When you’re in your local disc golf shop, or even browsing disc golf photos online, usually the first thing your eye is drawn to is the stamp. While many stock stamps have designs that instantly stand out, there are a number of custom stamps that can really turn heads. One designer who has a lot of work you might recognize is Les White.
White has had quite the career as a graphic designer and has spent the last few years putting his design to hot stamps for many disc golf companies and pros. What started as a simple conversation turned into one of the most detailed and in depth interviews we’ve done. White really opened up about how he got started making disc golf designs and some of the process behind is most famous designs.
Let’s first start with your background as a graphic designer. When did you first realize you wanted to draw for a living? Beyond disc golf art, what do you design?
“First off, if you ever meet me in public you will realize I’m not much for casual chatting, etc., but for some reason with this interview I kind of opened up a bit!”
“Ever since I was kid I wanted to be a comic book artist. as I grew older that dream somewhat dimmed but I always understood that drawing and painting seemed as natural to me as walking and breathing. the amount of products and stuff I have been a part of as an artist would take a lifetime to list so I’ll just say that comics, computer-game art, storyboards, t-shirt design, corporate branding and tons of ‘off the wall’ junk have kept me very busy and content.”
“All through my life, no matter what I may have been involved with at the time, once people know you can draw, you automatically become that ‘art’ person everyone gravitates to for caricatures, portraits etc. It’s cool and all but man, it can become a drain sometimes! Probably the most interesting thing I’ve done was a stint being a courtroom artist for a local CBS affiliate. For a week, I had to sketch this murdering coward and his associate. It was a pretty big trial with the national media also keeping tabs and some days I was sitting virtually right behind him. It was the Dana Ewell murder trial; Wikipedia it if you’d like. I bring this up because being a courtroom artist requires a skill to be able to draw quickly (making mental notes) and to take what is giving to you visually and making it work as a viable presentation for everyone to comprehend.”
“As for comic book stuff, it takes a tremendous amount of knowing and drawing just about everything possible. Then refining, traveling to comic book conventions, being rejected, practicing more, more travelling and rejections, while constantly keeping whatever your day gig is going on also.”
“After years of submitting pages I finally started to get noticed and receiving work. Mostly pinups in the back of books, but I didn’t care as they paid well and kept your name out there. I did a couple of independent comics for smaller companies that also paid well and they were great for ‘refining’ your work in preparations for the big leagues. At one point I was offered a backup story to draw in one the the many X-men annuals Marvel had at the time but ultimately it didn’t work out as the editor I was working with suddenly vanished or moved on to another title. Right after that I was offered a pinup in the number one book at the time, Todd McFarlanes Spawn ( I think it was issue #33) and then things got crazy as offers to do more work started to roll in.
I met and became friendly with the great Jim Lee at all my convention travels and he had watched my portfolio mature and was always there to offer pointers. He had left working on the Punisher and later on the X-Men to help start up a new company called Image Comics. Jim’s book with this new venture was entitled W.I.L.D.CATS and was just exploding everywhere, so I decided to work up a three page sample where I wrote the plot to go along with my art, making sure to showcase my strengths as an artist in the process.
It was easily my best penciled work ever, and page two of the samples was my coup de grace, where the action was non-stop as the character Grifter is running around, John Woo style, gunning down bad guys while the camera (my art) was showing different angles and strong panel to panel composition, culminating with a very cool three point perspective, time-elasped panel that took me waaay too long to draw, but was just down-right bad ass. Everyone in the industry I had showed the samples to knew I had nailed it and that my time had come.”
“Ironically, as fate would have it, around that same time the local newspaper had run a full page article on my attempts to break into mainstream comics while essentially holding down another full time non-art related job. A computer game company located in Oakhurst, California read the article and contacted me to come and interview as a full time conceptual computer game artist, which I accepted, and stayed there for a very long time. I don’t remember if I ever got around to even submitting the three page art to Jim; didn’t matter to me at the time as I was profoundly happy at what I was doing.”
Are you a disc golfer yourself? If so, how did you get started?
