quality posts: 16 Private Messages WootBot


An idea has hatched! Cute little guy. Now it’s squirming away in your brain and it’s starting to feel a little funny. You’ll want to get that out of your head and onto a shirt before this turns into Scanners. But hold up a second. Don’t we want to be sure the little rascal is given the best opportunity to succeed in life? This design needs some serious nutrition if it’s going to blossom – not just the sugary sweetness of a halftone tutorial or line art demo. We’re talking the meat and potatoes of good art: the Principles of Art. So grab a fork and knife and let’s dig in...

Movement is how the design gives a sense of action as well as how it leads the eye through the composition. The goal here is to lead the viewer through the design without sending them into a dead-end or out into the abyss. With that in mind we want to design our primary elements so that they flow into one another as much as possible. This doesn’t always mean that they literally connect.

In Sun Wukong (above), Sun Wukong’s tail points back to the wrap with leads back into the center of the design. Follow up through the head and out the feather and it leads directly to the branch in the background. The primary design flow in this case is a figure eight. The staff points out in a way that might lead the viewer out of the design for good. To try to bring the eye back, the end of the staff is placed roughly along an imaginary arc created by the top branch, staff, tail and the bottom of the tree. Ideally the eye would be pulled along this imaginary arc back into the design.

Also Check Out:
Battle Fungale by Drakxxx
The Battle of Anghiari by Da Vinci 

Emphasis is the part of the design that the viewer is primarily drawn to. A design without an emphasis or focal point can feel amorphous and without purpose. You can achieve emphasis by many means, including placement, color, complexity, and focal length. We humans are also naturally drawn to faces, and eyes in particular. In addition, if a figure within the design is looking at something, we will naturally follow their gaze to see what it is.

There can be little doubt where the emphasis is in Robbie Lee’s Oh, Hole-y night (above). Despite the fact that the design covers the entire shirt and there’s a lot going on in it, we’re instantly drawn to the sun character in the upper right. It’s bright yellow, a face, and the only warm color in the design. In addition it features the area with the most visual activity, the hand and scissors. The more complicated the design, the more you need to focus on an emphasis so that your viewer isn’t lost, wandering the design without an anchor.

Also check out:
Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt

Harmony and balance are how the elements coexist. If something seems to be overpowering the design, then it lacks harmony or balance. One of the most common places this can materialize is in the design’s composition. People have been exploring harmony in composition for centuries, using concepts like the Golden Ratio to help balance their compositions.

It’s helpful to think of composition in terms of weights, which is determined by the amount and types of shape and color you add. Put too much of something on the left, and you need to balance it out on the right with something of equal weight. In the Sun Wukong design, the background tree was added to balance the top-left to bottom-right diagonal of Sun Wukong’s character. This X shape composition is a classic solution to dramatic diagonal compositions and can be found throughout Art History. Similarly, the colors were chosen with a focus on balance. A small bit of warm, intense red can have the same weight as a large amount of cool blue, as is the case here. Had the colors been reversed this design would have seemed wildly out of balance.

Keep in mind that a large empty space has weight as well. This is why a side-placed vertical design such as It was a dark and stormy night by ISO30 (above) still feels balanced on a tee – it has a large empty space on the opposite side that can carry as much weight as the design itself. Harmony and balance is a great design principle to visit when you’re placing your design on a tee.

Also Check Out:
Noted by radiomode
Composition VIII by Kandinsky



Good contrast is when the elements in the design conflict with one other in a harmonious way. Drama is inherently interesting; pitting two things against each other helps create that drama. The Umbrellas by cmdixon2 (above) is filled with it. The colors are split-complementary, with a cool blue opposing the warm orange and yellow. They’re also so bright that they immediately jump off of the dark asphalt background. The contrasts aren’t limited to color; the long, flowing shapes of the running paint/ink contrast beautifully with the pointed, octagonal shapes of the umbrellas. The straight, vertical fall of the rain also contrasts with the meandering, horizontal flow of the running colors. The Umbrellas is masterful example of using contrast to create drama. You guys know all about drama so don’t be afraid to add it to your tees!

Also check out:
The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio

Whew. That’s a lot to digest. Let’s take a siesta before we tackle the next half. In the meantime, how about you show us your favorite examples of Movement, Emphasis, Harmony/Balance, and Contrast – whether they be from Shirt.Woot’s fine collection or from the wide world of Art in general.


quality posts: 0 Private Messages blk909

I'd sure like to buy Monkey King and Umbrellas!


quality posts: 123 Private Messages tgentry

Missing an image up there...
It was a dark and stormy night


quality posts: 49 Private Messages thatrobert

Thanks. That was very enlightening! Now I don't have to go to art school...


quality posts: 123 Private Messages tgentry
thatrobert wrote:Thanks. That was very enlightening! Now I don't have to go to art school...

I've often wondered (usually when making a payment on student loans) how I might have done with a bunch of books and some gumption.


quality posts: 30 Private Messages rglee129

Wonderful post, woot. A+ lesson and a great resource. It's easy to lose sight of these principles of design and just focus on concept.

I'd like to see a sequel to this on how these concepts relate to the quirks of composition within a T-shirt design versus composition within a rectangle. For example, composition that works on a variety of shirt sizes, where to place the image and (usually) avoiding putting the focus on the tummy or breasts (can I say "breasts"?), etc.


quality posts: 54 Private Messages kevlar51

Fantastic post TGentry!
I've been trying to concentrate more and more on my overall composition as of late, with a focus on the Golden Ratio and the Rule of Thirds (both of which are related). It's lead to some non-traditional placement, which has received fairly positive feedback.

I think it's important to note that the "T-Shirt as a canvas" idea is important here--the design will not be printed on the internet in a vacuum.

ninja'd by RGLee!


quality posts: 49 Private Messages thatrobert
tgentry wrote:I've often wondered (usually when making a payment on student loans) how I might have done with a bunch of books and some gumption.

Ha! Seriously though, I abandoned an art minor in college but would seriously consider art school after an early retirement from the coding world...


quality posts: 0 Private Messages imafungi

Man, I'd really love to buy another one of those Noted shirts. The one I bought earlier ran really small and didn't fit after a few washings/pounds gained.

Love that design, so thanks for bringing it back to my mind.


quality posts: 7 Private Messages profbrendan
rglee129 wrote:For example, composition that works on a variety of shirt sizes, where to place the image and (usually) avoiding putting the focus on the tummy or breasts (can I say "breasts"?), etc.

Yes, apparently you can.
(Also, howdy to a fellow Orlandonianite!)