Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Great Adder Closet

A Hound's Tooth

All is Calm
Angry Day
Baha, I Has Nets Too!
Bird-Powered Robot
Capture of the Puffaluffs
Cat Carrier
Caution Octopus’ May Be Larger Than It Appears
Chief Many Feathers
Death Drinks a Mai Tai
Death on a Pale White UNICORN
Death Stare
Deer By Numbers
Dinosaurs Who Are Communist For Some Reason
Eagle Eye Crossed
Eating Healthy
Feed the Whale
Finding Technicolor
Heavy Monster Sounds
Hello Squidbucket
Hungry Unlike the Wolf
Iceberg, A Head
It Might Have Been a Giant
It's Going Out Faster Than It's Coming In
L'Homme à L'Intérieur du Chat
May Be Subject to Random Searches
Mon Petit Chou
Monkey Play
Mr. Toast
Nobody's Child
Ocean REM
Oh Deer
PB & Jellyfish
Perched Among Blossoms
Polite Pete
Portrait of a Legend: The Mythical Yeticorn
Road Closed
Rodentian Gothic
Shrimp Buffet!
Suburban Blitzkrieg
Tall Pipes
The Apathy Monster
The Cake is a Liar
The Extinct
The Lobby Comes to You
The Other Thing With Feathers
The Rustic
The Thing That Scoots
Tümmy Äche
Vincent's Alternative
Wave Function
Why Can't I Fly, Friend?

A Dog's Instinct
Biro Battles & Bat Beasts
Death and Colors
Destroy NYC
Graphite For Your Right
Growth For the Sake of Growth
I Love Sushi
Mr. Brown
Never Gunna Give You Up
Odd But Cute
Ouroboros '08
Really Exist
Sea Ghost
Seven Swans
Shapeshifters Are Us
The Clockwork Menagerie (12 Club)
The Discovery of Geometry
They're, Their, There
Thou Shalt Not Steal
You Don't Have to Know Beforehand
What Makes it Go?

Elephants Hunt In Packs
PPP (Perversion of the Paranoid Populace)
The Retort
The Suspended
Two Trees
We Are In This Alone

Clockwork Orange
Doom in Bloom
Furyous Omnibus
Thor is My Co-Pilot

Not Your Average Seahorse
The Deer Lives in Trees, Too

Horsebot (Enclothe)
Scuba Platypus (Owl Movement)
Mustachio (Fantastic Bonanza)
I <3>You might need more than a nightlight this time…(Shirtfight)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Deep Burgundy Hues

Just a reminder folks: Design By Humans' holiday sale ends tomorrow. If you miss it, not only will you be paying $4-5 more per shirt on any gifts you might want to pick up, but the shipping will likely be higher, too... this is probably the last weekend you'll want to trust their brilliantly economic but hella slow Smart Post option before the holiday.

As we are in the second sale week, DBH did release another slew of reprints, one of which being a recent bestseller, casajordi's The Red Dream. I told you there'd be more about him. This one is an exercise in contrasts... I love the moody contrast of the red backdrop, the shadowy buildings and hidden birds, and how the shirt color sneaks through the image. I also love how the white also pops against the dark of the reds and blacks. It's not a bright palette, but the color choices make it a bold one anyway. The dragonflies are a nice touch as well, giving the eye somewhere to focus on. Much as in his contest entry, I'm not entirely sold on the word balloon, but the overall effect is something I find quite wearable. If you agree, now's the time to snag it for under $20, before it goes and sells out again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Contest Watch: Week of November 20

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readership, which is by no means all of you, but I believe the vast majority of you. This year, I will be thankful if the following shirts print.

I'm starting with Uneetee today to tell you about their Mystery GC deal today (sorry not to give you more of a jump on that... holiday and all). Basically, you drop a fiver, and they give you a GC worth at least $6. You're making money on the deal anyway if there's anything at Uneetee that strikes your fancy, but the best part is that you could reap benefits 5, 10 or 20-fold. I like that sort of gamble. And while Uneetee won't let you combine GCs, they also don't expire, so you could hold one aside in case infinityloop's Spirit of the Stag prints. It's unique in that there is no hidden layer here... it is exactly what it is, and that is a pair of majestic stag, done in an animation style but with plenty of skillful detail. It'd be a perfect choice for people looking for a powerful, un-ironic shirt image.

If you are big on humor, however, there's a swanky little shirt at Threadless that could be just right: Found Anything Yet? by TangYauHoong. The concept is so very, very Threadless, but subtly so. At first blush, it is an average dinosaur shirt, until you see the cave explorers. It's absurdist paleontology, where instead of digging for bones, the extinct party left a dino-shaped cave, and the sheer vastness makes the spelunkers unable to see just what they stumbled into. Even as small as they are, they are clearly postured to show just how baffled they are. I love the concept, but I also love the stylistic subtleties... the rough textures of the cave rock, and the light, near transparent yellow of the flashlight beams. The placement is also nice... I like how it works in all three suggested locations, but I think it really shines with the wrap-around on the left... the bottom of the cave looks way better toward the bottom of the shirt, and I feel it reads better with the wrap flowing that direction. All in all, a totally worthy addition to the Threadless catalog, one I feel pretty confident we'll see sooner than later.

