Friend of the People: An Interview with Sean Kesterson
Sean Kesterson, AKA Alimo, paints with the effortless grace of a noserider, and his pieces pull you into the scenes he creates — whether it’s a hidden surf spot poking out of the trees, or a pair of snowboarders scrambling up a peak.
We teamed up with Sean to create an exclusive pair of naturally-dyed socks in a sun-drenched yellow colorway that captures his fun-loving attitude, and a handful of limited-edition prints titled “Party Wave” that reflect Arvin’s collective approach to making the world a better place.
We recently caught up with Sean ahead of this release that’s been a whole two years in the making to learn a little more about his process, what it was like growing up in Oregon, and what’s next for the young artist.
Tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Oregon. Were your parents big into the outdoors? When did you first learn to surf and how long have you been making art?
Growing up in Oregon as a rugrat was so dang fun. I grew up in a small town south of Portland near the Tualatin River and walking distance to my elementary school. It ruled. It was those cool times where you could roam the neighborhood free range with your friends on your skateboards and bikes until dark worrying about nothing except doing fun. It was almost a crime when my mom would call us home for dinner if we weren’t covered up in dirt from playing outside. I miss those moments so much.
My parents were certainly into the outdoors, although not so much snowboarding and surfing like me and my bro. My dad did motocross growing up and my mom grew up on a farm out in Idaho hanging with horses and whatnot. We’d go backpacking as a family or even camp in the backyard for fun on those hot summer nights. That DNA of exploring and using our imaginations to create translated over to me.
I first learned to surf when I was 15 or 16. My brother was living in San Diego and I went to visit him. At the time, I was a park rat snowboarding and skateboarding as much as I could. I wanted to check out all those famous skateboard spots in SD that I saw on skate videos. One of the off days, my brother and his friends took me out into the ocean and basically changed my life. I remember I had bleached blond hair paddling out at Del Mar getting beat up by a foot of whitewash. Lol. Some microwave that felt ginormous took me in my belly and I was hooked. It was so rad.
On the creative side, I’ve luckily been making art since I was a little bean. My mom and dad really opened that portal for me (thank you!). We’d paint and draw at home crafting imaginations, and once I got into elementary school, my art teachers grew fond of my scribbles. Then in high school, I took ceramics, photography, and drawing classes as much as possible with my electives. They were so fun. My parents would take me to different art schools and workshops encouraging me of this creative lifestyle. I was really lucky that my parents were so supportive of my creativity and risky moves. Those convos with my parents helped direct me into what I do today. Although, at the time, I wanted to play sports with my friends and do all the things. It ended up being a variety of exploring until college where art became more serious.
Once art school started, I never really stopped making. I tried all sorts of mediums and still try new stuff today. The making is the best part. Those tools in the shed help fulfill my imagination.
You've mentioned before that your brother taught you a lot about boardsports, camping etc. How do you think he influenced the direction your life and career has taken?
Oh man, my brother is a legend. He showed me the ropes and still does today. If it wasn’t for that dude, I’m not sure where I’d be today. He’s one of those older brothers you look up to and tag along with (whether he liked it or not, thanks, Mom :)
Before I even knew what snowboarding was, he gifted me a new Barrett Christy snowboard for Christmas. At the time, they didn’t make kids' gear and the smallest board on the market were women's boards. He just knew I needed to snowboard. I ended up getting some cool ass oversized boots and followed him around.
My brother has certainly shaped a part of who I am today. Whether that be splitboarding in the mountains or simple things like scaring the crap out of me attempting to rock climb with him. Outside of that realm, we tend to bounce a lot of ideas off one another. Fun deep convos about anything creative or philosophy-related we school one another on. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Pacific Rim’, we drift ma’an. The dude knows me well, so any questions I may have, he tends to have some brotherly wisdom to shed on me. That may be simple knowledge drops about the Blazers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You name it, he’s got some solid input. These types of knowledge drops and baton handoffs are what he does best.
Your work really draws people into a certain place. Do you use photography to look for the scenes you eventually paint or do you create these landscapes on your own? Do you think there's a connection between photography and drawing / painting?
It’s a mixture. I carry my sketchbook around me wherever I go to jot notes down and draw scribbly lines. With that in my back pocket, I also tend to carry my Mamiya 6 or any of my other 35mm cameras around to catalog those moments, as well as snap iPhone photos.
I tend to mix and match certain scenes I’ve shot, intertwined with characters I’ve drawn. I think the connection between photography and drawing goes hand and hand. Each is a tool that serves its own purpose. I lean on tools that help me achieve the end goal. Sometimes that leans more on photography, other times it’s looking at old sketchbooks for linework or studies I’ve drawn or painted.
What's your favorite place to surf in SF and Oregon?
That certainly depends on the season. In SF, the closest place for me was OB. That was just down the street. Still one of the hardest waves out there to surf, but sure is a fun workout. The other zones depend more on conditions as you have to drive out a bit more. Go anywhere north or south an hour and you’ll find some gems.
As for Oregon. Those little nuggets I can’t really share, but a really fun spot where snowboarders learn to surf is Shortsands beach. A beautiful zone where you walk down a quarter-mile to a little oasis. Surfing there can be so dang fun or completely miserable. Those fickle moments of Oregon are what keeps the crowds down (sort of).
Any hidden gems you're willing to share from your travels? (could be a dive bar, place to get burritos, campsite etc.)
