WORD of MOUTH is an interview series we're launching. It started with the idea that there are people out there we found to be interesting and wanted to know more about them. Then we thought everyone else might want to know more about them as well.
It's something that will span various genres and interests because we're interested in a lot of things. We'll talk to people who do everything from art and design to building bikes to outdoor enthusiasts. That's just how we roll. We hope you enjoy it and will follow along as we talk to some interesting folks.
Our initial piece features a conversation with Chris Martin of Last Match Studios (The Last Match Co. tees). Enjoy!
Images & words: Chhun Tang
Old has become new. Used has become wanted. And through these current trends and past ones, Chris Martin has stayed his course. His classic aesthetic has withstood the test of time and his dedication to doing things right makes his work stand out from sea to shining sea.
You may or may not have seen Last Match shirts around but there’s a good chance you’ve seen his other work. That’s because Last Match Studios is an illustration and design shop which happens to put out apparel. Just take a gander at his website, you’ll see some familiar names. His line of shirts has been an outlet for his personal ideas and illustrations and it also gave him a chance to have shirts made the way he felt was right.
His work possesses a very analog quality. With technology all around us, he still does things the old school way putting pencil to paper. For the most part, his process is so old school that it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that he still sends out letters using a typewriter and signed them off with a wax seal. We love the unique quality of it all and that’s really what made us want to find out more about him. We wanted to know why he does things the way he does and how he got to where he’s at now.
EF: When did you start drawing or getting involved with art?
CM: As long as I can remember, as a kid I always drew stuff. I kind of got discouraged in high school because it was something I wanted to do but I had a hard time getting art classes. It discouraged me a little bit so I kind of got into bad habits and stopped for a while.
You stopped in high school then continued after that?
I was going down the wrong road so to speak but then had an epiphany. Kinda like the universe was telling me to get back into it. Then I just started working at it, practicing and making sure I drew everyday.
Sounds like you were pretty much self taught.
Yeah, I look at it that way. I’ve taken some art and life drawing classes but I never graduated from art school. I went to a trade school but that was useless, really useless. They taught me how to use a proportion wheel, that’s about as much as I credit them for. Later in life, I took some classes at Art Center, their life drawing classes are really good. I still try to take life drawing classes when I can, I actually need to take one now. They’re such great practice for everything, type, cars, anything. Figure drawing helps fine tune your skills. It’s like exercising, I think if you can draw the human form, hands, eyes, all those things correctly, you can draw anything.
What was it that prompted you to start the Last Match T-shirts?
I like vintage shirts and I knew how they could be done, I knew what was possible. I was doing work for other companies without much input after the art left the studio. I wasn't happy with how they where coming out and I knew I could do better.
What’s been the biggest challenge about starting the Last Match?
Probably the way the market works now as opposed to the way it worked 20 years ago the last time I had a clothing line (Swank Threads/Hi-Fi Mfg.). There's not as many smaller boutiques these days so without a major chain store you’re going to have a hard time making money.
On the flip side, what’s been the best thing about it?
I’ve gotten to do a lot of stuff I wanted to do, it’s promoted the studio and I’ve learned so much about the other aspects of what I do, such as the treatments, production and the business side of the industry. I’ve been involved in other lines before and had my own lines but I always had partners, this is the only one I've really did on my own.
It’s really a design studio and has been a design studio for almost 20 years. LM started out doing art and concert posters, we’ve always done design and now we do T-shirts. My favorite thing is hearing how others are into the shirts. I hear this from friends who get them and stores are always telling me how people are into them. How they have customers who buy them all and can't wait for new designs. We have to be doing something right?
Last Match shirts are cut and sew, custom bodies and custom fit and that’s something not many people do. Why did you decide to go that route as opposed to creating your artwork and using stock shirts when you can just buy off the shelf?
I’ve never found one that I was happy with. I would love to, I wish there was a shirt out there that I could buy six dozen at a time, print them and sell them that way. I wanted my shirts to be a certain way and they just weren’t making them so I had to do it myself. It all goes together, everything works together, the color of the shirt, the feel of the shirt, the feel of the print. You can’t get that same effect by printing on a Beefy T.
Most of your stuff is motorcycle and vintage inspired but there are elements from other things as well. What do you do or where do you go to find inspiration?
Just anything, sometimes I’ll have something in mind of a certain era and I’ll look at what’s going on during that time. Take the Ace Café shirt for example, I didn’t want to look at anything they’ve done because it’s already been done. I took inspiration from that 60's era for reference, British bikes, British petroleum and I tried to find things around the time to be inspired by. Kinda like I'm designing in that time and being influenced by those materials around me.
Do you go through phases of ideas whether it be motorcycles or music or other things?
I guess so but not really consciously, not intentionally.
What about any brands that you’ve come across that have influenced you?
I try not to look at other brands too much because I don’t want to be doing the same things as everybody else is doing.
Do you ever look at brands from the past, like a specific era of Levi’s or anything like that?
