Tuesday, August 28, 2012

King of the Mountain

Before our long departure, you may recall much ado about Kickstarter and a SEIBEI project therein. Those guys smashed their anticipated goals, in large part because they've got madd ties in the biz. I'm stoked to have been a part of it, however small. But I'm equally stoked to try to drum up some love for a relative newbie.

Tom Moyer is known to some of you guys as SkiRochester, sometime woot designer. Lately it seems he's been hunkered down, putting together a line of his own. This is Downhill Threads, a set of tees aimed at skiers, who classically are best served with cold weather apparel. Tom's thought seems to be, among other things, that the snowbound shredders might wish to have a line of products which they can wear year-round to showcase their love of the game. Fair call. What sets the line apart from your generic apparel brand, however, is that the brand is not DHT so much as it is Loving To Ski. It seems honestly built from love of the game, and quite a few of the pieces are more than wearable enough for even a non-lover of the slopes. There's a mix of standard originals based on the sort of tropes one expects from sport-centric apparel, but it's mixed with some truly wearable designs.

The gem for me is longtime fave Gunnbjorn Field (to the left to the left), a piece that I had hoped to spawn onto the world last winter at Tilteed, but that I am excited to see Tom pulling out of storage for this project, because along with his bird silhouette, it could be a flagship tee: something that people will want on their chest even if they don't ski, much as I want it on my chest yet would break my face if I got on the slopes. It's got the sort of style you expect from old travel posters and ads, with the playful bear-shaped mountain added in, the exotic resort name, the adventure of a helicopter ride... there's a vacation package reading itself out in this image even without the text, or possibly even a classic spy thriller book-cover... all while still being the sort of graphic many people think of when they think of tee graphics. It is very standard-tee, but all the elements are done so right, so attractively, and in the end it affirms all the best reasons why this sort of thing comes to mind so quickly. You'll get a tee that makes sense visually to the masses but still feels fresh and new to people looking aesthetically. That's a bit of a gem.

You want to help out? There are $25 packages that will get you a tee, which really is not much more than many shops will sell at when you think about it. It'll guarantee you a design of your own, and help a start-up start up, which is frequently the hardest thing. If you happen to be a bit more flush with cash, though, packages in the hundreds are available that will knock the project even further into the realm of possibility, and come complete with ski gear or even a lift ticket, along with a metric tonne of tees. I cannot recommend enough that you check out what's on offer, and if you're a tweet-y sort, spread the love around to your friends.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

If I could give the modern day tee designer one bit of advice, it would be ignored and they would just sell Game of Thrones merch, possibly while whining that their real work is ignored because people only want their Game of Thrones merch, yet not understanding that they are simply feeding the machine that is starving them. But if I could give the olden days respectable tee designer who is dying to see their work printed by an ethical site a piece of advice, I would tell them to go to Captain KYSO.

KYSO (an acronym for "Keep Your Shirt On") is based out of India, which, if you guys remember Scopial, is a pretty positive start actually. So far, they seem to parallel woot, if woot had printed great tees from its entrants instead of simply printing turds and ignoring great artists even on double-takes and editor's choice weeks (the number of times the top-ranked artist by Honorable Mention frequency didn't take home a single print is embarrassing). Is there an artist you've simply been dying to see print at woot? They're probably at KYSO, and their work is probably some of their more original, distinctive, or simply respectable pieces. Hit the catalog, and if you can get over the shame of seeing a Patrickspens tee in the recent print area, you'll find one of the more diverse and exciting shops on the web. All screenprinted, all on house-made blanks (so check for your size), all shipped to you free.

Shown above: "bears".
Friend of the Blog BootsBoots is today's featured artist, with a slicked back version of former contest watch selection "Redundancy National Park." We're not going to make redundancy jokes this time around, because hell, just having to still talk about this design just getting printed now is redundant in and of itself. We're of course a bit saddened by the change from cranberry to blue (cranberry is a gorgeous and underutilized color, and we'll stand behind that forever) but it feels good to see it in any form. And we're fairly confident we'll be seeing even better things from KYSO in the future as it grows, and more and more artists try their hand and their older pieces at this fresh-faced upstart.

