Friday, March 28, 2008

building a brand one t-shirt at a time

This is the t-shirt design of the day. Part of the design process for me is to put the designs in a post so I can see how they will look online. At the same time I am trying out different marketing vehicles– postcard series to surf shops, a poster series at a trade show. And of course, the actual web pages. (I will post one of those soon). Additionally, the first postcard inspired a tagline, and another inspired the shirt tag. Perhaps the most important part of this exercise though, is to make sure as I am designing the line that my brand stays intact. To make sure that the t-shirts all look like they come from the same family and that the marketing tools support and reinforce that brand. So far so good, with one exception: I need to put some people in those shirts! That will come. We are less than two weeks away from our photoshoot/vacation in Florida.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Another day, another design. That's my goal. No more, no less. It's easy to get sidetracked and stray from the mission making endless revisions to the same design. In the end I just have to go with my gut. So I'm committed to this one. Two down, four to go. I'm trying to be reasonable because if I keep redesigning I'll never launch the site. So, once I hit six it's time to run 'em up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

birthing a t-shirt

This whole process of designing a t-shirt is a lot more complicated that I thought. I have been living with these designs for some time now and just recently started experimenting with real t-shirt colors and real ink colors. Yesterday I spent the afternoon heat pressing screenprinted transfers of the designs onto sample t-shirts- experimenting with different ink colors on different t-shirts. Some were an instant match to my vision- others a disappointment. But as I said earlier, I am still in the R&D phase. One of the ones that I felt was a success is pictured above. I would take each printed shirt and photograph it outside (luckily the sun was shining for a change). I actually wore this one to aerobics class this morning and got compliments. OK, so I'm thinking I have my first product nailed.
However, I was less than impressed when I incorporated the image into a web page so I pushed the design until it evolved into the top image.
Now I think I have my first product nailed.
On a separate note:
I had a nice surprise yesterday when Paul Zelanski contacted me! He stumbled across my blog by way of the post that mentioned his name and tracked me down. I was shocked, thrilled and honored. We have been trading emails and catching up. The internet surely has changed the world!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Duke's Closet update

We are in the "R&D" phase of our product line for the Duke's Closet site. And at the same time trying to produce Photoshop pages for the web developer to work from. Not the recommended way of doing things I'm guessing. I think at this point we are holding them up. While I have a good idea on how I want the site pages to look, I am still struggling with actual product design. In the past two weeks I worked with color combinations- ink colors and t-shirt colors. I start on the computer trying to match shirt colors and ink colors as closely as possible. I actually scanned the swatch books for both the t-shirts and ink colors and used the eye dropper tool in Photoshop to pick and build the colors. I ordered a bunch of sample t-shirts and a stack of screenprinted transfers so I can experiment with color combinations. The process is slow, and painful. I am so anxious to get the site up and get on to designing packaging, hang tags, more product...! Should have done some of this groundwork months ago I suppose. I'll be pressing some samples later today and will post the results.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

happy mistakes

Justin had to come up with two birthday presents for a joint surprise birthday party for two close friends this Saturday night. He decided (wisely) that it would be cheaper to make presents than give the typical cash gift of $20 each. This is what he came up with (the third was for a friend that just happened to be there when he was pressing these.)
The ideas are based on a shirt he made for himself from a bunch of numbers that I ran on the digital cutter neglecting to mirror them before I cut them. This oversight on my part rendered the cut files useless for my purposes, but Justin used them to make a one of a kind t-shirt for himself. I think he might be onto something here...
A perfect example of what Paul Zelanski (one of my professors at UCONN), would have called a happy mistake.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

re-purposed 2

Another re-purposed building from the Village Center. This one was once a bank that now houses an antique shop. In the spirit of my good friend Bill, I think I've got my own series going here. These pieces are not done for clients, just for the enjoyment of doing them and for flexing those art muscles. So I suppose in that light, some client, someday will benefit from these exercises.
I did this awhile ago so I'm not sure I can retrace my steps. I know it includes high contrast and color fills. I also used the watercolor filter and the sky actually combines another image- a tight shot of frosted junipers, and color fill. I know there were more effects used on the juniper before I added that layer behind the building, but at the time I did this, I was going with the flow and didn't stop until I saw what I liked. Maybe next time I won't be so casual so I can actually take something away from the exercise that I will be able to use elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dr. Volcano

Some of the work I do is not what you would consider glamorous. And sometimes I don't charge nearly what it is worth, time and talent considered. And sometimes I should really charge author's alterations, particularly when the author insists on sitting beside me during the 8th and FINAL revisions (before he realizes that the earth has moved once again and the figure must be revised).
But some of the work I do out of love. Love for the client.
The work I do for Jelle de Boer falls into that category.
At Wesleyan University Jelle is :
Professor Emeritus,
Geotectonics, paleomagnetism
in the Appalachians, SE Asia,
and South and Central America.

