Interview with AJ Paglia AKA Swissarmyshark

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Interview with AJ Paglia aka swissarmyshark

While you may not have heard of AJ Paglia (he likes to keep a low profile)  you have surely seen some of this art. Most of his energy goes to designing t-shirts and Snorg Tees is the lucky beneficiary of his most of his work. Well, I’m sure they pay him handsomely for his art but they are still lucky.

He’s from Providence, Rhode Island so I’m sure he has an accent similar to that used by the British and Australian actors in the TV show Brotherhood…or something similar. Or not. I guess I’m not so sure after all.

Fueled by coffee and bacon, he pumps out art day and night without sleep in order to satisfy the appetites of his t-shirt store overlords. In the interview with AJ Paglia there are hints of future work with Threadless and some side projects with Snorg Tees. I have a feeling that soon AJ Paglia aka swissarmyshark can kiss goodbye to his low profile because he is about to explode. Figuratively of course. (While coffee and bacon may not be good for you they aren’t likely to cause humans to spontaneously explode. It’s more of a gradual thing.)

– About AJ Paglia –

The first question, as usual, is where did the name swissarmyshark come from?
I’m a big shark fan, and once an employer referred to my versatility in design as a swiss army knife. So back when everyone was grabbing “cool” email and twitter names I jumped on swissarmyshark. I’ve heard a bunch of different interpretations of it, all of which are way more interesting than the lame-o real one.

Am I correct in saying that you were born and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island?
Yessir, very proud to be, it’s a great town, despite what we all say about it

Buffy the RiveterYoda the GrouchSitar HeroLightkatana Fight

How was that?
If you love the city, pigeons, pizza, and knowing literally everyone in some way, it’s perfect. But if you’re more of the skipping stones across a quiet pond type, it’s probably not for you.

Were you in any episodes of Brotherhood? How about your friends and family?
No, I’d drive or walk by the filming locations all the time but never made it on the show. My friend’s apartment, however, was used as one of the main locations in show. Their shooting style was very guerrilla, they’d pop up on a random street, police would close everything off, they’d film, and then boom they’d be gone like a phantom.

With a name like Paglia I’m guessing that you are of Italian ancestry. How do you feel about the recent popularity of Irish gang stories rather than Italian mafia?
I’m fine with it; whatever it takes to keep New England in movies and shows

Bacon Makes Everything Better T-ShirtBacon&Bacon&Bacon&Bacon. T-ShirtThere Will Be Bacon T-ShirtKeep Calm and Bacon On T-Shirt

You graduated from Rhode Island College. Does the BFA in “BFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island College” stand for Brilliant F#ckin’ Artist?
It does, especially while using my diploma as a pretend mic when I freestyle rap, but when my mom asks I tell her it’s a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

What’s keeping you busy these days?
Clients. A lot of them have really nailed their market and need more design work, so I’m constantly tagging along on their success.

Your love of coffee is not exactly a secret. Have you tried tea? If English Breakfast Tea is not your thing, green tea has a ton of caffeine.
I’ve dabbled in tea when I get a sore throat or cold, but it’ll take a lot more than that to get me away from my joe.

– About the Artist –

You’ve been creating art since you were old enough to finger paint with ketchup. When did you make your first dollar from your skill?
Designed a tee for my friend’s band in college, after a show they paid for breakfast, so it wasn’t so much a first dollar, but first scrambled egg.

When did it become a full-time gig?
I don’t remember when it happened exactly, but I’d say when I was able to pay rent using design money. I grew up with the mentality that you can let electric bills pile up and eat ramen noodles for three meals a day, but you can’t be late on your rent. So when I was able to use money earned from design work to pay the bill I feared the most, I realized I was going to be ok.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

You do other design work, posters, video editing etc. What proportion of your design energies go into t-shirts?
85%, the market for the past 10 years has deemed t-shirts the most popular and profitable art form, making it my #1 client.

Sketch to Finished Art to T-Shirt

From a sketch to a t-shirt by AJ Paglia

Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
I doodle the hell out of an idea before jumping in. Once I have the concept and layout, I hop on Adobe Illustrator build the outlines. Afterward I spend way too much time picking color combos. All while blasting hip hop on my iTunes. Everyone has different tastes in music, but I find the constant bass and key changes in hip hop keeps me focused and alert.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m constantly looking at other designers’ work in magazines and blogs. ComputerArts is a great source for that, and they even offer a paper version of their magazine that helps pull me away from the computer screen for a much needed rest for my eyes. Staying aware of others’ work pushes me to get better, both in aesthetic and concepts.

– About the tees –

I have been familiar with your work for a long time but I didn’t know it was yours as Snorg Tees doesn’t mention the artists. When I saw your political parody tees at Threadless I investigated. How did you come to design those 5 tees for Threadless?
Spec work typically isn’t something I do, but every once in a while I work up a design concept that I wish I could find a home for but doesn’t mesh with my clients, so I tossed it up on Threadless. I thought it’d be fun to play off the upcoming election and instead have candidates that we can argue over while being completely nonsensical. Originally it was just the Zombies and Vampires, spurring off all the movies/shows featuring both that are hot right now. But they ended up wanting to produce 3 more, and suggested the others.

