Frederic Levy-Hadida aka Kharmazero is originally from rural France but moved to Paris when he was young and this is when his devotion to art took off. Frederic’s background in painting shows in his digital work as he successfully merges both techniques on a very special canvas, the t-shirt. Frederic is the very definition of a tortured/starving artist. The epitome. Or probably the opposite of that, really. He loves what he does. In fact, he earns his living doing what he lives. How many people can say that?
I first came across Kharmazero t-shirts on Design by Humans years ago and have always loved his style so I feel honored to be able to do this interview with him.
Oh yeah, and his next exhibition is scheduled for 2056, so you might want to put that on your calendar…
Kharmazero is one of the coolest nicknames I’ve seen. How did it come about?
The point is that I am coming from a different art world, painting. Going into digital creation and t-shirt design contests was a challenging game in the beginning. I wanted to try new things, in a new world and I had a very little knowledge of computer graphics software. I had the feeling that I was beginning again, from zero.
At the same time, I had just watched Running on Karma, a Johnny To movie (People, if you’ve never watched this one, please do. It’s one of the craziest scenarios ever written in cinema history. Wait at least until the man in the box.).
So, easy, kharma+zero, beginning from the first circle, rebirth, new becoming… whatever, that’s the story.
P.S. I thought too, that at some point if things turned bad (paranoid time) I could even go to a KO, which is cool too.
I believe you are French. What was it like growing up where you did?
Yes, I am. You know, France is regular country, a little bit stinky because all this cheese around, but we are used to it. To forget the smell, we drink a lot of French water.
More seriously, the quality of life here is really ok, I can’t complain. I was raised in the countryside, in the south of France. Under the sun, I used to hang out with my buddies in full nature. At the age of 12 we moved to the city and I couldn’t go out anymore, the streets were too dangerous according to my mom. So I went in the inside world and began to draw…a lot.
What is your typical day like?
Slow wake up, prepare coffee, check mail and news. After that there is no real pattern, it all depends on on-going projects and deadlines…nothing really original there, it’s a cool life. I love my work, so I never feel like I am working.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Nothing really outstanding, family, friends, french water, cinema, tv series, cooking, reading, baking,
About the Artist
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
Very soon indeed, around 12, as I mentioned above. At first I wanted to become a comic artist, my god was Moebius/Jean Giraud, and I was lucky enough to meet him several times. Then I did graphic art + design studies in Paris and worked in the advertising field, storyboard animation, more advertising, press,
Apart from t-shirts, are you involved in other art/design projects?
Preparing my next exhibition…in 2056.
Where do you usually get your inspiration?
It can come from whatever. It’s usually a flash and I note it down, it can be a word or a raw drawing. 80% will never see life. I’m drawing all the time, I’ve got a TV notebook. Here’s a drawing I made while I was “watching” a Doctor Who episode.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
If I have a precise idea it can be very simple and fast, like the example below. A raw drawing on paper, then it’s all PhotoShop.
Otherwise when I don’t really know where I am heading, it’s more likely a chain of (re)actions. I usually work in black and white until the composition is balanced. Then I go to coloring. I feel really comfortable with 2 or 3 colors. It allows me to stay simple, and I like the idea of doing more with less. The halftoning process is a big part of the creative process, you can do miracles with 3 colors on a black background.
You have a very distinct style. How did it come about?
I guess you’re speaking of the artsy way. It’s for sure coming from my painting background. And that was the point when I went toward digital, to create a bridge between my paintings and drawings and digital. This kind of thing:
Sometimes I feel I am not a designer, I just like to create beautiful and poetic pictures. I scan textures, ink splatters, old papers. I like to experiment and PhotoShop is an excellent a tool for that. Like every tool, you can bend it, press it, turn it over. The shirt is a canvas, it has to be composed to fit in, like a painting. Also, I prefer to suggest things, more than say it loudly. This way people can even wonder about the meaning of the picture. 42 effect.
About the Tees
How did you first hear about t-shirt design contests like Design by Humans and Threadless?
A friend working in an animation studio spoke about this opportunity. At first I was not sold, I had a very bad and wrong idea on what could be a shirt design. I remember the first picture I saw very well, it was a daily shirt of Design By Humans by Choppre
and my jaw dropped…literally.
Then I browsed the catalog, and my jaw dropped again. At that time DBH was doing all-over prints with awesome placements and killer graphic art, I immediately related to that. And I began to work and waited 6 months before submitting. It was not good at all, but with time I learned.
Do you remember your first t-shirt contest win? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
Oh yes, I will never forget that. I received two notifications almost at the same time. One was from Shirtscuffle (shut down) and the other one from Springleap. I cried, laughed and danced at the same time…boys don’t cry, really?
Contests are nice, it’s adrenaline, it’s challenging, you can get the “temperature” of a design with the voting process, but sometimes it can be difficult to handle the stress on a long term.
Recently your designs are appearing on the daily t-shirt sites like TeeFury and RIPT. Which is your favorite to work with? Which do you usually submit to first?
I prefer to work with sites curating the designs because a design can be time sensitive. TeeFury and Ript have a fast selection process. Within 10 days I know if a design is selected for printing or not. This way, I can move forward, rework it if needed or asked, or submit it somewhere else. I also prefer to keep the work unshown before they go to print. Surprise, surprise. That’s the reason why I am not posting WIP or don’t upload the designs on POD platforms immediately.
You have had t-shirts printed by Threadless, Design by Humans and Shirt.Woot!. These three stores usually print different styles. Do you take this into account before submitting artwork?
I was, but not anymore. The market field has evolved recently: a lot of contests sites have shut down, DBH has stopped contests and went to high quality print on demand platform. Threadless has switched from a cash prize contest to a royalties model (except for themed contests), and shirt.woot! hold themed derbies + curated daily prints. I had some designs unprinted there that were selected here. I was also tending to keep the pop culture themed designs for daily sites but recently I began to submit these on Threadless and shirt.woot! too.
Sometimes, I send this here, saying to myself it’s on target…but no. Sometimes I send this there, saying to myself: no way…and then it’s selected.
Of the tees that you designed which is your favorite?
None!!!! They are all my little kids, I’ve got a big heart. My daughter’s favorite is this one though:
Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
Nope, I know it’s lame. Or very rarely, let’s say when I’ve got nothing clean in my closet ;))))
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your tees in the real world?
Yes… my daughter and nephews ;)))
About the World
Do you have any role models?
I broke all my statues yesterday, sorry.
What is the most exotic location you have been to?
20 years ago in Nias island, Indonesia, 16 hours of boat. No tourists there, raw wood bungalows with no shower or electricity, fire on the beach at night, watching the filling stars. To get a fresh drink I had to walk 2 km. I loved it. The people were awesome.
Where would you most like to visit? Why?
I travelled a lot but never went to South America, the Philippines, Tahiti,
About Other Designers
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’ve done one with V.Calahan. He did all the work, I just had a bad idea ;))
Who would you like to see featured on the Shirt List next?
About Tee Design
What design trends have made you go WTF?
The blue dress or gold dress.
Any advice for other designers/artists?
The more you do, the more you’ll learn.
Photoshop or Illustrator?
Mainly Photoshop, Illustrator is more a field for graphic experiences.
DC or Marvel?
Both are awesome.