Stephen O’Blenis is the man behind Warbucks Design. Stephen is a giant of a man, dwarfing even wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper. And like wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper, Stephen is an artist, but of a much more gentle nature. Wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestles with people in the ring while Stephen wrestles with vectors in Adobe Illustrator. I think I have probably stretched the wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper angle a bit much here. It’s just that there was a photo of Stephen with wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper on his Facebook page and I think the phrase wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper adds a bit of gravitas to my writing.
Stephen O’Blenis may be a giant of uncertain heritage but he is a romantic who mentally adds theme tunes to his daily life and who moved to the middle of nowhere (perhaps a little south of nowhere) for love. Read on to find out how he became the prince of a town called
Warbucks Design Interview
Stephen O’Blenis is a very Irish sounding name. Are your ancestors from the Emerald Isle?
It is a tad bit of the Irish sounding. Well, I can thank my dad for that one. I’m not really sure if I have any connections in the Emerald Isle, but I don’t seem to have any problems passing for an Irishman. Although, if you ask my mom she’ll tell you I’m more Italian. Yup, Irish/Italian combination. Drinking and eating.
I have to admit that I Googled Plainville because I thought it might have been made up. Like, Ordinaryville or Mundaneville. That seems to be where you live. Born and raised?
I don’t think you’re too far from the mark on that one. Originally I’m from Rhode Island where I experienced mostly city life but when I married my beautiful lady she lured me away to the quiet town of Plainville, MA. The best way to explain it would be if you have visited Andy Griffith in Mayberry. Neighbors wave, cut grass, birds sing and chipmunks dance. Actually, it could be something from a Disney movie.
Is Plainville as bad as Dullsville?
Well, not a whole lot happens in Plainville, other than the dancing chipmunks. Luckily we aren’t that far from more exciting cities like Boston. Maybe catch a New England Patriots game or head out to Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. Plainville might not have much happening in it but, it is the perfect place to go home to after a long exciting day.
You use the name Warbucks in the t-shirt business. Is this something to do with Annie? Are you loaded?
You’re money, baby! And you don’t even know it. Warbucks Design actually came from Oliver Warbucks in the musical, Annie. I needed a strong name that stuck out. Warbucks just seemed to carry power and was easy to remember. Warbucks Design was born. I’m still working on the filthy, stinking rich aspect but hopefully, after this interview, I’ll be on my way.
Do you work full-time in art and design?
Yes. I’m a full-time graphic artist during the day and a pop culture mogul by night. That’s a lot of time in front of a computer screen but, it’s definitely worth it. I definitely wish I had more time to work on my pop culture world but as of right now I’m doing the normal full-time job thing and dabbling with my Warbucks Design art. I’m hoping with the launch of our new website (coming soon) that I’ll be shifting more towards Warbucks Design and the dream of working at it full time.
About the Artist
When did you start creating art?
Wow, I remember my love for drawing all the way back to the fifth grade. You could always find me doodling in my art pad or sketching something on my book covers. I love drawing, however, I find myself on the computer much more than sketching on paper these days. It’s probably the fact that for eight hours a day I’m on the computer and just have become accustomed to using it. Although as soon as I pick up a pencil I remember quickly how much I love sketching on paper.
Have you had any formal art training?
I spent a nice period of my life at Rhode Island College in the art department searching for my degree in graphic design. It wasn’t as glamorous as studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) but we had a very good art program and I feel I took full advantage of everything that was offered.
Apart from t-shirts, are you involved in other art/design projects?
Of course, I do a good amount of freelance work for customers. Logo design, headers, business cards and all of the typical items that clients might need. Most of my free time is invested in Warlocks Design where I’m always trying to expand my market and continue to create awesome designs for my fan base. It’s challenging, especially with all the amazing talent out there.
Where do you usually get your inspiration?
Everywhere and from anything. Things I see driving down the street. Things I hear on the radio. Things I see on television. It could be a simple phrase that I hear or maybe something I see. If I think it’s a clever idea I’ll start putting something together. I’m a huge pop culture fan so I really enjoy putting together designs for my favorite movies or television shows. Right now, I’m riding on the hype of the new Avengers and Star Wars movie. My past three design have been Star Wars based and I think I have a fourth bouncing around in my head right now. I better make some notes before I forget.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
My design process is typically coming up with a concept and then writing down some notes if I can’t get to my computer right away so I won’t forget. Sometimes I have five different concepts in my head but not all of them become completed designs. I may start a new design but not really like the direction it’s going so I’ll put it aside and work on something different. As I’m working on the computer, mostly in Illustrator & Photoshop, I use my own judgment on how well a design is coming along. Sometimes I’ll ask my wife for advice since she’s my best and worst critic on what she thinks of my designs. Almost everything thing I do is drawn in Illustrator and then I’ll have to determine my color palette. The best part of completing a design is sharing with all my fans and seeing how they react. Not every design is a winner, but you never know until you throw it out there and see what happens.
Do you have any WIP I can include in the post?
I just finished a Star Wars/Sopranos design just the other day. It’s a simple design, but something I’m really happy with and can’t wait to get one for myself. The concept is mashing up Jabba the Hutt, famous crime boss, with the Soprano’s Bada Bing Club logo. I call it “Jabba No Badda”.
