The art and awesomeness of Tim Skirven

From surfing in suits to helping design the city’s look, he plays a unique role for Richmond.

If you find yourself talking to Tim Skirven over morning joe at a local coffee shop, prepare to be interrupted.

In a roughly 15-minute window, not one, not two, but three people politely cut in at separate times to say hello, shake his hand, or, as in the case of the last person, hug him.

“This man is loved,” the woman said, smiling ear to ear as she bent down to wrap her arms around Skirven. “Loved like crazy.” Skirven smiled, blushing under his beard.

The Virginia Beach native has lived in Richmond all of three years, but he’s already loved like crazy in a place he thinks is less like a city and more like a village.

“Every neighborhood has its coffee shop. Every neighborhood has its local artists or its bike shop. Everyone sort of has a role,” he said. “And people are proud of those roles.”

Skirven’s role? He’s the village designer, DIY guru, and all-around awesome dude.

It’s a role Skirven seems born to play.

Searching for it

Among Skirven’s claims to fame is that he was never grounded while growing up in Virginia Beach, where his family moved when Tim was 5-years-old.

“Never been grounded my whole life,” he said, restating the unbelievable truth. That doesn’t mean Tim was an angel growing up (he wasn’t) or that his parents didn’t care enough to raise him (they did). It’s just that his parent’s didn’t grind rules into him, trusting and respecting that their son was bright enough to figure things out on his own.

Skirven’s parent’s also encouraged him and his brother to try new things. “They very much wanted my brother and I to figure out who we were,” he said. One way his parents did that was to enroll both Skirven and his brother into summer camps centered around activities like arts and crafts, surfing, and others.

But it was skateboarding that stuck. He loved the sound the wheels made rolling on asphalt and pavement. He also loved the deck art. “I would go to the skate shop even if I didn’t need anything, just to peruse,” he said. He’d pore over each issue of Thrasher for the featured artists and article art. He’d redraw in his notebook the graphics that caught his eye while at school.

“I figured out I had a knack for art through skateboarding.”

Simplify it down

During his junior and senior years at high school, Skirven did half days at school and the other half at a vocational school for graphic design.

When he started college at JMU in 2004, most of the introductory graphic design courses reiterated things Skirven already knew, but a drawing professor in the last semester of his freshman year “blew my world open.” Instead of crafting original art, students had to mimic the styles of Andy Warhol, Disney animators, abstract artists, and others beyond the pale of Thrasher.

That pushed Skirven in his drawing and design, as did a screen printing course that came this close to making Skirven change his major. Unlike designing, screen printing was “dirty and hands on” and gave Skirven something tangible to show for his efforts. But Skirven stayed a graphic design major.

One of his takeaways from screen printing was how to simplify. He went into screen printing with the idea that his elaborate designs that he’d sketched on paper would translate into prints. They didn’t. Skirven learned he had to restrain himself, simplify his designs. “It gave me parameters that I don’t think I had ever had before,” he said. “I’m still a very busy person on paper, [but] I go through the iterations to simplify it down.”

Surfs up

After graduating college in 2008, Skirven stayed in Harrisonburg and played in touring band Gifts from Enola.

In 2012, he helped launch Logstradamus, a Virginia Beach guerrilla surf competition that, in addition to skirting legal permits, requires contestants dress in formal attire. The event’s premise was thus: “If you had 40 people show up to a crowded beach in suits, all paddling out to surf, it makes people do a double take,” Skirven said.

Going to Virginia Beach for surfing is like going to Maui for the ice fishing. The wimpy waves made the “competition” even funnier. “You’ve got dudes that’ll go out there in a Matador costume, and they’ll stand up and have three seconds before a wave putters out. So what are they going to do?” Skirven said. “You’ll see people try to spin around. It’s just fun.”

The 2014 event went legit (at least in the eyes of the law) and brought in vendors, bands, and between 400-500 people during the day-long event. Skirven said that Logstradamus will continue that festival-like mindset into next year.

But while Skirven’s efforts to make uptight Virginia Beach goers do double-takes took off in 2012, his career as a graphic designer struggled.

Going pro

Returning home to Virginia Beach after graduating college, Skirven eventually found work at a local Apple Store. “I was constantly looking for design jobs through the whole thing,” Skirven said about his immediate post-college years. He’d do band T-shirt jobs here, a simple design project there. “Whatever I could get my hands on.”

He eventually transferred to the Apple store in Short Pump in 2011. A year later, he found a job opening at the Frontier Project. Not only did Skirven impress the company enough that it gave him a job, he also impressed someone else.

“I ended up dating the girl who interviewed me for the job,”–Ali Croft–“who is now my fiancée.”

While Frontier Project was a move in the right direction, career-wise, Skirven still took on part-time design gigs. Among them was the vibrant orange logo for MSE Properties, and signage, marketing, and promotional materials for Ellwood Thompson’s.

Recently, both Skirven and Croft1 quit their full-time jobs and launched their own graphic design company, Skirven and Croft.2 An impetus for the two to create their own company came from partnering together on a Blanchard’s Coffee rebrand.3

Skirven and Croft are now working on the design materials for Southbound, the yet-opened Stony Point restaurant with ownership ties to Heritage4 and The Roosevelt. Skirven is also now Shockoe Denim‘s retained designer, has designed a T-shirt for Addison Handmade & Vintage, and will join Croft as the design partner for FeastRVA.

It takes a village

In addition to growing the design business he owns with his fiancée, Skirven looks forward to making a fashion statement with Inchoate.

Co-founded by Seth Bauserman of Blanchard’s and several others,5 Inchoate is an apparel company that tapped Skirven as its lead designer. “I did the logo, and all the shirt designs, apparel, and this-that-and-the-other,” Skirven said. Curiosity defines Inchoate as a brand and company. “We want to experiment. None of us have made clothes before.”

The company will experiment further next year when it adds its flagship shorts to the line. Despite Inchoate living up to its name, it’s already one of the biggest impressions Skirven’s made on the city. “That’s probably the most visible thing I’ve done in Richmond,” Skirven said. “A lot of people have started conversations with me based on that, which is cool.”

Those conversations reflect just how tight-knit Richmond is, a place where Skirven can make a business doing the work he loves for the people he loves. “I think that’s the most rewarding thing for me–working with friends,” he said.

And it’s OK if most of that work stays in Richmond. “The work that I’m doing, it may not be visible to a global audience, but it’s very visible to a local audience. And that’s sort of where my niche is right now,” he said.

“I like being the village designer.”

  1. Who, most recently, had worked at Mobelux. 
  2. “Until we find a better name,” Skirven said. 
  3. As it went, Skirven once lived across the street from Seth Bauserman, who works at Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Company, and the two reconnected after Skirven moved to Richmond. Blanchard’s later gave small design projects to Skirven, who did them as freelance side jobs. Skirven and Croft later pitched an unsolicited rebrand proposal to the coffee maker just over a year ago. The company accepted, and the duo created the company’s new logo, store displays, pre-printed bags, business cards, and van ahead of Blanchard’s 10-year anniversary in 2015. 
  4. Croft designed the logo and menus for Heritage years ago as a freelance job. “First or second time I had ever been to her apartment, she had a table full of H’s,” Skirven said. 
  5. David Boyce, Seth Bauserman, David Blanchard, Mike Rawls, Ryan Parks, and Tim Skirven.
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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