS Skateboards would have a team of videographers. The deck art would be inspired by the VHS tapes I found. The name, was connected to the popular Sony VX-1000 which attained legendary status in the skateboard world. The VX-1000 was an affordable three-chip camera and is still used.

Side note: It is shocking how little information is on the web about Subliminal Skateboards. The team, of artists, included Mike Mills, Dave Aaron, Shepard Fairey, Phil Frost, and more.

So, I got to work and created some logo ideas and quickly jumped into the deck art, based on the VHS tapes. This piece of the process went super fast. I was excited about the idea and I knew a few filmers personally, so I thought maybe I could make this real.

created November, 2013, modified December 2013

Then my life came back into focus. My twenty other side projects wanted attention and this idea faded a little bit. The fun part, the part where I created a bunch of stuff was over. The logistics, the money and the reality crept in and this project sat idle for a while. I probably sent a few emails and explored it more, but nothing else creative happened.

Until…

VHS skateboard series by 5BORO

Someone made my idea real, and I will argue, did a better job executing the idea in the process. 5Boro skateboards created the VHS series. I don’t remember when I saw it, but this article is dated November, 2014. No, there wasn’t a new company based around filmers. It was simply and beautifully an execution of the same exact reference point that I had. Someone saw the strange beauty in those old blank VHS boxes and created a series of deck graphics. One of them is so similar to mine, it’s like the same mind is at work. Skateboard production is about a 3–6 month process, our ideas probably generated around the same time frame.

(left) 5Boro • (right) me

Yes, I was bummed out at first. Those guys did what I wanted to do and on top of that, they did it really well. After I got over my shock, I found the whole incident somewhat liberating and it took me back to foundation year of art school. This idea I had was worth just 5 cents, nothing more. Yes, I did something, I made a few images and then I stopped. 5Boro took it the whole way, from idea to execution, and made something awesome.

Should I have put this out into the world? Maybe, but I can’t be mad at what happened.
Was my filmer skate company concept viable? Almost certainly not. I would have given away most of the product and no one outside the skate industry is going to buy a board with a filmer’s name on it–aside from the few skatenerd-filmers out there.
Would it have been fun? Yes, certainly.

It’s really easy to fall in love with your ideas. We hold on to them like precious little gems. They are special and a little fragile. We don’t want to see them in the wrong hands or stolen. Look at your idea as currency and realize that its only value is in how you use that resource–the idea is simply what moves you into action.

designer, artist, skateboarder and video gamer