“Yes, I try and throw as much as possible. My wife and I play every chance we get. Unfortunately for some reason I haven’t quite figured out how to showcase my game better during tournaments. I’m more of a very fast-paced player and of course taking four hours to play a course that I would normally complete in 90 minutes takes a toll on me, not stamina wise, but mentally I start becoming bored. Lol, I keep saying that after every tourney that I’m done playing tournaments, but of course the people you know keep you coming back. Who knows maybe one day everything might start to gel for me in this crazy game.”
“How I got started in disc golf is a somewhat funny story. I have always thrown Frisbees around as a kid and had the knack for it. Around summer 2009, My wife Christina and I would go to this nice park everyday while living in Alliance, Nebraska. We’d get exercise in and throw Whamo Frisbees at trees, seeing who could hit the tree first. Her and I make everything a competition. We were really working that plastic daily while really enjoying it. one day we see this guy walking around the park with his disc golf backpack on and throwing different looking ‘Frisbees’ at these funny looking chain contraptions, and we’re wondering what the heck is this guy’s problem? We would walk past the baskets shaking our heads and just laughing at what a silly looking thing that all was! Throwing at trees is way more fun! Lol!”
“One day I get home and she shows me two used discs she had picked up at a local salvation army for only a quarter, one was a Discraft Magnet and the other was an Innova Wolf. I said to her she had just wasted a quarter and threw them aside. Eventually I gave in to her requests to try them at the local course and boy did I become hooked real quick! Within a week I ordered my first disc online at Disc Golf Center, an orange Champion Boss, only because it sounded cool. I was immediately confused as to why that damn disc came flying back to the ground so quick! It would take take me 10 freakin’ throws to advance than damn disc 200 feet!”
You’ve done many notable stamps lately. What was the first stamp you designed? Did someone approach you to design a stamp or was it your idea? How did it all play out?
“After about two months of playing I started to do some sketches with possible stamp ideas to pitch around. The first person I contacted was Jeremy Rusco at Dynamic Discs. Don’t exactly remember why I chose him at the time, but I remember sending this very funky looking art to him and he actually took the time to get back to me and offer some suggestions on what to do make it work, etc. I remember him being very cool about the whole thing. I still have a copy of that art (shown below), and it looks very crappy and unworthy to be on a disc—but hey, I was trying to figure this stuff out and was on a mission to get a design on some plastic somewhere.”
“About that same time I had discovered one of the internet disc golf forums, and saw some disc art by some guy who went by ZAM, I started pestering him him on what I needed to know about stamp design and this guy was more than kind and patient in letting me know what needed to be done in terms of resolution, print size, and so forth. I think he even had tutorials on what to do and what to expect. Some of his stamps I thought were quite unique and very cool. I owe a lot to that guy. ZAM’s the man!”
“Nothing came about through my Dynamic Discs cold call, but I was just getting started! Every stamp art contest that came up online I would submit stamp designs and would never win anything. MVP, Gateway and others were looking for stamp ideas, but looking back the stuff I sent in was uninspired and lacking. One day while looking at discs on eBay I came across some dyed discs from a seller name ‘Widye’ discs and eventually called him (Josh Hamm) on the phone and told him i’d like to do some art for him. He took the time to listen to me, loved the comic-inspired work I had showed him and very soon thereafter he offered me my first stamp for one of his ‘Mayhem’ tournaments he TD’d back in Wisconsin. I was able to use one of my earlier computer game creations to serve as the basic design for that eventual stamp. It was a great success and it was all systems go after that. I have done a lot of work since for Josh and his company Riverside Disc Golf. A great guy and tireless promoter of disc golf, along with his wife Stephanie they are carving out a nice tradition of running great tournaments and taking good care of disc golf fans with their awesome custom dyes and well-stocked retail store. Lol, that kinda sounded like a paid promo for them!”
“Soon after I got that first disc stamp through Josh (man was it cool opening that box he sent me the first time seeing my art on those Destroyers and other company’s discs!) I had met Nikko Locasto at a tournament. We hit it off and I did a design for him and Jeremy Rusco that I think was Dynamic Discs’ first Dyemax featuring a touring pro—it was a pose of Nikko as a Skeleton that came out pretty cool. Still love that design! That also led me to doing some design stuff for Paige Pierce, which included disc art and a t-shirt design.”
