The Final Shirt for Thoughtsarizen - A Walk Through My Design Process

Final Tee Shirt Design. Click to Enlarge.
It's been a long while since I started doing work for rapper Thoughtsarizen. He spotted some work of mine on Deviantart which started a dialog between us. I quoted him a price and the rest is history. Since I started doing illustration work for him I have done 2 tee-shirts, 1 poster and 1 CD sleeve. I think this is a great final piece because I think it acts as a grand finale.

This is only a 3 color tee shirt design. I've had people ask me how I get the level of depth I can get in so few colors. I learned from Youtube videos from a good friend of mine, artist Tony Avina. Any way, this blog entry is all about this piece from start to finish. We will explore my thought process, why I decided to do certain things and what steps I took to achieve this final product. I'd love to answer and questions or if you have any tips on how I can do a certain process even easier, then by all means let me know! Thanks, and enjoy the walk-through.

Step 1: Concept Sketch

Concept Sketch. Click to Enlarge.
This is where we begin, with an idea. My client expressed to me that he really likes Affliction style tee-shirts. As an illustrator and tee-shirt artist, this is one of those face to palm moments where you curse under your breath and wonder how you're going to get this done. For some of you this may not be that bad of a request, but in my case, it's really not a style I work with. But the customer is a paying one and as an Illustrator, I am willing to do anything to please a paying customer.

So, after perusing the Affliction website and deciding I was in trouble, I got a few ideas, but decided I wanted to put my own spin on this design. The picture to the left is the concept sketch I sent to my client. You can see sometimes I talk to myself on paper and ask questions and take notes. Though overall, a lot of  the basic idea of this design stayed the same in the final product, there were a lot of changes on the way.

Step 2: Pencils

Finished Pencils. Click to Enlarge.
After I sent that sketch to my client and he enthusiastically approved of the idea, it's time to move onto the pencils. Now, with this particular piece, I wanted to keep my pencils looser than I usually do. A lot of times I like to pencil really tight so that when I ink, it leaves me little guess work. I did my pencils digitally. In fact, not a single part of this design was done on actual paper. You will notice that my pencils are just a more refined version of my concept sketch. I wanted lines that were solid and less sketchy.

Now, when I pencil, I have a few habits. First, I like to "x" large areas that will get filled in. I also like to scribble these areas in. This is basically leaving me a note saying, "Hey, when you ink me, just fill this part in." Also, if you look at the speakers and the mics, you will see I just roughly slashed some lines representing the mesh pattern. This is not how I intended to ink the final at all. What I'm really doing is leaving a symbol representing a mesh. To achieve the true mesh feel later on when I ink, I will have to look at several photo references so I know how to draw it. It's also in that phase that I abandon the boom-box from this drawing for more of a ghetto-blaster look.

Step 3: Inks
Partially Finished Inks. Click to Enlarge

Inking is by far the longest step in my opinion. There is a lot of fine tuning and detail that goes into inking. When you ink, you are creating form and the general feel of the overall piece. I wanted this one to have a darker feel so that's where I went with it.

When you look at this piece to the right, the first thing you're going to notice is that there are a lot of things missing. That's because this one is from a progress report I sent to my client and isn't the finished inks. You will also notice that my line weights changes in the final piece. That's because I saw the initial problems and weak areas in this step of the process and went in for cleanup and adjusting after I finished laying everything down.

I only ever ink digitally. When inking, the ability to hit "undo", to copy and paste and to re-size and adjust things is invaluable. You will make mistakes. In fact, you will make a lot of mistakes. It's frustrating for me and takes a long time. This is the phase of the process that I procrastinate the most. I'm not an inker so I hate doing it. But it's a very important step that  absolutely has to be done.

Step 4: Flat Colors

Flat Colors. Click to Enlarge
The first and least fun step of coloring is to lay down your flat colors first. It's important for me to have the ink layer as the highest layer, and then have each color have it's own individual layers. This is because when I set this file up to go to a screen printer, I need to have my colors separated and make sure no colors are overlapping each other.

You may notice I also added a texture to the crest. I did this by taking one of the many high resolution texture files I keep, in this case concrete, and creating a half-tone of it. I do that by first overlaying it on top of the gray layer. I erase until it's just over the crest and then I select everything on that texture layer and copy it. I go to "new" and start a new document. I make sure that my resolution is the same (300dpi) and I will be working in grayscale. I paste the shield texture and go to Image>Mode>Bitmap. I make sure I am making round dots for this screen and that my settings are where I want them. I experimented a lot to find the settings I'm comfortable with. Then I copy it out of there and paste it back in place on the coloring file. All I gotta do is delete all the white on that layer and delete the un-halftoned original texture layer. Now that texture is entirely composed of solid black half-tone dots.
Now, you will see I'm only working in 4 colors at this point. Red, black, white and grey. I know what you're thinking, "But Alex, you told me you did a 3 color design at the beginning of this whole walk-through." That's true I did. In the end, one of the color layers will actually be represented by the tee-shirts color it's self. I think it's important not to put too much ink on a shirt as it can be itchy and uncomfortable. Plus, the fewer colors you print, the cheaper the shirt is!

Step 5: Rendering

Final Rendered Piece. Click to Enlarge
This is my favorite phase, but it's also the most complicated phase. This is where I render highlights, shadows and textures and half-tone them for the final shirt. I do this by utilizing a lot of layers. I start off with a new black and a new white layer. The black layer will be for shadows, and the white one will be for highlights. I paint with a variety of brushes at this point with a very low opacity. This allows me to develop realistic feeling light and shadow. When completed, we have a beautifully rendered piece that's not printable. What we have to do is take all of these light and shadow layers I create, and I had to create several of them to be on top of certain color layers, and we have to half-tone these layers just like we did with that concrete texture. Only, when I did the highlights and shadows, I chose to use line half-tones. I like the look and feel of the line half-tones. The dot pattern ones can feel a little sloppy some times. I think the lines work well with highlights and shadows.

In the end, after everything is rendered and half-toned, to make sure no half-tones overlap each other, I need to start deleting content. What I do is start with the top most layer, in this case, the ink layer. I select all the black in that layer, and going down each individual layer, I delete that selected section of color. This will ensure that the only thing that will print in that section will be the black. I do this for each individual layer until I'm at the bottom. Once I'm there, I select all layers that contain like colors and I merge them together. The layer order stops mattering since nothing is overlapping anything. Now I'm back down to 4 layers. Black, red, white and gray. I created the final tee comps by selecting all the color layers except for the one assigned by the shirt color and pasting this image onto that shirt laid out how I want to present them.

Final Design Comp - Click to Enlarge
This design comp is one of the presentation jpegs I send to my client to say, "Hey, I'm done!" This will help him visualize the final shirt. Now, he can adjust the size and position how ever he likes, after all, he's buying the artwork. This is just my vision and my suggestion. I can tell you the final shirt will change from what we see here. I know he's got a Graphic Designer that will be adding his name and logo to this final shirt so it actually works as a band shirt.

So that's it! This was probably my longest post ever but it was fun to re-live this piece step by step and answer some questions I've received in the past few months about my process. Not everyone works like I do. In art, there are an infinite number of ways to do things. This is just the way I'm comfortable doing things. Not a piece goes by though where I don't learn a newer easier way of doing something. So, I'm sure I'll have another walk-through in the near future. Thanks for reading and as always, I love comments and feedback! Let me know your thoughts and questions! Thank you.

2 shout outs:

Salih Gönenli said...

love tutorials like this ! inspiringly ! :)

Alexander C. Pawlicki said...


Post a Comment

Blog content and images posted copyright Alexander Pawlicki. Powered by Blogger.