The story of Jim Phillips' Screaming Hand

February 11, 2021 | Skateboarding
Screaming Hand: the iconic skateboard design created by Jim Phillips in 1985

Jim Phillips is one of the most iconic skateboard artists in the history of the sport. The graphic designer created the famous "Screaming Hand."

Jim Phillips was born in San Jose, California, in 1944.

Phillips grew up as an Army brat and moved from place to place until he was six years old. Drawing was one of his first hobbies.

He would open the comic sections in the newspapers and start drawing the characters he saw. And that was the fuel that lit the fire.

Jim has been a freelance graphic artist forever, and his major influences include Wally Wood, Carl Barks, Will Elder, and Tex Avery.

Phillips published his first work in the spring 1962 issue of Surfer Quarterly.

His pen and ink illustration of a Woody won a surf car cartoon contest run by the magazine founded by John Severson.

Woody, 1962: Jim Phillips published his first work on Surfer Quarterly

Surfboards, Skate Logos, and Rock Posters

Interestingly, Jim started getting his first paychecks with surf art on surfboards.

Later, he was hired to draw for NHS Inc., the skateboard distribution company founded by Richard Novak, Doug Haut, and Jay Shuirman.

The Screaming Hand saw the light of day in 1985 and immediately became the official logo of Santa Cruz Skateboards, the world's oldest skateboard company.

In 1988, Jim Phillips opened his very own Phillips Studios.

Despite his natural talent and entrepreneurial drive, the California designer always noted that his motivational force is Dolly, his wife.

Throughout his career, the artist created over 100 posters for rock bands, including The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and The Surfaris.

Jim Phillips: he started drawing the characters he saw in the comic sections of newspapers

The Santa Cruz Beach Lifestyle

Jim Phillips is an ocean person and has always channeled his surroundings into his sketches and drawings.

"Living in Santa Cruz has been a big contribution to my art because I lived near the beach from being a little kid," Phillips once explained.

"I was into surfing, which brought in skateboarding, and so it's been part of the lifestyle that I've lived here."

"When I started surfing, I've met people along the way, including Richard Novak, founder of Santa Cruz Skateboards. He was someone I knew in high school."

But where did Phillips get the inspiration for the Screaming Hand?

"I drew a lot of surf and skateboard cartoons. I drew a wave with some goofy guy surfing on it with shark fins circling, and I'd always draw a clenched hand coming out of the water like a drowning guy," adds Jim.

"I had seen a drowned guy near the beach. It was the first dead guy I had ever seen, with snot blowing out of his nose."

"And so that made me think deeper about being dead. It all mixed up in my mind to make this morbid character."

"So it became a little character that I drew, and it was much later that I thought back and realized that that thing was really expressive, and I liked it."

Santa Cruz Skateboards: the world's oldest skate company still sells completes featuring Jim Phillips' Screaming Hand

1985: The Birth of the Screaming Hand

Skateboards needed cartoon artwork for technical and marketing reasons, so Jim Phillips' skills turned into a valuable and useful asset.

"I got the call from Santa Cruz when they developed the Road Rider urethane wheels around 1975. They wanted a t-shirt, a sticker, and a logo for that, and that kicked it off."

One year later, Phillips designed the Santa Cruz lettering still used today.

In 1977, he creates the OJ Wheels logo, followed by the Independent Truck Co.'s Maltese cross logo (1979) and the Rob Roskopp skateboard series (1984).

"And I thought: 'how expressive would it be if it had a mouth on it?' So I got really excited about it, took it down, and it became the Screaming Hand."

The logo was first used to promote Santa Cruz Skateboards' Speed Wheel.

The Screaming Hand is a timeless skateboarding symbol that stuck through generations of old and new school skateboarders.

It is cool, irreverent, vivid, gnarly, impactful, highly expressive, and doesn't need lettering or any other background to speak for itself.

The Screaming Hand celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015. Today, it is probably the most recognizable graphic in skateboarding history.

You can see it everywhere in the world, printed in stickers, books, t-shirts, mugs, ads, skateboards, and on skatepark graffiti.

Jim Phillips: he was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2017 | Photo: Santa Cruz Skateboards

Draw Everything You See

Jim Phillips has never been overwhelmed by success. He kept working on his dreamy creations and maintained a relatively low profile.

Nevertheless, he knows that his work has had a huge impact on skate culture and is happy to watch it grow and diversify.

"I think the Screaming Hand will have a long life because there are so many artists that have done it and want to do it," stresses Phillips.

"Of course, my son [Jimbo] and my grandson [Colby] picked up the trend, and they incorporate that kind of art into everything they do. I think it's growing, which is amazing."

"I have plenty of advice for young artists, some of which they don't want to hear because it's hard work."

"I tell people it's the best job ever, but it's the worst."

"It's the best because it's so creative, and you can be your own boss, but the regular paycheck isn't there, so that makes it tough - that's the hard part."

"But I always recommend it because it takes hard work. My advice to young artists is: build up your drawing skills because the drawing is foundational of your career."

"So, have a sketchbook and watch and draw things you see. Maybe it won't look good in the book, but you're going to throw that away and get that experience. Experience is everything."

In 2017, Jim Phillips was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

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