“I need to back up a second to recall what initially inspired me to get some art on some discs…”
“I was looking at the stamps on a bunch of Innova discs at the local Walmart back then (the store only stocked Innova, so thats all I knew at the time) and of course the artist and competitor in me knows that I can draw this stuff and much better also! (yeah, right!) I remember liking the Valkyrie stamp alot and hating the Orc stamp! I immediately liked the ‘Robotech’ look of the Destroyer art and was drawn to it quickly. I told my wife that Innova needs to know that I can improve on a lot of these stamps, make them a bit more profitable! (haha).”
“Destroyer, Kite, Wolf and Valkyrie: loved the art, made me buy ’em everytime! The Kite and its very symmetrical, gliding look played a role later on when I designed the art for my creator-designed Roc3!”
“Banshee, Viper, Viking and the Roc stamps I also liked. Banshee was quite daring and cool. Hated the Orc and Archangel stamps. The artist in me would never throw a disc that didn’t look cool to me. I’m still the same way about these things, and not just exclusively to disc golf. Some people don’t understand that, and that’s cool.”
The three stamps that people will recognize the most are the David Wiggins Destroyer, Roc3, and Latitude 64 Claymore. Let’s start with the Destroyer. Tell us the story behind this custom stamp?
“I reluctantly decided to have a Facebook presence in hopes that I would get a chance to show some more of my art and try and secure more disc stamp art. I had always been an admirer of David Wiggins after seeing him as a youngster on YouTube winning all these distance competitions and tournaments everywhere. We became Facebook friends and that was that. I asked him to keep me in mind if he ever needed a stamp. Sure enough, some time later he messaged me out of the blue saying how much he loved my art and asked me would I like to design his 2014 Innova Tour stamp. David doesn’t know this this but initally I was going to say no, because at the time I was already kinda feeling burnout with too many things on my plate to do, but when he later told me it would be a Destroyer I was very eager to come aboard and already knew it was gonna be a best seller!”
“I grabbed some photos of David off the internet and set about looking for a cool action shot, knowing that from here on after everyone would be comparing my design to the amazing DX destro design that I had loved. Right off the bat I knew the ‘Mecha’ had to be an action shot, he couldn’t just be standing still like the DX mecha. That in itself was kinda tough to pull off as the bot is so bulky and full of gizmos and everything, and plus David had initally asked me before I had begun if I would turn him into the ‘Destroyer’ Bot! A little pressure maybe, but dang this was a dream gig if I had ever heard of one! Let’s go!”
“I was about 75% pleased with the final version of the stamp. I didn’t quite capture the dynamic action ‘flow’ of the final pencil design but it was close, and everyone got behind the stamp very quickly and I was pretty pleased to see how fast it kept selling out at the Innova store. I knew right then and there that I had arrived, and that people would now know of my stamp art and my presence would be felt. The best feeling I had from all of that was that I remember feeling really happy for David, and knowing that the disc would sell very well for him and help keep him out on the road.”
“One more thing about that Destro Stamp. I sold the original pencilled and inked artwork for a very nice sum, including sending the very first sketch to David. However, it will never be as good or as influential as the original, Levi Wilcox designed stamp that I drew my inspiration from.”
For the Roc3, this was the first in their artist series and were a hit on the Innova Factory Store. A new take on the mythical bird we’ve all come to love. What went through your head when you knew you’d be designing a new stamp for what quickly became a very popular disc?
“When I was first contacted from Innova about doing the Roc3 stamp I didn’t quite believe it at first. Although I kinda felt that something would be happening with Innova for me sooner or later because the Wiggins Destroyer had touched a nerve with the buying public.”