Shirt.woot brings us Delicious Gluttony, by SkiRochester. I'm prone to say that the background tables might be a bit too blendy with the shirt itself, but the general wine hues are really attractive and appropriate for the fine dining setting. Besides the concept being, er, delicious (who could rightly say no to a steak the size of a cow?) I also quite dig the little maitre'd... he's perfectly personified right down to the pencil mustache.

Probably one of the most sure-fire Threadless winners I've seen in my time 'round these contest watches is Raid71's Can a Leopard Change its Spots? Again, we're in concept city, taking the old maxim and turning it on its head; this leopard certainly can and will. I love the use of hyena in this piece, not a scavenger here, but making his living the old-fashioned way through hard work. The hyena market is deeply untapped, and this little guy is adorably intent on making sure his client gets the tattoo of a lifetime. To that end, the leopard is certainly showing why he's not the king... you can tell by his expression that he's feeling the needle by now. There are even scratchmarks on the chair, further pushing the idea that he might be somewhat regretting the undertaking he got himself into. Both animals are well rendered in this piece that begs the question: where was everyone else? This is such a perfect concept, a visual that leaves one unmistaken as to the piece's inspiration, that it makes it hard to understand how it went untouched so long, and makes one happy that when it was pulled out, it fell into hands skilled enough to put it together so well.

Finally this week, some work from Design By Humans, whose holiday sale is still going on as we speak. With the sale taking up the whole front page, and Von Zipper designs taking up most of what few new entries are popping up, it was a relief to find Casajordi's This is My World. The designer is pretty big on hyper-realistic drawing collages that sometimes make me think twice on just how drawn the big picture is. It's not always convincing for me, but this piece totally is. I love the old-world and old-photo feel to the image, as conveyed most strongly by the color scheme, but with the style of the elements also giving it a nostalgic look. There's some true beauty in the archways, the faces, the horse, and some amazing bizarre points, most notably the giraffe-headed man (though I am also partial to the woman on wheels). The one thing I'm not loving is the text... the word balloons distract a bit from the magic of the illustration to me. Still, they do make the piece speak strongly to the artist himself... given his oeuvre, it seems like a very tasteful summation of the leaps and bounds his mind makes.

We'll have a little extra on our last designer over this weekend, and I foresee some craziness ahead now that that other holiday is approaching full-throttle. For now, do enjoy the last gasps of this one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Major Thanks

It's always a good Thanksgiving when there's a WanderingBert on teefury. "Stampede" is an utter charmer. While I'm rather digging how the colors contrast strongly while still looking good, it could have had any color palette, so long as the designer put his trademark charm into his character. In this case, it's a besneakered centipede, cheerily clomping along, whistling on his winding weekend walk. And completely oblivious to the tiny man he is inevitably going to trample. Poor little guy.

But the holiday takes on a new meaning when we check shirt.woot, to see a longtime blog favorite, Radiomode's "Music Industry," finally got the print it deserved. We spoke of this little guy long ago in our first Contest Watch (where you can see a fuller discussion), and again prior to woot's Editor's Choices for their Double-Take derby. Now we see it printed in a so-far unprecedented move... we have, until now, never seen a derby entry print outside the top 4 without being part of an entire week of Editor's Choice selections. Will this signal more unexpected pleasures from woot in the future, or just give the masses another reason to demand their favorite gets printed? We'll find out in time, and keep you posted. For now, I'm just stoked to see it at all. After the lackluster Editor's Choice week, and with every derby producing more and more worthy entries that will never see cotton, even this one anomaly is something worth giving thanks for.

As is always the case with Teefury, you're gonna want to snag that ASAP... you've got a bit over 20 hours from this posting before it's gone forever. Don't waffle on the Woot, either, though... if you don't grab it tonight for $10, you're only guaranteed to see it 'til the Monday after this coming Monday for $15. Ironically, it'll probably set you back less than your average CD.

Lovely Dark + Deep

One of the reasons I should read blogs more often is to freshen this one up... all it takes is one new site to potentially open me up from just chatting up the big boys, and in the long run that's a much bigger goal. I'm lucky to have a handful of aces up my sleeve that I've culled from various places, but now and then I'm totally in the mood for something to shake things up.

Enter Miles to Go, shirt.woot's side deal of the day, which has some stuff you should definitely go check out. Their name quite obviously comes from Robert Frost, and their catalog has a very similar mood to that final stanza. Also helpful: the name makes their branding easier to swallow, allowing it to integrate as part of the tee itself. I'm a pretty big opponent of branding, so I find it a nice touch that the few branded options are able to slip through tastefully.

The standout in the catalog is Hades, which has a dark beauty to it. The grayscale illustration definitely has a black metal/necronomicon vibe to it, but the lines and shades make it alluring, not overpowering. It captures the fear of death with the reality of it, making its ruler not a ghoul but a lord, to be feared but also respected. That's probably the strongest overall bit about it, that willingness to not go over the top while not diminishing the subject. I personally cannot stop looking at the head area. I'm struck by the minimalist face, the curves of the horns, the cascading beard... I'm not about to presume this is not going to find most favor with a more gothic, darker audience, but I see no reason to believe it cannot be more.

