Imaginative, Eccentric, Genuine, Unique, Distinctive, MasterAn idea is a concept that exists in the mind. In the mind of an artist an idea not only has shape but sometimes form and design-it’s all up to the artist’s ability and which medium he or she chooses. It could also be a combination of techniques to bring the idea to “life.” The artist in question is Abel “OG Abel” Izaguirre of Chino, California.
While growing up in the ghetto of Compton, life looked bleak for the young Mexican boy who hadn’t been in L.A. very long, coming from his homeland in Mexico. There was negativity all around him-drugs, gangs, and the impoverished. Something had to get him going, to set him free from this dismal life. That something was his art. Self-taught at a young age, it’s hard for him to remember when he didn’t draw or paint. There are times when he hits a creative road block, so he’ll get away from the art piece he’s doing and jump onto another project and then come back with a fresh mind ready to get back into it. “I’ll come to it with a clear head and pick out what’s wrong with it, then maybe I’ll see the direction I want to go with it,” Abel says.
Many have seen his polished work, but what they don’t know is that everything is sketched out before one gigabyte is used on his Apple computer. “I still do all my sketches by hand, whether it’s logos for Jesse James’ new TV show, or whoever,” Abel says. “I’ll sketch out the idea, then scan it, and then tighten it up digitally.” The same goes for using color in a piece, he’ll rough it out, play with color overlays with markers on marker paper before committing it to the computer, but even then he can change up the color direction if he thinks it needs it. A general sketch can take a good 15 hours and then once he has it on-screen in his Mac, it could be another 20 hours for him to get it to where he wants it. Coloring and any additional work will of course add extra time to do a piece, but doing it with a computer has made it much more streamline for Abel. “For production it was crazy, we used to have to cut every detail out of Ruby Lith-a material used in color separations when printing on a mass scale. Back then we had to work on a light table using different screens and do it all by hand. It’s incredible, the computer has changed everything,” Abel says.
We checked out one of his designs, the Money Rose, a popular shirt design that came from an earlier art piece. “It’s one of the original ideas I’ve had to come out with, which was originally done on a mural on a ’63 Chevy Impala. The mural is of a girl sitting on a rose, but it just looked too plain as a rose, so I was like, I wonder if I could make that into money? The car was green so it worked out perfect and I think it debuted at the Lowrider Super Show a while back. It was crazy and everyone was tripping on it,” he says. It was certainly one of the first times Abel could actually pat himself on the back for a job well done. That can be said for his ever-growing line if T-shirts, where at last count he had more than 40 designs and counting.
He started out with only four designs and has about 200 designs in his sketch pads just waiting to come to life. As for the ideas, they come to him when least expected. “It could be in the middle of the night or when I’m watching the news late at night and then bam, it hits me, so I pick up a sketch book and jot it down or put it in my iPhone so that I don’t forget. So occasionally, if I hit that road block we were talking about, I can go back to one of the 30 sketch books that I have.”
Once, while traveling back from Japan, OG Abel came up with the idea of the Hood Pups. The Hood Hounds were cool but he wanted something cool enough to go with the Hounds. The Hood Hounds are an offshoot of the popular line of figurines called the Loc’sters. “The Loc’sters came about when me and my partner were doing the repackaging of the homies characters, and I was like these are cool but like I always wanted to do figurines too.” So they came up with characters that people could relate to, did the packaging, and the rest is history. But OG Abel’s figurines are more personal because he’s based many of his characters on people he actually grew up with in the ‘hood who are special to him.
As for his shoe line, a good friend of his, Brian Reed at Osiris, hit up Abel to see if he’d be into doing shoes with him, telling him that he would receive royalties from the deal and be happy. Initially, the first shoe was to be a limited edition, 2,500 pairs, and he was excited, but having delt with another top shoe maker had left a bad taste in Abel’s mouth. Things were as cut and dry as he was led to believe, but that’s not the case anymore. “They were kind of shady, dealing with this other company was a nightmare, our lawyers had to go back and forth, it was very corporate. There was no love there, they didn’t care about the artist,” Abel says. In reality, they just wanted to leave their mark on the product without giving the props or proper money to OG Abel. They came off as if they were doing him a favor. So he stood his ground with this corporate giant, got OK money for his work on the Chuck Taylor shoe, but it left a bitter taste in the artist’s mouth. “I had no idea the impact it would have in that industry,” he says.
