Thursday, April 30, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of April 23

Besides some lovely work in the sidebar that yours truly had a hand in helping create (or creating in full), this week we'd like to ask you to support Contest Watch alum "Baby Herman" (now entitled "Sweet Child o' Mine"). DCAY's got it back up at DBH, minus the Von Zipper branding and plus a really sweet, understated feel with the new DBH blanks. Let's help this one along to finally print somewhere, eh? Oh yeah, and don't forget that sale: it'll be ending tomorrow.

This week's theme at shirt.woot was Steampunk, and like all style themes, it was ignored by most designers and almost all voters. It's something that irks me most about contests there: it's one thing to have a loose interpretation of a theme about a thing or idea, but it is another altogether for a style. All styles have rules, or else they are a different style. However, there is always room for creativity if it shows respect for the theme, which is why my favorite of the week was likely tgentry's "Steampunk Willie." A Rodent of Indeterminate Origin is happily steering away at what seems to be a big, metal airship. Steam powered, of course. By using an old-timey cartoon style, though, the designer is able to make a design about steampunk, instead of in the purest sense of the style (although it could be argued that taking a modern movement and inserting it into the early 1900s captures a bit of steampunk's heart). The piece stays truest to the classic cartoon roots, evoking the more complex secondary style simply and cleanly instead of with the ornate bells and whistles normally associated, but there should be more than enough for an enthusiast to understand and praise. As for that concept, it is absolutely killer... it's a perfect subject for the theme, right down to the easy punchline of a title. Parody at its finest.

Threadless, on the other hand, was ever modern this week, with some seriously flawless work that just didn't hit me strongly enough to make it to print. Not that the pieces I've chosen aren't also near perfect to me. Look at againstbound's Dark Matter. What about this ISN'T modern? It's big and stark and has a beautiful outerspace look to it. It's the sort of thing that NEEDS to be at DBH if it doesn't make it at Threadless. And it uses one of my favorite color threesomes, albeit backwards. I love the use of halftones here: now that they're in vogue, they're often done sloppily and gaudily, but here it comes across as a vivid red astral cloud, like it's supposed to, while the shirt itself peeks through the black as tiny stars. It's amazing to me how well the two colors work. I love the boldness, too, of the big shock of black against the blank canvas of white, pointing up at me: the design screams to be looked at, and it demands the trail of vision continue up to the wearer. A shirt like this is where art on a shirt becomes art as a shirt... it looks fine as a graphic, yeah, but it's meaningless until it's on the tee, and then it's perfect. This one's for all the white shirt haters: eat neater, because this is a must buy if and when it prints. Oh, and as an aside, give ol' AB some love at Cameesa... his work is clinically under-supported over there.

Of course, it's easy to fall in love with the work of a well-known designer, but one should never underestimate the underdogs, like relative newcomer Radiobot. This is why you should all go vote for Frog Rain, before I spend another one of these installments whinging about voting more. Admittedly, it's one of those pieces where I just don't get what's not to love. I could probably go on for a page just about the deermen... "Look at them! They have antlers and fur, but they're humanoid! That is a freaking box of awesome!" Seriously, though, great characters. Great mood, too... while there's a lot of crazy going on (and don't get me wrong, I love my crazy), there's also, to me, an unmistakable "spirituality of nature" feel to this. There's a peace to the big guys and their cloud world, with its earthy tones and smart textures and possible being-in-outer-space. There's a beauty, too, despite its quirkiness. Even the titular amphibians raining down, while a little creepy at first, give an interesting flow to the piece. It just all feels right... Threadless is known best, perhaps, for it's humor pieces, but in a lot of ways, this sort of thing just feels like what the site it all about.

I had planned a nice segue about trends and how what I see as classic may not be what an older member would see as the same. The idea was to introduce Flying Mouse 365's Lunar Escape as part of a "new school" of designs already making waves in print at Threadless. I abandoned it, though, because it became more puffery than even I'm comfortable with. So let's just speak of the facts... this is awesome. To start with, it revels in the natural world, which means it's got some beautiful source material. The execution, though, and the amalgamation of the main elements are what really puts it over the top. For starters, the rigid grid element of the piece is tempered by the smooth round circles of the moon... the curves help prevent this from being too boxy. Of course, the growing tentacles and eventual breakaway do a lot to quell this, as well. Therein lies another win in this piece: the birth of the octomoon. The phases of the moon alone would make a pretty boring shirt, but they make a great set-up for the next progression. I simply love how it's rendered, with the surface rippling and sprouting and eventually shooting off into the atmosphere. The moon is an entrancing enough object, especially against a backdrop where it can appear to illuminate, but the flowing arms progressing out of the latter "phases" here make the whole scene look nearly ethereal.

Finally, back to woot. One thing I haven't done too much of, but like to do now and then to mix up an otherwise one-sided watch, is to talk up a design that I'm torn on. In this case, it's cmdixon2's Outpost. In theory, I love it. The little bug-like copter has more character than a machine should be allowed to have. The floating islands have some absolutely gorgeous execution to them... despite the post-apocalyptic feel of the setting, each tiny landmass has an idyllic beauty. Seriously, check the detail images... there is a LOT of awesome in here. Still, something feels off, and it's hard to place. It might be the white smoke... is it too pure white? Too solid at the head? Too gauzy at the tail? The positioning, also, seems to be off... the islands sit in an odd place, and feel a bit too small, while the bugcopter feels way too far away for the image to resolve. So why talk it up here? Simple: I -know- there is an awesome design in here. It already has everything it needs... it's just a matter of how to get there and hone it down. If any of you have opinions, shoot 'em over to the comments, and keep an eye out if it ever pops up elsewhere: it could be a powerhouse.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dual Updates

It's the end of April.