The prices are on the high end of reasonable, but with part of that tag going to super soft discharge prints, they seem entirely worth the price. If the shirts still seem too rich for your blood, consider the pot sweetened even more: as part of the side deal, MtG is offering a coupon code: "woot" will get you 25% off your order from now until the end of Black Friday. If you're intrigued, as I am, you should definitely put an order in now-ish to take advantage.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Threadless Holiday Sale: Part 1

The fine folks at Threadless appear to be having quite the lengthy holiday sale this year, extending for at least the next four weeks, leading very close to (if not right up to) the new year. The savvy shopper should keep an eye out throughout that time... stock moves fast during Threadless sales, so play it safe... pick up the most important bits now (gifts, etc) before they sell out, and grab some more favorites later, as Threadless is teasing about still more special promotions. You'll thank me when you come out of it with everything you want.

Don't know what you want? Just cleared out your basket recently? My pick of the week is Wild Wild Wind by yeohgh, a shirt with phenomenal use of placement. The front of the shirt is nothing but a blowing tree, but the image wraps around to show just how strong that wind is... the giraffe 'round back, as you can see, is having his spots blown off. The design wraps naturally, adding a shred of surprise but making the whole design feel cohesive. The linework is strong, as it needs to be in a one-color print, but even stronger are the lines that aren't there... you can almost see the invisible wind playing havoc with the branches and giraffe's hide. It's impressively rendered in that way, making the illustration believeably blustery. As with so many pieces I seem to like, there is obvious humor done subtly, tastefully, and powerfully enough that the joke is not the only thing going. Art can trigger a range of emotions, and the humor here really just serves to underscore the simpler message of the wind and the chilly feel I can't help but get just looking at the shirt.

Maybe you're not really up to spending $15 on a shirt now, tho. It's just about holiday time, and you need to get bang for your buck... sure, Threadless is worth it, but first you want to make sure everyone else is taken care of before wasting your dough. I understand. Thankfully Threadless has a whole slew of shirts starting at a five spot. Toss one in the cart with your gift-giving. Pick up a couple and get more shirt for the same coin. My recommendation is the classic and very in stock "They're, Their, There" by Mr. Florencio Zavala. It's a rough style with goofy faces teaching a vital grammar lesson. It's the sort of thing I can picture people liking or hating, but it's just a fun style mixed with education that the entire internet era has apparently bypassed learning. Get one for your text-obsessed niece or your sister's meathead boyfriend. Sport it yourself to mock passers-by or pick up the cutie at the library. For a fiver, you've nothing to lose.

Threadless has other specials and future fun going on at their main site, as well as their new TypeTee, Select and Kids imprints. I'll be touching on more of these as the sale progresses. For now check out the goodies yourself... I'm sure you'll find something made of awesome.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If the Sun Refused to Shine...

With this blog completing its third month soon, and Thanksgiving happening here in America this week, I thought it might be good to give a couple acknowledgments right about now. With holidays and a handful of expected sales coming up, it's best to get this out of the way now.

Obviously, I thank you, the readers, for stopping by. I don't know who you are, though I certainly hazard guesses often (so if you're reading like I think you are, Hulk Hogan, please don't buy these shirts just to rip them. Many are limited edition, and that is not fair). Still, those of you who stop by often, or plan to, or send links along to friends, it is much appreciated. There is still much in my head to toss around and out at you, so I hope you continue enjoying what you read and stopping by. Don't feel shy about subscribing to my blog either... I swear, it's exciting for both of us.

As a blogger, it might come as a surprise that I don't read much of anything from the shirt world outside of the occasional stumble onto an article. This is partly to maintain a shred of originality, and partly because I'm ineffably lazy. Even Compete-Tee-Tion, by friend-of-the-blog and collaborator of doom MJ, is something I try to check out only after making my weekly decisions on what I'll be discussing. It is therefore with a sense of gratitude and embarrassment that I acknowledge a couple acknowledgements. First, a quick thank you to TeeReader, a one-stop shop for tee blogs and their updates. I'm a couple tiers better than the bottom, and I am perfectly fine with that! Second, and more dramatically, I just recently noticed that PopCultureTees called us "an entirely enjoyable read" well over a month ago. In the words of Grover, "I am so embarrassed!" There's a vast array of posts that have caught my eye already just browsing, so to make up for my not noticing, go say hi to Liz and soak up some more tees. Then come back here. I know we're in an open relationship, but I miss you when you're gone, baby.

No rest for the wicked this Thanksgiving week, so feel free to pop in any time and see what I'm stuffing this turkey with. Hint: it's probably made of cotton. And if we're all lucky, we might even see a holiday primer early next month. Keep tuning in, and thank you for all the tuning you've already done.

Letters to the Editor

Last week, I promised I'd recount the results of the shirt.woot editor's choice week, and to be fully honest, it still depresses me too much to recount. It's not that nothing I predicted made it, but it is that what did make it, to me, shows a retailer spiraling out of control. After this week, I wonder if woot has even an ember of the spark that made them so appealing when I first found them.

