If you head down to the beaches of San Clemente on the right day (usually a weekend), you might see Steven “Grit” Lombardi out on the boardwalk selling his art and t-shirts.
For many, hustling designs next to the ocean seems like the humble beginnings of an artistic career. For Lombardi, it’s his artistic career going full circle back to the dream he had right at the beginning. From tattooing to band merch, skateboard decks to clothing lines, Lombardi has done a full lap in the design worldl. But before working for everyone from NOFX to Nitro Circus, there was just a screen-printing kit in a basement.
“About 11 or 12 years ago, I was living in my mom’s basement, and I bought one of those really cheap screening kits,” Lombardi says. “I was screening shirts by hand and giving them to my buddies. I thought it was the best thing ever.”
But after a successful career, Lombardi was finally ready to take on a project all his own and get back to his original artistic desires. Upon teaming up with a local printer at Lux Inks, Lombardi created a single brand to release all of the art and clothing ideas that he’s built up over the years, Gritty Arts. Now equipped with his “hustle bag” for the beach and a fully stocked website, Lombardi wants to use Gritty Arts to bring back the designs and culture that he loved to doodle so much as a kid.
“I’ve been really inspired by the location in which I live, San Clemente and Dana Point,” Lombardi says. “There’s so much surf history and skate culture, it’s inspiring to push that art out there more. It’s fun to find these things in that culture from the past and bring it back to life.”
It’s that old skate and surf culture that Gritty Arts captures better than most brands out there right now. Rather than going for a sleek modern look, Lombardi chose to stay with the vintage feel of the boards of yesteryear. Funny, interesting, and edgy graphics replace the current trend of branding everything with a single logo or font. It’s not representative of the wealthy South County of today, but the beach culture those million-dollar homes were built upon.
Although he grew up in New York, Lombardi moved to California to pursue a career in art. Before art became a full-time job, Lombardi would work just about any gig he could find to be able to afford art supplies and the occasional party with his friends. Lombardi’s replaced the partying with his family life and makes a living through various artistic outlets now, but all those years he spent working for other brands taught him a lot about handling his own business the right way.
“I’ve always been trying to get my art out there in front of people,” Lombardi says. “I was that kid out on the corner selling my paintings, but now I’ve gone through the process of learning how to do everything by working with all of these other brands, that I know how to do it the right way.”
The freedom of creativity and lifestyle can’t be beaten, but running a one-man show isn’t for the easily broken. For Lombardi, sometimes the hardest part is opening himself (and his art) up to the harsh world, even if it’s just while shaking hands and pushing T-shirts at the beach.
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I know it’s not going to get easier,” “It’s tough putting yourself out there all the time, but it gets a little bit easier and more comfortable over time.”