Beetle Blocks is an exciting visual drama where determined insects interact with a blocky font that reads “deviantART.” Are these insects building with the letters, or raging against them? That is the ultimate beauty of art is that it’s up to the beholder to translate the piece and determine its intention. Put on this shirt when working with a powerhouse team, where the minds of many are more successful than just one. Channel the worker insects, rally your squad, and go make ART!
“The beauty of having a sketchbook is that you always have a vast resource of ideas and drawings you can reference at any time. I had this unused sketch for a different project, and I really liked the concept of insects interacting with bulky, robust letterforms.
After getting the primary concept approved by Forest, I decided that ants were cool, but beetles were my real love in the insect world. They had more volume and would be easier to see on a shirt, especially next to chunky 3D letters. I researched exotic beetles and pulled out my bug books, and after finding the right photo reference, it was time to draw. I'm still not very fluid on a tablet, and I have more fun drawing by hand anyways, so I went to work using some of my favorite drawing tools.
Among other things, I found a nice soft pencil, a few weights of black ink pen, a few Copic grey markers for shading, and some red and yellow pens to denote where the brightest colors and highlights might go. Some version of these tools is my usual setup no matter what I'm drawing, be it beetles, logo sketches, or website wireframe thumbnails.
I did a few warm-up sketches, and as usual, I couldn't resist completing a few of them in way more detail than I needed to if not solely for the sheer joy of putting inky marks on paper.
I really liked the way the beetles were looking in this style, but I realized they probably weren't going to translate well on a screen-printed T-Shirt. I decided to step back and draw some cleaner versions, knowing I could add detail later in Photoshop. I began to sketch a variety of clean beetles in dynamic poses, as they were going to be crawling all over the 3D letters.
The guy in the back is a Rhinoceros Beetle, and in front is the majestic Stag Beetle.
Disclosure: I freaking LOVE Stag Beetles. I have a radical recurring nightmare where a Stag Beetle the size of a car comes out at night, making the wildest clicking and hissing sounds you can imagine, eating its way through my walls while I’m sleeping and chases me at very high speeds around my neighborhood. Even weirder than this dream is the fact that I love having it, and the more beetles I drew, the more I wanted to only use Stag Beetles for the shirt. Plus Stag Beetles have the advantage of having huge jaws that could interact with the blocks a lot more than the single horn on a boring, old Rhinoceros Beetle.
I traced over these cleaner drawings of Stag Beetles one last time so I could get clean scans with no pencil marks and no weird line thicknesses or double lines. The results on tracing paper looked like this.
With the lines clean enough to get to work in Photoshop, my beetle drawing was ready to roll. Now I needed to think about the typography. I went to Adobe Illustrator, because I like its 3D tools a lot more than the ones in Photoshop. I picked a few fonts that I thought would look nice in 3D.
I was very focused on readability and proportions. The typeface would need to be readable even when tilted at all angles, and the proportions needed to look solid, balanced, and aesthetically pleasing in 3D. A lot of fonts have too many strange angles, serifs, widths, and so on to be functional for what I needed. I picked the three best options and did a little isometric angle test on them.
Then, referring back to the original sketch, I tested them in a layout generally similar to how they would likely end up on the shirt.
I was glad I had tested out a few things, because it let me make my final decision with confidence. The top row was a mix of the two fonts seen in the next two rows, but the letterforms were clearly from different families and, at least to my eye, they looked weird together.
The second row read well but was a little too chunky and cartoonish.
Skipping to the bottom row, it had a lot more going on visually because of the serifs and reminded me of letters you might see in a toy box. I found it to be a bit too visually distracting.
The third row, however, seemed to be the one that best met my needs of readability and proportion: nice and clean, dynamic enough, and it didn't have any associations that I didn't want in my piece, like cartoons or toy boxes.
Next, I rotated each letter individually, making sure each letter stood out from the ones around it for maximum legibility. I also assigned a four-tone shading scheme to the letters, based on a general "behind-and-to-the-left" light source, being careful that none of the letters were going to blend into each other.
I had to limit myself to four colors because I could only use seven colors for the shirt, and I knew the beetles were going to require three. I used greys at this point because even though I didn't know what my color scheme was going to be yet, it was very important to get the values right. I also decided to make the type more vertical than horizontal so it could be more of an all-over print on the shirt than just a smaller horizontal piece across the chest. Here is the final typographic design.
I copy/pasted the type into my Photoshop document by color so that all the darkest greys were pasted onto a single layer and so on, because each color was going to be a single screen at the screen printer.
It was time to work more on the beetles. Here's what they looked like after the first round of clean up in Photoshop from the scans.
They cleaned up nice, but they were very flat looking and I wanted them to have nice 3D volume like the letters. I added highlights, and settled on a shading method of dots and lines that was graphic and striking and would translate well to screen printing. It also had a nice relation to the actual dimpled texture on a Stag Beetle carapace.
Forest and I went back and forth during the development of the concept to make sure it was evolving successfully.
From here, it was a matter of positioning everything so it made sense dimensionally. I needed to preserve legibility, be sure the beetles looked like they were roaming around with the type, and decide on a color scheme. I also gave the type some texture because it now looked very flat compared to the textures on the beetles. At this point, I sent the piece off to Forest for approval on its artistic direction.
He liked the layout and said it was almost ready for print. He added all of the scratchy motion lines around the beetles, which really serve to ground the whole illustration instead of making it look like everything is floating in space. He also changed the colors around to work with the rest of the shirts in the line and use a shirt stock that was readily available.
Thanks for reading through all of that. I hope it was as inspirational and educational as it was fun to collaboratively illustrate!
Behold: the final artwork for the Beetle Blocks shirt that deviantART sent to the printer! Tony did such a great job bringing the beetles to life.
It really makes for a lively addition to our product line.