The week started with promise, featuring Zenne's "OMG." The acronym, in case any of you just stumbled onto a computer yesterday, is a common net abbreviation for "Oh My God," and this leftover from the Art as Text derby plays off it brilliantly, as Zeus battles Poseidon in epic combat... it's impressive for its illustration and texture, sure, but also how it elevates a piece of valley girl vapidity into something stylish and artful. The letters give it a dash of humor, instead of being the be-all and end all of the piece.

Needless to say, seeing the week start strong triggered my oft-hidden optimism. I was even taken by Lucky 1988's "The Ninja Pandas vs The Diabolical Pirate Octopus," a piece conceptually out in left field and gloriously brimming with generic memetics to the point of being quite humorous. Yet when they finished the week with wookie cookies and a poorly rendered snowman costume-shirt that is too painful to even show you, it made me really wonder: where is woot's sense of quality?

It's a question I find myself asking weekly, sadly, as dailies get blander and the derbies march deeper into self-parody. I think of the first Editor's Choice week, which was exciting for its unexpected existence, and featured pieces with amazing art, solid concepts, and bold executions. I think of the second pair of EC weeks, showcasing a diverse array of past entries, and showed that woot was willing to take risks on shirts that were even proven to have little to no fan support (Turtle Rage had scored fewer than 40 votes, yet was given life by woot). This time around, things just feel sluggish. Whoever woot was trying to reach this week, they seem to be the exact same people who make their weekly line-up feel so stale... the geek vote summed up in Star Wars, the ninja/pirate guys catered to in a piece that, in retrospect, feels chosen for its memes and not its humor, and the illogically large contingent of dullards, drones and soccer moms getting the chance to turn that aforementioned snowman into a sellout. These are the sort of shirts we see every week... god forbid we get something artistic like Fiction vs. Nonfiction for a change. While the editors were at it, they could have amended that pesky line in the FAQ about how "these aren’t somebody else’s leftovers. Woot tees feature exclusive, original designs that you can’t get anywhere else." Sorry woot... most of this week was back-of-the-fridge leftovers, just like so many weekends when we're lucky to see one original, well done design garner votes enough to print. If you invite the masses to bring us a banquet, its their fault if it's storebought or stale. You invite us over to dinner, though, and you'd better make it fresh if you want us to look forward to future invites.

On the positive side, we did at least get one solid shirt for sale through the actual voting this week: rglee129's "The Night Shift." It's a vignette of the classic punch-in/punch-out working week, illustrated here with celestial beings. While it's a bit different from the designer's wheelhouse style, it still packs plenty of trademark charm... look how happy that moon is, with the squat little rainbow and Charlie Brown-esque sun (whose hat is possibly my favorite detail on the shirt) looking quite glad to be checking out. The piece as a whole uses the canvas space well, making it clear what's going on, and is one contagious smile of a design. It's just a shame that woot seems so divided so often on whether or not they're willing to provide such a smile.

As always, it's best to snag your woot shirts ASAP if you're interested... the best quality stuff rarely lasts, so you'll be lucky to see either of these featured shirts once December rolls around.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Discounts Before Holidays

Design By Humans is running itself a lovely little holiday sale from now til the end of November. Shirts start at $15, or, put another way, you're saving four or five bucks a shirt. Approximately 20% off everything? Yeah, it's a solid sale for shirts this good. Hit. This. Up.

Specifically, if you don't want to browse the catalog, hit up tinhiati's "Fly!!" which DBH reprinted for the event. The white shirt is a perfect frame for the two bold colors. I love red and black together anyway, so this was custom made for me to begin with, but the elements strike deep as well... the paper lanterns sit perfectly above the hanging cages, and the strings from which they hang help pull the shirt together without being graphically in the way. That there are biplanes in the bird cages adds both subtle humor as well as a slight commentary on the freedom of flight... perhaps we shouldn't ensnare that which naturally embodies freedom: airplanes as well as birds. Or perhaps it's nothing more than that subtle joke. Regardless, it's still a hell of an attractive shirt, and if you're unsure what you want from DBH's extensive catalog, or have an aviation fan on your shopping list this holiday, you could do much worse than snagging a sweet print like this one on sale.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Contest Watch: Week of November 13

There are times when posting these things seems futile. When quality feels dead. When the icy grip of the ignorant seems to throttle everything pure and creative in the world. What good am I, but one blogger, against droves of vocal fools? If the goal cannot be education, though, perhaps it can be revolution. To join forces and fight for better. Tis the season for the Walmart wardrobe. We must fight to take back the avenues we travel. And that said, some of our warriors this week.

By warriors, of course, I mean adorable little things, such as Jacuzzeggs, by Lucky1988. This comes from shirt.woot's Miniature Worlds derby. I guess eggs would qualify? I'm not hugely convinced by the thematic validity, but I am convinced by the sheer joy on these little guys' faces. The colors are simple but just right, with the bluescale, the starkness of the white against the royal, and the coil of the burner adding a little more interest. I like the mix of style elements, the empty outline combined with the smoothness of the cross-section and the halftone shading on the eggs. The shirt comes down to a simple charm and cuteness, though, and shows just how to do it right.

