Originally published in Amadeus print issue 11.
I met Cisco the same way that any other millennial meets one another these days: Instagram. But I didn’t know him as Cisco at that time—we knew each other only by our online aliases. Aside from the ass-backwards way of meeting people these days, I’m glad we did meet online because I instantly respected his craft and work ethic. I love skulls and the female figure, so I was instantly a fan. My idea of a good graphic starts with the idea; if it’s a good idea, I don’t care if it’s designed poorly or deeply considered. Cisco has some of the most original ideas and they are executed flawlessly in his unique style and disciplined color palette. This was one of the reasons I chose to invite myself over, drink his beers, eat his jerky and ask a million questions.
You work at Studio Number One during the day. Tell me about the type of work you do there.
I’m Shep’s production/design assistant. It’s Obey Giant Art which is Shepard Fairey’s art stuff. Then, there is the Studio Number One side which is the creative agency. When I started working there, I was just on the Obey Giant side. After being there for a while, the top designers bounced, and I had the experience and aesthetic of what studio is known for, so they asked me to help out and I started pulling double duty at both. So, now I’m like in between. So when it comes to the SNO side of things we do movie posters for clients like Warner Brothers and all sorts of shit—pretty much whatever comes through the door. But mostly I just help Shep with his stuff. Mainly a lot of his production work. It’s chill; he’s cool with letting me do my never-made shit on the side, and he doesn’t give me any shit about it.
After a long day at work you come home and work on Never Made.
Ya—my business partner lives next door. We originally had an office in San Pedro and we outgrew that shit in like three months. He moved in next door, and I was like, Yo let’s just use your garage as the office. So, it’s 9-5pm at Obey and Never Made 5-2am when I get home. It’s cool though; it’s almost therapeutic, you know. I’m always busy; if I’m not busy my mind starts going fucking crazy n’ shit. The thing with Never Made though is that I didn’t want to be a clothing brand. It took so long to make t-shirts because I didn’t want that. So, technically, I like to call it an art brand, and the tees are just a vehicle for that stuff but the focus is more on just art prints and other creative things.
Right, so the tees are obviously easier to sell than the art stuff ,but it allows you to have the capital to do the stuff you wanna do. Yo—can I have a beer?
Thanks. So, what’s on the horizon for you?
I have two clothing collaborations dropping soon: One with Australian brand, BOW3RY, and another with Drop Out Club International. But the biggest collab of all… I have a print collab dropping soon with Shepard. Definitely the highlight of my career, besides getting the job with him.
Let me tell you about the first time I met Shep. I was in Colorado at some industry event taking a piss in the bathroom. I see him walking out and as he does he slaps a sticker on the door. I was like, damn, this dude is the real deal. Can’t stop, wont stop. What’s it like working under someone of his stature?
Haha, ya—he’s always on that shit. Everywhere we go he’s always slapping shit. This one time we were at Agenda and he looks at me and goes, “You wouldn’t have any OBEY stickers would you?” I was like, “What? No.” He was like, “Shit I forgot some. I bet you have Never Made stickers though.” I was like, “Of course I have mine! Why would I have yours fool!” But naw he’s fucking cool as shit, man. He’s so down to earth, it’s crazy.
So rad. Must be super inspiring for you to be in that environment. What else would you say inspires your work? Didn’t you grow up in the music scene around here?
Ya, I did. I used to play in a band called My Eyes Darken. We used to play with bands like As Blood Runs Black and Letlive—you know Letlive, right?
Ya—Jason is the man.
Ya—he’s the homie.
That whole El Segundo, Westchester hardcore scene was my shit. I’m sure I saw you at shows; I was like 13, though.
Before that I was in a ninepiece ska band and we used to pay all the backyard shows in South Central, Compton, Wilmington, Carson, San Pedro. We were like fucking Slipknot but ska. Five horn players, two guitars, a bass player drummer and I was the singer and played guitar. In Wilmington it was all street punks and we got asked to play a show and I was like, “Fuuuuuuck no. They’re all heavy punks, they’re gonna fucking hate us.” We said fuck it and tried it. Sure enough while we play we’re getting beer bottles thrown at us. Dodging trash and I was like, “Damn, these fools really hate us.”
Haha, definitely remember those days. Wild shit. Music is obviously a big influence on your work. You just did a gig poster for At The Drive In right?
Ya dude it was rad. I actually just hit up Cedric the singer on Instagram.
So, you slid into his DM’s?
That shit works, it’s crazy. I mean not so much for girls, but reaching out for work and collabs is great.
