If you have ever visited Threadless you have probably seen this guy’s art. No really. That’s how popular his art is on that website. Two tees that he designed are in the Top Scoring category at Threadless, one is Parting the Red Sea and the other is a Harry Potter inspired collaboration with Alice X. Zhang, House Brawl, which also won a Bestee Award in November 2010. It is still the highest scoring design of all time at Threadless with 4.53 out of 5.
Alex Solis, or alexmdc as he is known as in the t-shirt world, is one of the most successful artists on Threadless so it is no wonder that they wanted him on their team. Word on the street though is that the real reason he was hired at Threadless was to entertain the other staff with his break-dancing skills. I know! How 80s! What else do they do in the Threadless office? Rubik’s cube? Twister? Dress up in banana costumes? Well, I know for a fact that they do dress up in banana costumes so I think it’s fair to assume all that other stuff is probably true too.
Alex seems to be very busy. He dances, he creates art, he works for Threadless and he has a small child. But somehow he finds the time to go to Hong Kong for sandwiches. I don’t get, I mean it’s a BLT. Bacon Lettuce Tomato. What does he want to do? Compare it to an American BLT? Sure, the mayonnaise probably tastes different and there is probably a poorer selection of bread to choose from but really… Anyway, luckily I was able to get an interview with Alex Solis aka alexmdc.
— ABOUT THE MAN —
First of all, can you tell us whether Alex Solis, the artist, and Alex Solis, the jockey are the same person or not? I suspect they are not but it’s good to confirm these things.
I love to race horses whenever I’m not drawing, hahaha but no we’re different people, Alex is just short for Alejandro in my name (please don’t sing that lady gaga song :() and the other Alex I’m sure is just short.
I just added the video so you know how to pronounce his name properly. Please don’t play it while reading this interview as that would be just plain rude. – The Shirt List
Your handle on many tee sites is Alexmdc, the MDC stands for Motion Disorderz Crew. Can you tell us more about it?
I’ve been breakdancing for about 15 years now, and that’s a group of friends I grew up with that created the crew, travel, perform and compete under that crew name. Everyone usually gets a nickname when you’re a dancer but since I never did, I was usually just known as Alex from Motion Disorderz Crew.
Are you and the crew up to anything special this year?
At the end of this month a crewmate and I will be going to Hong Kong to judge this big competition “BTL Hong Kong”, And hopefully towards the end of the year our whole crew will be in the UK, for this big crew battle “UK bby champs”, In the meantime we’re performing for the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, and one of the guys is doing shows for the Golden Globetrotters.
How long have you been break-dancing?
Around 15 years
I saw Cuba Gooding Jr. bust a few moves on the TV the other night and he is in his 40s. Do you think you will still be doing it when you are in your 40s?
I’m sure he can still do it but that doesn’t mean he’s still practicing and training consistently haha, I feel like my dancing as far as competition and performances has only a few years left, but of course if there is a dance circle I’m always going to jump in and bust a move haha
Is the phrase “bust a move” totally uncool, should I redact it to save face or am I OK? Do you have a better alternative that would make me sound hip?
I almost didn’t want to finish the interview after reading that actually. haha kidding but umm actually I think that’s the proper way to say it as long as you didn’t do any hand gestures or movements as you were saying it.
I did some research but I am not sure where you are from. I believe you are based in Milwaukee now. I thought I caught a slight accent in a Threadless video but I couldn’t place it…so em…where are you from? Where did you grow up etc.?
I’m originally from Mexico but grew up in Milwaukee since around the age of 5, guess the accent stayed there with me. And now I live in Chicago after getting a full-time job at Threadless 😀
Apart from being a b-boy and an awesome illustrator what do you do with your time?
Aside from that, I love hanging out with my daughter, traveling, drinking a beer while watching zombie shows, playing darts, movies, eating unhealthy food, video games. Even though I try to at least draw once a day and practice every other day before doing anything else to stay consistent with it, since practice makes perfect.
— ABOUT THE ARTIST —
You are probably one of the most printed artists on Threadless at this stage. What percentage of your working time is spent designing t-shirts? What percentage of your tee designs are submitted to Threadless?
I think about 90% of my work is submitted to Threadless now, I sometimes will start working on something and then usually just decide to submit it anyway even if it wasn’t meant to be a shirt design haha, those usually don’t print.
Apart from tees, are you involved in other art/design projects?
I’m a part of the group called Black Rock Collective, and I try to stay involved and work on projects they have going on, like card decks, postcards.
I try and paint oil my spare time as well since I don’t have much of that, I don’t as often as before, but I try to work with traditional mediums whenever possible.
Pencil or ink?
My favorite part is pencil because it’s when the artist is freer and creating something, the inking is just cleaning up afterward.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
Creating and Sharing my work with everyone, the reactions of people.
