57 Inspirational Sites from 7 Remarkable Apparel Designers

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I gathered 7 of the top t-shirt designers today and asked each of them for a handful of sites they couldn’t live without; sites they surf for inspiration, design resources, advice, community, etc. I was surprised at what I found. A few sites that I didn’t expect and some I’ve never heard of. And of course, there were a few sites that made it into almost every list.

Most of these artists hang out on the t-shirt site www.emptees.com and the shirts they’ve designed can be seen plastered all over the walls at retail stores like Hot Topic or winning tee of the month over at Design by Humans. So if you’re looking for the definitive list of what real pros are looking at for inspiration and resources, this is it.

Richard Minino (aka Horsebites):

- horsebitesdesign.com

Horsebites

Richard has been one of my favorite artists over the past 1-2 years. His illustrative style is a big influence in my work if you couldn’t tell. He’s done work for countless bands and he’s also the guy responsible for the distinctive branding behind The Fest – the best punk music weekend of the year. He also plays in the bands New Mexican Disaster Squad and Gatorface. Here are five sites he drools over (in his own words):

  • zenvironments.com
    Zack Johnsen is a bad ass. His style puts me to shame everytime I see it but it inspires the hell out of me. His work keeps getting better too. That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t stay complacent. He just keeps getting better. His use of watercolor mixed with pencil and ink is a perfect blend of mediums. I also love how evertyhing has an edge to it and is in your face.
  • poundart.com
    What can I say? Garbage Pail Kids were one of the best things to happen to me as a kid. I was obsessed with these wonderful illustrations. I mean how else can you go against the mainstream toy sensation Cabbage Patch Kids by making stickers mocking them with puke, guts, boogers, butts and everything else nasty for kids to laugh and stick them on everything? Amazing times.
  • edroth.com
    The late Ed Roth is a super hero to me. I really freaked the first time when I saw his work. I was super young and craving anything low brow and weird. Although I didn’t know it at the time but he completely changed my life because with out him the illustration on a t-shirt wouldn’t be the same. He made it what it is. That’s what made me so interested in GPK in the first place! I love going to his site and checking out the decals and images. His documentary that just came out is amazing!! A true legend.
  • jimphillips.comNow here is the guy who took all the things I loved as a kid and made them extremely bad ass. I remember sitting with all my friends and checking out everyones skate graphics and I would look at it way longer then they would and I would want to preserve it somehow instead of messing it up. I was way more of a drawer instead of a skater. Although his site is set up real bad and it doesn’t have too much stuff, the little stuff he has makes my brain hurt and scream for more!
  • emptees.comThe only reason I put this as number one is because I can’t stop going to it. Ever since I joined (thanx to you and a few others) It’s been interupting my work schedule. I love this site. I’ve met amazing people and have a first eye on which the newest designs are coming out by my best friends. It also opened my eyes to sharing more and knowing that people got your back when people rip you off. Super amazing site and a great creative release.

Dan Mumford

- dan-mumford.com

Dan Mumford

Dan Mumford is an amazing illustrator that popped up on my radar this past year. His use of color is astounding and the detail in his linework is just mind boggling. I’ve used some of his artwork as my desktop wallpaper for a while. The guy is a true pro.

  • itsnicethat.com
    Great daily blogs from a core group of posters and guest posters every week, always something nice and interesting to look at, and always unearthing new talent.
  • manystuff.org
    Again, another great site with interesting daily posts.
  • theserif.net
    And another, as you can see..i like my daily post websites!
  • digitalartsonline.co.uk
    As ive gotten more into working digitally ive found digital arts quite a useful portal for tutorials etc. Good place to find some little tricks.
  • iwatchstuff.com
    I should probably explain this one, but being an avid movie fan i check this site everyday to see the latest trailers and posters, i have a great interest in movie posters etc and narrative, not really a design website though!

Advice from Dan: First and foremost, don’t take too much from other artists work, its all very well being inspired by someone, but there’s a fine line between inspiration and outright copying. Secondly i get a lot of people asking me how to get their work out there and get recognition, well unfortunately there is no easy answer here, you simply have to get it out there in anyway you can and get involved in anything you can.

There are always opportunities out there for young illustrators and designers, competitions, exhibitions, even just making fliers for various happenings in your local area, you just have to take these opportunities. Just because you did a degree for three years doesn’t mean you will automatically do well when you leave, its all about knowing people and having the contacts, like any industry, so if you are in university then take that opportunity to get out there and make contacts before you leave, its a tough industry and you need all the head start you can get!

Derek Deal

- derekdeal.com

Derek Deal

Derek Deal is another talented illustrator who has appeared on my radar after he destroys the competition over at emptees.com. Winning Shirt of the Day countless times and also snagging a shirt of the month with his homage to Garbage Pail Kids tee.

  • gigposters.com
    I’ve been a poster collector since I eyed my first Kozik at 17. Some of the best artists in the music industry post here.
  • emptees.com
    The majority of my work revolves around apparel, so I usually frequent this site a few times a day.
  • flickr.com
    Now that I’ve built up the network, its become an incredible resource. Receiving periodic updates from not only my favorite designers and illustrators, but also photographers and retro image archivers has created an invaluable collection of inspirational imagery.
  • behance.net
  • logopond.com
    On the rare occasion that I do some branding, this is the place I go to see what’s working
  • beautifuldecay.com
    It came to my attention recently that its actually a publication…Ive been resourcing the apparel in their store for months…no idea.
  • iwantyourskull.com
  • computerarts.co.uk
    Every now and then I scan Computer Arts mag for tuts, to either brush up on my skills or try something new. When I had a subscription I learned more about Photoshop there than I did in school.
  • johnkstuff.blogspot.com
    The blog of John K, creator of Ren and Stimpy, I just started reading, but so far I’ve enjoyed reading about his inspirations and thoughts on animation and character development.