If you're looking to see cute done more-than-right, though, Threadless would like to introduce you to andyg. Having left a long trail of adorable prints in his wake (and a handful of adorable disasters too), he has a near-surefire new one in Capistrano Spring Break. It is absolutely redolent of '50s cartoon charm, and the joke is so soft and subtle that it doesn't even need to be funny to add to this. There is such a mystique and even romance to the migrating swallows that them making love and drinking brews doesn't even seem out of place. They're just so happy! While you don't need to know anything about Capistrano to love this, the details evoke the intended setting well, and the colors pop like corn in a fire... the blues and whites especially, but even the more subtle red-on-red interplay. I know I say this often, but I especially love how this design inhabits the shirt. There's so much going on, and so much space used, but it's all contained and cohesive. There's plenty of canvas showing through, making the final print assuredly very breathable wearable, and all the elements draw your eye pleasantly... there's a lot of visual motion even in the fixed locale items. Simply put, if you cannot fall in love with this shirt, you may not have a heart.

I Have a Dream, A Song to Sing by Henna is not a shirt I imagine I'd wear (though I'd never stop the artist from sending me one to find out for sure). It feels just a shred too feminine to me. Still, it is one of those pieces you look at and are simply struck by, and not just because it's real art in a sea of branded nonsense at Design By Humans lately. The design works lovely as black-on-white as well, but white on black really captures the dreamlike nature. The lines are just beautiful to me, from the way the woman's hair cascades wavelike into the actual water to the dreamy spiral clusters embellishing the night sky. It is also worth noting that I normally dislike human elements in a design, but between the stark contrasts and restrained skill, the sleeping woman radiates. Throw in her wonderful animal and lunar cohorts and heaps of style, and you've basically got a single word: enchanting.

There are quite different lines to be found in A Low Owl's "Traveling Lines," which comes across with a very Warholbot/Zeptonn collab feel (with much speculation that it is indeed the former, hiding). Whoever the mystery owl is, he's put together a charmingly bizarre scene of grinning pyramids, vomiting hill-critters, walking buses? What I love most when I love something like this is just how much is happening... there's so much to look at, and it's all interesting, different, and eyecatching. It's about honing in on something you just love the sight of... for me it's that aforementioned smiling pyramid and the legs on that bus at the bottom, but also the beautiful illogic of the biggest guy's arm meandering along his body. Past that there's the style... even with similar flairs to other designers, it's still solid and unique, combining solid detail with cartoony weirdness. People often insist simple shirts with bad jokes are conversation starters, but to me this trumps those any day of the week... there's so much more to ask, and so much more to think about. Sometimes you just need a good, weird, yet attractive shirt, and for me, I'd be happy to make this one of them.

Finally, a piece that is just a great concept: Beelection, by Xzanthis. It's not perfect, to bee sure, but everything still works... any flaw is a matter of cleaning up alone. I love the election map, though the colors seem a smidge flat on it. I think it'd look better still without a frame, and a more built-up news room, but the hexagonal cell makes total sense tied in with the idea of a honeycomb. I wish the bee candidates looked a little different from each other, but bees are bees. Even if I'd change things, it could easily go to print right now. The concept, I state again, is stellar... the bee colony gives an excellent ability to play off the idea of districts/states going to one candidate or another, and the community that bees have going could reflect our own. I imagine this less with selecting a president, and more for selecting a queen (another possible switch-up?), with the workers and drones casting their ballots. Also judicious: a map that reflects our own nation, yet with a very close race, so as not to upset anyone who might get up in arms about fictional bees winning against their preferred party (seriously, we don't know bees would even have parties like ours). And while it's only a garnish to a quality idea, I love the news anchor bee. Not only is he nicely fleshed out in a somewhat flat world, but his hair, facial and otherwise, is simply made of win.

As to winning, I wish it on you, Threadless and DBH pieces. To the woot pieces, may you find your final resting place somewhere happy sometime soon. This is never the end. Regroup, rebuild, and launch the assault again elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Til You're Blue In The Face

Here at SingulariTee, we are always excited to see artists we appreciate print. Almost as excited as we are when we refer to ourselves in plural. So it is with belated excitement that I present "You Don't Have to Know Beforehand," by ginetteginette, last seen written up a couple Contest Watches ago. As I said then, Ginette is a designer I appreciate for her continual envelope pushing... even when I don't love her work, I love the balls it takes to create it. That said, this is by far one of her tamest, and not overly representative, but it still captures that flame. There may not be diamond cats or anthropomorphic naughty bits, but each face captures the most charming and whimsical bits of her style. There may not be the same flashes of bold and bright colors, but there is the penchant for simulated process.

But it's not just the designer that makes this worth the money. The sole color at play brightens the overall piece while being subtle enough to feel natural. The combo of the cartoony with the real has long captured the imagination, even before Mary Poppins. There's a retro, kitsch feel to old yearbooks that goes great with the nostalgic trends of our current culture. It's a design that, by concept alone, is allowed to be "boxy." As to that concept, even if it's tame by one standard, it's definitely unique and multi-layered. It could be as deep as stating that a photo can hide the reality. It could be as simple as doodling over a yearbook... vandalizing your nostalgia if you will. It could emphasize the innocense of youth by pairing the seriousness of class picture day with clearly unserious, child-like doodles. The designer implies a bit of a magic camera feel... it's hard to say if the intention is a camera that exposes the truth, or one that obfuscates with a magical candy reality. It doesn't really matter the full truth of the meaning... it's a piece that could mean many things to many people, or just be appreciated as is, and that should find it a very appreciative audience. As for me, I'm just a little scared as to where she got the picture of me (bottom row, third). At least, I think it's me... that IS a guy with a horrible part, right?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Contest Watch Plus: Week of November 6