“I was already on the road with my family heading for a long Midwest vacation to see my daughters in Colorado and Nebraska when the call came from Innova. After having the idea of this gig explained to me, and that royalties would be tied into it (or I could accept a flat fee upfront) I was pretty stoked. Initially I was offered a couple of different discs to choose from and I remember wanting the Teebird3 at the time, knowing it was a new release and that I would be able to ride that enthusiasm to better sales (lol, I’m always thinking business!), but I couldn’t get that at the time and then when I heard the Roc3 was available I was pretty stoked, knowing that it was a Paul McBeth disc and that it was also pretty popular. Before I was off the phone with Innova I had already had the image in my head of what I was going to draw. I had remembered how much I had liked the DX Kite stamp and that that would be my base for a soaring, symmetrical design that leaped off the disc and begged to be thrown. I also knew I would absolutely nail the design because I could so vividly see it in my head already.”
“Eric, my contact at Innova was an awesome guy to work with; always positive and with energy to spare. Whenever I had questions, Eric had the answers ready to roll. I remember the long drive on vacation soon after the phone call and constantly thinking about that Roc3 design. Later on while driving through Utah or somewhere it hit me just how big of a deal this was, or could be. I remember Eric saying that this venture could possibly open the doors for more artists to have a platform through Innova and possibly realize some nice royalty checks in the process. My stamp was gonna be the flag bearer, so to speak, and I welcomed that pressure with absolutely no hesitation. I would spend nights at hotels around the Midwest looking at birds of all species trying to find just the right “look’ that I could extrapolate from, sketch after sketch trying to find that ‘groove’ (um, not the disc, mind you!), along the way I came across a Roc design that the legendary stamp artist Skeet Scienski had done for Innova years earlier that pretty much echoed what was in my head also, although his was a bit more ornate when it came to the wing structure. Funny how artistic minds find a way to tune in to the same channel sometimes.”
“I was impressed that Eric had told me that the idea and execution of the stamp would be all my own idea, with final approval, of course, from Innova. ( I remember thinking during that conversation how funny it would be sending in a drawing of a giant bird taking a dump on some unsuspecting disc golfer somewhere and the Innova brass firing me on the spot!)”
“The final stamp design that was printed was pretty much 99% my own idea. Those two lightning bolts that flank the wings were a last minute idea as I stared at the bird for what seemed like days on end. I already knew the design in itself led to a very cool ‘V’ shaped composition that screams motion, but I knew the Innova logo had to also be a part of the drawing also, not just lumped in there because it had to be.”
“I have always used, or liked the effect of lightning bolts in a lot of my designs as they convey power and movement in which is essentially a very straight-forward diagonal line. When I put them behind the roc’s wings (in photoshop 4 no less, that’s how ‘old school’ I am in regards to technology!) I knew it was done, that the composition would be a hit. When you look at the overall structure of the art from the top to the bottom, those bolts lock into the viewers gaze and you find yourself being drawn into the art and those bolts are taking you all the way down to the Innova logo. Nothing is wasted in the design, and if you were to strip away all of the fine line etchings of the art and just have the boldness of the heavy blacks to look at, you’ll still see the symmetrical structure still shine through. Its basically art school 101, the underlying structure in anythng you do artwise is very important.”
“I hope Innova makes t-shirts of that art one day, it absolutely begs to be on a shirt as everyone would look 20 pounds lighter just wearing it! Oh, before I forget, I have received 4 royalty checks from Innova to date and I must say I was very impressed with what they have sent me. And of course I have sold the original art of the Roc and it went for a very nice price also. To all the stamp designers who only create stamp art using software without any physical, hand drawn art are missing out on an even better, more satisfying way to enhance your personal bottom line. I like using my old photoshop 4 (I’ve had it since 1997, I think) but only to aid me in enhancing, not doing, my artwork for me.”
“To the buying public, Jonathan Poole, Eric and everyone associated with Innova that had a part in this new venture, thank you very much for a very cool platform in which to show my stuff!”
In our initial conversations you mentioned the design for the Latitude 64 Claymore took three years. We’ve been a part of some projects that have taken a few months and the work involved in that time frame was busy to say the least. How much back and forth went on during those three years?
“Oh man, this is a wild story, aka how not to get a stamp designing gig!”
