Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kickstart My Heart

We at Singularitee have long believed that Kickstarter is a potentially amazing tool. At its best, it allows the "long tail" theory of business to prove itself... if you have enough "true fans," you can support your business without needing to adulterate it to roll in the dough. The majority of Kickstarter projects suggest this very thing: people who believe in your work may just be willing to spend a little extra to support you directly. That might be the most important thing we can learn as artists and art lovers, of any medium... if we foster the right kind of fans, we can create on our own rules without having to give in to the masses. Or we can sell our soul for every last penny and then cry about how we "have to". If only more of us would realize the power of avoiding the latter.

But I digress. This is a story of heroism, and while inspiration must come in part from the knowledge that we are not yet heroes, it should be dosed most liberally through realizing that we can be. And that is where Seibei comes in. Seibei is a brand known not for its name so much as its trademarks, specifically the classic Sandwich Dinosaur. The content is often weird, usually geeky, but always feels like an honest exposure of a fun loving artist's psyche. Most important, it's original. You can get Sandwich Dino knockoffs, if you really hate America that much, and sure, you can question the humor in the slogans, but you can't really say you saw it first elsewhere, unless you didn't know of Seibei when you saw it first. Seibei is far from being the first indie line out there, but along with Fullbleed, it's among the first I think of when it comes to successful, artist-run, non-brand-reliant brands. People doing something that is about the work that comes from them first and the title second. So you know that I have to give props and support where due to that sort of site.

Well, here's our chance to do so. Not too long ago, the line's founder had his van stolen at a trade show (along with all his stock), which sucks, to put it mildly. The van was recovered, but the stock was gone. For an indie line, a van full of product is a devastating, possibly company destroying loss. Unless you've got a Kickstarter and some loyal fans. With under $1000 to reach his goal, and only 2 days into the funding project, Seibei has almost hit its goal. We highly recommend heading over to the Kickstarter page and helping out. Even if they hit the goal early, you can keep pledging, so get in there and make this even more of a success. $25 gets you a t-shirt. A measely $650 gets you more cloth than your crane wife can weave. Any donation gives you the satisfaction of helping out the guys who truly deserve it.

Of course, maybe you only want one shirt, but also want to help out some other amazing projects. I scanned the site, and to help you avoid the hundreds of shoddy films begging desperately for your dollars, here are some of my favorite projects being supported right now.

The big deal for the big spenders is this: A Desktop Jellyfish Tank. Now, you can certainly put in $50 for what appears to be a decent Jellyfish tee, but for almost 100 of the backers, there's no substitute for the $350 tank package, which comes with a $50 voucher toward your eventual brood of awesome jellyfish. It's not a project for the faint of funds to fund, but with over 11 times as many pledges as their original goal, you definitely know you're going to get your rewards, and be able to wow your friends at this year's Christmas party.

If you've been looking for a unique addition to your home that serves a bit more of a purpose, consider supporting the Endangered Alphabets project. Your money will go toward preserving culture (yknow, the stuff people do away from their technology), keeping a record of the alphabets used in dying languages before those languages go kaput. It's like an artful Rosetta stone, making sure our increasingly homogenized culture doesn't completely kill the traditions and history of those enclaves of people who still respect the past. And hey, you can get the word "Words" carved in Balinese script for less than the price of a jellyfish tank! Education is priceless, and the only way we can be educated at all, especially in a culture of misinformation, is to have the facts preserved.

Of course, for others of us, we want something more practical, but also a safe investment. If so, I suggest you learn chiptune with the Rockit 8 bit Synth Kit. It is a kit to turn a specially crafted circuit board into the most 80s instrument since the Keytar. Kits range from the ultimate DIY (a circuit board, a list of what you'll need to turn it into a synth, and how to to it) to the fully assembled (for a measly $200). Best of all, it's already fully funded. If you've ever wanted to compose video game music, but felt analog instruments were too passe, your calling is here.

