Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis. This weeks post is a short insight into my experience with finding ideas.
Boy, have I learned a lot about the importance of a good idea over the past years. In order to tell my stories, my comics have run anywhere between 4 and 66 pages; before I began designing shirts I didn’t consider “one-image-cartoons” to be my strength (and I still don’t). Designing for shirts made me change the way I told a story and learn to tighten up my ideas. The following list represents the most important things I’ve learned when designing for shirts (and illustration in general):
The idea has to be clear
The ideal idea for shirts works with one image. However, since I came from comics, I learned to mix sequential storytelling with clear, shirt-friendly design (“raster designs”).
The idea should touch something in people’s hearts: Humor, melancholy, happiness, delight – anything that makes the viewer go “Awwww” or “Wow” or “cool” etc. You can test an idea by showing the rough doodle to a group of friends you trust and see how they react. I always wait for a big laugh to confirm that my idea might be good. Making doodles is important! I wrote a whole post about it for next week :)
For me, the most important journey has been to find my niche: that one thing that made me recognizable to others - others might call this “finding your style”. I want to underline that finding your style is a journey – it’s not something that happens overnight. You find it by drawing a lot, by designing a lot, by failing and succeeding (much more failing). You find it by asking for feedback from other people who you respect, by trusting their feedback and by being modest. You find it by being interested in the world, in other people’s work and by being persistent. There is a chance that you will never feel like you’ve arrived at a style, and that’s ok, too.
Finding the Magic Zone
One: Themes you love
Being a huge nerd has been a great point to base my style/concepts; I adore comics, video games, movies and RPGs. I love certain character archetypes from popular culture: Ninjas, zombies, wizards, zombies, killer rabbits etc. So I began to center my designs around things I loved, which is the best thing you can do because it will show in your designs that the things you draw are also the things that make you laugh (or cry or whatever). So start there! Start with the topics/themes you love and that make you happy. Below is stuff I love :3
Two: Themes people love
From there, find out what big groups of people love. Finding the intersection between the things you love and the things people love shouldn’t be too hard. For example, I love ninjas. Many other people love ninjas. SO I make many shirts about ninjas. Another example: I love the fucked up dreams I have sometimes – most people can’t relate to my dreams because they are very subjective. So I don’t draw (many) shirts based on my dreams (however, that doesn’t stop me from drawing them for fun in my sketchbook).
Three: The commercial factor
Once you have an idea, ask yourself: Will it work well on a shirt? Will people get it within a few seconds? Some designs work far better as posters, cards and prints in general than shirts (which is fine) – others are perfect to be worn on a chest. In addition, ideas that are “timeless” will sell far longer than super-current designs. For example, my ninja designs still sell well after many years. My “Parks and Recreation” design relating to a specific episode doesn’t sell at all anymore. You might want to keep that in mind.
The intersection between those three factors (What I love, what people love, commercial factor) is the magic zone that will get you a potential best-seller.
Finding the "perfect idea" takes practice and sometimes luck. It took me a few years to "get a feeling" for ideas that work well. Be patient. Try and test ideas. Stay true to yourself. Find the magic zone ;)