Later, Brian Reed asked him if he was opposed to doing more than the initial run of 2,500 for the limited edition because they had vendors ready to order 20,000 units of that first shoe with Osiris. It was full steam ahead for the venture. Both parties benefited from the get-go: “It was crazy, they were so happy to have me on board that we jumped right into the second shoe. We’re like at about our eighth shoe design now. I’m leaving for Korea soon and it’s just a trip how things have turned out for me. When I was a kid all I thought about was being poor all my life; I didn’t think it was fair. I thought you had to be white and grow up in a middle class family to get by, or be like that TV series Diff’rent Strokes and get adopted by some rich people to be successful. Just by growing up in the neighborhood you’re like so blinded, you don’t see outside of the box because you have tunnel-vision and you’re just used to dealing with Blacks and Mexicans. When I started branching out, it was a trip how blind we can be when we live in the ghetto.” By branching out and using his art as a bridge, OG Abel was able to connect with others through his talents as an artist. “When I was a kid I never thought I’d see past my ‘hood, past that chain-linked fence. You never get to see all that stuff out there.” Some people, he says, would end up joining gangs or get into other kinds of trouble, they couldn’t really go out of the neighborhood because they’d get hit up as to where they’re from.
“I was free because I never joined a gang, but I had homies. I knew people from this gang and that gang so I could get by in that world. I was able to leave the city and go anywhere.” By his willingness to branch out from city to city and now out of the country, OG Abel is able to meet with his peers. “It’s a trip you know, when Cartoon lived in (San) Pedro and I lived in South Central, it’s crazy how we met, how his girlfriend being my friend, and she’d talk about Cartoon and then my friend and I would go to Cartoon’s house. It’s a trip how things like that can happen,” Abel says.
Speaking of happening, OG Abel has just signed a deal with Skull Candy. “We’re going to do a Skull Candy headphones by OG Abel and I’m doing a Ford car for the SEMA show for Heavy Hitters magazine. I’m also doing stuff for Jesse James’ new show Jesse James is a Dead Man,” Abel says. That deal came through easily because of the history between Jesse and OG Abel. Abel knew of Jesse before all the lights, camera, and action came about. He knows of Jesse’s hard work, attention to detail, and how investing in himself can pay off. So how does Abel invest in himself? “I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid you know, by getting markers, sketch pads, pencils, those little investments in what I did in my life, all that time of practicing drawing. What I do now comes naturally, what I do now in half an hour, I didn’t do in half an hour before. It’s all those hours that have happened in my time that allow me to know how to do it in half an hour,” Abel says. It’s called paying your dues.
“Now there are all these computers and now you’re either a photographer or an artist-you apply a filter or program or take letters, distort them here and there, which breaks the laws of design.” It may look good to those who try and take the easy way out but those shortcuts may give you lousy results.
“It’s like building a home without a foundation, you start at the roof, you build this amazing roof, but then you don’t really have the proper materials to hold the roof up. You just have to start with a foundation and make sure it’s level and start from there,” Abel says.
What advice does OG Abel have for future artists who would want to follow in his path? “Practice and practice, don’t stop short.” After a day at work, rather than talks about the workload, Abel would rather just enjoy what’s happening in his family’s lives-it keeps him grounded. Abel knows how fortunate he is, always in demand and constantly approached by opportunities. He has only so much time but is grateful that his workload will keep him busy. These days are not easy, especially for an artist, but as he said, “I feel that all those times when I felt life was unfair to me and thinking I was always going to be stuck in the ‘hood, well it’s a trip how wrong I was. By investing in myself, working at it, practicing, and doing it without thinking, it was almost like a shelter for me, you know, like drawing would help me escape from it all. I’m fortunate for that. Now I have things I would’ve never imagined.”
Having seen both sides of the spectrum one can only try and imagine what OG Abel has lived in his crazy life, but the one constant thing is his family. “I think the most important thing in life is family. If I had to give everything back that I have, my family would be the only thing I’d want to keep.”