What Kickstarter is really all about, though, is supporting the fringes. Fringes like the Penguin Hat. There's not much I can say about the penguin hat that isn't immediately said in the picture, really. It is a warm-looking hat with a penguin atop it. Sure to be a staple for hipster ski trips and yankee swaps for years to come, the concept appeals to my sense of the absurd in a big way. I am not yet so jaded to try to suggest I would not laugh heartily to see one of these in the wild. If the idea finds its backers, it most certainly deserves to come to fruition.

The idea that I'm most intrigued by, however, quite surprised me by being a video game. In the Dark is probably not something I'd be intrigued by at first glance, with it's darkly-cute lead character reminding me a little too much of the worst trends of modern cartooning, but what sucked me in was the gameplay. In the Dark relies quite strongly on Light. It is the duality of how light is used which makes the puzzles look truly unique... while every day objects treat light as the nebulous entity it is to us, blocking beams which cannot penetrate them, the shadowy world of the main character treats the light as solid. Beams can be walked up, and can block passages. They can drive off other shadow creatures. They can be blocked by objects, turned on and off as needed, and generally interacted with as a huge part of the landscape. Maybe I've just been out of the gaming loop for a while, but I can't help but be intrigued to explore this world. Like all innovations, though, it's not remotely as popular as its ideas dictate it should be. I highly recommend giving your support to Seibei, but if you can spare an extra $20, toss it these guys' way. Innovation is never simply about new product. Sometimes you need to redefine what that product stands for.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Up on the Sun

It's been a while, but if there's anything you loyal watchers know about your good friend Adder, it should be that he cannot keep his mouth shut about things he believes in.

I've been wanting to tell you a little bit about Acorn Factory for a while. They just never had new tees to speak of, and while their logo tee was fairly wearable, I just couldn't get behind hyping a new brand with nothing to go on. So why was I excited at all? Well, there's that pesky belief thing again. Acorn Factory immediately touched on two of them: the power of art, and the importance of education. As a tee site (regardless of what some other start-ups seem to believe), its primary function is the sale of artistry, anyway, but what makes them special is that Acorn factory "donates 100% of its profit toward bringing education and opportunity to underserved students." That's a hell of a commitment to the most important goal we can achieve... the betterment of our minds. At a time where education is demonized, even a small, unknown tee site supporting it is vital.

For an unknown, they brought in some heavy hitters, too. Rob Dobi, of Fullbleed, is responsible for two, but the third is from Robot Tiger, and it's a tee we've featured here for years but never got to see for sale. Conveniently, though possibly to the chagrin of Stephin Merritt, it involves another thing I believe in: the sun. Sun Equation is a disarmingly rigid design, and while that clinical simplicity and sterility is something I would decry (and I have) in most designs, it is perfect for this. It feels scientific without being nerdy. It is purely design, but the way it's laid out feels like art. It is something you could wear, and wear fashionably, but it is based on astronomy. I have no idea how this was pulled off, but it was. The black and gold create a simple yet bold palette, and while the original white blank I've seen this suggested on would be even more textbook, the natural blank gives that same feeling that this somehow evolved from a graph to a garment, and somehow, that couldn't be more natural. One has to give kudos to a tee that does that, as well as to a site that not only takes a chance on a deserving design, but exists to support the worthiest of causes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When Sales Attack.

If you're like me, you haven't been at my blog since February. A lot has happened since then, but most of it has been pretty disheartening, and since I -try- to use this blog predominantly for things which are great or, at least, unique and worthy of highlighting, it has been really difficult to bring myself to break the silence. Also, busy-ness. The state of the tee art world reflects the state of the real world, but even so, some things are more important.

One thing that becomes vital to note now happened at Threadless. Longtime followers will perhaps recall years ago when Threadless streamlined their tees to all be $18, with Selects sitting at $25, for their outside of the norm content, frequently experimental print processes, and untested popularity. This wasn't ideal, really... prior, threadless tees fluctuated a lot print to print, but for the majority of prints, $18 was more than one would have paid before. Still, $18 was fair, and remains the standard in the tee world. But then we started seeing some full tee prints sell at $20, undermining the original intent, and it wasn't long before the average tee sold at that price point. What I didn't notice until just recently, however, was that the prices slipped up again... the average tee in the last few weeks has been sitting pretty at $22.