Some of you may remember that I will be sending out Contest Watch prizes at the end of April. And indeed, I am. I've been just a bit held-up with the grand prize, but it should be in soon and out will go the packages. But let me tell you, our booby-prize winners have some incredibly special tees coming their way. I do wish you guys were bigger, tho... finding two hypothetically wearable shirts in Men's Small was not easy. Still, our British friend Justin will be getting a souvenir from America's heartland, Bo will be able to party around campus more accurately than ever, and Larry, well, lemme just say, I own The Thing That Scoots, and yet your shirt made me do a doubletake. It is delightfully illogical, and I wish I was smaller, cuz I'd have commandeered it for myself.

While we're giving out contest updates, though, perhaps we should mention Fleck's Sea Beard, which finally printed this week over at Threadless. Wisely, Threadless went for the huge print, and it looks great. The print really takes advantage of the full canvas, becoming far more than a graphic tee, and the detail is wonderful... with the big print, it all shows up great, but there's enough of it to not make the illustration look lost compared to the blank itself. The color really pops against the tee, as well. My only qualm here is the price. It's been less than a year since Threadless chose to make all their new tees the same price, instead of pricing each tee individually. Since evening things out bumped up the price on a good many tees, seeing two specially-priced at $20 this week is a little worrisome. I suppose the economy effects everyone, and the increased price is sitting squarely on two shirts that clearly cost more to make than others might, but it still gives a dread feeling... if this becomes a regular thing and not just an anomaly, what was the point of levelling the prices in the first place, and what is the chance we'll end up levelling up to a base of $20 soon? Even if Sea Beard is worth the premium, it's still too much for most.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Print Review: ShirtFight

As I've said before, one thing I'm loving about newcomer tee contest ShirtFight is that they seem determined to do things their own way. For better or for worse, they're printing tees that not only seem different from what the rest of the shirtosphere is doing, but that don't come together and become stale. The only question is: are the shirts worth it? El Presidente and Miss Etti were kind enough to send a tee my way to find out.

"You Might Need More Than A Night Light This Time," Evanimal's wordy debut winner, doesn't shock in the quality blank department: again, we're looking at the classic American Apparel tee, and all the pros and cons that those of us who buy tees online have come to expect and even love. Which means the tee is soft and lovely, yet also seems bigger than other black American Apparel XLs I own. Comes with the territory.

As for the print? Let's just say my stone-age cam doesn't do it justice. It looks great, is basically all I can say. The bright colors give the characters the feel of '80s action figures, in that they probably shouldn't work together, and that's exactly why they do (anyone who remembers My Pet Monster, or the more flamboyant He-Man villains will probably see where I'm coming from there). The detail comes through strong in the finished product... nothing seems lost in translation, nothing seems substituted from the original work... a credit to not only Shirtfight and their printers, but the designer himself... many a shirt has fallen short due to a miscommunication of tee blanks and pantones. And while Teextile has set the bar pretty damn high for me now on print feel, I can take no issues with Shirtfight's own ink distribution. Oh, it's there... you can tell by touching it... but what it lacks in softness, it makes up for in lightness... the print doesn't seem thick to me, meaning it wears comfortably, and there's plenty of breathing room in the print... it's one thing to print the inks well, but I'm also quite happy with how the negative space came out, just as intricate as any of the colors. You can see some details below: again, I apologize for the sorta bunk camera.

As for shipping, you get a standard-issue shipping parcel... you know, the quasi-paper ones, like a flexible manila envelope crossbred with a bag? You'll know it's from them, because the back is branded with their little fighter dude. In retrospect, I should have saved it to show you... I thought it was kind of cute... but hey, one more surprise in your mailbox, eh? I found shipping to be quite speedy, myself, which isn't bad at all considering Shirtfight offers free shipping inside the US. But besides a well-printed shirt, I found a secret special surprise inside my bag.

That's right, folks, Shirtfight gave me an official do-it-yourself Thumbwrestling kit. If you enjoy thumb wars the old fashioned way, you've never experienced them in a cardboard ring with a luchador mask! Nerdy? A little, but if you've been keeping up with ye olde fighters of shirt, you've probably noticed they've still got a bit of their inner child within them. I thought it was a fun touch, myself... a little extra "punch" to keep their brand in peoples' minds, as well as letting their personalities shine through.

So what about you guys? Have you picked up anything from Shirtfight yet? If so, what did you think of your tee? (and if not, why not pick one up? My personal fav. so far is Greg Abbott's "El Presidente's Birthday.") As before, don't be shy about letting me know what else you want to know about your tees, and if you've got some product yourself that you'd like people to find out about, feel free to contact me at 5songsinc@gmail.com to let me know!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Taco Muy Grande: Available Until May 1st!

What a difference a hat makes.

This little guy is the Taco Dinosaur. You can tell by the fact that he is wearing a sombrero and demanding a taco. He's either too cute or too menacing to deny.

