Halker the Creator
Last year, a new magazine publication made its way onto the sneaker scene. In an age where most people between the ages of 6 and 60 gather information through their laptops, smartphones and tablets, launching a new magazine isn’t always the best idea. Sneaker News has quite a following, though. The brainchild of Yu Ming Wu (Founder and Editor in Chief) and John Kim (Digital Content Director), the account has over 400,000 followers on Twitter and 4.6 million followers on Instagram. For your latest sneaker info online, Sneaker News is one of the main sources. So, starting a magazine wasn’t the most outrageous idea in the world.
About 6 months ago, a friend introduced me to Stephen Halker, a 30-something wearing unassuming jeans and a jacket. Halker was also sporting the Air Jordan 1.5 “Breds,” so we immediately had something to discuss. As it turned out, Halker was an artist and actually drew the front and back covers and several other illustrations for Sneaker News Volume 2. The magazine had peaked my interest before, but after meeting Halker, it was directly in my line of sneaker vision.
In January, Halker and I sat down for brunch at a small French restaurant called Bar Six in the West Village to discuss the story behind Halker’s Sneaker News drawings. Halker grew up in Southern California, and attended Orange County High School of the Arts. “I was exposed to a lot of different art forms and techniques – murals, print making, pottery, painting. I felt like I had a leg up going to college,” he said.
Halker was also involved in the skate culture scene. “Part of that culture is being anti-consumerist even though you’re buying the products,” he noted.
At 18, he needed to get out of his hometown and make his own way. He applied to several East Coast colleges, specifically art schools in New York City. “I didn’t want to have a college experience. I just wanted to be involved in regular life.”
With that in mind, he attended The School of Visual Arts, located on 23rd and Lexington Ave in New York. While there, he worked on mastering his craft through comics and realistic oil paintings.
After he graduated from SVA in 2001, it took a while for him to find his niche. “I didn’t have a strong understanding of the business, I didn’t have a portfolio.” Halker went to Europe the summer after he graduated. When he returned, 9/11 happened.
“I was living in Williamsburg at the time. We stood on our roof and watched the buildings fall. New York got really depressing; it was so oppressive.”
That Fall, Halker got a job as a commercial casting cameraman. After that, he got a job drawing human organs for scientific textbooks. During that time, his friend was working for Zoo York and got him a job there. “I went from drawing brains to skateboard graphics.”
As time went on, Halker made connections and started doing some drawings for Nike. His first success came with the “Tales from the Kitchen” campaign, which highlighted how the Hyperfuse basketball shoe was created. After that, Halker worked on an animation for the Nike Free, one of the most innovative designs in sneaker history.
Halker’s sneaker animation success turned into other jobs for retail giants like Foot Locker. He helped create commercials for the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team in 2012 for the Olympics. He also worked on Nike’s “Evolution of Air” campaign.
At this point, I had to sit back and attempt to process all the influential work he had done. I had to admit, I was pretty impressed. Halker didn’t seem to be. “Nike does so much marketing – it just seemed small what I did.”
But Sneaker News didn’t think so. An old connection at Zoo York was working on the first publication of the magazine and asked Halker if he’d be interested in doing an illustration. “I did two small spots for the first publication and really enjoyed the experience.”
Halker’s drawings were a hit, and for the second publication, Sneaker News asked him to do some more drawings for an issue dedicated to Michael Jordan. They ended up publishing 12 images of his, including the front and back covers.
From start to finish, the drawings took about three months to complete. “There weren’t that many drafts. I came in for a meeting, went through the whole deck. They knew how they wanted the story to progress. It was really fun – it was a team effort.”
Looking at all the detail in Halker’s drawings, it seemed pretty clear that he was a perfectionist with his work. I asked if he was ever satisfied with the final product. “By the time I’m done with something, I can’t stand it. I have to finish something really quickly in order for me to still like it when it’s done. When people want it, I’m always surprised. I can see every error. I don’t like the way I drew this hand. You’re never going to be happy with anything, just try to get to a finished state – get it done and let it live it’s own life. You kind of have to say, ‘It’s done.’”
Currently, Halker is working on more drawings for the next issue of Sneaker News. Since Kobe Bryant announced he would be retiring at the end of the season, he has also been working on some special drawings of the Laker star.
Halker admits that the more he focuses on drawing athletes and the famous sneakers they wore, the more he learns about them and grows to appreciate the shoes. His favorite Jordans are the 1’s and the 6’s. As a Brooklyn resident living in a typically small apartment, space is always an issue, so he has to be careful how many new pairs he picks up. “I just can’t get too into it, because my wife would kill me,” Halker jokes.
His comment rings truer than he might realize for many other sneaker collectors out there.