If you weren’t an artist and, like in the movie Footloose, dancing was banned, what would you do with your time?
I feel like I would still do something creative, I love being able to create stuff from nothing, like starting on a blank canvas and creating something special, as well as with dancing creating new sets, moves etc.
When you told your parents that you were going to support your b-boy hobby with a career in art (or support your art with a career in dance, I’m not sure) what did they say?
I actually didn’t do that at all they have always been hobbies, I went to school for graphic design and web development, so I did a ton of coding and support of websites, eventually I started doing more and more graphic design work, which I still do.
Where do you usually get your inspiration?
I’m always inspired by all the different artists on Threadless, and seeing them create amazing work and ideas, and always improving their work in time. So I constantly get different ideas from everyone on there, it’s a huge pool of artists so inspiration is always flowing there.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
Doodle on whatever is by me or write down spur of the moment ideas, sketch, scan, resketch, ink, color, clean up
— ABOUT THE TEES —
Do you remember your first t-shirt contest win? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
“Threadless Loves Travel” was my first real shirt printed and also one of the biggest wins to this day, where I got a trip to Iceland! That was a win not only for the design that got printed but for me as an artist, I felt like I just blasted outta a cannon and there was no stopping me then, I’ve been drawing even more and nonstop since then.
You have just had another print at Threadless. Does it ever get old? When you get the email from Threadless telling you that yet another design is going to be printed do you feel like ‘whatever…’?
It’s always an amazing feeling, of course, nothing like the first one when I wanted to jump and sort of left early cause I was feeling “sick” at work hahaha but really I went home to prep the file and send it out.
I really like that the House Brawl t-shirt despite having no real interest in Harry Potter so I bought it for my two-year-old daughter. She doesn’t even know who/what Harry Potter is. How about you? Were there tears when you finally had to say good-bye to Harry?
Sadly to say I’m not a huge fan either, haven’t even seen the last movie 😛 But my partner Alice X. aka silverqe on Threadless is, it was her original concept idea, and I just went with it despite not being the biggest fan I knew enough to think it was going to be awesome.
One of your t-shirts, Monkey Business, really reminds me of James Caan (specifically as Sonny Corleone in the Godfather). Was that the source of inspiration for this t-shirt?
As mentioned in the design, not sure if you saw it, it was an homage to the Godfather movie poster, I think I was watching the movie at the time when I got the idea.
Monkey Business was the very first t-shirt added to the Shirt List. – The Shirt List
A lot of your tees have a pop culture reference. Do you deliberately choose these themes to take advantage of the large fan bases or are you simply inspired by the things you watch/like?
All of my work is from stuff I watched, experience or like. I don’t think I would be able to create them without being able to understand something myself. But of course part of it as well is to take advantage of the mass appeal and get more people to look at my art, once they look at one thing, in particular, they might look at my other work as well, and I feel as an artist you should take as many opportunities as possible if it’s going to elevate your work.
Of the t-shirts that you designed, which is your favorite?
I really enjoyed working on Dreams. It’s a design dedicated to my daughter, and when I don’t work on shirt designs I usually do more work like this one. So this one is still one of my favorites.
Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
Not really, but I have here and there in the past.
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your tees in the real world?
Yeah a few times, but I always feel kinda weird going up to them and being like hey man I drew that on your shirt! So I secretly celebrate haha it’s always a surreal feeling
— ABOUT THE WORLD —
Do you have any role models?
Not anyone in particular.
With your crew I believe, you have traveled all over the world. What is the most exotic location you have been to?
I think one of my most memorable trips with my crew was to Pazardjik Bulgaria.
Iceland was the more exotic place but I was there for my winning design on threadless and not to dance 🙂
Any funny foreign stories?
In Bulgaria when I first got there, it’s a really small humble town, the accommodation was someone’s kitchen haha and the shower was above slightly to the side of the toilet, I was a bit scared about that haha but staying there a whole week I think it felt normal but makes you appreciate everything else you have.
Which foreign country, if any, would you like to live in?
I’m not sure, I like living here 😛 but I would love to visit as many foreign countries as I can.
— ABOUT OTHER DESIGNERS —
Who would you like to see featured on the Shirt List next?
Franx would be awesome.
— ABOUT TEE DESIGN —
What design trends have made you go WTF?
Not sure I feel like I have grown a lot from trying to stay positive about new trends and styles, so even if it’s not something I love at first I give it a try and always learn something from it.
Any advice for other designers/artists?
Don’t give up just keep drawing and drawing and drawing
— EXTRA —
If you had to choose between art and dancing which would it be?
My dancing is art, so I’m not sure what you’re asking me! haha, jk Art 🙂
If you had to lose either the Bucks or the Brewers which would it be and why?
I would probably have to say lose the Brewers since I perform for the Bucks haha even tho the Brewers were decent last season and the Bucks not so much, but shhh don’t tell them or I’ll get fired.