He comes from Seibei, the finest dino and monster purveyor on the internet, and he's one of my latest tee obsessions. It could be the white-on-red which entices me (and a super-soft discharge print, no less). It's possible that it's simply that everything is more awesome with a sombrero. Or maybe I feel a kinship with the little guy... I want someone to make me a taco, too! Whatever the case, the simple character has stolen my heart. And is probably frying it up to stuff it in a shell with some lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. I know the feeling, man. I know the feeling too well.

Just like tacos, this little guy won't be around very long: being that he's a parody of Seibei's own Sandwich Dino, the site has decided to make him limited edition. That means he's only going to be available for you to purchase until May 1. To make the decision easier for you all, how about 10% off? Use code SINGULARITEE any time to help get Awesomesaurus Rex into your spicy hands by Cinco de Mayo. Prefer sandwiches? Pick up the original instead, or just browse the store for all your cute-yet-horrific needs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of April 16

In the spirit of last week's pre-watch NewsFlash, I'd like to ask you fine people to toss a vote to Mouthface, a design from our very first segment, up for voting at DBH. Something about it keeps me coming back to it visually, so I'd love to see some love for it.

Design By Humans is, of course, a big topic of conversation this week due to their spring sale (see our banner for a discount code), but it also produced my biggest voting-week in a long time over there. Tops on the list was Other World, a flowy creation from Oumar. More than anything, I love the color of the blank suggested, but I also like how there is a simple intricacy. The designer never tries to clutter his piece, but still gives plenty to look at. I especially like the thick black lines tapering through the main stream, as well as the small bunches of arrows. Unlike similar doodle-esque pieces, this feels totally organic, yet structured. I'd love to see if it looks this great printed.

Shirt.woot took a page from DBH this week itself with a "Tree" derby. Yeah, we thought so, too. In classic style, there were a number of solid pieces right outside the ranks of printing, but as last week, I feel I must call attention to one that got very little love, Geekfactor12's "Autumn Tree-versal." While it didn't have the painstaking detail of some higher entries, it also severely lacked in the painful triteness that the theme so easily allowed. The concept is what works here: the idea of branches falling instead of leaves is enchanting purely for the image of a lush, hovering crown of foliage. In this piece, the veins of branches are executed just right, while the raked pile of wood is placed perfectly to help anchor the idea of a tree. My only suggestion would be to slap a little color on the guy raking all this mess up... it's a bit too much brown for the tee, and makes him seem wooden. Extra color would give him a bit more character, to compete with the rest of the concept. Still, very creative work.

If woot was trying to be a bit more like DBH this week, it's nothing compared to Uneetee's slow but definite march to be DBH -every- week. The perks, of course, are getting some old, deserving, yet unprinted DBH entries in the mix... pieces like a.mar.illo's Troybot. The designer does some amazing work with pieces like this, creating a final result that straddles the line between robotic and crystalline. The subtle color palette helps pull off that effect as well, evoking both the dull gleam of metal and the dark shine of space. It's a distinctive piece while also being among the most accessible pieces the designer has done, and that combo means that not only SHOULD it do well, but it's got a good chance of it, as well.

Thankfully, Threadless remains the site we know and love it for this week, with one of the easiest "5"s I've ever given: "There's So Much More To Learn!" by Blake B. This is the sort of nostalgia I feel works best... forget appealing to my 6 year old TMNT fan, overhead projectors are where it's at. The old classroom relics (let's be honest, your school always seemed to have one that looked older than you were) bring you back, sure, but unlike most nostalgia designs, this isn't hinged solely on our youthful consumerism. It's a shared experience, not a shared purchase. As to the design itself, it's pretty damn fun... more fun than anything that was ever on those transparency sheets, that's for sure. The extra touches are what seals the deal here: the old and imperfect look of that clanky contraption... the transparency of the creatures... the execution of the light... but then, the deal just couldn't be sealed without the focal point. Without a doubt, that's the Ghost of Learning Past, shooting out with gusto from the projector. It drives home a "learning is fun" concept, which is a great message in and of itself, but also a perfect one to go with the image here: something about Overhead Projector days always made class feel like it was going to be more fun, even though such thoughts were rarely justified. That's probably largely due to the real deal having far less excited ghosties involved.

Finally, a moment alone with the found-art-collage. It's something I've never been big on, really: it feels like the cheapest possible way out. Still, when done spot-on, even my hard heart can soften a little. This is the case with sustici's Deep Blue. With one color change and a simple addition of a scuba diver, a generic backdrop of a city, seen through a train tunnel, becomes the remnants of our world, now buried underwater. It gives one a surreal, uneasy feeling, and while part of my unease is enjoying a piece where I can't be sure a single line was hand-drawn, the other part is why I have to write about it. Somehow, by keeping it so bare-bones as far as colors and alterations, it makes that magical jump where a piece goes from collage to art easier than some pieces with more complex alterations... it's the found art version of minimalism, and try as I might, I can't deny that the piece split my imagination right open when I saw it.

So, before I go mad over-rationalizing, therein lies the end of this week's segment. I do believe we'll be going straight on 'til the weekend with new content this week, so keep an eye out, and don't forget to hit up that Cameesa sale I mentioned earlier this week... it ends Friday. Good shirts are to be had!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


We humans enjoy acting charitable when it doesn't inconvenience us. It's sad that we need a day set aside to care about the state of our world's affairs, but that's pretty much the best way to give people a good kick in the pants about it. And so it goes with Earth Day, which is today. Conveniently enough for this blog, the savvy tee buyer can be a hero without needing to do anything too heroic. Our top suggestion? Go buy something at Threadless this week. Not only are all their new tees for the week "green" or "nature" themed, and not only is the winner of their "Threadless Loves Green" contest announced, but Threadless will be donating $1 per order all week to PlantABillion, a donation that will equate to about a tree per order. Not half bad, really, for getting a shirt you'd have bought anyway.

