It’s the last day of our West Coast road trip and we are driving through San Francisco searching for a guitar workshop in what looks like a sleepy residential neighbourhood. Chris is looking a little puzzled “Are you sure this is the right place?”, our GPS hasn’t been wrong yet but i’m starting to wonder the same.
We parked up and decided to continue our search amongst the steep streets and pastel coloured houses on foot. “How did you hear about Prisma?” Chris asks. I don’t remember when or where I heard about Nick Pourfard and Prisma Guitars. I can’t recall if it was a recommendation from a friend of a friend, an article in a magazine or just a serendipity while browsing the internet. What I’m sure of it’s that we couldn’t head back to Manchester without meeting the founder of the company that thought to recycle used skateboards and turned them beautifully crafted instruments.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot three large brightly painted bollards each with a unique shape framing an unassuming wooden house. We learn later that these artistic flourishes are typical of Nick and his approach to art, design, craft and experimentation. As we walked up the front door, Nick pulled up in his car and approached us holding a paper sandwich bag. “Do you mind if I eating during the interview?” he asks while he set up some chairs outside of the house.
Nick didn’t grow up in an uniquely artistic family or has been privy to a deeply creative education that you would expect for such an inspiring person. The story of Prisma Guitars starts from a painful skating accident where Nick shattered his ankle and couldn’t walk for a long time “I remember sayin’ something like. One more try. When that happened I couldn’t walk for six months, never mind skating. All I did every single day was skate so it was like. What will I do now? And I kind of, for some reason I thought making stuff would be fun” he says.
It’s interesting how Nick started: buying second hand tools, watching youtube videos and researching materials with the only purpose of learning the processes and using his creations. There was never the idea of selling or give them away “I didn’t have any money to spend on wood. So I thought skateboards would be really cool. I didn’t know how to do it but it’s a free material and if I mess up I didn’t spent a lot of money” He explains “It wasn’t four or five years later when I started the brand because first I didn’t feel comfortable selling. For the reason why, I didn’t have any knowledge about it and second because I didn’t know who was going to be interested in what I was doing. But one day, a stranger was completely interested and that made me feel like. Okay, let's do it.” He says, laughing a little.
Chris then asks Nick “How would you describe what you do?”, curious about his unusual beginning and unassuming ambition, Nick pauses for a moment “I always think it’s bizarre give yourself some kind of title because there is always someone who is a real master of what you do. Even though I’m a ‘woodworker’ and ‘designer’ it feels weird to me”.
After chatting outside for over an hour Nick gestures to the garage behind us “would you like to see the workshop?”. As we enter, double height shelves replete with deteriorated skateboards that stand quietly and serene waiting to be transformed into various objects. We wander around, observing the different tools, machines and colourful shavings of skateboard ply. Meanwhile, Nick begins to explain his process “Basically I screenshot or take photos of everything that inspires me. Sometimes I get obsessed with something that is so dumb but it’s just that the color is pretty or something like that, I can’t help but to think about it all the time” He explains this while showing us one of his guitars mid-production “If I’ve got to design a shape from scratch I download all the photos and inspiration that i’ve collected, print them, as basically stick them all on the wall and begin making circles. Then I stop right there and I come back one week later and look again and think. Actually this is not what I looking for or I’m missing this one or this one. I have the approach that you have to take a break when you are doing the design stuff because you can miss your goal. I go back on forth in this process to find what I like and then I just start to do it”
We could spend hours in the Prisma workshop. There is so much to see, from signed photographs of rock stars who’ve bought his Guitars, to each of the tools Nick has accumulated since starting up.
We walk upstairs into his house to see what a complete finished Prisma Guitar looks like after a lengthy production process. The layout of his home reveals two clear priorities: daylight and an obsession with well-curated and designed objects. Beautiful design classic chairs are arranged in front of the large window and one of Nick’s most recent work, a modernist lamp, stands next to the sofa. The rest of the house is devoted to Nick’s collection of books and paintings, finds that he’s picked up various antique fairs on his travels or pieces made by local artists and friends. I enquire about one that’s partly visible “I found it in the house of an old widow lady that recently died. It looks like a real Botero painting but I’m not sure” he says casually but with a hint of hope. With Nick there is genuine excitement not for the potential financial value of his finds but for the artistic value and potential opportunity that he may be the custodian of an original work from a master.
His apartment takes the form of his studio, and is where he neatly stores and works on new ideas and projects “I’ve got tools to make more than guitars and I do. It’s important to me to try everything, explore differents materials, differents projects and let my mind be free. People think that I’m crazy. I mean there are some many things to do, so many things to improve and to try. Why should I just focus on one thing? I’m not gonna to limit myself” He tells us.
In the beginning of our conversation, Nick makes me feel that every single step he takes is uncalculated and happens in a purely organic way. What is clear is Nick’s genuine fascination with making things from the scratch and his affection for the objects he creates “no intention, no rush, create only for you and for your mind. After that, think about production and the business stuff” He explains “It good to have intentions with something and determination but you always have to know, like not be scared if something doesn’t work out, you have to move forward and forget about that. I’m very patient about the process if something doesn’t work, that doesn’t affect me. I move on very quickly.”
I like to think his attitude and commitment to his craft is deeply rooted to the world of skateboarding in which he grew up and is involved in to this day. It’s a world where you get out what you put in, improve and get inspired by your peers, work with your environment and build what you need as a community. While talking Nick mentioned in passing the unique way he and his friends see the world, which gives an insight into his approach and outlook, “We can be driving down a pretty standard street then suddenly one of my friends will shout out to pull over. They’ll see a rail or the gap. It’s just what we do, we see a different world a world than most people, we see a world of opportunity that we can skate”