A little extra bonus this week from the fine folks at woot. First, the rest of the shirts:

Design By Humans is currently running a contest partnered with VonZipper, a highly branded sunglass hut which desires some art with their brand. DBH kills me with these partnerships, because there's only so many places you can wear a "Forever the Sickest Kids" shirt without being a fan of the band... to the same degree, I am sick of "Unity Through Art" submissions still getting printed. I want to wear a t-shirt without sporting their trademark, umlaut-ed U. It therefore should come as no surprise that I rarely if ever will be seen promoting work through a heavily branded company. Still, there's occasionally a reason to praise the work that tries to put function far ahead of brand. So it is with DCAY's "Baby Herman." I'm not entirely sure what the piece has to do with its title, but the concept is striking, and the black looks great against the Kelly-looking shirt. Most importantly, though, it doesn't overdo the brand. Sure, there's no good reason for a VZ to be on the side of the carriage, but the creepy visual and skillful illustration are the true draws, and make it wearable for anyone. Better yet, it would be an easy fix to get rid of the VZ logo for a post-contest print.

At Threadless, the ever-stunning Valorandvellum has provided us with one of her best. The piece is "Seven Swans," inspired by the music of Sufjan Stevens. While I understand it's a title based on an album of his, I'm pretty sure Stevens himself would have titled it "The Swans Blow Their Horns in Champagne-Urbana, the World Sails Adrift on Their Song," or "They are Night Swans! They are Hornblowers! They Have Come to Launch Ships Upon Color!" If I'm not serious, though, it is not to slight the serious skill put into the design. This would have been an excellent design if it was left with the ornate swans and their trumpet bills resting atop the subtle shells in the background, but the simulated process color drips, while still natural and often subdued hues (seriously, this is unintentionally a perfect shirt for the fall season) really make this bold and bright and colorful. Even that alone would make this ideal, but the individual ships and critters swimming and sailing in the waters of sound are the sprinkles on the whipped cream on the sundae. I wish I could hear this when I heard Sufjan. I wonder what I listen to that could evoke an image like this... Stars? Anoice? Andrew Bird? It definitely wouldn't be likely from my mid-90s collection. I have but two minor critiques, though. First, I wish there were a few more creatures in place of a couple ships, and second, I wish it was on me. Like, now.

It's about time for a new entrant into the canon of sites I write up, and this week it's Itself. Again, it's a small site with a small collection, the perfect sort of place to help shape the flavor of the brand. Againstbound holds his second third-writeup position in a row with his entry there, Schrodinger's Fish. The concept is off of Schrödinger's Cat paradox, meant to be a critique of quantum physics. It's like the tree-falls-in-forest question to a degree... the paradox basically states that a cat left in a box will either be alive or dead, depending on events that may or may not happen. Duh, right? The confusing part is the idea that until observed, the cat is both alive and dead. While logic states that's fully untrue, this design evokes that idea with its fish, shown both in a state of vitality in its "boxes" of water, while also revealing its skeleton, dead in a box which has sprung a leak. It's not a joke for everyone, but the design is attractive enough to be worn anyway, with its contrast between life and death, distinctive looking fish, and deep, perfect blue (complete with skillful water texture).

It has been a while since my last somewhat controversial suggestion here at Contest Watch... not that any true conflict came up, but that the piece in question was of a very specific taste. Allow me to bring you another one. "It's Raining, I'm Bored, and I'm Drunk" by Whysogreen isn't your standard shirt, especially given its very amateur look. It has a definite indie flair to it, though, and it has struck me ever since seeing it... I've dubbed it "Lo-Fi Art." It's the idea that with the right mood evoked, the glitz isn't needed. This is too well planned to believe that it's near as amateur as it looks. It's too right... the hand-drawn imperfection, the transparent overlaps of the cups, the offhand text, all comes together into something subtly magical. The splashes of color in the three cups attract the eye, the sparse, lazy fill of the bottle draws back to the idea of rain, and the whole mood of the piece evokes that sort of lazy dreariness. Even that offhand text is placed thoughtfully. I look at this and feel like I've been there... not even the empty, imperfect inertia of the soul, but also the lazy, laid-back drunken get-togethers. It's the essence of that dull, warm comfort that can be found in wine, in solitude, or in vegging out casually with some friends... much more than just some imperfect doodle, and something that I had imagined Threadless would be just quirky enough to still understand and appreciate.

Finally, for the first round, a style I know Threadless is still in love with... the example shirt. Things that Glow. Keys for Everything. Scare Lists. It's a concept I'm normally not in love with... the designer grabs a handful of things, illustrates them, slips in two or three jokey examples, slaps some tags and a header on, and it's a done deal. Yet I cannot get enough of WanderingBert's "Not Safe For Work!" It's two main reasons, I'm sure. Where most such concepts stick to a melange of literal items with a couple subtle stretch-of-the-imagination jokes, here the joke runs through the entire piece, right down to the both literal and absurd interpretation of the NSFW tag. It's also a matter of characterization... each entry onto the shirt has personality (if all evil), which makes it in some ways akin to Threadless's very sold-out League of Cliché Supervillains shirt. Not to mention that, for whatever reason, I find the whole shebang quite funny... my favorite titles include the "Stapler of Suffering," "Desk of Doom" and "Wheely Chair of Woe."