To me he is Dr. Volcano. And he is, quite simply, a delightful man to work with. He is an expert in his field (I once saw him on The Discovery Channel!) and passionate about his work. It's easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm and forget that these are billable hours.
I take his hand-drawn charts and maps, scan them, then place them in a template layer in Illustrator. The process of redrawing these figures is very relaxing and hardly seems like work at times. (At least not during the first few drafts.) But when we are in the final stretch Dr. V will often sit beside me and make sure I translate his edits correctly. And the best part- he thinks what I do is magic!
Sometimes the best clients are not the ones with the deepest pockets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


This image is from a photograph I shot of one of several old factory buildings in the center of my small town. I pushed the contrast slider way over to the right in Photoshop, then proceeded to isolate areas and fill with color. I do these creative exercises to push myself to look at things differently and put a creative spin on the ordinary.
Also to blow off some creative steam when I've spent hours on end preparing quotes or processing screenprinting orders.
East Hampton was at one time famous for its bell factories. Many of these buildings are all but abandoned. Some house small businesses that come and go. But these extraordinary old buildings remain standing... for now. My hope is that they will find a useful purpose and remain landmarks for years to come.
I would love to see a gallery in one of them. A showplace for Connecticut artisans, a place to be inspired, learn, shop. The Frog Hollow of Connecticut.
Bill, Karen...are you listening?

Monday, March 10, 2008

show clients what they don't want

While I was working on my recent posts this weekend it occurred to me that at the same time I should be re-vamping my portfolio. I have not abandoned my graphic design business, but it has definitely taken a back seat to the t-shirt business lately. My hope though, is to one day in the not too distant future return to this work. I miss print... ink on paper that is.
I ran across this piece that was done a number of years ago and was pleased to discover that I had saved all of the original design comps that were presented to the client.
Reading from top to bottom, the first two images were alternatives to the one that the client selected for the cover of their product brochure.
When approaching a design assignment I will always respect my client's’ ideas and directions and reflect them in at least one design solution that I present. And, I will always give them something that they didn't think they wanted. In this case what they didn't think they wanted was a cover that did not show any of their product.
But that's the cover they chose.
I was able to convince them that the cover that suggested their product by showing the active sports that made use of their high-end stopwatches and timers just might say more about their product and their company than the product shots themselves.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

istock- designer's dream

This design was done for a single t-shirt printed using an ink jet transfer on the heat press. It was to be given out to the one graduating player on the EHHS boys’ basketball team.
Whether it's one t-shirt or one hundred we want the design to be unique. Clip art from helped create a unique design for this single t-shirt. Istock has a huge inventory of images- photos, illustrations and video clips, all fairly priced. A designer's dream!

from the first run...

Here's a "draft" of one of the designs we will be printing in the first run. We have chosen to print on pigment dyed t-shirts made in Vermont, which ironically has no surf...
But it's a state near and dear to our hearts just the same.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

learning to listen

I have been so busy with the t-shirt end of the business that I have been very neglectful in keeping this blog fresh as promised. I often struggle to strike a successful balance between the number of caps I have to wear and the number of hours in a day. Here's what's been going on at Red Barn Studios:
About six years ago when we got into the screenprinting business I essentially took on a second job. In addition to my existing graphic design business, I would now be devoting a part of each day to the necessary maintenance work critical to growing a new business. Much of this work is non-creative in the traditional sense... marketing, preparing quotes, processing orders, customer support. I'm pleased to say that my efforts are paying off as the business grows each year.
Over a year ago we decided to add an e-commerce element to our screenprinting business. Unlike our current custom order business, this would be a preprinted line of t-shirts that we would design, print, and sell online. I went back and forth with concepts ranging from soccer t-shirts, to humorous t-shirts and I even considered soliciting designs that would be voted on by the online community, the winners going to print. was doing this, quite successfully and a number of other sites as well. The fact that it was already being done didn't intimidate me in the least, there's always room for competition. Need I mention Home Depot & Lowes, McDonald's & Burger King, etc., etc?
But all along, something just didn't feel right. None of the ideas really clicked, even when I took a number of them well into product development. I felt that my partner, while supportive, was not 100% onboard. And I wasn't comfortable going forward without 100% enthusiasm.
So oddly, the question became not "what did the t-shirt buying public want?" but "what would Flip get jazzed about?
For months he had been telling me that he wanted to design a few surfing t-shirts and a few caps and put them on ebay. I wasn't listening when he went on and on about designing for the older, real surfers. Quicksilver and Billabong had it covered for the younger crowd as well as all the surfer wannabes. The ones who had never surfed but bought into the culture nonetheless. He was talking about cool stuff for his generation of surfers. But again, I wasn't listening. You see, as soon as he mentioned ebay I stopped listening. That's not what I had in mind.
But had I not been so close-minded I would have paid attention to the important part. What would Flip get jazzed about? He'd been telling me all along.
So if you visit you'll see our recently published under construction page. And you'll see Flip off to pursue his passion.
As for me, my passion is in designing. More on that to come.