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Reef Hawaiian Pro

Erik Abel's artistic process

Erik Abel: As a freelance artist, it's not everyday that you get to work on a dream project like the artwork for the Reef Hawaiian Pro. I thought I'd share a little about the project and the process with COTW because I always enjoy reading about that stuff from other artists and designers. It can be valuable to see how others work.

Last year, my friend PJ Connell (Reef's Marketing Director) and I, started tossing around the idea of a Reef/Artist collaboration on some trunks, shirts and sandals. I had just left on a 4 month trip to Fiji and Australia and was pretty excited to have something creative to keep the right side of my brain lubed while I was traveling.

Towards the end of the trip I got an email from PJ asking if I'd be interested in doing the artwork for the Reef Pro 2011 since it was about time to get that all sorted out for the year. Obviously, I was stoked! If for no other reason than being that much closer to maybe joining in on a tropical Miss Reef photo shoot! Hey, you never know what can happen. Maybe they'll need an artist to paint some designs on a few of those booties one of these days. :)

After returning to the states, I started working with Reef's graphic team to put together different concepts and narrow it down to these comps. There were a few elements that needed to be included such as the bridge over the Anahulu River and the red buoy. The view point also needed to show stacked-up rights with Pua'ena Point in the background.

I don't know how surfing mag editors get anything done… What started out as a quick search for Haleiwa line-up shots for reference, turned into several hours of nostalgic-glaze-eyed-I-wish-I-was-surfing-tropical-tubes-right-now, kind of internet time warp. The day wrecker kind. Luckily I was able to snap out of it before dark and go for a surf!

Above: Initial sketch, colour scheme explorations and the final composition.

Cody, Greg and the team offered some great art direction with this project. We went back and forth for a few rounds to lock in color scheme and overall composition with the extra side and top panels. I think this design is somewhat unique for event artwork because of the several different sections or pieces that make up the design. It offers a ton of options for the design team to mix it up for different formats in advertisements, apparel and the event space. As you can see in a few of the surf mag ads.

Above: Reef Hawaiian Pro 2011 advertisements, as seen in "Surfer" and "Surfing" magazines.

So when I got the green light on the last color comp, it was time to start digging around for the right wood to build the panels. The structure was made entirely from found wood and there's quite a contraption of metal braces, screws and washers holding it all together on the back… It's almost comical. Building the structure to paint on is one of my favorites parts of making art. Even if it's just cutting a few simple pieces of wood and sanding the edges. It's like the beginning of a ritual, it grounds me and let's me think through the process. There's a sort of satisfaction with constructing a piece from start to finish rather than just buying a ready-to-paint canvas at the art store. The Reef Hawaiian Pro artwork was the piece that popped my new studio's cherry. As you can see from some of the pics, it's pretty tidy and sparse in there. Can't think of a better way to kick off the new space!

Above: Erik Abel at work in his studio.

To start off the process, all the panels get laid out and trimmed to fit together snuggly. I rough out a pencil sketch and figure out which areas I want to prime with white so the colors stay nice and bright when I start with the paint. Many of the bare wood areas get sealed with a layer of clear acrylic medium to keep the paint and markers from bleeding or soaking into the wood too much as well as keep the natural pigment in the wood from bleeding into the paint.

After the composition gets laid out, it turns into a flurry of Prismacolor markers, colored pencils and layers of acrylic paint. Paint goes over marker, marker goes over paint. I try to keep it loose and fun and keep that sketchbook energy flowing. I think it's nice to see the old lines that were made, even if they were the wrong ones. It gives the painting a sort of energetic history.

The structure was taken apart and each wood section was painted individually so I could get messy with markers and splatters without having to worry about it getting on the other panels. It also let me treat each piece as it's own painting by itself, which I think adds to the overall effect when it all gets put back together.

That's about it. I always apply a layer of clear acrylic medium as well as a final gloss or semi-gloss Polycrylic protective coating to give the colors a rich pop.

When completed, I delivered the piece to Reef to make the hand-off and let the talent of the Reef design team take over with the Reef Hawaiian Pro logo and branding. And I think they did a hell of a job!

I'll be heading out to Hawaii for the event in November. It'll be insane to see the artwork blown up massive on the Judging tower and all over the event… Definitely the coolest part of this project for me. It'll also be insane to sneak into a few warm North Shore tubes! Yeeeoww!

I hope you enjoyed some insight to the creation of the 2011 Reef Hawaiian Pro artwork.

Reef Hawaiian Pro 2011 poster

About the Reef Hawaiian Pro 2011

Haleiwa is best known as the gateway to the Seven-Mile Miracle, Oahu's famed North Shore, Haleiwa town hosts the first stop of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the Reef Hawaiian Pro. The event runs at Alii Beach Park on the west side of the Haleiwa Boat Harbor, where Haleiwa's tricky reef is capable of delivering hollow rights, rippable sections and powerful closeouts.

Haleiwa is a true test of a professional surfer's ability to handle a multitude of conditions, all at the same break. From two to four feet, Haleiwa is a rippable peak, with most surfers favoring the longer rights. Its racey walls allow for high-performance surfing at its best. At four to six feet, the right can get hollow and heavy and competitors will sit deep and look for the longest barrels. Over six feet, Haleiwa can handle, but the waves transform into powerful, punishing walls of water that race down the reef before closing out over the extremely shallow Toilet Bowl section. The shallow slab of reef is responsible for critical and dangerous end-of-wave maneuvers, as well the occasional broken board. Best on a west swell, knowledge of the lineup is key at Haleiwa. As the surf increases in size, a strong rip develops across the lineup and can pull surfers out of position and right into the impact zone of an oncoming set. Most often, the winner at Haleiwa is the surfer who can handle themselves in a variety of conditions and have the stamina to continually fight the rip, heat after heat.