Today's also a great day to talk up a little site called GoodJoe. It's one of a growing number of sites cropping up hoping to spread social change through its products, and though new, it's the one I've got the best vibes about the future of so far. While it's questionable how far change can be spread just by clothing, it is certainly true that a quick glance at something can get it in your head for the rest of the day. Helping them along is Boots, who also got a nod yesterday, and her design "Today Is My Day," which is one of two $10 presale designs this week. It suffers a bit from one-day-wearability, but you can hardly ask for a better, more whimsical design for that one day. With the sad icons of holidays past sulking in the background, Earth takes center stage... the concept is clever enough that for the more hardcore environmentalist, this certainly could get a bit more play. I also appreciate the less blatantly obvious color scheme... everything is deep blue and shades of green when the environment is called into play, so it's nice to see something a bit different in the mix. Of course, if that's not your cup of tea, maybe something else in their catalog is? I'd also encourage any designers who might want to try their hand at their contest to do so... it's a site concept that could go far, so more choice for printing can only push them further into success.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Sales With Cameesa

In addition to the DBH sale (see above and below for more), there is also a pretty swank sale at Cameesa, ending April 24th. They're claiming 15% off per shirt, but it comes out to a solid $3 across the board (which in most cases will save you a little extra change). Like DBH, the newest tees aren't seeming to be effected, but with free shipping being offered on any order of two or more shirts, you'll still come out ahead if you toss one of those in your cart as well.

We're personally most in love with the support feature at Cameesa, but if you're looking for something to buy right now, may we recommend "Explanation for my Passion (Or Lack Thereof)" by BootsBoots? There's not a lot of new ground to be broken in "heart" designs, but I'm a big fan of the idea that, as much as I might WANT to go whole-hog into a relationship, or project, or long term goal, my heart is more interested in sitting around playing videogames. I actually know far too many people where this scenario is literal, but I enjoy it more figuratively... it's something we've all been through. The placement and the branching blood vessels certainly help keep it fresh, too, as do the wonderfully bold colors.

Monday, April 20, 2009

DBH Spring Cleaning Sale

Design By Humans has been in need of a good sale... It's spring, and the weather is getting gorgeous. It's the perfect time to snag some new tees for the new season. So it is a bit unsurprising to us that DBH announced their Spring Closeout sale today, but no less exciting. Prices are $12 to $15 on all their older shirts, but until April 25th, you can save even more by using discount code RSPAUF (10% more to be exact). The majority are at the lower price point, a fact worthy of rejoicing over, and with DBH's prices and quality, that means grabbing at least one is a wise idea.

The one downside? Their "Perfect" tee stock is still full-price... bad news if you're mostly caught up with their back-catalog. Still, with your money going further elsewhere, sometimes it's worth a splurge. We're personally eying Imagination, one of last week's prints. It's nothing special in words: a ball of ornate linework coming out of a little dude. Still, that ornate linework is pretty awesome, flowing in and out and around the orb, and the dude, in his rough, small and simple style, provides a great and unobtrusive contrast. I really love how saam (the designer) makes this shine... when I first saw it, it looked like there were specialty inks all over it, but it's really nothing more than two colors and standard inks. It's impressive how golden it looks, and enticing how well that shade pops off the dark brown blank.

Of course, if even the sale tees don't fit in your budget at the moment, don't forget about their Serendipitees... at $10 a pop, it might just be worth the gamble of having DBH select for you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Print Review: Teextile

We hope you all went over to Teextile yesterday to get the awesome "Trampoline" (shown above), but if you missed it, all is not lost: it'll still be available for the weekend at $15. Of course, many of you might be wondering if the premium is worth it. Thankfully, Teextile was kind enough to send a sample my way, and these, my friends, are my findings:

Blank: Most of the big players in the shirt game use American Apparel blanks, and Teextile is no exception. It means you know you're getting a quality product from the get-go. If you've been reading this blog, you're probably used to AA's blanks, and fashion-fit tees in general. If not, I'm still glad to have you, but be warned... AAs often shrink, and probably have a different cut than you're used to. Most people recommend a size up, but personally, I'd do a little research and then trust your gut (no pun intended).

Print: They sent me a copy of "I Want to Dance, Too," by RecycledWax, which couldn't have worked out better. I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with these guys in the print department. The printer they're working with was able to handle the more complex watercolor look of the piece with relative ease, leading to a print that really captures the charm of the original submission. What I was really impressed by, however, was the SOFTNESS. It hardly feels like there's ink at all... just soft, soft shirt. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Shipping Info: I've been hearing reports around the webs of people feeling the shipping was a bit slow... I didn't notice, personally, but as I think back, it was my experience also. Still, for $2 shipped (and free shipping for any design you voted for in scoring), I'm personally pretty forgiving if my tee takes the scenic route, especially since Teextile prints to order (meaning shipping time includes the tee getting printed, as well). One thing to consider: I got my order in one of those mailers with the clear plastic window, sort of like DBH and Teefury do. If you're ordering a gift, or live in a sketchier neighborhood than most, you'll probably want to take that into account.