Yea everybody is fuckin’ accessible now. Even if you’re big you can be reached. I DM’d him and I was like “Yo I wanna do a shirt for you guys,” and he looked at my work and said, “Man I’d rather have you do a gig poster for us.” I was like, “Even fuckin better!” So he sent me the concept and just one round and it was done. Easy. So I suggested we print them make it limited edition sign them and sell them at the shows and they were down.
Tell me about the shift from music into making design a career.
After I graduated school I couldn’t find a job at all and kept deferring my loan payments forever. I was working odd jobs out of college for like three years, I was unemployed for a whole year. One job, I would count traffic. I had a little Gameboy-like machine and I would sit at my destination in a chair during rush hour on a corner and count cars driving by. After that I worked at F.Y.E briefly, after it switched from Tower Records. During that, my homie Ernesto was working for Shep. We became pretty good friends at school and kept in touch. I would always ask him if Studio Number One needed help, and he’d be like, “Naw naw, we’re stacked.” One night I helped him move and I was telling him how I was making minimum wage at a record shop and he was like, “Well I can get you an internship over here.” I was like, “Yaya, ok,” thinking he was just blowing smoke up my ass. This was 2010. At this time I was doing a bunch of Shep-style vector portraits because I was such a fanboy. So, I sent him a portfolio with my stuff. A week later Ernesto goes, “Yo I wanna show you something,” and pulls up an email from Shep saying your friend is rad get him in touch. My mind was blown. I called the studio later and they were like, “Can you start on this date for a three-month internship?” Around that time my dad was hassling me about not doing shit with my life and wanted me to go back to school to learn a trade. I was already enrolling in school to be a welder and then I got the internship and I told my dad that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to take it. After my three months I was working on a mural with Shep in WeHo. I told him that my internship was almost up and if there was room on the team I’d love to work there. He said they were fully staffed and it wasn’t gonna work out. I had found out that one of the designers was thinking about quitting. A week later I got asked to come help on some stuff. At around 11pm one night I get a random call, and it’s Shepard telling me the designer left and there was a position open. I played it cool, but when I hung up I went nuts. That was 2010 and I’ve been there ever since.
So when did you start doing Never Made and why?
I started it in 2010, it was called Dream Digital back then. It was corny, but it was like trying to make your dreams come true through digital mediums. Then I was making a graphic and I hated when brands had “established blah blah” it sounded corny. But I thought, I’m not even established, so I put Dream Digital Never Est.—the thought behind that was I’m never gonna be done, I’m never gonna conform. So I ran that for a while and one time Shep saw my sticker and he was like, “I like the Never Est., run with that.” It got me thinking, Ya Dream Digital is kinda corny, so I changed it. Then some company built a case against me and sent me a Cease and Desist. I pretty much just dropped it because I didn’t want to deal with it. For two weeks I was writing shit down and one day I was taking a shit and I thought of Never Made. I yelled at my fiancée, “BAAAABBEEE, I GOT IT.” Went to USPTO right away, got it all figured out. I asked my buddy and long-time band mate Dre if he could help me out because I had no clue how to run an e-commerce site. After a while I asked him to be my partner and take care of the business side of things, because pulling double duty as creative/business man wasn’t working out for me. What really got the ball rolling as far as us making money was the doughnut box pin. We sold a ton, I had only made it as a joke and a bit of nostalgia to my childhood. Every Saturday when I was a kid, my dad would go out and get coffee for my mom and him and would bring a box of donuts for my brother and sister. I saw everyone making donut pins and thought, ow do I elevate the donut? I think it’s only a SoCal thing that donuts come in pink boxes. So I was thinking how do I make it funny, and I thought of the empty donut box and called it the box of shame. Urban Outfitters had just caught on to the pin trend and hit me up and ordered like 500. We borrowed money, printed everything, packaged and stickered it DIY style, and sent them to Urban. Then they hit us back and ordered two thousand more, so we went and borrowed more money and that’s what put Never Made on the map. I did an artist series with them after and it crushed it. After that, they asked to carry Never Made in all Urban Stores.
You have a pretty stacked schedule with your full-time job and then Never Made. Is there anything else you could see yourself doing in the future?
Ya, after I quit working and this picks up and runs on its own, I want to teach design. I always say I got my bachelors degree from so n’ so school, but I got my masters from the school of Shepard Fairey. In the long run, I’d like to be valued in that regard. I want to get to the point where having that on my resume, people will think I’m legit. Legacy wise I’d like to pass this valuable knowledge down to the kids. I want to mentor people and show them what’s up and how shit is done.