All the time, I love old stuff. Vintage tourist shirts, old biker T's, anything I can find. I look at them not just for the graphics, but also the details like the stitching, the way they’re sewn, the fabric and how they look after they’ve been washed after 30 years.
I don’t think people realize the amount of work that goes into each of your designs. Without giving away too much, can you explain your process?
It varies, sometimes I’ll use India ink, gouache and other times I’ll just do it in pencil or water color, whatever. I’m always trying to think of different ways to do things. To me, those things don’t really matter, It’s just how I want things to look. That goes back to getting into the mindset of what era or genre the idea came from originally and I just try to imagine how that would look and feel or what media would have been used.
Most of the distressing is done while I’m creating the artwork and I’ll get that unevenness as I’m doing it. Other times I’ll have something clean and then I’ll distress it.
Note: There’s some distressing in his work that is top secret and I got the death stare when I even broached the subject.
It all has to go into the computer to make film. I do my film a little different than most people.
Making your own film isn’t common. You’re the only artist that I’ve heard do that.
It saves me money, and I have a lot more control over it. When I started in the business, I did color separations. I bought my own stat camera, had a contact table and a dark room (pre computers) and I that’s how I really made money. I wasn’t as fast back then at doing art, I had no idea how long I would take to do one piece, sometimes it would take me a week. But with film, I knew exactly how long it would take so I could charge by the hour and no one would argue with it. Back then, if I spent a week on a piece of art, no one was going to pay me a thousand bucks. That was my way of paying bills for a long time, so I’ve always just done my own film.
Prior to the Last Match and even now, you’ve worked at and for a lot of great companies, is there one in particular or a few that standout to you?
Lucky Brand was really good. I developed a lot of the stuff there that I’m doing now, I learned a lot and worked with a lot of talented people. The shirts always came out good.
Levi’s was great. I worked with so many talented people. I got to get away from doing T-shirts and did environmental for retail. That was really cool. Some of the stuff I did there was so challenging. I thought I had seen everything in this business but then I step into that and I’m taking the same hand done approach and I’ve gotta make it print five different ways, digital, screenprinting, offset and on five different surfaces like wood, paper, canvas and on different sizes for everything. With T's I'm thinking about the printing as I'm doing the art with this I didn't know how anything was going to print until after. There was no road map, it just had to be figured out.
How would you sum up The Last Match up till this point?
It’s first and foremost a design studio, it’s going to always be that. That’s the real essence of the company. We’re just making shirts right now. I’m still doing other stuff too music packaging, branding whatever comes around. I don’t ever see it ever changing from that.
I started Last Mach Studios in 95 and when I was thinking of doing the shirts, I was thinking of other names and thought of doing other lines but purposely left it as Last Match as a way to draw attention to the design studio.
I've been itching to know, where did the Last Match name come from?
When I was a kid, my aunt smoked, everyone smoked. One day she was lighting a cigarette and there were only two matches left, she took one and threw away the other and told me to never use the last match because it was bad luck. It just kind of stuck with me.
Later, I found there’s more to it. There’s the military aspect where you don’t want to be the third guy to light your cigarette in combat. The first flash, the sniper sees you, the second flash the sniper aims and the third flash the sniper shoots. So that last match is kind of like the death match.
A lot of your work is motorcycle related and that seems like that’s a big part of your life. When did you get into motorcycles?
The first motorcycle I ever rode was a Honda Trail 70. I think I was around 7 or 8. And then when I was around 9 or 10 I got a Honda XR80 and that was the best thing ever. I used to go out with my grandparents, to the desert. I don’t even know where we went to, it was just known to me as "the desert”.
When I was 15, I bought a Vespa P200 that I went in with my friend Jay. Neither one of us had drivers licenses. We did odd jobs and came up with $200 and bought this Vespa from my friend’s dad who was this biker dude that let me keep it at his place cuz my mom didnt know about it. I had that for about a year and a half and racked up 13 tickets because it wasn’t registered and I didn’t have a license. I used to go to juvenile court by myself, I would see the "bad ass" kids from school with there with their moms all pissed at them and they would be all cleaned up and looking guilty. I think I was 16 or 17, and by then I had two or three more scooters, and a probation officer called my mom asking what was wrong with me, saying people go their whole lives with only one or two tickets and I already racked up 13 and I wasn’t even 18 years old yet.
We had a lot of fun back then. We did everything, we used to ride scooters everywhere. I lived in Tustin and we’d go up to LA regularly, Fenders in Long Beach, pretty much everywhere. Back then, there was nothing off limits, no helmet, nothing. I remember coming back from LA at four in the morning freezing our asses off with no helmet on and no matter what jacket you had on, it still wasn’t enough.
Thanks for spending some time with us and sharing your story Chris! And thank you for checking out the interview! Be sure to check out his work. You can find him at the occasional event in the Southern California area or online:
Last Match Studios on Facebook.