Overall, I'm definitely recommending Teextile. They've been getting some really diverse designs, and unlike some other new contest sites, they're finally hitting a stride with new submissions. It is, of course, to be expected that a new company may come with a couple changes early on: that's true for sure of Teextile's print schedule, but I'm liking what I'm seeing, and trusting that with enough support, they'll only be changing for the better.

Speaking of changing for the better, if there's anything you guys want to see in future print segments, let me know. It probably won't be a regular segment, but there will likely be more (I have Shirtfight lined up for next week already). Of course, if you're a company that would like to put yourself out there, consider this a formal invitation... I'm always happy to have a reason to chat up some of the smaller and newer acts. If interested, contact me at 5songsinc@gmail.com and we'll work something out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of April 9

Before we go anywhere this week, it's BESTEE TIME again at Threadless! March's choices are up and ready for votes, and I must humbly request that you choose EdgarRMcHerly's "Choose Your Own Adventure" for the nod. It's creative, humorous, looks great on a shirt, and has even sold pretty well. Edgar's an underdog compared to some of the heavy-hitters up there this month, so we'd love to see him pull an upset.

We start off with this week's selection from Design By Humans, as we so often do. It's perhaps worth noting right about here that you can save 10% off all purchases there with discount code RSPAUF until April 25. Before you browse, though, go toss a vote to ninthWHEEL's "Wowlzers." It's an owl, obviously enough... a very geometrical one. That's part of the appeal, I think... taking something natural and organic and transforming it into hard lines and modern design. What seals the deal for me is the lighting, though. While I love the way the colors and textures look more in the creme mock-up (surprise surprise), I also love how those same textures interact on black... the palette the designer uses makes it look to be eminating an eerily beautiful glow from behind the long, blank shafts. A great example of technique turning into something more.

While there were slim pickings in general this week, Threadless, as usual, carried just enough to help round the week off. Sadly, though, it looks like the mediocre Green contest and holiday weekend have really slashed vote totals this week, with lots of entries sitting uncomfortably in the 500 range. Here at Contest Watch, we'd love it if you guys would join us in an effort to vote more and more over there. Entries like The Rainmaker will thank you. Brought to us by the April Fun Club, it's an excellent mix of execution and concept. The illustration is beautifully textured, and I love the idea of a big ol' dude hugging clouds to make the rain... it's almost as if he's wringing them out to dry. The grey tones also rock on this, conveying the feel of a rainy day... everything looks grey when it's grey out. It's true, color is in, and the wildest combinations at that, but sometimes going dull is simply what a piece needs to be beautiful. It's the sort of thing that could fit in really well at Threadless, but it's also the sort of thing that well and truly NEEDS a solid round of votes to be noticed. Low scores, sparse comments and scant votes... a popular designer could get away with it, but new blood is unproven, and may take a lot to prove it's worth the risk.

Of course, that's not to say that popular designers aren't hurt by the scoring drought... take Flying Mouse, for instance. His "Flying Mouse 365" account, which attempts to create a new entry every day for the year, has been churning out some incredibly solid work that simply has to work harder than ever to stand out from the pack... lower vote totals are meaning higher averages, which means having to fight harder for great work to be noticed. One of my favs out of an incredibly consistent output is the recent "New Hair Style". The joke should be obvious enough to not require explanation, which is part of what makes it so solid. The designer's talent is also shown in his ability to truly rock one color... the black looks great against the gold, and what little detail there is is added without the need for anything else but the blank and the black. The real win here, though, is its style. The "Grecian Urn" thing isn't anything new, but the way this is executed is loyal to the style, and the topic is absolutely perfect to be taken on that way. After all, both the urns and the character presented here are the stuff of Greek myth.

So yeah, if you haven't guessed, this week I'm on a "vote more" warpath. It helps new blood stand a chance in an already competitive market, it allows great work to stand out better, and now, finally, it gives designers a fair look at where they stand. Take Last Chance for Kitty, created by the incredibly easy-to-contact nathanwpyle at gmail.com (and yes, that is his user handle). It's a great shirt, with a great flow and an amusing concept and perfect color choices (it slays on orange, but the other options all work, as well). It's youthful but mischievous enough to go older. It fills the shirt well. I've already called it a "surefire print," though lord knows I've ben wrong before. But with low votes, a designer can easily over OR under-estimate their abilities. A 2.8 after 1000 votes means more than the same with 500... the more voters to vote and maintain your high score, the more people truly liked it. For a solid yet unprinted (or even underprinted) designer, this could be a godsend in terms of print likelihood, but it's also depriving them of the praise they deserve. Between this and the designer's near-perfect "Possibilities," I think a print's on the horizon. How much sweeter it would be to have 1000 people looking forward to it instead of 500.

It seems almost fitting, then, to end at shirt.woot with a gem that deserved FAR more votes than it got. If you were around for woot's latest derby (with the perplexing theme of "Almost"), you probably totally overlooked (like I almost did) what might have been the best entry of them all: Jewelwing's "Ben Franklin Just About Discovers Electricity". I am admittedly a sucker for a great title to go with a great design, and I'd say this is one of my new favorites. Ignoring all that, though, I find the composition very interesting... I rather love the scratchiness of Mr. Franklin's silhouette and the rough beauty of the rest of the lines as well. Negative space is used brilliantly here, with plenty of visual but quite economical ink usage. And while the shock of electric yellow is a great focal point, the real treat are the swirls of sky surrounding it, inked in a dull but perfect blue. There's just brilliant artistry at play here... so much so that it almost hides the fact that it's a pretty damn funny shirt to boot.

