Turning Sports into Art

What can you do with an art degree? Jason Kenitzer ’00 translated his Willamette education into a job creating graphics for Oakley.

What can you do with an art degree? Jason Kenitzer ’00 pondered this question at Willamette, and after he graduated, he discovered a perfect career that combined his artistic talents with his interest in surfing and snowboarding: graphic design for sports companies.

Today Kenitzer is a senior graphic designer for Oakley, creating artwork and graphics for the company’s apparel and eyewear lines. He also works with the CEO and creative director to produce “stories” that guide the design theme of each season’s athletic apparel.

“Some of our stories have looked at pivotal art movements, some have focused on important military history and one story focused on the idea behind revolution,” he says. “The amount of research that goes into creating and developing new stories is extensive. The research I did for my classes at Willamette helped me to understand the discipline it takes to dig into an idea.”

Kenitzer is more comfortable in jeans than a suit and tie, so he feels lucky to have found a career at a company where he can use his creativity in a casual environment. He wakes up at 5 a.m. at his home in southern California to go surfing or work on his paintings before heading into the office, a “design bunker” that includes a professional motocross track and a mountain bike pump track. Sometimes he travels to Oakley stores as far away as New York to paint his graphics directly onto the walls of retail spaces.

Kenitzer has been an artist, surfer and snowboarder since he was young, and a job during his senior year at Willamette started him on his current path. He was hired as a salesperson at Exit Real World, a skateboarding and snowboarding equipment store in Salem, and then worked his way up into marketing and graphic design. After graduation, he did freelance work for several snowboard companies until a friend at Oakley helped him get his foot in the door at that company.

Painting, Kenitzer’s first artistic passion, remains an important part of his life. He currently is working on pieces for two exhibitions that will open next year, one in Portland and one in Honolulu. The diversity of classes he took at Willamette are also helping as he plans his shows.

“The one in Hawaii is based on the science of surf, whether it’s the hydrodynamics of surfboards, the physics of waves or the impact we’re having on the oceans. My Portland show is more of a social commentary on the state of the world as a network where everything is interconnected. One of the really cool things about Willamette was that I took classes in so many disciplines outside of my major. The classes made me well-balanced, and I continue to draw on those experiences today.

“In my job at Oakley, I use the skills I gained at Willamette to design and create art at a completely different level while thinking critically about the stories our team develops, how they apply to modern times and how they apply to apparel. My liberal arts education has really benefited me on my career path.”