If you asked me what I love the most about working in a screen printing shop, Id say its the people. Not just the ones we print for, but the creative, amazing individuals that I am lucky enough to spend 8 AM- 5PM with every weekday. If youve met me, then you know I am an energy-feeder (not the vampire kind, but one who works harder, aims higher and generally does better when surrounded by positive, productive and like-minded people). Its both a good thing and a bad thing, but I will say it definitely helps me connect with the right people; I have pretty good intuition when it comes to first impressions, and generally I can tell right away if someones personality will mesh with mine.
Enter Devin Barnes.
From Day 1, I was a fan of Devin. The dude rolls in on any given day, sporting a pair of thick-framed glasses, a black flat cap and a gently-worn T-shirt that either displays a familiar comic book character or an obscure band I already want to know more about. His love for art, design and science of all types runs deep; so deep, that I regularly find myself engaged in 20-minute conversations with him about everything, from the inspiration behind specific punk rock posters to the logistics that go into developing medieval combat weapons. One time I spent an entire afternoon Googling hashing after Devin filled me in on the 78-year-old concept behind his Wednesday night plans (non-competitive social running clubs with BEER!). His passion for knowledge and creation is something to be jealous of but its also contagious, which makes all of us at Shirt Kong the lucky ones.
• How did you initially get into designing? What was your first graphic design job (position or project)?I spent a lot of time doing work at home to build up a portfolio. At the time, I was working at a fireplace factory stamping out sheet metal. I decided that I could not stand to work like that any more, and I took the leap, quit the factory and began taking my portfolio into every shop that was the least bit design-oriented. My first real design job was at a Sign A Rama in Swansea, IL. It was a painful process, learning to work in a place where I was the only designer, all while learning to use an entirely new software. The hardest thing about sign-designing is that often there can be $10,000-20,000 invested in the product you are designing. It was a lot to hang over the head of a designer in his earliest stages of development. It was super stressful and at times entirely overwhelming, but I remember when things would get tough, I would remind myself that I was laying the foundation for a future where I would have the experience and skills to find the job I dreamt of. I firmly believe that my trials and tribulations in design have tempered me and prepared me for any challenges I face in the future. Also, I was reassured every day when I saw how happy my customers where and heard their praise for my work. One time I got to design all of the signage for a fish and chicken restaurant that was going up in Belleville, IL. I designed the paper menus, exterior signs, floor mats and overhead menus. They were so happy, they would bring me food at work all the time. And they are still there, still open, and still have my signs. They still remember me when I go in and still thank me for my work. Customers got me through a lot of my insecurities, and I thank them all.
• What is your design background?I feel like I have always been designing. In grade school when we would do class projects, I was always the one to step outside the boundaries of the assignment and try something unique. I specifically remember making Christmas snakes in 4th grade. They where these triangular, construction paper snakes with slits down their backs so that they would bend, and they had Santa hats on their heads. When I did mine, I decided to make it a hot rod Christmas snake, so I gave it wheels and flaming tailpipes. Every Christmas, I see little me’s Christmas snake because my mom still has it. I would always draw and paint and write because deep down I always knew I wanted to create. After an initial attempt at going to school for psychology, I took some time to re-evaluate my career choice . I went to ITT Tech for Game Design and Multimedia. While I was there, I strove to push every project to the limits of my abilities and learn how to move forward into the outer reaches of my imagination, places that I didn’t even know I could go. However, things got rocky, and I couldn’t make the trip to school (which was about 90 minutes per day, three times a week), so I put myself on a path of self-education. I used the education I had gained so far, coupled that with my design instincts and decided that no matter what it took, I was going to be a graphic designer.
• Did you go to school for apparel design, or was your talent something you discovered on your own?I began in signs, as I had mentioned. But, for some reason, screen printing was always nagging at me. I think it was because I didn’t understand how the process worked, but I loved the idea of it and I wanted to know. It wasn’t until I applied my existing talents to apparel design that I learned what I was capable of.
• Why do you enjoy designing T-shirts?I love the way I can play with color and form on T-shirts. There are so many options and styles that I never get bored. I also like the idea of producing art that someone can wear. People have their favorite T-shirts, or at least I know I do. I like to think that some of the designs I make are someone elses favorites.
• Do you have a favorite theme, style or element that you draw from when creating your designs (comic book style, vintage style, etc.)?Oh so many, but I think most of all I like broken things, old things and worn out things. Vintage tech that will someday be viewed as artifacts from a golden era in product design. It seems like things used to have a form over function approach that I really appreciate. I’m also a big fan of rock poster art. There is so much freedom in those designs, and you can feel the artists touch in the finished product.
• What is your favorite design you’ve done? Why?That’s a tough one. I think my favorite design is a color pencil drawing I did for my daughters room. When I was in the factory, I would draw a lot in between loading the sheet metal. It was there that I conceived the initial concept for “The Song of the Oprapus”. I took the concept sketch (drawn on the back of a greasy piece of paper I used to mark my part list) into my drawing class, broke out my prismacolor pencils and began working on what was to be my final for the class. After class, I got it framed, and it now hangs above my daughter’s bed. I love the whimsical scene and the way it captures a sense of wonder. It’s perfect for my little girl.
• What is your most popular design that you’ve created (based on feedback)? Why do you think it’s the most popular?You know, I’ve never really thought about that before. I think it might be a design I did for my old coworker’s church; they have a National Baptist Conference every year, and I did these really great shirts for them that they just ate up. The best feedback I ever got was for the America Proud shirts that I did for Walmart employees. I did several designs for Walmart on all the holidays, but this one sold consistently year round. I think it was because it wasn’t specific to any holiday and the design just screamed patriotism, stars, stripes and fireworks all the way.
• Have you experienced a “moment” in your design career that you treasure or that’s stuck with you?When I was designing signs, I got to help a couple of WWII veterans with some items they needed for a Wounded Warrior fundraiser. It was amazing to be able to speak with them and learn about their lives. I felt like they drew out the order so that they could come in more and we could talk. One of them came in and showed me some of the items he brought back from the war. He was an Indo-China Theater Air Force crewman in a B52 bomber. He brought in a bomber jacket (which had a special patch on the back to inform Chinese soldiers that he was an ally), a collection of medals and a Nepalese Khukri knife given to him by a Gurkha mercenary. It was an amazing experience.
• What are your goals as a graphic designer?Long-term, I would love to get back into game design. I’ve always had some great ideas, and I don’t like to hold on to them, I always have to get them out. Short-term, I want to learn more and expand upon the skills I have as I mature as a graphic artist. Maybe make some poster designs.
• Personally, what’s your favorite style of shirt? T-shirts? Tank tops? Sweatshirts?I’m all about fitted tees, thermal sweatshirts and zip-up hoodies. I’m a bit old-fashioned in that regard; I like comfort, and if I can couple that with style, that’s ideal.
• Do you have anything else you would like people to know about you or your designs?Just that I will put my whole self into any project. If I am working on artwork for someone, I want it to be something that they love, something that brings a smile to their face. It’s my own little way of splashing a bit of color on the world, one shirt at a time.