Reimagining Oz

Sandy Carson

Follow the yellow brick road.

Michael Sieben is a Texas-ranging, ditch-skating, image-making artist based out of Austin's vibrant creative community. He is the founder of Roger Skateboards -- a small, art-focused company well known for its illustrated graphics and Sieben's trademark humor -- and a columnist for Thrasher magazine and the counterculture-driven Vice. Sieben's work has been featured around the globe and has appeared in numerous publications, including Juxtapoz Illustration.

Sieben's hallmark style has found its latest home with one of the most influential children's stories of all time. Earlier this month, Harper Design (an imprint of Harper Collins) issued a new, Sieben-illustrated edition of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz." sat down with the artist to talk flying monkeys, Texas ditches and how he gets it all done.

Michael Sieben is off to see the Wizard As the world's foremost ditch-skating artist, how does Texas' ditch system match up against the rest of the world?
Michael Sieben:
I don't make enough money to know about the state of the world's ditches, but as far as the continental United States is concerned, I think we're up in the top three with New Mexico and Arizona.

You have an eponymous column in Thrasher, a skateboard company, a Volcom video series and you're an actual artist. Where do you find the energy to pursue all of these ventures?
I just do everything with an enthusiasm level of approximately 20 percent. The real answer is that I don't have a full-time job, so I'll pretty much take on any project that I think might buy some diapers. I'm essentially a freelance illustrator, which means I don't make a habit of turning down work.

You were recently commissioned to illustrate "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz." How did that project come to fruition?
Elizabeth Sullivan, an editor at Harper Collins, found my work in a Juxtapoz Illustration annual and thought I'd be a good match for the project. She contacted me out of the blue and pitched the idea, and I said yes with zero hesitation.

It's always been a dream of mine to illustrate children's books. I feel like I started at the top with this one; nowhere to go but down from here. It was definitely the most intense project I've worked on so far. Over 60 illustrations from concept [to] sketch to completion in three months, which coincided with the birth of my son. Crazy days.

Sandy Carson

Sieben skating in Seguin.

Your art seems to be primarily character-driven, so was this project a natural fit for you?
Very much so. I felt like I'd already been drawing some of the characters, specifically the scarecrow and the lion. I rarely draw feminine characters in my work, so developing the art for Dorothy proved to be a bit challenging, but other than that it was a pretty seamless project to work on.

"The Wizard Of Oz" has always been one of those films that people talk about in the sense of hidden imagery and hidden meanings. Is there anything subliminal in your illustrations?
I hid my son's initials in one of the spreads.

Is it nice to get a break from skate-driven projects?
For sure. I love skateboarding, but it's cool to have the opportunity to work on a project for an audience that isn't so specific. Hopefully it's well received by all of the rad dads out there in the skate world too, though.

What's the next big project that's really blowing your hair back?
My favorite thing to work on is skateboard graphics. The new stuff I'm working on right now for Roger Skateboards is probably the thing I'm having the most fun with. Too bad the pay is miserable. And by miserable, I mean nonexistent.

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