“It all started back in 2011 as my wife and I headed to Pro Worlds to watch some great disc golf. When we arrived there I made it around to all of the dealers booths and was really admiring Latitude 64’s layout of discs, etc. Their main guy Tomas Ekstrom was there and we started talking about plastic and so forth and I left that conversation just knowing I wanted to do a stamp for them as I was already digging their plastic at the time.”
“In a nutshell, I drew up a stamp of a viking type dude swinging a sword, holding a shield and looking like a hard ass. I immediately drew Tomas’ head on the muscled up warrior as an ode to him as a warrior from when he was one of the best players on the planet. That drawing was the result of a LOT of sketches to get that pose just right. I then inked it and sent it off to Tomas just knowing that art would be used somewhere, somehow. To this day I think its some of my best work, especially the inking and the movement of the warrior. Tomas loved it and promised me it would find a home on a Latitude 64 disc one day. Well, months would go by and I would hear nothing, then something encouraging, then nothing, etc. This went on for over two years, but I never took it personally because I was the one who tried to push the art on them and that they hadn’t commissioned me first or whatnot—it was just my ego getting frustrated at knowing that the stamp was seemingly so damn good and it needed to be on Latitude 64 plastic! (ha ha)”
“Periodically I started getting promising hits here and there, that it might be used on the Pain midrange (perfect because the warrior is depicted kicking ass while a couple of arrows are stuck in him—that’s some pain yo!). That ultimately didn’t happen, as others at Latitude 64 had shot it down. Later on I was told it would be on the then upcoming “Fury” driver, and Tomas had even sent me a mockup of the driver with the warrior and final logo – I was stoked! What a great name for a disc, and especially this stamp, as the warrior must be ‘furious’ at all those damn arrows stuck in him while kicking all that butt!”
“Ultimately, the other dudes at Latitude 64 struck down that idea too as they had other plans. Tomas always reassured me he fought for my design every chance he had—as he really liked it. (I did notice that a character similar to my idea was being used on the ‘Bolt’ by Latitude 64) Oh well, I thought, I’ll rework the art and sell it elsewhere. Then out of nowhere Tomas contacted me and told me about the ‘Claymore’ idea and would I do up a design for him, I was super stoked, but a bit weary, and said okay “let’s go!’ My first design, based on a simple sketch he had supplied did not work, so I did a bunch of my own research and that was the final version (Tomas’ idea!).”
“The pose idea itself was taken from an 8×10 promo of Heath Ledger while he was doing ‘A Knight’s Tale.’ And yes, once again the original art of the stamp sold very well for me. It’s a unique situation for a disc golf fan to own a one of a kind piece of disc golf history—everyone can own the disc, but only one can own the art that produced it. Frame it up next to a completed disc and there’s no feeling like it. That’s a carry over from my comic book drawing days.”
What were your thoughts when you got the final approval on the design?
“Just relieved, really. I never got that first art used on a disc but my dogged tenacity and faith in my abilities ultimately paid off with the end result being on a production disc from the great Latitude 64—and it’s also a great disc! The coolest feeling I’ve felt in a long time is when my youngest daughter Lauren went into her local disc golf store in Fort Collins, CO (the awesome Wright Life) and sent me a pic of her holding the Claymore and telling everyone in the store that her dad drew the stamp! For his part in hanging with me, and finally delivering, Tomas will always have my respect and I would not hesitate to help him in a pinch if ever need be.”
“With all that being said, that warrior design needs to be on a stamp! somebody contact me and we’ll talk!”
Do you have a favorite stamp that you designed?
“Yep, my next David Wiggins Destroyer Stamp, although it’s not technically a stamp yet, nor been given the green light from David or Innova at this point. I’ve already done some prelim stuff with it and it just explodes off the page! Of my actual produced stamps I would have to go with the Roc3. The Roc3 design, in my humble opinion, is just straight up bad ass. It inspires you to want to throw the damn disc! Speaking of inspiring, I’m not one to draw a scene for a disc stamp where there is no action or impending bad ass situation about to occur—not my style. It boils down to what I would want to see on a disc that stirs up the excitement in me to deliver something cool. I’ve turned down a lot of stamp designing gigs because of that philosophy. I just can’t get pumped up to draw a scene of two people having dinner and smiling at the camera.”