The Wheely Chair of Woe, by the way, is where 108 shirt.woot designs are sitting right now. They just managed to lose two of woot's weekly derbies, thanks to this week being a "Double-Take" derby. For the uninitiated, that's when woot avenges a group of shirts they liked that didn't get to be printed the first time around, and lets the same people who got it wrong the first time get it wrong the second time. In all honesty, the fog is more satisfying than I'm used to this time, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a whole bunch of designs that deserve love in the form of a grand, and come Sunday, there will be one more tossed onto the pile of repeat losers.

Welcome, then, to the bonus portion of this entry, and what may be a happy truth for four designers. See, woot knows the dangers of a pure democracy getting in the way of printing the derby designs they love most, so next week, after the winners print, the editors will choose four designs to print, regardless of votes, for the love of the design. It's a hard road for me, personally, as I would feel my hands were tied even if granted twice the leeway, but I tried to play printmaker anyway. Above are the pieces I would like to see next week, based on a combo of my purchase likelihood, their print likelihood, and inherent print worthiness. I would willingly sport any one of these, and regret I don't have the $40 to do so in the event of predicting a sweep. Without further ado, the shirts are: "Music Industry," by Radiomode, which I spoke of in my first contest watch; "ATAK!," by Damiendone, a sticky situation and snappy side-print; "Fiction vs Non-Fiction," by EdgarMcHerly, arguably one of the most printable shirts woot has ever shirked on; and finally, lunchboxbrain's "Take a Picture," a charming chuckle of a concept. I'll be on top of the results next week... until then, make it so, woot!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Local Selections

Threadless has made an interesting announcement this week: apparently they have now broken their site up into three distinct lines, with three distinct sites. Threadless will remain the center of all operations, and all shirts will be searchable from there, but they have created individual sites for their other lines. People looking for their curated, unscored selects can find them at The Select Series, and those looking for their slogans can head to TypeTees. I see it as a bit of a pointless split, but hey, good luck to them. So long as there's some high-quality shirtprinting coming from the good folks at skinnyCorp, they can split up any way they wish.

An interesting side effect of the split is what seems to be an influx of select "collections," as opposed to the single selects we normally get. Since selects are commissioned and/or curated, as opposed to voted on, this could easily lead to some very offbeat and challenging shirts, which I am all for.

Also interesting to me is the lead-off collection comes to us from the Rhode Island School of Design. I have roots in RI, so having the biggest little state in the union show up on the biggest shirt site in the country feels like something to cheer for.

In particular, I'd like to cheer for Randy Willier's "Ouroboros '08," my favorite of the selections. Willier is a professor at RISD, and his write-up is appropriately artsy, with his past taking him all around the globe. His design isn't simple to explain my appreciation toward... it's not so much the theme, with the classic Ouroboros snake twisted into a figure-8 (presumably the meaning of the title), and the elements of new life and nature surrounding and being surrounded by it. It's the colors, and how much texture they add. It's the style the scene was brought to life in, with all the fine detail fleshed out of dots... it gives the whole piece a certain vintage feel, not like distressed images or worn out graphics from the '70s, but like illustrations from older texts or tapestries. The wind cloud is probably my favorite element, adding definite whimsy, but the whole border, with its delicate embellishments showing the merging of land, sea and air, is wonderful, and those aforementioned embellishments let the design gracefully blend into the shirt itself. The toughest part of explaining what I like about this shirt, however, is trying to say it in a way that won't make me look like an idiot to an art professor. As a safeguard, lets say I wrote this in a "post-modern deconstructionist" manner. And pray I never have to face that microscope.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Contest Watch: Week of October 30

This week was all about voting, and doing so in ways that matter way more than just some silly shirt contest. Still, while our national choice is very instant-gratification, the world of shirts takes far longer for our choices to be heard. With this in mind, some pieces I hope to see elected into office soon.

In times like these, it is important to have a solid military, and so I elect Sokowa's "Knight in the Style of Renaissance Etching" as my secretary of defense. It comes from shirt.woot's recent Video Games Through Art History derby, a trainwreck topic that produced some solid work. This particular piece is based on the not-so-classic game Joust. I love the color combo and the artwork, but particularly I love the game's concept showing through. Joust is a game of, well, jousting. On ostriches. As odd as it sounds on paper, the image makes it look so right. The other thing I really dig about this design is that it works outside of its theme... it has that historical heraldry going on, so it feels like an offbeat take on that... it's become its own art, right down to the egg at the bottom, and can be appreciated by anyone, whether they know the game or not.

