Thursday, May 27, 2010

Contest Watch: Week of May 20

We're starting this week with a shirt that is not going to print at woot, because it's not even 100 votes from the bottom of the fog. It is my hope that, in highlighting it to start with, it will make my ever present frustration with the-voter-at-large obvious, like a teacher breathing a sigh of relief when Dumb Bobby finally understands contractions. Not that you guys are Bobby... your taste in blogs suggests otherwise... but you never know who might stumble upon this here screed. So here we go: Flight by tgentry. This is skillful art, for starters. The linework is about as realistic as you can hope for from extinct animals never seen by man, yet done in a chunky style that makes it all more fun. The one-color print is amazing, adding so much depth and so much character in the halftones and the outline-free design. This is a piece done by someone who clearly is earning his votes through artistry. However, it's also a piece which takes that artistry and combines it with a wholly appealing concept, and a totally fun concept. The flying dinos have a shred of childlike whimsy mixed with a dollop of "EPIC WINZORZ" and combined into a tee that feels comfortable and familiar without being a sellout or theft. So obviously it came nowhere close to winning. I'd dare you, the fine reader, to look at the potential selections and not be appalled... a good half of the tees that DID make the cut feature in as some of the worst designs I've seen at woot in a long time. It's lack of inclusion in the fog at all should give those of us who care about graphic design pause: what are we doing wrong? Is there any way for a quality design with a shred of originality to make it in this crazy world? Probably not. And so long as we're standing idly by, it'll continue that way.

Of course, there's a part of me that looks at a design like Flight and says "well, sir, congrats on your third Threadless print." Even as the tee megapower begins to devote more and more cloth to nonparody and unoriginal mash-up, it's still the sort of fun romp that would almost assuredly do a bang-up job in scoring. Sadly, however, I tend to find more and more often that I'm being enticed by things that really have little to no chance there. Consider Sleeping Giant, by emory. It's actually doing pretty well in the votes, by all appearances: strong comments from diverse alumni always helps, and the vote numbers themselves seem to be just slightly higher than the norm, meaning there's buzz without manipulation. Still, this is probably just too out there for a print, no matter the hype. For my purposes, however, it's pretty perfect. The style is unique, the concept is intriguing, and the colors are spot on while also being limited. It's not really like anything I've seen before... sure, there have been other concepts of giants, or cities built upon creatures, or such things, but there really is something special about the style of this. I haven't really seen anyone execute things like this before. Also, I like how the giant seems to be a known part of the landscape instead of an unknown... it's as though the villagers, despite the title insisting he's sleeping, slayed the giant and simply rebuilt over him and around him, rerouting the river to flow through his mouth, planting trees on his skull, etc. The landscape overtakes him, and turns him into little more than a mountain or statue. The execution choices for the giant, therefore, add a lot to the story here, and create its own story. It's a unique piece, and that uniqueness is not only its blessing, but I fear could be its curse when print time comes along. Oh, how I'd love to be wrong.

Probably a more surefire bet is ben_chen's Be Careful of the Moth, which is a conceptual powerhouse for starters. It's the sort of concept Threadless made its mark with, with an outlandish scenario that's nevertheless totally relate-able and totally wearable. This appears to me to be another minimal color wonder (I see four, and a lot of texture to be found within), which is always impressive. But back to that concept... moths are big. Pretty simple, pretty obvious (I dare you to say you've never been freaked out by a particularly large moth), but in being simple, the design is able to really become a personalized piece. The exaggeration of the concept is what shines here, but the palette choices are just as perfect... they create a perfect darkness and woodsyness, which helps anchor the scene, while the glow is just right to tie the moth in... after all, moths are known to be attracted to light, and this big guy is no exception. A great example of how an artist can inhabit a concept when they just take the time to think about it.