This sort of silent inflation makes a sale like the brief Camp Wannatee one Threadless is featuring this week (potentially til Wednesday, but Threadless is known for extensions, so who knows) both more exciting and somewhat insulting. A $12 tee is always a good deal, especially when the base price is higher, but the sale serves mainly to point out just how much a Threadless tee goes for these days. One can't expect the $5 clearances of the days when this blog began, but there is a certain disturbing nature to it, especially when one considers the other changes made throughout the tee world in that time. The vapid lie of "printing this mediocre work helps us afford to print less popular but better work" is clearly exposed when one sees this happening... either that road isn't working, and the site is still scraping by no matter what they print, or the price hike has nothing to do with necessity, which implies that perhaps the print choices have nothing to do with necessity either. Whichever way the truth tilts, it's a worrisome omen for artists and other sites alike.

That said, there are still regularly Threadless tees to be excited about, and sometimes they come from the least expected places. Above, we see sketchboy01's brand new print "Arabian Crescent," clearly an incredibly weak pun, but illustrated beyond its title. The magic of the Arabian Nights is present in the illustration... there's the twinkle of the stars, the exotic shapes of buildings... and that sliver of moon which came from the equally slim punchline creates its own otherworldly imagery, not only for the outer-space textures and craters, but the idea of this beautiful city springing out from the rock, hidden in a cave or carved from a mountain. The overall effect is one that creates a haunting new world out of a very old one. Our Western eyes still often see the Arab world as a large question mark... framing it against space makes it literally otherworldly, and anyone who has ever used their imagination is fascinated by the unfamiliar. Taking two images which we can easily identify, yet in most cases do not fully understand, lets the viewer walk the line between comfort and curiosity, and the lovely execution sells a piece that quite likely was conceived as a cheap joke, elevating it to stunning illustration.

By contrast, Design By Humans, once the white truffle of these sorts of tee sites with its regular $24 offerings, has become a comparatively affordable option. This is no small feat, since DBH is a far more "exclusive" tee site. Its designs tend to seek out a specific audience, and a far less populist one than most. Its inventory is without a doubt smaller than its closest competition. Its prints, while no longer as regularly experimental as in the past, still tend to be far bigger and often more complex than any site I can think of. It seems odd that they'd be able to maintain what is now a reasonable price point while other places are ever rising.

Once again, it is the current sale which highlights my concerns. DBH has, in the last year, been incredibly sale-happy, and while most people would likely be ecstatic to have the chance to pick up cheaper designs, a sale week at DBH is also not a print week. The concern, therefore, is that they're no better off... having to drop prices even further so frequently, at the expense of paying out to new designs, doesn't imply the sort of success the site should be enjoying. Long story short, for a paranoid sort like myself, the two top dogs in the tee world giving signs of weakness does not bode well for the scene as a whole.

That being said, the trouble with conjecture is that it's only conjecture without knowing something deeper about selections, sales, and the like. The evidence is worrying, but the truth could just be that DBH wants you to buy awesome shirts like ecsu's "Decay (We're All Made of Stars)" and save some extra green while doing it. Not that it's not worth full price: the progression of the images makes for one of my favorite designs in a long while. The pink and the black provide a great contrast, and helps link the worlds of the self and the outside. The decomposition is shown in reverse... as the arm becomes built up, it is fleshed out, but it also becomes less corporeal. The idea is that the decay of one thing can create the growth of another. The stark colors also make the whole thing feel a bit more synthetic, though, as well. There seems to be another layer of commentary beneath the obvious themes, as though we are both built from and destroyed by the extraneous and the unreal. Whatever the case, though, it's a striking and original design, and something that makes me quite happy to see exist. Take advantage of the sales to show your support for this, or Arabian Crescent, or any truly worthy piece on either site. At the end of the day, this blog is about great tees. Find them, wear them, and support the continued spread of new ones. Because no matter what else might be happening under the surface, supporting great work is the best way to get more of it out there, and that should be the vast majority of what we're seeing. After all, I can't praise great art if it's not there.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Get Out the Vote

In American politics, there is one thing you can be assured of above all else: someone will be running that has no right to the office, and that person will probably make a scarily tight race of it. The debates will show them getting their proverbial ass handed to them. Their sound bites will be full of blatant lack of understanding for how society works. And they will not see their poll numbers drop a percentage. In the interest of combating the inevitable in the most broken democracy on the internet, then, please consider voting for the following designs in woot's latest double-take derby.