One of the things America cares most about is having representation that is just like the common man... someone folksy and patriotic. I feel "Timberland" by Peachbeach is a great nomination. Besides the red white and blue colorscape on this Threadless submission, it's got a totally charming folk-art feel. It's very pattern based, but not annoyingly so... the patterns add appropriate textures, and are not so disparate that they clash. Indeed, the patterning really helps the two color print and its background to seem like much more... they help create visual lines where none exist, and the line and dot thicknesses make artificial shades. Below these patterned treetops, there is a mother lode of great creatures. The style on the creatures is very simple and whimsical, with added flourishes knocking home runs... I love the burrowed critters, especially the fox, which has a total "how the hell did I get here" look on its face. Then there is the mustachioed sasquatch-antelope, which is plenty odd, but also plenty awesome. He's brilliantly out of place, but with the overall charm of the piece, he's also totally meant to be there. It's a totally wonderful scene, and one that should make a wonderful, random shirt.

I'm promoting Againstbound to the department of environmental management based on his Uneetee sub, "Heading South for the Winter." It's a great, imaginative piece, taking trees from their normal, rooted-down status quo, and allowing them a personality... even the bend of the tree seems to be a personality call, to give the feeling of being hunkered over the handlebars. The bicycle gives the tree a youthful freedom, as well as a nice splash of color to the overall beige-scale offering. For those of you who thought that a cycling tree wasn't offbeat enough, there are even bizarre leafmen shedding from the bare branches as the trunk departs the oppressive winter. It's just a huge pile of creativity that, ahem, branches out in many directions.

Back to Threadless, it's still important in today's modern age to be on top of space exploration. I'd be happy to have someone like Thunderpeel advising me there. As seen in his submission, "Walkin' on the Sun," we have now created space suits that can withstand such brutal temperatures. This finding will be vital to future exploration. As for his design, at first blush it's somewhat everyday... very clean lines, and while the space suit is nicely detailed, the stars and flames are a bit too neat. The overall implementation, however, is what makes this so nicely done. The huge, allover print of the sun looks incredible on the mock-up, and it cuts off at just the right place on the chest to really allow full impact without taking up too much room. I'm a little worried for the ink thickness... I trust Threadless, and have never felt their shirts were overly inky, but that risk remains in my mind with such a sheer sheet of ink. Still, there are ways around it... I'm not about to let uncertainties get in the way of praising a shirt that has come out as striking as this one has. Very different work from what I've seen in the past, and different in a way that deserves a printing.

Finally, I've always been fascinated by animals. My picks surely often reflect this. As such, someone who can help in matters zoological would be a personal concern for me. Shirt.woot's tgentry is tempting my nomination with his "Dangerous Creature in the Style of Durer." Every bit of this piece is utterly perfect. Durer is not an artist I know many pieces from, but I knew his style as soon as I saw this piece... it's spot-on as homage goes. The lines, both as tgentry drew them and as Durer would have drawn them, are gorgeous. The anatomy of the turtle is highly realistic, especially as relating to this species, Koopus Paratroopus. I also love the take on the flora of the turtle's natural habitat. It's rare that I absolutely need a woot shirt, but this is certainly one that fits the bill. It's simply too perfect.

I'm hoping to celebrate a print on a few of these some day in the future. Yes we can wear them! These shirts go against the grain with their maverick styles, and I am certain their designers will be proud to serve our wardrobe. They are a change of clothes we can believe in. Let's hope they find themselves where they belong in the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Birthday Cake

Today is a bit of a milestone over at shirt.woot... Sunday and today marked the anniversaries of the two longest-selling shirts on their reckoning charts, each a year old and somehow still kicking ass and taking names, if now in the lower reaches of the charts. This is a big deal for woot: fewer than ten shirts in their year-and-a-quarter lifespan have made it for even half as long as these two. Many shirts have outsold them, gotten more votes in their respective derbies, debuted above them, but nothing has kicked them out. A toast to you, invincible threads!

Above is my favorite of the two, and the one whose birthday it is today, Geekfactor12's "The Cake is a Liar." I have the dubious honor of having been the first purchaser on this little orange number, and I'd like to note why. When I first voted for it, I didn't get the layers (lol cake humor). I saw a unique, underutilized color, a clean and simple design, and a very straightforward, very absurd joke: A piece of cake talking, lying about its nutritional qualities, with a matter-of-fact disclaimer below. I highly enjoyed the humor as it was. If anything, finding out later that it was a joke from the game Portal made me feel awkward about it. I haven't played the game to this day, and didn't love the idea of potentially being seen as a gamer nerd (not that most wooters are concerned with this portrayal). It clearly didn't prevent me from clicking hard and fast for it when it went on sale, though. My rationalization at the time was that the joke was universal. It was funny whether you knew the game or not. Years from now, I posited, kids who never played the game would still laugh at the concept. Adults would chuckle thinking of their own battles against the persuasive pastry. It has appeal far and away past some video game. And a year later, one day behind the title of longest running woot shirt ever, I feel that belief is totally justified. If the shirt was nothing more than a quick homage to a video game, it would never have lasted as long, and as a fan, I wish it many more weeks of hanging on in the fray.

As a bit of a side note, for those of you who may both read my blog and design shirts, today's shirt's designer is also the maven of Compete-Tee-Tion, one of my favorite shirt blogs, and not just because we often agree from week to week. It's a great read for buyers who want to catch up on the week's releases, but it's a stellar resource for you designers, collecting stacks of contest sites to try your designing hand at. I will be sticking a link to the blog in my sidebar for easy reference, as well.