What is missing so far, though, is pure beauty at work. I love iconic, simple, smart tee graphics... the sort of thing that makes use of the tee canvas in a "classic" manner... but if tee graphics can't be more, the classic tee means nothing, Thankfully, badbasilisk has brought us an absolutely stunning piece this week: Dornroeschen (Sleeping Beauty). It's beautiful and tragic and in and of itself its own sort of "limited palette" like the above (six colors for this sort of detail and perfection is a bargain). The graphic may not convey the sleeping beauty story conventionally (even despite all the prickly roses and the presumed spindle at the bottom) but as always, good shirts rarely show off their titles, and this is one of those times where the title's lack of prominence in the graphic means nothing, because the art is so strong. It's really a powerful image: the freedom of the bird being held down in desperation... the beauty of the flowers setting a trap. The bird is almost in a Jesus Christ pose, which oddly helps the graphic make the all-important transition from "aww roses" to unisex tee. That struggle, that poignancy and desperation evident in the piece, keeps it relevant and universal. I'd hardly be shocked to see this in a second life as a post-hardcore band's tee, the name of the band entwined in the leaves and thorns, though its versatility would be lost in such a situation. As it stands, it could be a graphic for anyone who has ever struggled, or anyone ever hurt in love. It could be a tee of beauty or a tee of pain. It's raw and fragile in the same glance. Graphic tees were meant to evolve to this, not devolve into bad slogans and "that's what she said" jokes. I hope to get to see it happen for this tee. Also, y'all should click through to check it out in black, which also looks incredibly sweet. I'm just a mint fiend.

Finally, over to Tilteed, which has been enjoying a slow influx of nevertheless quality tees over the past month or so. While I am all for, but am also wary of because I know damn well we're looking at a lot of print competition for not a lot of contest spaces. Anywho, the latest must-vote, for me, is rocketpark's Ghostly Town. The execution is lovely, with a charming cartoonyness mixed with some lovely ramshackle buildings, and smart, minimalist colors (a trend this week for sure). I like that the palette allows the buildings to fade into the tee, making them ghostly themselves even surrounding the ghosts. I also totally dig the ghost personalities (one of the things I find the most fun about tees like this is how designers can fit worlds of personality into simple shapes). One smart decision here, as well, is making the town feel like a stereotypical "ghost town". The ruins speak to the images we conjure up of deserted western towns, and even the ghosts themselves are a bit western... one with its silly mustache, another with it's big hat, still another six-shootin' to his heart's content. It's fun, but also just a bit creepy and thought-provoking, as is the wont of the ghost-world. Should make a great tee.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

M.C. 86

Time for another limited edition Tilteed tee, and this one, I feel, is right on time for summer. It's brought to us via talented, trippy artist C86, and it's entitled Escherland. The shapes and steps and arches certainly evoke classic Escher like his Relativity, but what makes the two pieces great are totally different. While the old MC is known for illusion and brilliant sketchwork, C86 is all about pattern and color, and that's really whats at play here. Some truly bold color combos come together like some delicious citrus drink of a tee, which sounds silly but actually makes sense if you look at it. There's a lot going on here, and a lot worth looking at, and with so much brightness on a light blank, now's the time to be doing that looking... this is guaranteed to be an awesome summer tee.

As is the case with all Tilteed Limited tees, this'un will only be available for 72 hours total. Go support an amazing artist with a distinct style: in a year, when this is no longer available, your friends will all wish they'd gotten this instead of their ten Lost tees. Be ahead of the curve.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Contest Watch Extra: Week of May 13

Howdy, folks. Let's get our shirt on, eh? Seriously, no one wants to see that... cover it up. Before we get to the new blood for the week, our regular updates will be useful: specifically, go check out my favorite "found art" collage piece, Deep Blue, now up for voting at DBH. It really creates an imaginative world, and certainly if other people can create empires on worse source photos, why not allow a sweet piece like this to do the same?