Some words from Derek: I usually feel the most inspired when I’m away from the screen. Every now and then ill find myself getting into a visual turnstyle, so I’ll mix it up and go to a library or an antique store. As much as I’m online, it’s almost startling how much of the world hasn’t been scanned in yet. Sometimes just taking walk or drive to some music, or taking a couple steps away from the computer to the drawing table or the couch to do some sketching does a lot of good. It’s easy to get too reliant on imagery to fuel your creativity, especially when its so accessible. Just putting the pencil to paper and letting everything you’ve been digesting spill out on the page whether you’ve got something in mind or not can do wonders.

AJ Dimarucot

- collision-theory.com

Collision Theory

AJ is an artist that I see has a vision. He’s not content with looking like everyone else and oftentimes his designs are very experimental. He pushes the envelope conceptually of what can be printed on a t-shirt. And he was very generous with his list for us. He even broke it down into categories for everyone.

INSPIRATION:

  • Notcot.org
    Pure design/visual/art treat! Once you check out the way they lay out their features you can’t help but click on them. Lots of inspiration covering everything from design, architecture, art, photography etc.
  • joshspear.com, thecoolhunter.net, coolhunting.com
    Similar to Notcot.org but features are more in-depth. I find inspiration not only in graphic design but in all aspects of art and design. These sites have an abundance.
  • ffffound.com
    Pure eye candy. It’s a social bookmarking site for images. You can’t imagine how many images i’ve downloaded from this site alone. I keep a folder on my laptop that says “INSPIRATION” and most of the content there comes from this site.

All these are totally invaluable to me because anytime I feel like I’m
in a creative rut I just open up my folder of ‘inspiration’ or visit these sites.
The visual stimuli alone can jump start any design task.

GETTING WORK:

  • coroflot.com, behance.net, styleportfolios.com
    I’ve bunched these together because I use them to get my work out there. I’ve put up my folio and have networked with other artists and designers. This has led to some good leads and actual freelance work. Browsing other folios also gives you an idea what other designers are doing.
  • craigslist.org, guru.com
    Contrary to popular belief, I’ve actually found some decent clients over there who pay well. But it’s a matter of rummaging through the crap to find the good ones. Being a freelance t-shirt designer, work from here has partly sustained me for almost a year now.

Since July 07, I’ve been totally committed to t-shirt design work and it’s paid off quite well. Last February 08, I finally left my day job as an Art Director for an ad agency and have focused solely on freelance work. Halfway into the year and I’ve already earned twice as much as what I would have earned in a year in my previous job. So it’s been totally awesome!

ESTABLISHING MY STYLE:

  • designbyhumans.com, threadless.com
    I’ve recently been successful in these two sites (threadless soon!) and it’s been great at giving me confidence in developing my own style. Working with clients, you have room to adjust based on the what hey want, as long as it’s close to your style. But submitting designs to these sites, it gives you total freedom to do your thing. As a younger designer, I tried too much to fit into the style of dbh and threadless, that didn’t work. But as soon as I started to do my own thing everything seems to fall into place. Getting loves and getting my designs printed. It’s also good for work because some clients have found me on these sites.

T-SHIRT FOCUS:

  • emptees.com
    My favorite site at the moment. I get to showcase my t-shirt designs, it’s a great way to find potential clients. But what I love about this site is the bonding and camaraderie that you form with other t-shirt artists/designers. Tons of drama on the message boards [from time to time] but it’s all good.
  • rumplo.com
    Similar to notcot.org but only for t-shirts. It also has a social networking aspect but not as vibrant as emptees. I love the variety of t-shirt styles over here compared to emptees though.

RESOURCES:

  • vecteezy.com, bittbox.com, psdtuts.com, dafont.com
    Aside from Go Media, I visit these sites occasionally to pick up some skillzz or a few vectors and fonts here and there.
  • dobizo.com
    Great resource for learning about the business aspects of putting up a clothing brand. Also has a social networking aspect but I’ve only started to use this.
  • freelanceswitch.com
    Tons of good advice for freelancers.

Godmachine

- godmachinedesigns.blogspot.com

Godmachine

Godmachine (real name Aziz) is some fresh talent that has been exploding this year. That’s not an understatement. As of this writing, he’s been awarded with 15 Shirt of the Day awards and one Shirt of the Month for this design. His style is raw and very illustrative. As drawing makes a big push in the t-shirt design community, Godmachine is shoving his way to the front of the crowd. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

He provided us a quick list of sites he loves:

Chris Sandlin

- sockmonkee.com

Chris Sandlin

Chris is another talented illustrator that I noticed because of Emptees. He’s got a very pro-looking and dare I say “cartoony” style. He’s won his share of SOTD’s as well (13 as of this writing). He sent me a quick list of links that he loves as well as a few books that he finds inspirational.

Books/Magazines

Wes Allen

- notafashion.com

Wes Allen

Wes is a versatile designer that has been establishing himself as a premier artist for the music industry. He’s also on Emptees and his work is often seen in retail stores that sell band merch.

Wes says, “Here are a few sites that I always look at for inspiration. Just about all of them are well known for their collage work. I would not be doing the type of design work I do today without the inspiration of these people. I’m a sucker for crazy collages using vintage photos. In my opinion, keeping yourself inspired is one of the most important things about designing.”

So that’s about it. That’s a whole lot of resources for the aspiring artist who wants to break into the music industry. These guys are pros at what they do and are all around good people. They’re nice and were more than willing to share a few of their “secret” resources hidden behind their bookmarks.

Tell us YOUR thoughts

These artists want to hear what you think. Just post a comment and I’ll have them answer them right here on this post. And feel free to give us sites YOU can’t live without!

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About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.

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