Ya man, of course. All those in-between moments of chasing sports are always filled with some weirdness. The first thing that came to mind was this bar in Singapore where the table you’d sit at was a hospital bed instead. Whatever drink you ordered, they’d serve that drink in a drip bag. So, everyone is sipping their fancy drinks out of a drip bag that slowly fills up your actual cup. It’s morbid as can be. Took some time to drink but man it was weird. I’m pretty sure that bar is closed now though. Would have been so fun to go back again.
Tell us about this new collaboration with Arvin Goods. It's been two whole years in the making. What were you hoping to try and capture with the Party Wave print? What was the inspiration behind it?
When Alimo was first getting started, I stumbled across Arvin Goods while trying to source better materials. I hit up Harry asking him about the company to learn more, and if they did any sort of white label for brands like myself. Years back, they were also getting the ball moving on their own and couldn’t offer anything. We kept in touch about every 3 months or so poking at one another to see what projects we were working on. Harry ended up stopping by my studio in SF about a year ago and met in person for the first time. That convo snowballed into a potential project. Again way down the line though. About 6 months ago, Harry pitched me this idea on a full collaboration and how he is working with 12 like-minded brands to release goods out into the wild. After Harry name-dropped the other brands I was shocked I was even on this list. Seeing Outerknown and SeaVees on there got me jazzed. Everything Arvin Goods has been doing, whether that be on the clean/sustainability route, the consciousness of the world, and general ethos aligns with everything I’m about. That DNA of what Arvin Goods does is what I’m so proud to be a part of. It’s 12 brands that are rising with the tide to do better. That part rules so much.
The Party Wave print is an extension of the packaging I designed for the socks. It’s about inclusiveness and making sure the ocean is fun. Cause that’s why we go right? Those moments surrounding yourself at the beach with friends are what it's all about. I hope that this print captures those good times and when wearing the socks, it’s a friendly reminder you are rising again with the tide, both with the brands and on your own. It’s all about doing good both in and out of the water.
How do you see your sustainability goals align with Arvin? You've talked before about seeing the effects of fast fashion when you first started out making apparel. What have you learned since then and what makes you so excited about these socks being naturally plant-dyed?
I like to think our sustainability goals are on the same level, although Arvin Goods has its supply chain more dialed than I do for the basics. I’ve recently had to pull back a little on some goods to focus on those bits. Clothing is a great example of that. In the beginning, I was doing print-on-demand t-shirts and sweatshirts. It helped with the inventory control, but the quality didn’t live up to my expectations. It was fast and garbage quality. I had to pull out of that and start to hound some factories to get on the same page as me. I now work with a few factories in LA that are on the same ethos that I’m proud of. Another learning has been the puzzles I create. I’ve luckily found some good factories in China that we’ve had to take a step back and source correct materials and eliminate any plastic into the stream. That unlearning and re-education for both myself and them has been monumental. That took almost a year in the making just to get on the same page with them and happy to say our puzzles are recycled and use no plastic in any of the packaging.
These baby steps are huge for me to achieve my sustainability goals. If we were truly sustainable companies, we’d stop producing all together and let Earth breathe again. While humans don’t operate that way right now, we try to make longer-lasting goods made better, so we reduce those impacts.
I’m so stoked on these socks. They are no joke the best socks out there both from a premium quality angle and materials used. Every sock I wear has been Arvin for the past 2 years. The fact that we are releasing a plant-dyed sock on top of the recycled element adds so much to the core. Use them until you can’t wear them anymore, then use them to clean your house with. They will last you a long time.
What's it been like being back in Oregon? Have you been enjoying Bend? What makes it special?
It’s been wild being back in Oregon. I tried moving back home a few years ago to try it out, but ultimately it didn’t fit at the time and ended up bouncing. This time, I’ve spent the winter in Bend snowboarding. La Niña hit hard this year and dumped all season. It’s been really good all things considered with covid and all. I’d say this is the hardest year of my life (for most folks). It’s truly poked at my emotions on all levels, including weird groundhog day moments. Luckily, I have a good group of friends out here that helps keep me grounded and having my family way closer for safe visits is so cool.
Post shred season in March, I took off and headed to Costa Rica to work/surf. It’s fueled my creativity working out here. The small community of creatives and doers has been really special for me right now.
What have you been listening to lately? Have you seen any films or read anything that stuck with you recently?
Last books I’ve recently read: Endurance, Creativity Inc., Profit First, and Jony I've. I tend to read most business and creative books but man Endurance will have you on your toes the entire time. Must read for sure.
For music, when I’m working I tend to listen to some weird matrix songs that get me into the zone: Cut Copy, Lane 8, deadmau5, flume, Yani, Rival Concoles, + Spotify taking me down the rabbit hole.
Rad lyric music: Glass Animals, Wu-Tang Clan, Yeasayer, Erland Oye
One of my favorite documentaries recently is “10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki”. He’s one of my top favorite people and this breaks down his creative process well. Top-notch film to check out.
Any advice for young artists just starting out and trying to find their voice?
Keep creating and having fun for yourself. Make a habit and stick to it cause no one else is telling you to do it. Even if it’s 5-10 minutes a day of sketching, those ideas will blossom into something cool. Try and trust the process and not get stuck into the weird world of Instagram likes, cause that isn't the right metric. Stick to what your north star is. Even if you don’t know what that is yet, keep making and having fun!
Some things I do to continually find my voice: Get outside for a walk, surf, go to the library and draw in the kids' section (without being a creep), step away from the computer and draw anything. It took me over 15 years to figure out my linework and it continues to evolve to this day. Time and energy into what you love will help create that voice you are looking for. You got this!