Trace Thor's Artistic Roots: From Philly's Art and Graffiti Scene to designing apparel and sneakers at Round 2 and Extra Butter
Thor Kimmell is an artist and designer living and working in Brooklyn, New York. He likes boxy cars, hip hop, stickers, thrifting, The Simpsons, and he probably likes you too. But not “like-likes” you.
Cheers for chatting Thor, would love to start off by hearing a bit about how you got into design and illustration.
Thanks for hitting me up, Monish! I got into illustration through graffiti. Growing up in Philly, I drew stickers and would trade them with my friends and people around the world. Seeing so many styles at such a formative age opened my eyes to how wild you can make a graphic. I went to college for Fine Art and only learned how to use photoshop at the end of my senior year. A lot of my design choices and inspiration come from my collection of vintage tees or things I see on the street. I feel like I am actively absorbing everything cool that I see and figuring out how to make it into a graphic.
I saw on your IG there’s this sick collection of art under ‘home’, did your parent's interest in art and design influence you at all?
It for sure did! My mom has been an art teacher my whole life and she had me in drawing classes since I was 5. My dad does a bit of everything and knows a ton of artists in Philadelphia and New York. Art has always been a big part of our lives and our home. Almost every time I go home my dad has scored a new piece for the walls, so I need to update that collection! For many years my dad was the auctioneer for the annual Space 1026 Art Auction, a sale benefitting the artists of Space 1026, a studio space and gallery in Philly. When I was a kid the 1026 studios were full of wild screen printers, skateboarders, painters, and graffiti writers. It was the first time I saw people making a living off of their art and doing it how they wanted to. It's still an amazing place full of amazing people! And it's the reason I studied Printmaking in college. Big up 1026!
I love seeing all of the hand-drawn pieces you have in your sketchbooks, is sketching your preferred way of getting creative ideas out?
There is something about the pressure of a pencil on paper that makes me draw better. Idk why! I’ve always kept a sketchbook. When I was working retail, I had a smaller book that I kept in my pocket with me at all times so I could sketch on the train or on my breaks. Over the past few years I’ve transitioned to a grid paper sketchbook–it’s super helpful for lettering and composition. Right now I’m using this Actual Source sketchbook with a dot grid. It's a more faint pattern so I can ignore the grid or use it to block things out. I’ve transitioned to working digitally over the past year and, while it is amazing and quicker than inking and scanning graphics, I still go to pencil and paper to flesh things out.
What was it like working for Round 2? Seemed like a perfect fit with the type of illustrations you do!
It was a dream come true! In college, I was thrifting every spare minute that I had, trying to learn as much as possible about vintage. When I started working at Round Two, I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of the vintage world and dove head first into it. Through working in their NYC Vintage store I was able to start designing for them, which led to some incredible projects. The Atmos Japan collection is still a highlight from that time. Sean texted me tons of photos he had taken around Japan and I drew a whole collection for R2 that was released only in Japan. It was my first time working on large global projects and that taught me to trust myself and sharpened my skills. The coolest part was getting a DM from a friend who lives over there asking “Did you make these? It looks like your style!” Luke, Sean, Chris, and Adam are great dudes and it was a blast working there.
I finished listening to ‘House Tapes: Originals’, which you did an album cover for, do you have any favorite music genres and do they influence your creative work at all?
YES! I love that album and the Flips album as well. Creating the visual identity for that project with Nothingspecial was really fun. It's hard to pick a favorite genre, I tend to listen to one type of music for a few months and then switch to another type. When I’m brainstorming on a project I get too distracted if there are a lot of words in a song, so I usually listen to Drum N Bass mixes like this Peshay mix or instrumental albums like Tortoise! Albums and mixes like those help me get deeper into my work, which often leads to the best ideas.
Can you speak a little bit about ‘Tour de Trance’ and the connections you see between cycling and electronic music graphics?
“Tour de Trance” started when I was biking home in the rain and listening to Kraftwerk. I had taught myself how to fix bikes during Quarantine with my friend Max, and I was doing a lot of research into different brands and cultural moments in cycling throughout the years. At the same time I was looking at tons of old rave flyers and I saw a lot of similarities in graphic styles from mountain bikes and club flyers. Lots of text that's meant to grab you and convey the intensity of an event, whether bombing a hill or raving till 6am. I only listen to electronic music when I’m biking, the BPM and the RPM sync up perfectly!
Any exciting projects you’re working on this year that you wanna chat about?
This past year I designed a few pairs of Adidas with the team at Extra Butter that are starting to be released. I’ve loved sneakers all my life and so peeking behind the curtain of the whole process has been incredible. I’m working on a running shoe right now that I can't talk about, but it's been a new and exciting challenge that I can't wait for people to see. I’ve been making more personal work and taking on more freelance, both of which I love but am terrible at sharing on instagram so no one sees it! But I’ll have more to show on that end too so stay tuned.
Favorite boxy cars?
80’s Mitsubishi Montero, Geo Tracker, Suzuki Samurai, and the BMW 2002! There seems to be an endless amount of 80s and 90s hard angled cars. These cars are my favorite to draw and hopefully I’ll own one of them one day.