It is said, follow your dreams and the money won’t be far behind. Long time San Clemente resident and artist Bob Harlow is one of the lucky ones who chose this path and it’s resulted in quite a successful and satisfying life.
Bob grew up on our beloved T-Street, with his 5 brothers and 1 sister and his parents still live in that very same childhood home to this day. He says his calling to draw surf cartoons came to him at a very young age.
“I started sending in my submissions to Surfer magazine when I was 10 years old, I remember running to the mailbox everyday hoping for that congratulatory letter from surfer, sadly none ever came.”
Then, in the 80’s he got a job working at Hobie Sports and it was there he says his business started ‘by accident’.
“I started designing T-shirts for a few Windsurfing events that Hobie held down at Doheny. That evolved into me designing for all the Southern California and Hawaii Hobie stores.”
Soon the calls started coming in from Quicksilver, Billabong, Town and Country and a few other world-famous surf companies. By 1989 he found himself so busy with design work on the side that he decided to leave Hobie and start his own business, Harlow Design.
“Not long after I started the business it became clear that selling designs for a one-time fee was making other people all the money. So with some interest from a few local retail stores I stopped selling my artwork and started producing my own T-shirts and began selling them to surf shops and resorts all over the world.”
With all that under his belt, Bob says his proudest achievement to date is his evolution of work with the San Clemente Ocean Festival. Each year he donates his artwork, which always includes the festival mascot Duke the Dolphin wearing his trunks and sunglasses doing everything from surfing and driving a woody to swimming to rowing a dory boat and everything in between.
“This year my inspiration for Duke came from a sign that stuck in my head of a cool looking dude riding his bike on a beach trail and I thought to myself, we haven’t seen Duke doing that yet.”
Since becoming a part of the Ocean Festival team merchandise sales have soared.
“Before I donated my first design in 1992, the event was only selling maybe six dozen shirts. The amount of merchandise sold has grown exponentially since and in recent years the numbers have been steadily growing to many thousands.”
And that’s great news for The Ocean Festival, which is itself a non-profit, and for the City of San Clemente. That’s because part of the proceeds from the sales each year are used to produce the event and a portion is given back to the community in the form of grants and scholarships to many organizations in town including San Clemente Junior Lifeguards, San Clemente and State Lifeguards, Ocean Institute’s Adopt-a-Class program, Meals on Wheels, Boys & Girls Club and also scholarships for local high school graduates.
He’s also proud of the work he’s done with the popular Mark and Brian morning show in LA on KLOS.
“I got to design and produce about ten T-shirts for the top-rated show over a four-year period, that was a blast.”
He’s also very generously designed, produced and donated all T-shirts for the annual “Play-Day” at the Fran Joswick Therapeutic Riding Center (now the Shea Center).
He’s one of our typical San Clemente neighbors, real chill and laid-back.
“I love my work because in most cases there is no art direction, I really don’t ‘do’ art direction. Most of my customers know to just point me in a direction and take the leash off. They know I’ll return with something they’ll really like!”