Ken Berman: Steampunk Skateboard Artist

Craft & Design
Ken Berman: Steampunk Skateboard Artist
Ken Berman - Skateboard Display
The outside of Ken’s home/office displays his skateboards.

I was driving a local road here in Sebastopol, Calif. when something caught my eye. Skateboards. Lots of them. Not rolling down the street, but artfully painted ones tacked up on the garage of someone’s house and mounted on posts like sculpture.

Steampunk - 9x34 - with shadow - biz card
Skate and create: one of Ken Berman’s boards.
2007 Tiburon Art Festival
Ken Berman with one of larger paintings.

Turns out the boards were the work of local architect Ken Berman. As an architect, Ken thinks in straight lines, angles and artful arches and curves. But designing homes and small structures wasn’t enough of an outlet for his creativity. So he took to painting. He went to school in Bethlehem, PA near the mills of Bethlehem Steel and memories of clanking, chugging machinery still lingered in his mind and found an outlet on the canvas.

“The old steel mills were a great inspiration to me and I was immersed in that ‘culture’ for four years until I graduated in 1988,” he said. “I used to live in an apartment right next to the railroad tracks and I can still hear the ‘click-clack’ of the coal cars as the trains came in to feed the mill.”

The subject of work has a mechanical, steely edge but there’s a patina of age and fog than gives many of his paintings a sense of an old or faded technology. Steampunk is the obvious adjective, but there are other industrial elements at work, too.

Ken’s side career as an artist was going along fine when one day he happened to be thumbing through a skateboard catalog (he likes the shirts) and his eyes fixed on the graphic art that adorned the bottom of skateboard decks. Blood-dripping skulls and serpents are the norm for skateboard art, but Ken had another idea: What if I put my art on skateboards?

12.018 (10x8 - Oil on Panel)
An image of one of Ken Berman’s oil paintings.

His work had attracted interest from young people who couldn’t quite afford to buy his stuff. Transferring his work onto the smaller canvas of a skateboard deck   allowed him to sell his work for a lot less—$85 to be exact. So now he’s got another side business: Bermanboard Skateboards.

The boards sell steadily, attracting interest from young skaters as well those who would never think of marring the image with a rail slide at the local skate park. For those who want to display their board, Ken invented a device he calls a”board dock,” a bracket that allows the board to be mounted on the wall.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook