Looking back is an exercise in restraint- so much of my early stuff was cringe-worthy, fueled by the crazy, DIY scene I was so passionately involved with at the time. I got so much support early on from friends and peers that I am incredibly thankful for- especially as I sift through old photos of frankly laughably terrible work to attempt to put together this post. But one has to remind themselves to stay focused and grounded, as painful as it may be that is the nature of going back through old work, to see ones’ growth.
“Dude, Quentin Tarantino liked your shirt!” I remember that phone call vividly. I had done a t-shirt design for the band Bless The Fallen, who had a fan who was also a model. They explained that she was doing a shoot wearing their shirt (pictured above), and the acclaimed director walked through the set. As he passed her, he stopped and said “nice shirt”. The young band, upon hearing this story, had to let me know that the shirt design had been “Tarantino approved”. Now I have no way of verifying this story, but at the time, it seemed like such an accomplishment. In hindsight, it was probably more about how Quentin hit on young models than anything.
It’s funny- I think doing t-shirt designs may have been the thing that got me started in my career. I remember taking a black marker to white undershirts in high school to create t-shirts for my (terrible) punk band, which i wish i had photos of. Working as many designers do on a pretty-much consistently pro-bono basis early on, I think the first shirt that was actually printed was for the band I was in freshman year of college, and my first paid gig came post-college.
You make mistakes, you stumble, but most importantly you learn. I was young, arrogant and idealistic, and my work reflected it. I wanted to be not just edgy but ahead of the curve. Later came focus, process, and application. But there was something to that old method, a certain raw passion that I still try to hold on to, especially when it comes to my art.
I still find creating apparel designs incredibly rewarding. There’s that intangible something in it that invokes that old DIY mindset, that feeling of accomplishment that stems from that adolescent place. And let’s face it, there’s just something cool about seeing bands, fans, and artists you respect wearing and appreciating something you created for them.
More important than looking backward is looking forward.Since those early days I have gone on to do apparel designs for bands, charities, clothing brands, and many other organizations. I’ve created corporate-focused work that I’m actually very proud of- even if 17-year-old me still winces about it a little. In the end there will always be a small fanboy inside me whose heart still flutters with each click or pen stroke as I create. Each experience brings new insight and growth, but I will never forget those early principles I promised myself early on that as my career advanced I would hold on to.