Vote Vampires! T-ShirtVote Pandas! T-ShirtVote Ninjas! T-ShirtVote Zombies! T-Shirt


I think the people chose pandas but if you really had to choose between Zombies, pandas, robots, vampires and ninjas who would you vote for?
Robots, they’re the next logical successor right now, so why not embrace it and welcome our microwave overlords.

Vote Robots! T-Shirt

Robots are the next logical successor!

Will we be seeing some more of your tees at Threadless soon?
Yep, but if I hint at anything their Facebook fans would pummel me with pokes.

I read somewhere that you came up with the concept for your Star Wars’ “The Kiss” design because every girl you knew in college had the Klimt poster on their wall. So my question is, how many girls rooms were you in during college?
Oh I see what you did there. To my amazement, it wasn’t just posters. There’d be Klimt laptop cases, stickers, shirts, and one girl in my art history lecture had Klimt trapper keeper (I know, right!). It was cyclical fad that really took over the collegiate female demographic, which was a main reason for its use in my Star Wars parody.

The Kiss (Han & Leia) T-Shirt

Originally sold on TeeFury, now available at Red Bubble

You seem to have a new tee released at Snorg Tees every 6.7 seconds. How and when did that start?
2007, a couple of commissions led to regular work, and ever since those masters of awesome have been keeping me busy. I’ve recently started work on a couple of side projects they’ll be releasing soon.

Velociholmes T-Shirt

Can you deduce why this is AJ Paglia’s favorite t-shirt?

What’s your favorite of your own t-shirts?
Velociholmes, it’s a raptor as Sherlock, what’s not to love?

Free Hugs T-Shirt

Bryan is AJ Paglia’s favorite Snorg Tees model. It’s all about the hugs.

Do you have a favorite Snorg Tees model?
Bryan, he can’t tan but he can rock a tee wicked hard.

Have you met them?
I have, we try to get a meetup once a year to work on new stuff and party, mostly party.

Troy Story T-ShirtThe Ramens T-ShirtThe Doctor Is In T-ShirtGod Save The Princess T-Shirt

Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
It’s one of the main reasons I’m always running out of hangers.


Have you seen somebody wearing your tee in the real world?
All the time, mostly the bacon-joke tees, could just be the crowds I hang in, but I like to think it’s due to a bacon fever (the most delicious epidemic)

How many t-shirts do you think you designed last year?
I sold a little over 150 designs, but I designed waaaay more. Even if I get an idea where I’m not sure it’ll fit with my clients, I still make it. I refuse to let an idea just sit upstairs collecting dust.

– About other designers –

Which tee designers do you admire the most?
Derek Deal, David M. Smith, Jon Contino, Clark Orr

Have you done any collaborations for t-shirts? If so, who and what did you design? If not, who would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to do a collab, to this point it’s only been on charity tees. Can we resurrect Jack Kirby somehow, would love to work with him.

Who would you like to see featured on the Shirt List next?
John Contino, he’s been the carpenter of the CXXVI brand for a long time and his indie hand-made work is an innovative muse for other designers.

– About Tee Design –

Any advice for other designers/artists?
Drown in other’s work, constantly. It’s easy to forget there are others doing the exact same thing as you, sometimes better. Seeing that helps you better your work, keep up on trends, and pushes you into trying new approaches to design.

What design trends have made you go WTF?
I’m constantly amazed by hip trends: owls, nautical, shuttershades, etc. The re-emergence of neon color apparel was a big WOW. I grew up in late 1980, so it’s weird to see it back without riding in a Delorean.

Photoshop or Illustrator?
Can’t it be both? Seriously though, I use both equally. Thinking about getting each icon tattooed on my eyelids.

– About the World –

Do you have any role models?
I constantly ask myself “what would Han Solo do?” so there’s that

Save Endor T-ShirtMay The 4th Be With You T-ShirtAlderaan 5 Day Forecast T-ShirtEmpire Urban Regeneration T-Shirt

What’s the most exotic location you have been to?
Manly Beach, Australia

Manly Beach Australia

Manly Beach, Australia

Where would you like to visit?
Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

– Bonus –

There are more AJ Paglia t-shirts on the Shirt List than any other artist. How does that make you feel?
Anxious, I’m gotta get back to work if I don’t want anyone taking my title!

Website: AJ Paglia
Twitter: @swissarmyshark
Shop: AJ Paglia Portfolio on RedBubble 

One Response

  1. Pedro
    Pedro August 30, 2013 at 8:10 pm | | Reply

    Great interview. I especially liked this part “Drown in other’s work, constantly. It’s easy to forget there are others doing the exact same thing as you, sometimes better” . So true.

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