You posted on Facebook in November that you were moving on from stamp design? Is that still the case? Why are you deciding to close the book on this chapter?
“I basically accomplished what I set out to do. In three years I went from gazing over Innova discs at Walmart, wanting to be a part of that magic when you see a cool looking disc and have to have it, to being a part of that magic for the number one company on the planet. My two stamps over there are now a part of their official cannon of discs, and I could not be more proud. My work with other companies and top professionals have also struck a nerve with the buying public, and I do not take that for granted.”
“I’m perfectly content with a nice, small body of work that will leave an imprint in this amazing sport, and now that i’ve done that it’s time to get back to other ideas involving art that i’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m not all the way out yet, I have a couple more stamp obligations to fulfill first.”
What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into designing custom stamps? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
“First off I would suggest that you do as much research as you can in relation to what you need to know about size limitations (resolution, etc) because that fact in itself will determine how you have to go about creating the art for production. Secondly, contact whoever is in position to make the decisions pertaining to hiring you, etc. also, study other stamps that are out there and use them for springboards as to what works well and what doesn’t.”
“A lot of the info I used when I started out is still available on certain internet forums if and when you need them. You can still probably find some of the interactions online with me asking ZAM a billion questions on how you go about getting started when you feel you are ready.”
“Lastly, try and develop a signature style, if you can. That fact in itself speaks volumes for you and your reputation, and at least an idea on what they can expect from you in terms or quality.”
Overall, has your experience working with all the different companies been a positive one?
“Yep, I would say so. Most people just wanna get some cool art at an affordable price to keep everybody happy. I’ve only dealt with a couple of people who, probably in hindsight, wish they’d probably hadn’t contacted me! I’m not one for small talk or games of any sort—I have a very strong hard-willed personality that doesn’t suffer fools lightly. I am a lifelong Martial Artist and Military Veteran and the confidence and self-assuredness that background embodies always has a way of coming to the front when need be. Other than that I’m pretty laid back and easy going Lol.”
“I also had a great partnership with the fine folks who run the Charlie Vettiner Open, which I designed 3 caricature stamps for during the last 3 years. great people and a great experience, and it all started with a 30 second Ken Climo sketch!”
“Along those same lines some great pros I’ve had the chance to work with include Eric McCabe, Nikko Locastro, Paige Pierce, Cale Leiviska, and lefty dynamo Devan Owens.”
“Overall, of all the industries I have been involved with, the best people I have found have been in Disc Golf. It’s something about the nature of the game, the spirit of the discin’ brotherhood, that speaks volumes.”
What’s next for you?
“I have a couple of more stamps to do, fulfilling my obligations, and then its back to the man cave, so to speak, to work on the various ideas and projects that need to be seen and heard.”
Is there anything else you want to cover?
“Yes. I would like to send a shout out to various artistic movers and shakers I have had the chance to meet and/or know the last three years within this disc golf industry. First off, some fellow stamp artists: the aforementioned ZAM, a creative mastermind and very astute student of all things plastic. Secondly, the one and only Skulboy, Duncan Crawford. We kinda started out as somewhat rivals, but I have nothing but appreciation for what he has carved out for himself and his brand in this industry. Super-talented and always getting better, this guy is the real deal. And of course the legend himself…Skeet Scienski! The artist who has single-handedly inspired more would be disc artists than you can shake a stick at. There is no one like him, will never be anyone else like him – as over the top and prolific like no one else. His body of high quality work is just mind-boggling.”
“A special shout out also to Dave Lonteen, an artist whose stamp work I admire and whose work always carries an ample degree of professionalism. Lastly, keep your eyes out for newcomer Benjamin Hopwood, special things will be coming from this dude!”
A huge thank you to White for giving such an exciting look into his process of designing disc golf stamps. We hope he gets the itch again some time soon and we can continue to see his work on the course.