Tees are $15 on the first day, and $19 for as long as they last after that. No need to wait around... snag it cheaper and learn a bit about the new kids on the block.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Contest Watch: The Remix

With the blog having lay dormant for so long, it seems like the perfect time to really go in and pick it apart a little. The contest watch feature, of course, comes immediately to mind. Every Thursday, we showcase the five best designs in the shirtosphere that have yet to make it to print. Seems fair, and indeed these would be the showpieces in the dog and pony show we call Singularitee, because anyone can browse the front page of a site nightly, but not everyone is willing to put in the time to search. I was proud to give these unsung heroes a boost, to whatever degree it might have done so... to highlight the work of artists who deserved the fanbase. Any miniscule help I may have given in these events... even down to name recognition... made it all worthwhile.

However, one of the biggest downfalls of the schedule was its Thursday placement. This was particularly negative for the poor woot design... the derby, as readers will recall, ends every Thursday. Voting simply cannot happen between contest watch column and end of voting, unless I was to set an alarm for the column. With this in mind, I opt now for the simpler Wednesday schedule. Shirt.Woot has, of course, made this consideration wholly moot by scheduling a pretty trash derby, although they -also- have recently started a derby print schedule which honors the top vote-getter, but then selects the next two choices editorially. We at the blog are intrigued, and just wish someone had thought of this brilliant idea years ago.

The second problem, however, was the five-design layout. As time went on, finding five pieces of ANY quality became difficult, especially as more and more new start-ups went under. No more. The contest watch segment will thereby vary in length by quality, time, and other factors to be considered. I do not wish to include vast amounts of entries, but I will not force in mediocre work just to fill a quota. Also, since I just started committing to this blog again, I don't have the time to browse errdamnsite this week anyway.

And so, with the arteries of the shirterweb still as clogged as those of a homophobe on a chickenbender, let us consider a few pieces.

If I was more of a hipster, I would get on my fixie and listen to as much Arcade Fire on my iPod while shouting bad mustache puns for as long as it took to get to the Threadless retail store in Chicago if they printed shesmatilda's Hunting Season 10,000 Years Ago. It fits that segment of the Threadcrowd perfectly, being a wolf like them, while also being visually alluring in a way most such tees simply are not. Consider the framing, for starters, composed on the diagonal along the silhouette of the wolf and allowing for so much more action to take place... an entire hunt scene, showcasing the wolf in its most domestic role, as hunting companion for man. In this way it's almost the hippest dog lover tee you've ever seen, praising man's best friend for as long as it's been called by that name. The colors make it an absolute visual feast, as well: vibrant and bold against each other, spreading a rainbow across the main image. Each color is further enriched by the textures... the rough jagged peaks along the green plains, the frosted streaks along the ice blue mountains, the orange-yellow nebula of clouds filtering over the red sky, all contributing to an incredibly full experience in the space of what could otherwise be a trite vehicle.

In the "cunning as a weasel" category, ZERM's Time to Hide is everything Threadless humor used to be with a bold lavender blank to boot. The art is simple, subtle, and the joke is not immediate, which makes it that much stronger when you get it. The average viewer might not catch it at all, but it's all in the shadows. Once again, this is what separates the average from the superlative: when a designer can take a concept that we've all seen attempted in a million different, boring, identical manners, and make us forget we've seen ANYTHING. Which we really haven't in this shirt. There's nothing there to see at all, right?