Also this week at Design By Humans, fhigi25 has decided to make a play for one of my favorite new voices in tee design. Frequent readers might recall that this isn't the first design of his which has caught my eye (in fact, the first one was just recently subbed to Tilteed's contest), but it seems in recent weeks he's been making a serious play for a print, and I've been seeing his work en masse. Seeing so much of it, however, has elevated him from an unknown with a sweet tee to a real contender in my eyes. Consider The Viperous Journey. It has some really brilliant rough detail. Which is to say, you can tell the skill of the designer in the art, but it's not flawless... it's not some slick vector, nor impeccable likeness, but in some way that makes it all the more perfect. This is a perfect place for a style like that, too... from venomous beasts like the snake and the scorpion, to rough hides, like the scales of a fish or skin of an elephant, a rugged style is perfect for this piece. I don't understand all the element choices (the fish and bird neither fit the dangerous beauty not the sinewy twists and turns of the other elements), but I do know the piece looks stellar, the style is unlike the average tee designer, and the artist could easily become one to watch.

Also potentially worth watching is new contest site Impact Threads. They boast of a longstanding print pedigree, which is to say they've been printing tees for clients for a while before deciding to also run a contest-based printshop. While this comes with a site that, for lack of a better description, LOOKS like a run-of-the-mill print shop's, it appears they've put the money they've saved into the prizes... if these guys can keep a regular flow of new prints, their $2K payout all but assures they'll be finding some seriously solid work. For starters, though, my fav on first browse was Nought-o-naut, by smokechapel. For all I know, smokey might be a big name on the indie circuit, or a new handle for an already known name, but he's new to me, so props to him for the brilliant marketing move, for starters: by sneaking in during the earliest days of the site, where subs are few and often from opportunists who don't have the luxury of printing at more established places, he's positioned himself as a front-runner easily. For me, of course, this is printworthy in any pack: it's a nautical wonder of old-fashioned diver's helmet and curious cephalopod. The decay here makes it all more ominous (as a helmeted octo should be... that sort of thing knows no fear!) as the apparatus is no less weathered than the octopus itself. Probably one bad-ass critter up in there! The piece is impeccably illustrated, and it's the sort of piece where that's good enough. It's self contained, visually intriguing, and the pen-and-ink style, strong enough to carry a piece by itself, is all the stronger on a basic white tee. Not every drawing is a tee, no matter how attractive or elaborate, but the shape and style here would make it hard not to suit any medium. It's always exciting to see what the new sites start picking for their contests, because there's always that chance of something different taking the crown than would win elsewhere. While this piece would be totally at home shopped around Emptees, I see no reason it shouldn't be one of the early victors here instead.

These days, perhaps even more cliché than the octopus aesthetic (one I'm comfortable admitting I've bought into) is the bunny. Bunnies are cute. Bunnies are adorable. Bunnies are popular because they are cute and adorable. There's not much that needs to be done to one to spark some juvenile "awwwww want" gland in the brain, so most people don't do anything to them, letting their awwfactor substitute for any creativity or artistry. It's sort of like grilling an unseasoned burger, but cuter. Thankfully, haha.sg has taken on the most adorably lazy concept this side of an Ewok and made something special out of it. Simply entitled "Rabbit[s]," it is what it says: a rabbit on a rabbit. What it brings to the table, however, is a definitive artistry. The layers of different rabbitness are wonderful, and contrast on many levels. The smaller rabbit is more defined, for example, than the more shadowy, larger under-rabbit. The rabbits are split into three segments, each of which brings a new style to the piece, but even between the same segment, the rabbits are different. The head contrasts from predominant pink to a nice springy yellow; the body is a meadow scene, where the larger of the two acts as backdrop for the smaller, here represented in a natural way; finally, the tail end brings us into outerspace for some reason... here the smaller is surrounded by a wireframe while the outer reaches are simply spacey. All these differing pieces look attractive together, with each one executed wonderfully. It doesn't skimp on what people love about the critter, but its use of art elevates it to something far more original and attractive.

