Fifty-two shirts

One shirt a week for an entire year

I was sitting in a coffee shop, hyped up on way too much caffeine. I’d taken the day off to spend some time thinking about what I wanted to do with Sketchbook B for the next year. What side projects did I want to tackle?

I pulled out my new sketchbook, a massive Leuchtturm 1917 Master Slim that I purchased at the Atlanta Pen Show. I’ve been working on a new typeface for the last year or so and I intended to make some progress. But as started to sketch, I realized that most of my recent sketchbooks are filled with notes and smaller, less ambitious doodles. I struggled to fill the (admittedly massive) pages and this bothered me. As I sat there sketching, trying to clear the cobwebs off my creativity, I drew a simple little doodle of a coffee cup and thought, that’d look good on a shirt. And for whatever reason, that opened the floodgates.

So there, in the middle of the Wired Goat in Chapin, I decided on my next project. I quickly started working out the details. Researching production options. Sketching ideas. I continued to work on the concept for the next couple months. And now, I’m finally ready to launch my new side project… 

I’m going to design a new shirt every week for a year. 

I’ll post a new shirt for purchase on Sundays with different design styles and content each week. One week, it might be something silly. Another week, it could be an invented restaurant or coffee shop. A fake band. Something seasonal. Each week will be different, but every Sunday, there will be a new shirt inspired by the world around me.

Every design will be accompanied by a blog post explaining the story behind the design. The post is a major part of the project. I’m looking forward to writing about my creations as much as I am designing them. My hope is that these will be more personal than my usual posts. I want to focus on the thoughts behind the design, my creative process and reflect about my experiences as a designer.


So why shirts? 

The shirt sketch that sparked this project was completely random, but the more I thought about it, designing shirts was the perfect challenge. I wanted to create something tangible. I didn’t want to just build an image for sharing on social media. I needed a challenge that would give me a defined canvas and a set of restrictions.

I briefly considered designing coffee mugs instead of shirts. I love coffee and hot tea. And the idea came to me in a coffee shop. But what would I do with 52 mugs? My kitchen cabinets aren’t big enough. And while 52 shirts are a lot, too, I don’t have to order all the shirts for me. I can order shirts for my wife and my kids. Everyone loves shirts.

I decided to use an on-demand service for printing my shirts. All the shirts will be available on my new Sketchbook B Threadless store. There are numerous on-demand shirt printing services and they are all very similar. After (way too much) research, Threadless seemed like the best storefront for the project I wanted to create. 

One of the benefits of on-demand, direct-to-garmet printing is that each shirt design can be available in a range of colors and shirt types. Every design will come in three styles: a lower cost classic t-shirt, a super soft men’s tri-blend shirt, and a women’s tri-blend shirt. I’ll also offer other versions when they make sense… long sleeves, kids shirts, sweatshirts and more.

I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to sell a lot of shirts. Some of my designs may have broad appeal, but a couple will probably just appeal to me. And that’s okay. I’m not doing this to make a ton of money. It’s more about the creative process.

I’m excited about the project. I’m sketching more than I have in years. I’ve already got a rough schedule for the next couple months and literally hundreds of concepts in my sketchbook waiting to be refined. And in addition to the shirts themselves, I’ve got some ideas with what to do at the end of the project with my collection of 52 shirts. I’m looking forward to where the project takes me.

The first shirt in the series, Designasaur, is available at my Threadless store. The design was inspired by a lecture I attended almost 20 years ago… a lecture I now realize still influences my outlook on things today.

If you are interested in the project and like the shirts, please follow along and share on social media. Let me know what you think. You can reach out on Twitter or Micro.Blog.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.