Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kevlar51 Illustrations: Behind the Design

I came across a little Facebook page for t-shirt designs called Kevlar51 Illustrations.  I was blown away by just how awesome these shirt designs looked.  I wanted to know just exactly went on in the artist's mind so I asked designer Kevin Phelps a couple of questions.  What he said really took me by surprise!

Kevlar51 Illustrations create a wide variety of T-shirt designs, and they would be loved by geeks and non-geeks alike!  Check him out when you get the chance!  

Robot Atlas Shrugged = AWESOME.
What made you get into the art of making T-shirts?
I’d been toying with entering the Derby on for a while, lamenting the fact that I hadn’t done much of anything creative in a long time. Eventually I bit the bullet and entered with a truly awful design. My design the following week was even worse. But in the meantime, I was getting more familiar with the digital tools at my disposal and I the quality of my work really improved. At that point I was pretty much hooked.
T-shirt design is an accessible way for an artist to showcase his or her work to a market that’s ready and willing to buy it—so there’s that bonus too.

This is cute.  DON'T LIE.
I've noticed that you have a lot of robot shirts.  Do they hold a special place in your heart?
Haha, I do like robots. They’re nice because you can pretty much make them do anything you want and no one’s going to say “hey, a robot can’t do that!”  But it’s kind of funny, because I ususally draw my robots doing unremarkable things that a normal person would do, which I think adds a touch of whimsy.
Do you use your artwork for anything else?
Not really. One day I’ll find the time to send my work around to places that don’t just do T-shirts. But at the moment, available time is scarce.

Where does the inspiration for the shirt usually come from?
All over the place—something I see, something I smell, something I read, a funny joke someone tells me. Sitting down and brainstorming works to an extent, but I try to keep a paper and pen around as much as I can to jot down ideas that pop up throughout the day. I’ve got a stack of post-it’s with rough ideas that I’ve collected at my desk.  The worst is when I’m driving in a car and come up with what I think is just the greatest thing ever, but can’t write it down.
Clue is awesome, but it's got nothing on this shirt.
Is it hard to tell an entire story with a single picture and no words? I notice this from the depth of world and characters your t-shirt designs create.
Well thanks! I think the trick is to focus on the snapshot—the moment in time that I’m capturing. I’m conscious that there’s a back story, but I try my best to have the viewer write it themselves by putting one or two elements in there that raise questions and make them wonder beyond what they’re seeing. The truly “hard” part is creating that in a shirt that’s only going to be looked at for 3 seconds or so.

This is my favorite, alas it was rejected from woot.
How would we get a hold on one or all of your shirts if we wanted them?
It’s tough at the moment; since most sites are dailies, I don’t have much out there that’s consistently available. One of these days I’m going to set up a proper store on I’d certainly encourage everyone to follow me at and if there’s something in particular you’d like, then contact me (kevlar51 at gmail dot com) and I’ll see what I can do.
Is there anything you'd like to add for the readers who would like to dive into any business but haven't had that extra boost to do it?
I’d say do your research first. Understand the market and the competition out there (most of whom turn out to be very valuable friends)—don’t be disappointed or discouraged if you don’t find instant success in whatever it is you do. Who knows, you might be a rare lucky case where the success IS instant—either way, ALWAYS work towards improvement.

There you have it, folks.  Here's a man who's taking his passion and making it work for him.  I must say, it really does seem to be working!  I expect that we'll be seeing a lot more Kevlar51 artwork in the future, be it concept art, awesome t-shirts, backpacks, shoes... his opportunities are endless!

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