While we're on the subject of tees that are what they say they are, it should be mentioned that rabbits aside, this has been a trend at Threadless this week in general. With Lilith being a predictable creativity bust (somewhere in the range of 2million tees with an unattractively rendered girl-with-guitar, with somewhere in the range of 3 creative offerings), and one of the most bizarrely specific community contests in the process of scoring, it's not hard to find tees that are pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to be. Enter "Here is a Tall Bird," by Riffmaster18. Here, you will see a tall bird. Shock of shocks! There's no reason why this concept should make a good shirt. Yet somehow, it does. The bird really is absurdly tall, and almost all leg, which lends a bit more humour to the tee besides the to-the-point title. The placement, just off-center enough to not boil down to one narrow strip down the middle, helps the wearability, and while I'm normally less than impressed with the halftone glow, it gives a little extra meat to a design (which, with those thin lines of legs, it could certainly use all the meat it can get). And while it literally is just a tall bird, on a shirt, it's a tall bird with attitude. The nonchalant crossing of the legs at the ankle actually adds more to the character than you'd expect. It's as though he's standing there thinking "yeah. I'm tall. So what?" Very calm, cool and collected. It's somehow even better that his knee is not at all bent in this action. There's something about the piece that simply becomes a perfect storm of oddity, all conspiring to make a simple concept into a wearable one. It's not my concern WHY that happens so long as it does.

We close the regularly scheduled portion of this program with one of the more overtly feminine pieces I've featured here: Tiepetaak, by toonpoot. It also boasts one of the odder title/artist handle combos in recent times, as well. Now generally, it is not for me to suggest that a tee's blank is masculine or feminine: a good tee is a good tee, and can be rocked by anyone. That said, however, I own a pink tee, and even at your most confident, you just are taken aback by just how soft and pink it is. For those of us willing to take the plunge, however, this has a lot to offer. Color really does make this tee, and it probably simply wouldn't work as well on any other blank. Honestly, it almost reminds me of those cell diagrams in old biology books (my teachers would be proud I've remembered -anything- from science classes) with its color scheme, circular arrangement, and general lumpiness of content. The style here counts for a lot too... I love the diversity of weird little dudes in this piece, as well as other things and debris surrounding it all. It's fun and warrants repeated views, and while it may have some people detracting it from a "don't look at my chest that long" point of view, I've always felt that a good tee is something people WANT to look at, not something you long to shy away from viewing, like someone who still thinks Coed Naked is funny.

And now, for Contest Watch Extra, the part of the program where we turn to shirt.woot's quarterly doubletake. In all honesty, this quarter contained some of the most unimpressive designs possible to revisit, but there are definitely a few worth keeping an eye on for the upcoming Editor's Choice picks. From the top, we have littleclyde's Sunsplash, a charming piece perfect for the spring/summer transition; Take a Taco for a Walko, by odysseyroc, which is probably just what I don't need (another shirt with a taco on it); Little Leafy Friends by brockart, which is really a sleeper favorite with its smart placement and size; and ncheremnykh's Birdsong, which for all I go on about natural illustration vs. slick vectors, shows the best of that simple and smooth style. I'm not as confident about my picks this quarter as last (nor do I expect to buy any, let alone the 2/4 from last time), but any one of these could print, and would deserve to.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Alright! Already!

I've been waiting a long time to get Omnitarian's Float On in my wardrobe, so suffice it to say I'm pretty stoked about being able to bring it in as a Tilteed limited design. While the palette is a bit muted this go-round, there is no less reason to be excited for the tee: the wonderful cartooning is still the highlight of the design, and the sheer variety of personalities imbued into each of these airheads remains no less charming. Any viewer can find a favorite they're totally charmed with (my faves are Gentleman Monocle and Cochise). It's only available for 72 hours, tho, so be sure to grab a copy before Monday Noon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Contest Watch: Week of Boutdamntime.

It's been a while, and as such, we'll ease you into the content with some old pieces looking for a new lease on life. Since it's been so long, there are enough "resupport" designs up for votes RIGHT NOW that you really need to jump on it and get to that support. We've got two tees I'm totally jonesing for up in the Tilteed contest: I love fhigi's "Deer Xing," but what I'm really excited to see is iQuitt's "Went Lookin'"... I may be a curator, but loving a tee isn't enough for a contest win, so any support you could toss those two would be grrrrreat. On the other side of the coin, DBH has snagged a couple great ones into their contest, including "Abyss" by Gabrielng. The real winner of the week, however, is Thunderpeel's "Sanguine Parliament," shown above. There is a part of me that would, if I had the money, buy the rights to this tee, whatever the cost, simply to print myself a copy. It's that epic, and its all but MADE to be a DBH print. But really, all four of these deserve some hardcore ink.

