Thursday, July 29, 2010

Contest Watch: Week of July 22

This has been a pretty super week for Contest Watch... you should definitely check the last few posts for some supertown updates. And while you're at it, go check Threadless, where "The Serenade of Pangolin's Mandolin" is up for votes. This bad boy was a long-time-ago feature here, back in the days of Shirtfight, so definitely give it some long overdue love.

Threadless mostly dominates this week, but there were a few winners that won't win over at shirt.woot, also. I'm pretty averse to featuring the fog, because even though I can predict winners and losers, it seems unfair to promote the obvious potential winners. However, there was one definite standout, and it sat outside the fog: Bird in Space, by CapedCrusader514. The theme this week was Art Titles Reinterpreted. You'd think this would be simple, given other woot derbies, but apparently people don't know what "title" means. We got a lot of pieces that simply parodied the work without looking at the title: this is one of those rare instances where someone was both able to pay homage to the piece while doing what the theme requested, reinterpreting the title. The shape and position and color of the bird recall the piece it is inspired by, but it is made literal instead of abstract. But all this aside, it's just a stunning piece to begin with. The linework is lovely, and the shading is certainly part of that. The golden hues pop against the black. There's something I love about those sorts of color schemes, with big bright colors on black spacey expanses, so this is totally my sort of tee. I hope we'll get to see it again in the future. On a tee, this time.

Now, however, we can get to all the Threadless goodies for the week, and there really have been some goodies. Let's start with tolagunestro, which is always a superb place to start. His "Fast Spin" is the sort of glorious oddity we love to see here, with the execution to back it up. There's an obvious juxtaposition of the slowness of the snail with the idea of a speedy carnival ride, but I'm much more intrigued by the gorgeous texture (if anything about a snail can be gorgeous without first covering it in butter and garlic), and the rickety yet delicate framework of the spiraling ferris wheel sort of structure. It's an original take, to be sure, and eye candy without a doubt. Not only that, but an orange blank? Sign me up. If there are two things that I would say all successful shirts have (and by "successful," I mean this in an art and not a business sense), it would definitely be original concept and skilled execution. Obviously, just about every tee shop on the planet doesn't back me up on this given many of their selections, but their foolishness doesn't take away from the truth of the matter. If someone wants something bold, unique, and attractively done, this should be the sort of tee they're voting for. Convenient, then, that such a tee would indeed be up for voting!

Of course, execution can be all about simplicity as well. Which is what I love about Mammoths Were Hippies, by Tawan. Simple, smart concept needs simple, smart design, and this goes just far enough to illustrate with charm, without overkill. The "hippie" idea is so simple and so perfect for the mammoth that it seems incredible it had never been thought of before. I'm just glad it was thought of by someone who would put it together correctly. The meeting of the minds shown here, with just enough surprise readable in the elephant's eyes, and just enough passive nonchalance behind the mammoth's shades, charms without rotting the teeth. There is much to be said for pure intellect in designing. Would that more people would just do it. There are plenty of great, future classic ideas out there. Relying too heavily on other people's work is flat out lazy when there are smaller-name designers out there who can hit home runs like this.

Even so, sometimes reference can be wonderful if done smartly, as well. Which has almost nothing to do with Fleck's "Zenobia," except that there's a part of me that desperately wants to somehow relate this to Ethan Frome. It's not wintry. The city doesn't seem to be a hypochondriac lusting over a pickle dish. I guess you could say that it's standing up on pretty flimsy legs, but that's more of a stretch than I'm willing to go. So despite the piece being inspired by Calvino (one of my faves), I've yet to read Invisible Cities, so no classic literature for me this time. But classic illustration, that we have in spades, and really, that's what we should want. This is what complexity should look like. It's structured, ordered, but not fully. There's still something fragile about it. I love the idea of the complex infrastructure being supported on such flimsy braces... it seems to want to make a statement and yet keeps quiet about it. But all that aside, the ramshackle nature of the city's support system makes the underlying story all the more interesting. I like how those lower bits are sparse and a bit scattered compared to the dense, repetitive patterns above. I love the way the illustration fills up the tee, with the bulk of the design at the chest and the dregs hanging down at the stomach. It flatters the canvas by filling it well, and flatters the body by not calling so much attention to the parts people tend to be more self-conscious about. Even the swatches of dull red, the only real pop of color here, arcs over the top of the chest. It's really quite well conceived in positioning, and visually, this is a sure-fire buy if and when it prints. It's subtle but not bland, it's detailed but not cluttered, and it's familiar without being generic. Stunning work on what should indeed be a stunning tee.

Finally, let's check out the current Loves competition: this one's about comics, and I'm not going to lie, I'm quite scared about it. I will probably be somewhere between crying and mauling if/when some HILARIOUS shirt that shows batman as a bat for the umpteenth time prints. But then, on the other hand, when designers really embrace a style, and utilize their own mind to flesh it out... now that's where the big payoffs come, and comics are a perfect venue for that. That's why I dig the Incredible 5 Senses by Gums. There's obviously a Fantastic 4 element to the team, and a definite classic comic vibe to the style, but the characters are just wonderful. What works so well is how comics have always had their own internal logic. Superman is an alien who looks like us. His only weakness is a rare alien rock, that somehow is easily obtained by earth-baddies. Wolverine had his entire skeleton replaced by super hard metal, but it's OK because he can heal himself. Galactus is THE SIZE OF A DAMN PLANET BUT SUPERHEROES CAN KICK HIS ASS SOMETIMES. So the idea that we might get exposed to all these beautiful, bizarre worlds in this contest is ever so appealing. In this comic, our heroes are our senses. With human bodies. I'm not sure what's not to love about this. The characters really are alien to us for that reason, but in the comic style, all is forgiven visually. You just want to see if Tongue can escape from The Capsicum Crusader (Milk Man to the rescue?) before time is up. It's a great interpretation because the team is readymade, but also ideal for the stylized, mutant ideal that especially Marvel heroes are known for. The execution feels natural, the colors feel wearable and authentic, and the whole package is exactly what this contest should be about. Please guys, no shirts with Spiderman as a spider. Isn't that overdone yet? The answer, btw, is yes.

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