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.

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