The resubs of the moment are really strong on the artistry and creativity side, so I'm actually pretty happy to be able to cut that richness with some fun craziness compliments of the ever-diverse world of Threadless. While much of the most fun work there these days seems to be heavy on the "HEY LOOK ITS POP CULTURE" side (and light on the "I understand parody" side), there's always something shining through that not only doesn't take itself seriously, but DOES feel creative. It doesn't hurt that this week I can take up the "holy crap Threadless print amarillo" stump once again with his lovely two color "Prairie Guardians." It's undeniably cute (though the "cute" brigade tends to be against anything that actually looks real. Or wearable), but it takes the adorable posture of the prairie dog and turns it stoic. That pose always does look like a lookout post, so the concept works automatically. It also enlarges it ludicrously, making the tiny critters well larger than a big ol' bison. Any time you have that sort of role reversal, there's a spark that goes off in your imagination that makes one want to know more about this world. Is this why seldom is heard a discouraging word when you're home on the range? Because these guys will definitely lay the smack down. And chew on freakin' everything. But more important for the medium is how attractive it all looks... there's a vintage feel and a realism that are both key to this working. It's all pretty comforting, really, like an old book, despite the unsettling nature of ACTUALLY seeing a massive prairie dog. It also is perfect colorwise, because the lack of colors prevents this from looking like a step above tourist fare ("Visit the prairie! It's boring and homey!") and instead looks classier. It allows the fun of the concept to take on a seriousness without becoming overbearing.

So now, another dose of artistry from Design by Humans... a site for which this was an excellent week for quality work, even despite yet another artist series (as big of a Stone Temple Pilots fan as I am, I'm not really that stoked to see a week of potential awesome, unique winners replaced by band merch. I can get that at STP's store, not DBH's). My favorite of the not-previously-reviewed tees there is without a doubt A Fallen Warrior, by Starman. Another two-color design, an unintentional theme this week, this is all about its sense of movement, even though the subject matter is decidedly immobile. The hair and the blood flow attractively across the tee, odd as that statement may sound, but even the body, slumped and severed, conveys the movement of that crumpling of the body. Is it scientifically realistic? I don't particularly care, but the slump of the body is a wonderful detail. Also wonderful in detail is the armor and the sword, which actually seem to be a matching pair... again, it's the little details that make one go "hmmm"... was this a suicide, or an ambush, using the warrior's sword against him (or possibly her, given the hair and proportions... I see no reason toward either except personal bias). It adds to the intrigue, which in turn adds to the power of the image. Great, iconic, and classic in its own way.

To finish this week, however (and yes, I know we're short, but I'm just happy to have something to say for once... it's been a while), we take another fun spin. This is hardly classic at all artistically, but it is, in many ways, classic as a t-shirt. Unicorn Carnage by Jasper Grinsdale is its own animal (har har, pun unintended), yet is clearly appealing cross-demographic. Unicorns attacking each other is simply the sort of concept you almost immediately know will be successful, or at least should be, and you know the creator, regardless of inspiration, drew this with that fact in mind. Still, it should be a pointed example of how one can find an idea that is almost a surefire success within ones own head and from one's own hand. Part of this works on simplicity... the linework is unfilled, unshaded, and while competent, it is not meant to be the last word on horse anatomy either. This simplicity helps maintain an attractive flow and doesn't overwhelm the viewer in the milieu of violence. It conveys that chaos, and it pays off to really look close and not get lost in the lines, but there's enough clear elements to convey the purpose, while much of the other linework, while being quite nice to look at up close, does more to convey the titular carnage without turning the viewer off. As for the second color? It's probably the single most unique (and one of the most appropriate) gimmick choices possible: a pink glitter ink for the blood. Sometimes gimmicks are painfully pointless, or truly bring the wearability down, but the small pink accents don't overpower the design, and the glitter is a conceptual home-run. The idea of unicorn blood's magical properties, as well as the unicorn itself being a magical creature, makes it less about the specialty ink and more about a smart minor detail that takes the piece to another level. It doesn't hurt that the unicorn has been appropriated into the gaudily girly Lisa Frank empire of the '80s, making that glitter all the more tongue-in-cheek. This is just an incredibly smart piece that should be all the wrong choices, yet ends up highlighting how one can take the reins on seducing the consumer while still being original and creative. It may not be fine art, but it IS a fine example of how there is so much depth to still be explored, even in populist art. Just because it's hugely audience-friendly doesn't mean it has to be devoid of inspiration. May more designers listen to this tee's example.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Singular Tee at SingulariTee