But there's nothing we like more at Singularitee than straight up wearable art, and if there's anyone who embodies this notion, it is igo2cairo, illustrator extraordinaire, who is still hitting 'em out of the ballpark with regular frequency if his Come Sail Away is any indication. The linework is impeccable, made all the more charming with the vintage feel of the design on the whole... the wood forming the ship, the masts and sails and big vicious looking narwhal frontispiece, and the whole of it looking like a woodcut or a sketch from an inventor's old notebook, which takes the imagination one step better... for some reason, the more archaic and classical an image appears, the more fantastical these turns make it seem, as if a winged ship is less impossible now than it was in the past. Regardless, I repeat myself: wearable art. A piece that works just as well as a shirt as it does being examined up close. I couldn't be happier to get to see it at this point. It's the sort of work we fight for.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just a Little Faith

It is inevitably a shock to wander back to this long forsaken corner of the interwebs and see that this sad little blog has had activity daily, into the tens of people. Tens of people is a LOT of people viewing a blog which was ostensibly dead even before a year ago.But so it goes, and so I am glad it has gone. It is with gratitude that I acknowledge this, because it states that somewhere out there, people do not accept what I have, in many ways, accepted. Tee design is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Oh, don't get me wrong, people will still be hacking out and hoarking up the latest Game of Who-Blood designs for Hunger Potter Day, because people are sheep, because the economy sucks and people have no shame as to how they make money in desperate times, and because a culture which is anti-education is even more strongly anti-art, of necessity. But it's safe to say true shirt design, the artistry, the cleverness, that you, dear reader, would browse this blog for, is clawing for breath under the rubble. At best. And so, for what would I blog? To sell you some piece of junk to keep up my profile in the scene? To show you the least worst sell-outs in the grand scheme of voting trends? To drive sales on the one day a season that woot feels it's appropriate to sell a well designed shirt? Piffle. I have early onset carpal tunnel to prevent.

It was at a whim, then, that I browsed over to Threadless on their current back to school sale. I have ignored a number of their recent ones wholesale, knowing what I'd see. And for the most part, it was what one expects, a sea of parody work that barely crosses the parody threshold (I'm not sure what artistic statement is made by drawing Charlie Brown in Link's outfit. Probably "I can haz 2K?") peppered with the ironic non-humor which has taken over the once trademark Threadless humor. But then, I actually did make a purchase with some referral points I had lying around. Moreover, I found a shirt that could breathe life into my weathered cynicism.

Budi Satria Kwan is better known to the tee design world as radiomode. He's not the least controversial designer out there... many readers who cut their tee-design teeth at shirt.woot remember countless designs aimed at combating the charmless design which wins big there with equal staleness. Budi plays the game, for better or for worse, and I cannot fault anyone for being tired of those who play the game. But it is perhaps all the more powerful to see Watering (A Life Into Itself) from him than from anyone else for that reason. It is not perfect: bits read a little clippy, and the concept of nature from nature is something we've seen here numerous times, but it's also one of the trends that has always worked because beauty is never overrated. You can refresh that theme a million different ways, and while your artist may be tired, the theme itself still has potential. There are only so many ways, by comparison, to make the same "computer mouse" joke. Stick around the deal-a-days and you'll be able to buy all of them by 2015.

Once you hone in on nature, however, you just have to execute, and radiomode does so here, building serenity out of the elements... an animal so fully at peace and at rest that nature can flourish from it. The cutaway on the deer's back is a perfect foil for the build-up of trees, with those first branches continuing the natural curve as the outline comes into a valley. The blues in the deer's face echo that life, the water it's drinking coming into it, enlivening the dark silhouette, helping the greenery grow. Tiny considerations, possibly not even conscious on the part of the designer, but so integral to the completed piece. There aren't a whole bunch of tees being printed today that show that sort of sensitivity, those tiny details that make the whole design. There aren't a whole bunch of tees printed today that you could wear around anyone and they'd get the feeling of it. In a culture where reference is king, this is refreshing as a cool drink of pure water. And maybe, just maybe, it's part of a very slow revival. Those of us who believe in artistry can only hope.