Chances Are Fos Has Designed One of Your Favourite Skateboards

The odds are pretty high, considering he founded Heroin and art directs for Baker and Deathwish.

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Sep 9 2014, 5:00am

Mark "Fos" Foster (Photo by Jerome Loughran)

Step into any British skate shop and you’ll spot something drawn by Mark “Fos” Foster. The founder of Heroin Skateboards and currently the art director for American companies Baker, Deathwish and Altamont, his influences extend from J-pop to Jersey barriers, but it’s pretty easy to identify any deck he’s designed: they’re generally the ones that look like freeze frames from an animated splatter film.

Before his career took him to LA, Fos grew up in Rawtenstall, a little town near Blackburn, but tells me he “reps Burnley” in his heart – that latter town being the place where he used to go and skate, because it’s tricky to find many decent spots in rural Lancashire. After graduating from a local art college he relocated to London to study design at Goldsmiths University.

A young Fos (Photo by Nick Pearson)

“It wasn’t even really until after college that I started to find my own style and work,” he says when I ask if three years of university did his art any good. “I was always more into illustration and tried to bring that into my work. I butted heads with my tutors quite a bit and got a terrible grade, but it doesn’t matter – I’ve only ever needed that degree one time, and it was to sort out my work visa for the USA.”

After graduating, Fos stay put in New Cross, just round the corner from Goldsmiths, and kept skating and making art. One day, while covering for his friend at London skate shop Slam City Skates, he helped unload a delivery of DVS shoes and was rewarded with a job at the warehouse. He continued working there for the next five years, becoming heavily involved in the city’s skateboarding scene.

It was a few years into that job – sometime in 1998 – when he broke his wrist skating. “On the way to hospital, I was looking out of the ambulance windows for skate spots, so I knew at that moment I was obsessed with skateboarding on a profound level,” he says. “The wrist thing ended up being complicated, and I spent four days in hospital waiting for them to put pins in it. When I was in there the contract ran out on my house and, at the same time, my girlfriend broke up with me. When it seemed like everything was falling apart, I decided to start a skateboard company. I was so enthused about the idea that I drew the original logo with my left hand from a hospital bed.”

That idea became Heroin, so-called because Fos was – and still is – straight-edge, with skateboarding being his “only addiction”.

Fos at work (Photo via)

By 2003, Heroin had grown to become one of the UK’s most popular skate brands, and Fos decided to start making new some boards under the name Organic. Decks were distributed through Slam, and the original team was made up of Fos, Snowy, Olly Todd, Joel Curtis and Toby Shuall. There wasn't a lot of money in the British skate world at the time, but Organic was never really about the profit; the intention was always to bring together a bunch of unique skaters under one banner.

However, things didn’t quite work out as planned. “The understanding was that I would get sorted out for it down the line,” says Fos. “That never happened, and I ended up leaving Slam and starting a new brand with those riders called Landscape.”

It was around this time that Fos started regularly visiting Japan, skating with a crew called Osaka Daggers. “I’ve been going to Japan since 1999 and trying to spread the word of how great the scene over there is,” he says. “I just love the creativity that exists there. I spend hours walking around stores like Village Vanguard, which are full of all these great comics. I love stuff like Ping Pong and Blue Spring, originally comics by Taiyo Matsumoto that they made great films from. I also love Ito Junji, who wrote Uzumaki and Tomie, and Beat Takeshi’s films.”

An Altamont mural Fos painted at a shop in California (Photo via)

In 2006, Andrew Reynolds – Baker co-founder and a man I'm assuming you know of already, considering you've read this far – offered Fos the art director job at Altamont. Unsurprisingly, he accepted.

A couple of years later he was asked to design the Deathwish Skateboards logo, which he says he sketched out thousands of times before settling on a final design. “I had an idea of how I wanted that branding to look, and it took a lot of work to get it to the right place,” he tells me. “It’s almost like developing a language that you use. I’m stoked to have been able to work on that project and make the logo for such an iconic company.”

After to-ing and fro-ing between England and the States for his work with Altamont, Fos was eventually asked to move out to LA full time to steer the design from the company’s headquarters. By this point, he’d lived in London almost as long as he’d lived in Lancashire and was feeling “in danger of becoming a Southerner”. That, and he realised he “had a chance to get a work visa through Altamont and would probably never get the chance again”, so decided to go for it.

“It’s funny, because I’m really just a kid from Lancashire who ended up in California doing work for all these companies,” he says, apparently forgetting that he’s also become arguably the most recognisable artist working in skateboarding today.

The trailer for Heroin's Video Nasty

Fos grew up listening to punk and metal, but says putting together skate videos forced him “to broaden [his] musical tastes”, as not every team rider suits deafening Necrovomit songs or shouty GG Allin tunes. “You can’t let people choose their own songs – you have to have a song that fits that skater, and something that you can listen to over and over without it being annoying,” he says.

In 2011, that ear for non-annoying music was seized upon by Altamont and Patrick O’Dell (creator of VICE's Epicly Later'd series), who wanted to start a radio show with Fos as its host. He wasn’t sure at first, but ended up loving it so much that he found a pirate radio station outside of LA to keep the show going after Altamont withdrew from the project.

Fos with Eric Dressen during his Fos FM slot (Photo via)

Fos FM has played host to a ton of names – Lizard King, Geoff Rowley, Dustin Dollin and Alex Olson among them. But Fos says his favourite guest was Santa Cruz legend Eric Dressen, as watching him “skate a demo in Bury in 1988 is the reason” he skates today. Guests in an ideal world would be Tom Waits and Morrissey. ''Their music is from the heart, and that means a lot nowadays," he says. "Look at the TV, turn on the radio – how much of that music actually means anything at all? Or is written out of a desire and passion? None of it."

Currently, Fos says his day-to-day is at Baker, where he’s been art director for a year or so. However, he confesses that his heart is still with his own company. “Heroin is my baby, really,” he says. “I have total control, so everything I do is pretty much for that. Like all the sketchbook stuff that I do really looks like it could be Heroin graphics. It’s been a blast.”

An artist's rendition of Tom Waits on Fos FM (Illustration by Trav Wardle)

At the end of our chat, Fos mentions that Heroin are “working on an amateur video at the moment”, and defends his baby against allegations made by some that it’s turned its back on the UK.

“To me, Heroin Skateboards has always been an international thing. To see it as a ‘UK company’ is kind of close-minded,” he says. “Our first pro in 2000, Chopper, is Japanese and still rides for us. Deer Man of Dark Woods is Canadian, and we now have US riders as well as UK guys. I’ve seen Heroin grow organically… I could be living in a hut in the mountains of Latvia and it’d still look the same.”

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