Today we have a literally awesome tee at Tilteed: Bellarific's Goateed Goat Tee. It is literally awesome, and also awesomely literal. One of the things I like best is the blue-on-brown... it's a total clash, but it's a combo I've long thought totally popped together, which is enough for me. It's simple graphically, but also just weird enough that there's nothing quite like it out there. Its simplicity, of course, makes it speak for itself. If you dig it (and obviously, you should) you've got til Noon Pacific on Tuesday to grab one.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gilt-y Pleasures (and Gilt-less Options)

When you're already Threadless, you don't really need to do anything for people in the tee world to talk about you. You're already the industry leader, already one of the most consistent sites out there, already known for both your quality and your work ethic. So what's left to do? How about turn the graphic tee contest into high fashion?

That's basically the end result of Threadless' current collaboration with the Gilt Group, some high-end salemongers who appear to be dedicated to getting people in ludicrously expensive, high fashion clothing for an only silly-expensive pricetag. I can respect that, even if I'm simply not fashionista enough to implement the site frequently. And the Threadless tees, while definitely on the steep side at $29, considering their normal cost, definitely are decked out to make the blow less painful. The tees are tri-blends, which basically guarantees them to feel like awesomeness, and the graphics seem super soft and "vintaged." I'm personally eying "Such a Great Height," a tee I love but simply don't wear very often because of it's ink-heavy printing, but other remixes are looking killer also ("Lions are Smarter Than I Am" gets a particularly royal treatment). Anyway, you're gonna have to sign up soon, as these limited editions are only on sale until May 6 at midnight. It's invitation only, but you'll be able to find one pretty much anywhere with this sale going on, even peppered throughout this paragraph here.

For the rest of us who don't need no stinkin' elite invitation only club, thankfully Threadless has been printing some really wonderful tees at the main site in the last two weeks. My fav is far and away featured to the left: Adam White's "Mellow Yellow." I have no clue what the title refers to, unless it wishes to revel in the dental hygiene of these disembodied mouths (which is kinda nasty), but as a pretty big fan of the soda, and a fan of, if not mad about, saffron, I'm down anyway. It's hard not to, of course... this is a big, colorful print that makes one really believe in art meaning something still. It's eye-catching and bold in every way... you can't make something this out-there without being bold, and as my regular readers probably have seen in action, the average tee-buyer is about as likely to take a risk on something this creative as they are to eat a grenade sandwich. Still, this is the sort of print that makes reviewing things at all worth it. It's a unique experience, and keeps one's faith up that there is still a market for creativity. Art should be inspiring, and it should seize your imagination. If this doesn't at least do the latter, I shudder to think what you're imagining. Though I guess if you imagine these demonmouths regularly, I'd shudder a bit at that too. Fair is fair.

With Threadless slowly phasing out new Selects (yes, I'm very sad about this too) one can only hope they will be replaced by more chosen contest winners like this. The last two weeks have shown definite promise in that arena, and make me very excited for a continued trend. If we could also see some promise in the "not printing any more star wars or three wolf moon tees" department, the would would be a magical place once again.