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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Practical Post 1 - Silver Sharpie

In general, graphic tee shirts are overpriced. Think about what you’re getting; a low-to-mid quality fabric with a design on it. This design is likely;

  • Cool and interesting, though rarely worthy of comments like, “nice shirt!”
  • Not beyond your own creativity level (though possibly beyond your artistic level)
  • Being worn by hundreds, if not thousands of other people

Now, consider what you’re using it for. Assuming it’s a shirt that you hang on to for a while, and depending on where you live, you’ll probably be wearing that shirt underneath something else 50-60% of the time. So five out of ten times you’re wearing that witty slogan (note that the effectiveness of said wit diminishes greatly with each use), it can’t be seen, and that cool upside-down tree you bought is now just a trunk at the base of your neck.

There are, of course, exceptions to this general trend. Many people enjoy wearing tee shirts that support a favorite band or sports team, there are some truly unique (and awesome) designs out there, and some of these rare gems don’t cost an exorbitant amount. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. So how can you get the upper hand?

Go to your local store which sells things to write with (Staples/Rite Aid/Art XTREME, whatever) and pick up a few sharpies. Nowadays, you can get these markers in just about any color, even specialty colors like metallics, like the one I used to create this shirt:

Now, the shirt itself is a plain black tee shirt which I picked up on sale from Old Navy for $6.00, and the sharpie came in a two-pack for $2.00, so overall, a $7.00 total. Far less than your standard graphic tees, even from more cost-friendly locations. A quick aside, whenever solid color tees are on sale, make a point to take advantage, especially if you can score colors you don’t have. A diverse arsenal of undershirt colors expands your wardrobe exponentially. (That is of course a figure of speech, in reality, assuming you can wear only one undershirt at a time, the addition of a new undershirt color multiplies your number of outfit choices by a factor of (n+1)/n, where n is the number of undershirts you previously had…but this isn’t the math blog.

Of course, if you create your own graphic tee, you have to come up with and execute the design yourself. Fortunately, a design doesn’t have to be complex to be interesting, and there is inspiration everywhere. Even if you have trouble creating an image in your mind’s eye, there are probably many designs you already know of; an favorite band’s logo, a design scratched into the sidewalk, an icon on your desktop screen. All of these things are often simple enough to reproduce, as long as you take your time.

Once you’ve chosen a design, you need to select your color(s) and draw the thing. Some tips for execution;

  • First, make sure the color you’ve chosen is appropriately visible. Flip the shirt inside-out and draw a test swatch near one of the side seams. (where you do it is really only important if the shirt is white, so that it’s less likely to been seen, should the ink show through)
  • Unfold the shirt all the way, and find the horizontal center of the shirt using a ruler or a piece of string. Typically, it’s much easier to notice if a design is poorly aligned left-to-right, as opposed to up-and-down.
  • When drawing the actual design, use physical guides as much as possible. For circles, use a mug or a pot. For lines, use a ruler. This will take a lot of the guesswork out things and make the end product look a lot cleaner.
  • Use short, controlled strokes. It’s much easier to maintain a correct path when you only move short distances. It cuts down on the complex physics your arm has to navigate in keeping your fingers, wrist, and forearm working as a team to move your marker. The overlap between strokes is very difficult to see on the shirt, since the marker cuts a fairly wide path and multiple strokes don’t make the ink appear noticeably darker.
  • Take your time. There’s only so much you can fit on the shirt, so even if you’re patient and take it slow, doing this usually won’t take more than 15-20 minutes. Slow down. It’s a lot easier to do it right the first time.
With any luck, you should now be in possession of a brand-new graphic tee shirt with an interesting, one-of-a-kind design. Let it hang dry for a little while before you show the world, to let the fumes from the marker dissipate. Don’t worry about the ink rubbing off. If you wait more than thirty seconds to wear it, that just won’t happen. Sweet. For less than ten bucks (.4-.8 store-bought shirts, depending on your exchange rate), and about twenty minutes, you’ve got a shirt that nobody else does. A shirt that reflects your individuality, and will have people asking, “hey, where’d you buy that?”

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