So there we go. I hope we've all learned a lesson this week, but again, I'll beg you... vote for the sake of your shirt community. Not just for the likely winners. Not just for friends, nor just for what is most easily seen through promotion. Put in a little extra time to uncover some gems. Your wardrobe will thank you for it just as much as the designers will.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What the 'dillo, yo?

What does this week have that other weeks do not? Lots of armadillos! To start, we'd love to give you a heads up on recent Contest Watch design "Trampoline," by jillustration, which is just covered in armadillos. It'll be on sale at Teextile Friday (when we'll chat more about it), but if you want to grab it early for $15, snag it at this link any time this week.

Today, though, and for one day only, you can snag Burrowish, by the wondertastic Torakamikaze, at Teefury. Originally submitted into DBH's contest, Burrowish is a great shirt that should have made it there, but is at least being granted a brief life at TF. It's got absolutely lovely detail, a pleasant dark earth-tone palette, and features an armadillo genie... that alone should totally worth the $11 price of admission. It's also a former contest watch design, and while we definitely prefer to see such designs find a permanent home somewhere, SingulariTee loves Teefury anyway, even if Wotto has been trying to bankrupt us with his last three picks. Give 'em some serious love today... Tora deserves it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of April 2

Thur's no day like Thursday. That's the day we take a look at some of the sweetest shirts yet-to-be on this beautiful nearly-spring day. And while my service to you comes first, it is not preventing me from opening a window and enjoying the fresh, cool air outside from inside. Anyway, on with it, eh?

Though I live by a bay, the air I've got coming in is nothing like the scent of sea air, a segue which makes far more sense when you check out Kaloyster's Great Kanagawa Eagle. The piece, up for voting at Design By Humans, is all but cloned from the classic Hokusai print, but it becomes a melting pot of homage and creativity (as well as of cultures) by the incorporation of an eagle's head in the crest of a wave. While a bit of smart art humor, it's far more impressive compositionally... seeing an eagle in the wave is a stretch most couldn't take, but once it's there, it's just so perfect that you can't believe you hadn't seen it before. The placement, along the bottom seam, doesn't hurt the cause either. A great example of where imitation crosses to inspiration.

A bit older than Hokusai, dinosaurs aplenty were provided us during shirt.woot's at first frightening Dinosaur derby, and while voters turned a surprisingly good derby into the normal upsetting final results, it can take nothing away from the quality work that somehow arose from a potentially stunting theme. Take tgentry's "All Dinosaurs Go to Heaven," which somehow takes dinosaurs, a perpetual staple of kids' and nerds' imaginative diets, and makes 'em all grown up. The flow of the design is excellent, and the concept is sorta lovely... regardless of the realities of the afterlife, there's something about seeing these massive victims of extinction wending their way weightless up to an eternal life of whatever heaven would be to a ridiculously large monster-lizard. I'm also impressed with the colors... they're mostly dull greys, yet they come across beautifully instead. One'd never have thought you could have an adult dino-themed tee, but it is quite arguable that the designer pulled it off.

On the other hand, there's dekonstruct's "Brontosnorus Saves the World," which is decidedly less mature but still all kinds of wonderful. The stark black and white design makes a solid case for the much maligned white tee, and the concept is a charmer. I love the idea that the dino (who has quite the bed set-up, I must say) is dreaming of not only the extreme future in his sporty spaceship, but the not-so-distant future as he pulverizes the asteroid which will likely end his and his kinds' existence. Great concept.

Getting back to the Asian inspiration, and keeping things rooted in the past for this contest watch, we head out to Threadless for one of the most jaw-droppingly awesome designs I've seen here at contest watch. It certainly should be, too: Solar Power is a collab between two pros, Xiaobaosg and FlyingMouse, and the two pull out all the stops. Their geisha is beautifully rendered. Also, she's huge and sitting among the mountains. I'm not really sure why, but it's a largely moot point since she's lighting a branch WITH THE FREAKING SUN for the purposes of also lighting her pipe. The sun, and fire in general, is no less gorgeous than the geisha, and adds some nice color to the otherwise earthy palette. It's funny, though... when I find a design like this, which is so unspeakably perfectly done, the less I can find words to talk about it. Which is probably fair... my words can't do this justice. It speaks for itself. It's probably better to just look, smile, and vote for it.

Finally, we check out Threadless' "Loves Green" competition. I have been fairly harsh toward this competition lately, and to be honest, it deserves it. The trite imagery and hackneyed messages were only part of it... somehow, having a more political theme kept even good designers down to talking points and imagery I expect to see at free tees from local Earthfests. It made me want to go pollute or deforest. Thankfully there were a few saving graces, one of which was mr spiers' "The Last Resort." I'm a little torn on it, namely because it's not the best of the contest, but it is probably my favorite, and it is one that would make far less sense printing outside of the context of the contest. I like that instead of making an elaborate tree like everyone else, this was done in a simple, charming style. I like that instead of trying to make a helpful tip like "switch off appliances" somehow be a meaningful tee, the designer kept it as simply a list of cartoon paneled tips. It is perhaps my loathing for most of the work in the competition that makes me even not hate the boxy nature that the design's concept brings about. But I especially like the "little green man" character. I like him bicycling. I like him laying insulation. I like him changing light bulbs. And I especially like him in the one-two punch of punchlines in the design... first the subtle one in the last panel on the front, and then the more obvious titular joke on the back. Does it work better as a comic than a shirt? Probably. But I've seen lesser designs succeed on this principle. I can't help it if I think this one is better.

