Barrett Biggers grew up in sunny Florida and has been basking in the glorious lightning, meth, and ticks ever since. You would think that would be perfect for a wildlife biologist but he is dreaming of moving to a cold and wet climate which he is somehow preferable to a hot and wet climate. I think it’s a good idea because after the Trump administration has decided to ignore global warming Florida might not be around much longer. Whoa! Politics in a t-shirt blog. He is sometimes known as studiomuku, sometimes just Biggers but he is Barrett Biggers.
Barrett says that he is not a great illustrator but he is working on it. He is better at graphic design and composition and FX. As you can see he is amazing at those things. The Shirt List may be a part-time political commentator but we do focus on t-shirts. Barrett does a lot of t-shirt work too but he also sells prints and posters. He prints them himself on this Biggers Big-Ass Printer 4000 and ships them all over the world. He provides some great advice for designers both new and old so I really recommend that you read what he has to say.
Barrett Biggers Interview
It has a Japanese ring to it. Where did the nickname Studiomuku come from?
That is true it actually is my cat’s name haha Muku is Japanese for Innocent because my cat gets away with everything. It really has nothing to do with my work but I liked the ring to it.
I see on Redbubble that you are based in Florida. Born and raised?
Yep, one of the few and not really proud. Born in Naples FL and lived in Central Florida area for 34 years now. Ready to leave! My wife and I want to move to Seattle or thereabouts we both hate the heat and humidity and desire the opposite of Florida.
My image of Florida is Dexter, Bloodline, old people retiring, and crazy people doing and saying crazy things. And gators. How close is that to reality?
You forgot lightning, meth, and ticks. But essentially, yes. Florida is the drain of the nation where all the crap collects haha. Well not all of it is bad there are some good people here but it’s what you get when the price of living is very cheap and the weather is hot. Everyone hates snow and it NEVER snows here (nor freezes anymore). Not to mention all the tourist stuff around here, but I have always hated that stuff.
What do you like most about where you live?
I will say winters are nice but so short. I do like that it is cheap to live here compared to other areas from what I have heard. Also having the theme parks and tourism nearby has allowed for more sales when I do shows and conventions locally selling pop-culture inspired art.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I am not working I am answering customer service emails or uploading a new png of a shirt design on some print on demand website. Not really joking but when I do find some time I chill with my wife and we do landscaping and bike riding on local trails.
Do you work full-time in art and design? Do you have a 9 to 5 or are you a freelancer?
I work full time as my own artist business so there’s very little time (most people think I am retired and sit on my couch sipping mimosas watching Netflix all day).
I used to do freelance and corporate business graphic design and art commissions but I decided to get out of that world being told what to do instead of making art I wanted to make for myself. If I ever have to fall back on it I could but I am lucky and want to pursue my own art moving forward if I can. I bought a big ass awesome printer and print all my own paper prints that I ship around the world.
About the Artist
When did you start creating art?
2012 is when I started making “pop culture” art for sale – started as a side thing just as a test and over the course of 5 years it has grown to be my full-time. I was drawing and doing art traditionally (charcoal, watercolor, oils, airbrushing) back in high school and throughout college but never thought I could make money or a living with it.
Do you have a formal art education or are you self-taught?
All self-taught. Went to college for Biology and got a job as a wildlife biologist for 3 years. Decided I loved art more and was super super lucky to get a junior designer position at a health beverage company. Trial by fire and lots of shitty design later I learned a hell of a lot more than school would have ever taught me (based on what I heard from art school grads).
Apart from t-shirts, are you involved in other art/design projects?
I have done movie posters for a few companies and web graphics here and there – mainly I work on my own stuff. I am currently designing a full set of tarot cards just in my own surrealism style. Is a lot of fun but a ton of work. I honestly don’t have enough time to dedicate to freelancing unless it’s something big or fun.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
Unlike many artists, I openly use references and photos for a ton of my projects because I am super fast at photoshop and find drawing an idea actually takes longer than splicing images together to get an idea. So many times I make my own references (even 3d models) to draw from. Still, I hand draw most things in the end or start from scratch once I have a concept down. I typically use that reference from afar and illustrate to the best I can but I am not a great illustrator yet. I like to utilize more graphic design ideas like typography, layout, spacing, icons etc. and marketability (making a product label or something that could really exist). I start in Illustrator for line work and pattern/icon design along with typography and layout. Once that is all good I will export all those objects into Photoshop to rasterize and add colors or erase transparency with brushes, which is more organic than illustrator. I suck at color separations most shirt companies know I am not easy to work with haha but recently I have gotten much better and smarter at designing for silk screening. But DTG is the future and looks great now so many companies now accept PNG files…SCORE!
About the T-Shirts
How did you first hear about daily t-shirt sites like TeeFury and RIPT?
A mutual artist friend was on TeeFury and said he made 1000s of dollars in one day and I was like “WTF ok I could try that?!” lol then after months and months of getting rejected I thought I sucked and almost gave up when TeeFury finally took one of my arts! It took a while but several more were accepted and now I have had quite a few on there but nowhere near as many as many of the artists on this list have done. I am still a newbie to the daily shirt world and will always be trying to catch up with other better artists for silk screening. I actually rarely get on dailies anymore but much of that is my own fault for being too busy with my other work.
