Kevin’s Rad Cars illustrations harken back to his Californian childhood of sun-drenched days at San O Beach, fixing old cars with his dad and working at the surfboard factory. From an early age, Kevin recognized old cars and surfboards as functional art, seeing the romance behind their craftsmanship. Several decades later, Kevin has nostalgically translated these two loves into a new art form with Rad Cars, striking a chord with fans worldwide. Each of Kevin’s cars topped with surfboards reimagines the surfer’s blissful commute to and from the waves. The air smells of sunscreen and surf wax, and the tarmac is awash with sun-bleached pastels and glowing chrome.
RAD CARS ARTIST KEVIN BUTLER: “I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I moved away—there are so many good surf spots in such a small stretch of coastline.”
How were you introduced to cars and surfboards?
“Growing up, my dad rebuilt old cars for extra cash. I’d spent Saturday morning with him at car swap-meets looking for random parts, then we’d come home and spend afternoons at the beach. We always had at least one rad old car in the garage or under a tarp on the side of the house, and I always got attached to them. I’d sit in them, turn the steering wheel, help my Dad wet-sand them and climb in and out through the rolled-down window like the Dukes of Hazzard.
“I started surfing when I was 10 or 11. My first job was sweeping foam dust for a surfboard shaper, which eventually led to shaping boards myself. I shaped a bunch throughout high school. Some for friends, some for myself, and some, well…didn’t work AT ALL. Growing up in these environments has caused me to really respect craftsmanship.”
How did you get into drawing?
“I’m not sure I remember ‘getting into drawing’—it’s just something I’ve always done. I went to art school and studied all kinds of different mediums, but drawing is something I always came back to. A blank sheet of paper is limitless, and I like being able to start and finish something in one sitting. That’s why I couldn’t paint in oils. I’m too impatient.”
How would you describe your illustration style?
“I’d describe my style as ‘Fun.’ It’s light, simple and stripped-down. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. If it’s not making me happy, I won’t do it. I’ve tried to do really realistic drawings and paintings, and it just stresses me out. I’ve basically found my style by figuring out what makes me the happiest.”
What are some of your favorite cars of all time, and why?
“This is a tough one. There are a few ways I could answer. I could answer based on cars I have the fondest memories of, or cars I hope to have some day. How about a little of both?
“From the time I was two until I was about 12, my dad was slowly rebuilding a 1942 Chevy coupe. That car was like a sibling to me. If I ever find it, I’ll buy it. Another one from my childhood was a copper-and-cream 1956 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop. The family would pile in it and go for long Sunday drives along the Point. To this day, my mom still hasn’t forgiven my dad for selling that thing.
“I recently sold my mustard yellow 1982 Volvo 240 wagon. I really miss it. I am dying to get my hands on a late-’80s VW Syncro Westfalia Camper. Oh, and I love any old Land Rovers. Someday I hope to have a 110 diesel.”
What do you love about surfing? Any tips for beginners?
“Shallow answer: It’s fun. Hippie answer: When you’re riding a wave, you have no choice but to be in the moment. Anything else in your head goes away, and all that matters is what you’re doing that instant. Just like in life, you have to go with the flow, accept the fact that you can’t control everything, and enjoy what you have.
“My advice to a beginner would be to be patient. Most people these days want everything instantly. Understanding the ocean is something that takes time and patience.”
What are the characteristics of a perfect burrito?
“The perfect burrito is completely subjective. I’ve had people send me to the ‘BEST BURRITO PLACE’ and not been impressed. Here’s MY perfect burrito: rice, black beans, cheese. I like guac, and salsa on the side. I like to be in charge of my salsa distribution. All ingredients must be evenly dispersed throughout the burrito—no clumps. I also like a dry burrito, and by that I mean I don’t like burrito juice leaking out the bottom. I also like a bottle of Tapatío or Cholula on-hand to add an extra ZAP if I think a bite needs it. Don’t get me started on breakfast burritos.
“I will say this, if I had to choose one burrito to have for the rest of my life, I’d choose a rice, bean and cheese burrito from Sofia’s Taqueria in Aptos, California. It’s not for everyone, but to me, it’s the burrito by which all other burritos are measured.”
And the perfect accompanying beverage?
“The perfect beverage depends on my mood. In general, any ice-cold Mexican beer will do just fine. Occasionally, I have a hankering for a Mexican Coke, and sometimes I feel like a tutifruti Jarritos.”
Who are some favorite artists who have inspired you over the years?
“I love Geoff McFetridge’s style. I appreciate his commitment to simplicity. He’s not self-indulgent, and his work makes me happy. I think that if you look at anything he’s made, you can tell that it makes him happy, too.
“I’m also a huge fan of Steven Harrington. I love how he’s found a way to do commercial projects that, rather than feeling like he’s sold out, feel like he’s adding to his body of work. I aspire to do the same.
Do you think it’s important for every person to have some form of creative outlet?
“YES! Humans need to find ways to express themselves. I truly believe everyone is an artist—some just haven’t found their medium.”
Describe your take on the concept of “functional art.” What are some examples?
“I think everything is functional art to a certain degree. Think of ‘function’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘art’ at the other. Everything falls on that spectrum somewhere. I’d put things like architecture and pottery somewhere in the middle. A plain black backpack goes way over on the functional side—but it still had to be created by someone.”
How did this collaboration with Herschel come about?
“It’s funny, once my Rad Cars with Rad Surfboards project started to pick up some steam, I started to get solicitations from companies. Big companies. Some companies I felt like I didn’t align with at all. Some companies I didn’t trust, and after saying ‘No’ a bunch of times, I started to think about which companies I felt like my sensibilities, personality and beliefs actually aligned with. There were basically two companies on my list, and Herschel Supply Co. was one of them. So I reached out to them and got no response.
“Oddly, a month or so later, Jamie Cormack and Mikey Scott from Herschel Supply reached out to me, not knowing that I had tried to get in contact with them already. We got to talking, and it was clear early on that we were like-minded, and we were going to do something Rad.”
Why is it important to have a great backpack?
“A backpack is a very versatile thing. People ask a lot of them: ‘Hold my books, hold my clothes. Come with me on this trip. Stay crumpled in that corner.’ A backpack needs to be durable enough to take whatever you throw at it, but it’s on you, and in a way, it becomes a part of you—so it needs to have personality, too.”
What are a few ideal songs to play at the beach—or on the drive there?
“Again—this is a tough one because it depends. Am I going surfing, or going to chill on a towel? Are the waves big? Do I need to get amped? For this exercise, let’s assume I’m going to the beach in a rad car with my longboard and don’t know how the waves are. In that case:
- Anything from The Walkmen, specifically the songs ‘Juveniles’ and ‘Heaven’
- ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ by Bob Dylan
- Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo’ by Jens Leckman
- Anything by Dr. Dog
- Any Rolling Stones