And thus it ends. What do you guys think? Were you also shocked by good dinosaurs? Have you had to hold back from spilling oil after a night of scoring Green designs? And are you eloquent enough to explain how awesome solar power is? The comments are yours until next week.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Not Fade Away

Sister sites Design By Humans and TeeFury are doing awesome things today. To start, TF is offering up "Fat Pony," by the amazingly and beautifully odd Monsieur Pimpant. We can't recommend stopping by and grabbing it enough, as it's an absolute classic from one of the tee world's most underappreciated minds (and one of my personal fav artists). You've got under 9 hours before it's left to the winds of fate once more, so make haste!

But the elder of the two, DBH, is bringing us awesomeness of a more permanent variety with Laserbread's Caspian Tiger (1947). The irony, of course, is that the design is born of a sad truth that nothing is truly permanent. It features a sketch of a Caspian tiger, one of three extinct modern species. For all the beauty of the top half's rendering, the bottom half has been erased... a clean line but an intentionally sloppy erasure, leaving just the faint image and a lot of destruction behind. It's a blindsidingly powerful image... it simply impressed me how beautifully and boldly it told the story of life and death when I first talked it up in voting. But above that, it's perfectly DBH. Skilled art, execution that pushes boundaries... both hallmarks of the brand.

As a side note, I recently stumbled across this designer's "Make Something Cool Everyday" flickr pool though a Threadless blog. Some seriously amazing stuff. Check it, but preferably after sticking his tiger in your cart.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Oh, Uneetee, how long your decisions do take! Just when you presume a shirt is doomed to print obscurity, they come back and wow you. Take Artulo's "Not Your Average Seahorse," the piece they decided to come back from a week's vacation with. We wrote about this one back before Halloween, and we're just now seeing it before Easter. No complaints really... it DOES give me hope for some other Uneetee favs to finally print... but it just seems like quite the wait. Anyway, I said at the time this'd be a surefire buy, and I do believe it still is (even if it may be a while... I said the same thing about the artist's "Line Rhino" at DBH, and that sure hasn't come to my door yet). It's all about the unique style of the pieces, for me... the animal built from simple thin lines, in this case almost taking on a jeweled look with the ornate details of the art... a faberge seahorse, if you will. If you're lovin' it, I quite recommend snagging it this week while it's at $12, especially with Uneetee's catalog prices being a bit steep lately, but I also recommend scanning their daily Insanitee deals... you might be able to snag a $10 shirt too and save on shipping.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

With Apologies

This weekend I was going to post print reviews of both Teextile and Shirtfight, but have been held up by lingering computer issues, which have kept me tentative about connecting my camera. I intend to have this resolved by next week. I apologize especially to the respective sites if they have been keeping an eye on me... t'will be 'round next weekend.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Contest Watch: Week of March 26

Slow week for us in the contest world, if a busy-as-a-beaver one in other ways. Makes it a bit hard to really select some great work when there's not a lot that really wowed, but it does allow for more diversity. Please enjoy below.

Shirt 1: Trampoline. Designer: Jillustration. Site: Teextile. The comments point to this one being a former Threadless sub, and I am honestly baffled as to why they passed it up. It's quirky and charming and plenty humorous... all things the site does so well and the fans eat up. I totally love the side placement on this, as well as the arrangement of the little armored critters, with some doing flips, and all of them placed as to give a juggling feel. I enjoy the mix of details and cartoon in the style, which should curry favor with a number of different sorts of shirt-buyers. Also, I'm a big fan of armadillos in general (this is far from the first that I've praised in CW), so I was sold before I even realized it existed, and Teextile's quality product makes me completely unhesitant (see more this weekend).

Shirt 2: Luchazilla. Designer: Sassatattoo. Site: Shirtfight, which is also going to get a good chat-up over the weekend. Hopefully we'll get to talk up this shirt a bit more then, because one is tempting us for a couple reasons. Firstly, the colors... they're vibrant and look simply stunning in conjunction with each other and against the dull, dark asphalt blank. They also really pay homage to the absurdity of wrestling get-ups. Slightly more sensible than a wrestler's fashion sense: the idea of Godzilla as a luchador, which is what this entire design is based on. It's a totally left-field idea, and I cannot help but love it. Like, seriously, I don't even care that there is text in the background explaining what's going on... it almost feels appropriate having the titular elements smack dab on the tee. The design revels in ridiculous, so why not make sure everyone knows the wacky idea at play here. The illustration rocks too, of course, but I'm more caught up in the bigger questions: will I bite like I'm tempted to if this goes to print? Does a Mothrador exist somewhere so I can get a matching pair? And will Shirtfight print the regular design, or the optional "caipirinha mode" version (which is the same, except ol' G-Zil is holding a lemonade for reasons unexplained). I think pushing the caipirinha would possibly push my payment over to the tee's side... a suggestion I hope Shirtfight catches if this is going for print, and hope the designer considers for future submissions if they pass it over.