Do you remember your first print? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
My first print was on TeeFury of my V for Vendetta piece. Was surreal to see my art on a site I knew had thousands of people looking at it all day and honored that people would buy it too! Unfortunately, TF allowed for comments on the home page and you got a lot of “reality” of trying to sell in this super competitive and critical world. But damn that was a good experience and I needed it to grow stronger.
You have had t-shirts printed by TeeFury, RIPT, and ShirtPunch. Who do you usually submit to first? Why?
Never been on RIPT by myself – probably because of how complicated my art files are haha. I haven’t been very active with the shirts. Luckily I get a gauge on when some arts are “desired” by knowing people in the industry and sheer dumb luck. I print my own paper art prints at home so I don’t focus on shirts mainly but because all my art is done digitally it’s a no brainer to make them into pngs and submit to all the sites. Since dailies rarely accepted me I decided to focus more of my time on print on demands sites but maybe that will change over time.
You sell your designs on TeePublic, RedBubble, Design by Humans, NeatoShop and Society6. Tell us about that.
Yes, they have been my bread and butter for years. Still, my art prints I make here in my studio are the main money maker. These P.O.D. sites (print on demand) don’t say NO to you like the dailies might but you get far fewer sales – you just have to be EVERYWHERE and sell EVERYTHING in order to survive that is the trick. I do a lot of art based on pop culture and sometimes it gets taken down (even though I think my art is very parody and unique) still that happens a lot more on larger public sites like the ones you mentioned. It comes with the business and I respect it entirely and always comply.
Of the t-shirts that you designed, which one is your favorite?
My favorite design is my Star Fox inspired piece I made using real animals in a surreal collage with the arwing ships and space in-between. I call it “subtle geek” anyone can wear it – it feels fine art and contemporary but the closer you look if you get it you see the star fox references.
Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
Yep. I wear them around all the time – I am very happy to be able to do so and humbled when people say “hey nice shirt”.
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your t-shirts in the real world?
Several times. The most interesting by far would be in Tokyo, Japan. I was visiting with my wife to see her family (she is Japanese) and in the middle of one of the busiest areas of Tokyo, Shibuya, I was walking through a tunnel and out of nowhere comes this couple wearing my Totoro shirt I designed with my buddy J.P. Perez. I was so excited and had to stop them and tell them that JP and I were the artists. They were Australian and visiting the Studio Ghibli museum and sporting our shirt. It was an incredible experience.
Photoshop or Illustrator?
Both – but Photoshop is more organic and better for paintings. However, nothing beats vectors and type in Ai.
About the World
What is the most exotic location you have been to?
Japan – not really exotic by any stretch – just the furthest I have been from home and my favorite place in the World so far.
Where would you most like to visit? Why?
Now I love Japan more than anywhere but I also have been dying to see Alaska and the great forests mountains of that area. We plan to go one day before all the glaciers melt.
About Other Designers
Which t-shirt designer(s) do you admire the most?
I admire many artists. But if I had to narrow it down to a few I would say Medusa Dollmaker, Emiliè Boisvert, Vincent Trinidad and Jimiyo are some of my top inspirations. Such great compositional sense along with illustration and painting skill. Amazing work all around.
I see you have collaborated with JP Perez quite a few times. How did this partnership come about?
J.P. and I work a lot together, especially on shirts. JP is a local Orlando artist and at one of the events I met him and we both were full-time artists and liked each others’ styles which were different enough to be able to possibly combine to make something unique. JP is extremely talented and a great illustrator whereas I am better with graphic design and composition and FX. So he drew line art or base paintings of characters for me and I enhanced them and compositionally made them into working graphic-designed pieces (like our alcohol label series). Win win situation. I also collaborate with CoD Designs a lot too on various things – also great to work with.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration?
Collaborations are great they allow you to work much faster because someone else is doing the part you are weak at and helping you critique your work with a different perspective – they are part of the work too! It’s a great way to make a series or things you don’t feel too passionately about but you still want to try (for me that is comics). Sometimes it could become an issue (not really the right word) if you are really busy with your own projects and work but the partner is waiting for you to do the art and anxious. It has never happened to me but I can see that being an issue with other artists perhaps. So it needs to be fun and both people need to realize there is no rush. Also be very clear about royalties and split profits…needs to be extremely transparent.
Who would you like to see interviewed on the Shirt List next?
Love to see JP Perez or CoD Designs on here!
Any advice for new designers/artists?
Be EVERYWHERE and do EVERYTHING you can. Don’t be scared to have multiple styles and subjects. Many fine artist traditionalists will say to focus your path on one unique defining look. This is true for some people that have a real goal and know what they want, But there is really no such thing as completely “original” anymore – everything is a remix or has been done before. I have tried many times to be the “first” at something just to find 35 people already did it better than me. It’s depressing so you should still do it but go about it with a more “this is fun” not so much a “this is defining my career“ feel. Work your ass off and I know it can be annoying to tiring to upload all those pngs to all those POD sites but dammit it pays off just ask the other artists on these interviews – they all do the dailies and POD game and make it happen. Also, ANYONE can draw but not everyone can compose. Composition is more important than technical skill. Try to be a great compositor first before being a perfect illustrator – especially with shirts. Lastly, YOU ARE A BRAND – treat yourself as a business. Be professional, courteous and most importantly HUMBLE to shirt printers, customers, and artists. There is no shame in being humble – it keeps things in perspective.
What are you watching on TV at the moment?
The Last Kingdom on Netflix
What’s the last movie you saw in the cinema/movie theater?
I rarely go out to the movies but I think it was Fantastic Beasts.