The stakes are higher than ever this week because of Design By Humans' huge yearly promotional contest, the DBH10K, which has picked its top 20, and will pick a top 10 based SOLELY ON VOTES. I have nothing but contempt for this method of print selection, since it never fails to bring fame and fortune to not the best shirt, but the most accessible and often most mediocre. It doesn't praise the best designers, but the designers with the most fans and the best promotional skills. It's a method geared toward sales, and never quality. Which is why I am pulling so strongly for Againstbound's "The Ominous and Ghastly Mont Noir." It is none of these things, and will be hurtin' to make the cut to top-10. But it so deserves it. Besides standing apart in the wilds of photorealism and rainbow lightscapes and other nonsense that not only dominates this top 20, but also is what people mock when they're poking fun of the DBH aesthetic, it's simply attractive. The huge monolith might not be your first thought when you hear "attractive," but there is simply so much going on and it attracts your eyes. The shapes and colors add a lot to the visual appeal, and the piece has a life of its own that softens the otherwise hard edges of the tower. Part of what I personally love, though, is it's almost like an Againstbound Greatest Hits... it takes many elements I love about his work in general, and combines them all in one package while also adding a little something new to the mix. I feel that deserves to be rewarded, and I see no better way than by helping it get to at least the top 10.
Also ringing in my head for the 10K is the stray's Umibozu, which I feel has a very strong chance of being a dark horse into the top-5. This is pretty much a DBH staple design... it's big and it's bold and it's above all creative. It really treats the tee as a canvas, utilizing every inch to bring the image and the story it conveys home. It's a great vignette, too, combining a whimsy and wonder with a fear and dread. The creature rises out of the water as if a threat, with his shadowy body and immense size spelling doom for the ship, but at the same time he seems concerned and curious, and though he is in shadow, he is surrounded by light, as if he's simply a gentle giant, to be seen as a wonder, not a threat. The juxtaposition gives the scene a lot of potential directions, and that helps make it so appealing. Not that the expert use of lighting hurts either. If you're in love with either or both of these guys, don't just vote now (but do vote)... check next week and make sure to vote again if they make it: the votes reset, remember.
Outside of the 10K, I'd also like to note a piece that, unlike the excess of much of what is up for the big prize, does what it does simply and starkly and that's all it needs: "The Japanese Maple," by Riffmaster18. It's really not something that seems like it would take that long to put together, being as it is a tree and colored bars, but the fact is it really becomes much more. The placement is spot-on to help it avoid looking boxy and flat, and selfishly I hope it will spell the doom of that horrible little brand-mark they slap on the back of each shirt, though I know better. The tree is unimpressive on it's own to me: I like that it's bare and how it branches out, but it's just a tree. The bars give it an almost mod spin that makes it really attractive though. The palette is great, and the varying lengths and widths of color create a sense of movement. Also smart are the gaps in that motion, allowing the bars to punctuate the tree, not over-saturate it. It's definitely graphic design as opposed to strict "art", but the finished product looks solid to me, so I'm past quibbling over trivialities.
While the DBH competition has understandably been the focus of the week, oddly enough, there's a lot of competition even over at Shirtfight as well. Besides a reworked Territory Dispute, there are a number of great and deserving pieces vying for recognition... enough that it's almost hopeful that one may print. I've got my money on "Like Water Through My Hands..." by FatPigeon. I know it's a bit of a futile hope, but I can't help but feel that the design is made for the tee medium. It's very feminine, to be sure, with the soft colors and copious flowers, and the arms and hands, with their proportions and porcelain coloration, feel almost childish or cherubic. Taking that direction, however, makes the piece beautiful... it feels incredibly classic, stylistically. I mention porcelain because in some ways it feels like this could be a sculpture or figurine, but with the smooth form flecked with the pale colors of the flowers and water, giving it a natural calm. The many hands flow like the well-rendered water, cascading down the piece. If we're being honest, it is one of those rarest of shirt gems: the tee you and your grandmother could wear together. But that speaks much more to the skill in bringing this together and the timeless power the image holds... it's a masterpiece for its subtlety, and is far more subtle and gentle than many shirts, especially the rest of the Shirtfight collection.
Of course, there are some places and people not known for subtlety, and while Threadless (who astute readers will know are in the midst of their Back to School sale) often revel in both bold and subdued, Alexmdc pretty much only has one volume: flashy. The man's linework stuns regularly, and his colors almost glitter. This is as true as ever with his Tree Frog. It's weird as all get out. The frog is growing a tree from his mouth. It is sitting on a cloud while the tree grows up into water. And lord knows what's going on with that moon-compass in the background. The great thing here, though, is that the weirdness is so damn evocative... everything is well drawn, and it makes your eyes drawn to it. You want to drink in the fantasy-scape, and enjoy every intricacy and oddity. The contradictions of water to sky, flora growing from fauna, and even the contrasting styles from the simple clouds and rainbow to the hyper-detailed frog and tree are all a pleasure for my eyes, but what really catches me are the cross-sections here. Something about the style makes those slices enchanting to the imagination. I know, if oddity isn't your thing you'll never get it. That's fine. It means I won't need to buy mind as quickly. But it certainly won't be the first time frogs have created a totally unique and artistic dreamworld.
So now, of course, is the time to get to that "Extra" part: the shirt.woot double-take derby. The chance for woot voters to screw up once again what they screwed up the first time. It is no secret among woot designers that entry into this exclusive club is good for two things alone: a free tee coupon, and the chance at a coveted Editor's Choice not, when woot staff comes in and saves some lucky tees that would otherwise have been lost to the depths of design limbo for being too well done or else too creative.
This time around, there are some wooters rumbling about hopes of seven ECs: the next derby is one to procure new bag designs for woot's shipments, and it simply makes no sense to SELL the bags during the normal weekend shirt spots. I'm certainly hoping for more as well, but without reading their mind, I shall simply note four tees I feel the editors would be foolish to miss: EdgarRMcHerly's "Air," a stunning piece from a blog favorite whose brilliance is rarely appreciated with a print, Frostbiter's "Rose-Colored Glasses," a shirt that stands out not only for its smart execution and popping colors, but for being the sort of underdog design woot loves to pull out at least once an EC cycle, "Steampunk Operatica" by Drakxxx, which deserves a spot simply for being possibly the most screwed over design in woot history, losing the steampunk derby, where only one winner was even arguably on theme (and it doesn't hurt that the lines are, as always, amazing), and Omnitarian's "Float On," with it's glorious palette, fun style and concept, and pedigree as a former contest-watch fave. We will, of course, bring you updates on any awesomeness that comes to pass with the ECs next week.