Ahh, the life of a t-shirt designer. As many can attest, it is not easy. You come up with your brilliant, original ideas. You execute them perfectly. You put them on a t-shirt, you put your shirts onto your online store or social media channels, you share them with family and friends…and more often than not they don’t go flying off the shelves like you hoped they would.
It’s a common issue faced by thousands of aspiring t-shirt artists on a daily basis, even the most talented of them. It’s a crowded playing field with a lot of noise to break through. So, what is it that inspires them to keep on going even when the odds are stacked against them? What drives a t-shirt designer to keep honing their craft and sharing their work with as many people as possible, even when the sales don’t immediately follow?
I recently had the chance to chat with an aspiring t-shirt artist named Ryan Doran out of Illinois. When he’s not raising his family and working his day job, Ryan creates incredible designs and shares them in as many places as possible, including his store on Teepublic: https://www.teepublic.com/user/zeromus88
Ryan represents the massive amount of t-shirt artists and designers whose love for their craft drives them to keep pushing on never letting adversity diminish their creative juices.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’m a mechanical drafter; full time, for a company that makes pneumatic and hydraulic actuators. Husband and Stepdad. I love video games, music, and movies. I like building and crafting things, and home improvement projects. I’m a jack of all trades, sort of. Really, I like giving things shape, and turning old things into something new, or making something out of nothing. I like showing people something they may have never thought of before or pointing out similarities in things that maybe nobody but me notices. With that being said, my favorite types of designs I create are mashups of characters or scenarios from different franchises. Things that make people go “Haha, I see what he did there!” or “Wow, I never thought of it like that, but that fits so well!” I started my first shirt back in like 2013, but it kind of just sat on my hard drive until I remembered it recently. Ironically, it’s STILL not finished because I’ve been getting distracted by a bunch of other designs. I REALLY started focusing on documenting all my t-shirt ideas and putting some time and effort into my works only since this past February. Currently, I have close to 500 ideas I want to get around to (and climbing).
Why did you start designing t-shirts? Who or what are some of your inspirations for design?
I started designing t-shirts because I kept getting neat idea after neat idea and wanted to share them with everyone; but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I figured I may as well just draw them out. Then, with them already drawn out, I thought “why not just make the pictures wearable?” Plus, I plan on buying a lot of my own shirts, because, well… these are things I love, and what better way for me to share them with the world than by being my own billboard? In addition to that, there’s just something therapeutic for me in bringing a work from concept, through the drawing phase to a finished work. As far as inspiration for my design, really anything video game, music, movie, art, or pop-culture related that I can look at and pinpoint a similarity with something else, that I think will look cool and people might want to wear. Really, all my stuff is just fan art of something or another.
How do you find time to design as it’s not your day job?
Lol, spending WAY too much of my spare time behind the screen of my laptop when there are still plenty of things to do around the house, or out in the yard, or to our two vehicles. My wife and kids are really supportive of what I do, though, and they help out a lot.
How can people find your designs online?
I upload all my designs to Teepublic, but really, I’m on most social media sites. Anyone can follow me on any of those. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr more than the others, though.
What goals do you have in relation to your t-shirt designing?
To be more widely recognized, and have my own small fanbase, I guess. Other than that, only to get better and keep churning out some neat stuff. I’d like to be able to draw faster, but practice and time will help with that.
If you could get any design question answered, what would it be?
I can’t say I really have any questions. When I’m stumped by something I research it until I find an answer or a solution. That’s the one thing that’s most important with being self-taught in anything: wondering is a great thing, but ultimately useless unless you use it as fuel to find your answers.
What do you do to improve your design skills?
Keep drawing. Keep in the loop with other designers on social media that you follow. Pay attention to designs you see to pick up on styles you may want to adopt, or tricks they’ve used in their works. Once you figure out how they did something, you can use it in your own designs.
As an independent artist, what do you see as your biggest challenge?
Aside from lack of time, hands down: self-promotion. You can post things on every social media site that you can think of, but unless you’re paying to run ads, chances are you won’t get noticed much.
Anything you would like to say to others who are thinking about getting into t-shirt design?
Draw as often as possible. Learn as many new tricks as you can for the program(s) that you use. Keep in the loop in social media, and what’s trending; or focus on things what you know will be received well within the communities they’re intended for. Keep submitting designs, and don’t get discouraged at how long it takes to get out there!