Shirt 3: The Last Note. Designer: Drakxxx. Site: Shirt.woot. I'm not always a lover of the dark and macabre on my tees, but this takes death and does beautiful things with it. I love the stark whites on black, and the flow as Death engulfs the piano player. It makes that dark image feel comforting, despite that iconic grinning skull closing in from behind... the way his hands fall on the player's, the way his cloak takes over the scene, and the tired, dark eyes on the pianist give the impression that while death is right over his shoulder, it is a peaceful surrender... one orchestrated with beautiful poetry as the reaper aids the fading musician in completing one final song as his spirit peters out. I'll accept that I'm quite possibly reading too much into things, but that I can write such beauty into the piece speaks to the artistry in a way that even the capable linework cannot. Whew... give me something light-hearted after that, Jeeves.

Shirt 4: Paperclip and Paperbird. Designer: TangYauHoong. Site: Threadless. Ah, yes, this is much more lighthearted. While I'm feeling like the "origami animals in place of real animals" trend may be one I tire of before any of the current crop even get printed, I can do nothing but praise the designer here for putting forth the definition of simple elegance. Which isn't to pass the piece off as simple: it takes the time to really explore the art of drawing the art of paper folding, and while I highly doubt the final result is based on anything replicable, it does show respect for the wrinkles and textures left behind when creating your own origami masterworks (the folds on the chest especially feel authentic). Similarly, the bird's paperclip "perch" has a lot of respect for, er, paperclippyness? It's a unique construct from the simple clips were used to, but a shape I have indeed seen out there. Put 'em together and you get the simplicity of the whole: the two items working together as they should, even in different forms... after all, what is a paperclip for if not holding paper, right? I see no reason this shouldn't print. Though I've said that plenty often enough before and been wrong. We need more right going on 'round here.

Shirt 5: Overcompetsation. Designer: TGWA. Site: Cameesa. Yes, on a slow week like this, I'd like to chat up a design up for support at the wonderful crowdfunding site Cameesa. It's definitely worthy of some support there. I've always loved the visual humor on it, and find the illustration to be just lovely even without the joke. The bright yellow makes it distinctive and perfect for the upcoming spring and summer months. I've seen this piece die in the clutch a number of times despite solid scores, and I'd sorta like to own it some day. Interested in voting? Well, Cameesa works a little different... instead of votes, they rely on "crowdfunding." Instead of a vote, consider it like the cheapest (and possibly slowest) pre-order you've ever made. If you aren't already supporting over at Cameesa (and why aren't you?) it only costs $10+shipping to throw your support behind as many tees as you wish to get them one step closer to print. The first tee that gets fully supported is yours. Simple enough, if you're willing to wait for the stuff you love most. I'm hoping this is one I won't have to wait for much longer.

And so we say adieu to this week. Fingers are crossed for a more readily available set next week, but whatever comes, know it'll be worth seeing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fooled Again

At the risk of sounding like an ingrate, I am left feeling pretty dramatically let down by Threadless' April Fools offerings this year. The tradition is simple and respectable... once a year, they print awesome shirts that never got the love they deserved. This is something many of us wish would happen more often, of course, but until that day, it's exciting to have something to look forward to for those of us who often love the low-scores the most.

As that goes, this round is a bit of a let-down for a couple reasons. It's easily argued that these shirts could have fit into any cycle of shirts, but for many of last year's this is also the case. The bigger crimes are these two: a run of only 5 shirts, cut dramatically from last year's (pretty successful and solid) set of 9, makes the whole event less special. Even shirt.woot, notorious for happily neglecting the best work, runs 16 underscored "editor's choice" prints a year... it's going to make a lot of people really let down. But the biggest crime, to me and probably to many, are the scores. Last year ran the gamut from 1.67 to 2.08 (with only two of the 9 breaching the 2.0 mark). This year, 80% of the prints scored above a 2.25, with one of them scoring a 2.6. Is 2.6 the new unprintable? If so, Threadless really needs to reconsider its priorities. As the industry leader in fashion tees, they have every ability to push the envelope and shape the market. It's at least mildly disappointing that when given the chance, they've erred on the side of total caution.

Which isn't to say I am not totally in love with the site for finally printing one Monsieur Pimpant, a favorite designer of mine. The owner of that disappointing 2.6 score, Pimpant's TIN TINTIN TINTINTIN TIN TIN sums up his incredibly bizarre mind just in the title. It, of course, doesn't hurt a bit that the deft and distinctive sketch that makes up the tee's design is of a literal one-man band, a character created out of accordions. The gold tee brings out plenty of pop into that sketchy world, and the simple face with the jaunty French mustache makes me, at least, feel like I've got a glimpse into the joy and creativity the designer must feel all the time. Still, much as I love this, there's that nagging question: since when is 2.6 unprintable? Didn't current Bestee winner Her Hair score a 2.66 and then win a freaking Bestee? Happy as I am to see this in print, I seriously don't see why this couldn't have found itself in an actual print rotation, while a much lower-scoring piece by the same designer could have printed now. Coupled with the small amount of prints produced today, it seems unfair to the scads of amazing, low-scored designers to pick something that scored well enough to print normally. Especially since as of last night, exactly 2 shirts still existed from last year's round (that would be two shirts total, not two designs... everything else sold out within the year, with most of the content gone or decimated by the end of the summer sale). With those sort of stats, and some severely well-scored designs showing surprisingly low sales since printing, I feel as though we deserve better from the site that made internet t-sales hip.

Either way, though, if last year was any indication, you'll want to snag your shirts quickly, especially since Threadless doesn't seem to have that much confidence in them (judging by the largest and smallest sizes, I'd say these tees are printing at about half the normal stock quantities). Because when it all comes down to it, any underscored prints are better than none.