Ashlee Phillips
Photo by Patrick Patton

Tyler La Flamme will hate reading this.

The twenty-nine year old graphic designer behind Wildwood Design Co. was never an art prodigy, nor was he interested in being an artist. When he was a kid, he doodled his favorite skate logos and characters, but his focus on the craft swelled after he realized what he didn’t want.

“I didn’t want to do the whole traditional way of working – the traditional career. I thought that was super boring and lame,” Tyler tells me through a mouth full of gum. “I just wanted to be creative and do art.”

Clad in a beanie, black converse, and a graphic tee, Tyler is quintessentially SoCal. His adolescent clothes and stubbled smirk highlight his Peter-Pan-turned-skateboarder vibe. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was playing a character: the California kid who grew up on skateboards, partied a little too much, and caused a lot of trouble. I see a person who isn’t interested in your stereotypes. He doesn’t care about your opinion of his lifestyle choices, but he might have a few words to say about yours. He’s living life on his own terms. If you can’t deal with that, then consider this double middle-finger salute his parting gift.

Tyler takes out his gum and sticks it to the top of his desk. Mid-sentence. He throws me a sheepish smile that implies an awkwardness I hadn’t yet noticed. Perplexed, I stare at the shiny glob and wonder who this guy really is. A gainfully employed artist with a burgeoning career as a freelance designer, Tyler commutes to work every day. His house, smack dab in the middle of the suburbs, is a beautiful single family home surrounded by lemon trees and laughing neighborhood children. He and his beautiful wife chose Camarillo to be nearer to family; grandparents make the best babysitters, after all. A young father of two, Tyler’s life probably looks a lot like his parents’ did twenty years ago.

As if on cue, his kids file into the garage. It’s time for baseball practice. He tells them goodbye, and watches as they trail away. Though he fights back against a prescriptive lifestyle, Tyler is living quite the conventional life. Sitting catty-corner at his worn desk in his art studio, which doubles as his garage, we discuss his artistic inspirations. Tyler leans back in his chair, ankle propped on the opposite knee, and gives me a surprising answer: “Skateboarding started me on my creative path. All the graphics you see on skateboards is super inspiring. It’s my number one creative outlet.” Despite his laid-back body language, he seems uncomfortable talking about himself beyond his professional boundaries.

So I ask him why he wanted to pursue a career in the arts.

“I wanted to do something where I was using my brain on a daily basis, and I wasn’t just a robot, you know? Doing the same thing over and over.” He pulls down his Black Book from a shelf and hands it to me. As I thumb through its pages, a pattern emerges. California cool, as per usual: it’s all palm trees, shapely and half-naked women, skulls, and typography – “Ass, gas, or grass.” Tyler is still the precocious artist who learned form and color theory from bridge-side graffiti en route to his grandmother’s Malibu home. He continues: “Making it as a fine artist is impossible – I’m sure you’ve heard that – so design is the next best step if you want to be a working creative and have a career.”

Looking around his studio, I see dozens of design pieces that he’s finished. He shuffles through the stack with me, hesitant to show off, but proud of his work. Red typography catches my eye. Emblazoned on a white canvas are the words: “Never for money, always for love.” He gives it to me, and when I get home that night, I hang it on my wall. A reminder that the pursuit of art as a career is a difficult choice. It requires sacrifice without guarantee of commercial success. Tyler embraced that reality and pursued a desk job in design as a way to manifest his dream. It’s precisely because he has been able to make a living from the traditional 9-to-5 that he can pursue what he loves. He didn’t bow to convention or let it dictate his choices, but it found him out all the same.

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