Title: Hay is for Horses
Artist: Theinfinityloop

Perhaps you really like dogs licking cats. If so, I guess there's really not much I can do for you. However, since it is apparent you don't mind if your shirts have no concept, shall I suggest taking that a step further and voting for a shirt that DOES have art? This piece is pretty much all about style, which makes sense, being created for the sake of a style derby. The design's colors sing, creating a wonderfully wearable piece,and the shapes swell across the tee like an uneven (yet delicious) cake. The use of negative space is pleasing, also, with the stylized horses prancing proudly across one's hypothetical chest. More of this sort of thing, please.

Title: Little Red Riding Bug
Artist: bsweber

Linework does not automatically make for a great shirt. Those of you who slink around Threadless regularly have likely seen about 1000 passable sketches slapped on shirts they should never have been slapped on. However, when great linework is combined with great shirt design, it becomes its own reason for a must-print tee. This is that. The illustration fills the shirt expertly... canvas coverage is so important on any canvas... and the flecks of bright red draw the eye strongly, despite the tiny amount. When one considers the quality of illustration and line work, and the sheer effort and skill put forth, there is no reason this shouldn't deserve a grand.

Title: Muahahahaha!
Artist: Bootsboots

As we all know, anyone who promotes progress is evil. You can tell because we all have neckbeards and hate God. For those of us who are not so obvious, however, we need a good evil looking shirt. This one-color wonder fits the bill as far as I'm concerned. It's a good solid graphic tee. It's not too over the top in artistry, for those people who are scared of too much art on their clothing, but it's still well-done. It's iconic and accessible without being tired. It has humor in it without trying too hard or being too exclusionary. This would be a perfect inclusion in the catalog of the lovely folks at fuzzy ink, but I see zero reason a fun tee like this shouldn't work at woot.

Title: Happiness
Artist: EdgarRMcHerly

Sometimes, you stumble across something that simply illustrates everything you've ever believed perfectly. This tee printing at woot would pretty much be the epitome of snarky retort for that reason. Ignorance, they say, is bliss, and the characters here look incredibly ignorant and blissful all at once, while the dude with the brain looks appropriately concerned and morose. It's easy to argue that a t-shirt is just a t-shirt if your head is unable to soak up the reality of the situation. Regardless of what most people seem to think, art is at its best when it makes a statement. Perpetuating that lost art of obtaining meaning through art is reason enough to promote and print this piece.

Title: Sticking Out
Artist: Jewelwing

The odd-man-out idea is incredibly tired. If it went to sleep, it would put Rip Van Winkle to shame. That's how tired it is. So it was incredibly nice to see, among a million horrible panda tees, one piece that truly tried to be original. The Urchin/Hedgehog match-up is one I'd never have expected, even though it is so perfect for the theme. The style is what really hits this out of the park, though... to me it almost looks painted, giving the scene more of a watery clarity. Everything looks as crisp and refreshing as the Amalfi Coast. Not only that, it's undeniably cute. Y'all like cute, right? Prove it by voting for something that the term actually applies to.

Title: Socially Networked
Artist: Ninthwheel

Finally, something a bit abstract. I think this is a winner for its colors (the palette works perfectly against itself as well as the creme blank). I also like the concept, vague is it might be. The idea of interconnection based on knowledge is an appealing one, if not one that would sell very well to people who don't agree that knowledge is what connects us. That the head here is made up of books, the probable transmitters of knowledge, is a great connection, better than even the subtle networking web laid under the main image. Without knowledge, we have nothing to give socially, and intentional or not, this design speaks to this truth. A vote for this would be a vote for a message that needs to be spread.

There are other solid pieces in the derby, to be sure, as there always are. However, with recent outcomes and an absolutely unforgivable set of HM's on the last go 'round, I feel it is vital to take this doubletake seriously. No one else is going to, so we need to take the bull by the horns. You know what to do.