Juan Marante, AKA El Gran Tocayo, as one of our own here at Billabong Global HQ. He's as nice of a guy as you'll ever meet, an award winning husband and an extremely talented illustrator. Juan, as you'll read, finds inspiration from the common and not-so common. Be it Instagram or a patron at an old dive bar, Juan is constantly feeding his inspo bank and we get to see the results firsthand through his work. Find out a little more about who El Gran Tocayo really is and remember to give his new Billabong Gallery Collection a peek while you're at it.

How did you get started as an artist?

I grew up drawing/emulating comic strips from the cartoon sections in the Sunday newspaper, and as long as I can remember I was always doodling. I became a huge fan of skateboard art and I was collecting comic books at the time as well so I naturally gravitated towards the illustration side of art. Still I didn’t really consider myself an “artist” until around the age of 25 and was actually getting paid to paint on peoples surfboards and design t-shirts for small companies and bands. So I guess as a profession, surfboard art was how I started, and then it carried over into fine art since it had more perceived value and it somewhat molded my career as a graphic designer.

Can you discuss your style of art?

I think I’ve narrowed my craft down to what I enjoy doing most and that is illustration. I’ve explored many different types of art approaches but I decided illustrating is where my heart was. As far as subject matter I guess I’m in the realm of Low Brow art since I’ve been such a fan of those types of artists and was also a huge fan of Juxtapoz magazine.

Your bio also mentions that you were born in Cuba, raised in Florida and based in California – can you tell us about how each of those places have influenced your art/the connection you have to each place?

I don’t remember too much from Cuba cause I was 3 when we fled the country but grew up within the culture in Miami. There was always a great deal of art surrounding my hometown whether it be musical or visual so I was always either drawing or playing music. As I grew up and started skateboarding and then surfing I started incorporating my craft within those sports. I would draw graphics on neighbors skate decks and also paint on every surfboard I rode. Both those things got me some attention since I was working at the only surf shop (X-Isle) in South Beach. I gained a great deal of exposure cause of that. Plus, the shop owners gave me the opportunity to design a few t-shirts for the shop and that was awesome and also the first tees I ever did.

My love for surfing (and the lack of wave in Florida) is what got me to California after I graduated from college. The culture in California sucked me in and I’ve been hooked on the lifestyle ever since. I’ve gotten to work for some of my favorite companies and have had the opportunity to be involved in a great deal of art shows, painted some murals at restaurants, designed skateboard graphics and painted surfboards for many folks and shops in So Cal, aside to my job of designing t-shirts for the last 12 years. Billabong has allowed me a great deal of freedom to draw and they push me to continue expressing my creativity thru my craft and I find that to be very exciting and rewarding.

What was the inspiration for your capsule collection with Billabong?

It was actually quite hard since I work here and I have a great deal of freedom to explore ideas as is. But I sat back and wondered what do I enjoy drawing and what would make people stare at the graphic. So I explored some concepts that in a sense tied in with the brand and also touched on pop culture. For instance with the “Oh Billy” tee, I’d been doing a series of surfing Zombies we’ve deemed “Billy” since I got hired. So each season I find a new way to bring this guy to life using stylish poses and lately, different looks reflecting certain decades. So for my collection I wondered why not have him out of the water and in a love scene straight out of a comic strip.

Then for the “Warlock” tee I had been gravitating to some mystical looking stuff on my inspiration searches and decided to go that route for the second design. I had trippy 60’s wizard in mind for the graphic, and I came up with a dude bottom turning inside a dead wizards beard barrel. Totally not weird!

What makes this collection with Billabong special?

I was truly honored when they asked me to join their already growing list of amazing artists participating in their seasonal Gallery collection. I’d been doing art shows for the last 12 years or so and I had never been asked to partake on a project of this level where it would be distributed all over and I’d be featured as a regional artist.

What’s your favorite piece from your collection?

I gravitate towards whatever is on black but that aside, the Eagle tee is a favorite of mine cause I don’t think I’ve ever drawn anything like this and the concept is just out there but totally captures the look I was going for, Harley/bar t-shirt.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

As a media vehicle, Instagram. I follow so many talented people on there and always feel inspired. You can see what is trending and the wide array of styles everyone has. Also enjoy going to record shops, antique stores, dive bars and bookstores. That’s where I’ve gotten inspired lately. Old dive bars have cool tees! Also the patrons wear t-shirts that were probably made 20 years ago. I’m always working, whether on personal vacation or not I’m always looking at street bills posted around town, as well as tees folks are wearing and even some street art.

If you had to describe your art in one word, what would it be?


If you were stuck on a desert island, what’s the one thing you would want to have with you and why?

Probably a stand up paddle board cause they're funny to look at and I can probably use it for shelter/shade or just leave the island on it.

Thanks to Juan for his time! To see more of his latest work, follow him on Instagram at @elgrantocayo.