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!