About the Tees
How did you first hear about daily t-shirt sites like TeeFury and RIPT?
Actually, I can thank a co-worker for turning me on to the pop culture and daily t-shirt world. I didn’t know these sites existed but once she told me about them I decided to try and put something together and see if I could get selected for a print. Luckily, it wasn’t long after that I received an email telling me that I had been selected by a daily site for a feature.
Do you remember your first print? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
Definitely. My first print was “Wizneyland”. A mashup of Disney and Harry Potter. The design was selected by Qwertee as a feature. Honestly, I was shocked when I received the email. I was still very new to the t-shirt world and I really didn’t know what I had to do next. Very quickly, I learned the proper way to set up a design for print and what was needed by a daily site to get printed. Amazingly, “Wizneyland” was my very first print about four years ago and is still one of my most popular shirts today.
You have had t-shirts printed by various daily t-shirt sites like TeeFury and RIPT. Which is your most popular shirt?
I haven’t been able to crack TeeFury, but I’m been featured a number of times on RIPT, Qwertee, and other daily sites. I’ve been very lucky to be featured a number of times and big thank you to the sites and all the fans who have bought my shirts. I can only hope that the success continues and that people still enjoy my designs. I’ve had a good number of successful pieces that have sold well but if I had to choose from a best sellers aspect then I would have to choose “Wizneyland” and “Burton’s Imaginary Friends”. These two designs have been incredible sellers and their popularity has been amazing.
Of the t-shirts that you designed, which one is your favorite?
I don’t think I can pick just one. There are many that I really enjoy. Some get more love than others but just to spotlight a couple of my favorites I’ll say “Burtruvian Man”, “Hans Gear” and my most recent “Jabba No Badda”.
Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
I was always under the rule of “you never wear the shirt of the band that you’re in” but you can occasionally find me wearing one of my designs. Especially if it’s one of my personal favorites.
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your tees in the real world?
Yes, and it’s amazing. Actually, it’s outright flattering. I still can’t get over the fact that anyone would buy my designs, not to mention that I would see them wearing them. I tend to see them at conventions which are prime places for t-shirt spotting. The last time I was at NYCC I saw multiple people wearing my shirts. Crazy, absolutely crazy. Don’t be afraid if a tall stranger comes up to you and asks to take a picture of you and your shirt. No worries, it’s just me – I’d introduce myself. I love to share your photos on my Facebook artist page.
About the World
Do you have any role models?
Do Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger count? I grew up idolizing these figures as a little boy. Always wanting to be bigger, faster, stronger. It’s probably most little boys dreams to grow up and be one of their role models. Well, I never broke into the wrestling world although I did go to professional wrestling camp. Loved it. I’ve actually met Hulk Hogan which was amazing since I idolized him as a little boy. Still haven’t met Arnold but that would be someone on my to-do list. From Conan to Predator to Terminator… Arnold is the man.
What is the most exotic location you have been to?
The Polynesian at Disney World. I’m not much of a traveler, but you don’t have to twist my arm to head down to Disney World and hang out with Mickey and his friends. I love Disney.
Where would you most like to visit? Why?
Is this a family show? I would pick The Playboy Mansion. Why? The celebrities, Hef, and the ladies. Have you seen the parties there? If I ever make it in, I’ll let you know how it went.
About Other Designers
Which tee designer(s) do you admire the most?
There are so many amazing artists out there. It makes it hard to stick out, but I appreciate all great art. A few of my personal favorite artists and styles would be Harebrained, Mike Handy, OliPop, Fuacka, Jon Pinto, Letter Q, Chicoloco Designs and David Johnston Illustrations. Those are just some off the top of my head. Don’t get me wrong, there are many others artists that create stellar work.
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 actually only done one collaboration and that was with Ironwings Studio. We worked on a Secret of NIMH design called “The Secret”. It was fun to work with another artist but I guess I just never know what mood is going to strike when I design that I tend to roll solo. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t collaborate again. If I did I think I would love to do something with Letter Q or Harebrained. I just really enjoy their art style.
Who would you like to see featured on the Shirt List next?
Olipop and Chicoloco designs. Both very talented artists and great people. I would love to see them get some love from the Shirt List.
About Tee Design
What design trends have made you go WTF?
Hmmm… I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen any trends that made me wonder WTF. There are so many different artists and styles out there that there is so much to look at, but nothing really made me wonder “What the heck was that artist thinking?”
Any advice for other designers/artists?
If you love designing, keep at it. I see so many people ask for advice on and how to get printed. My opinion is to stick with it. There are so many talented artists and Illustrators out there that it can get intimidating but don’t let that stop you. I don’t consider myself the best artist in any way, but I love what I do. You don’t have to be the best illustrator but sometimes all it takes is the concept. Simple sells. Concept sells. Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful piece of art is awesome but not every piece has to be that way. Work on your concepts, continue to submit to sites and it will happen.
Photoshop or Illustrator?
Illustrator. I work with both but “Illustrator is where I spend most of my days.” (Spoken in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme)
What are you watching on TV at the moment?
It’s been really difficult finding time to watch TV so thank goodness I have a DVR. As far as TV shows, I’m really into Gotham, Big Bang Theory and I’m also watching Bates Motel. I was watching Agents of SHIELD, but I’m starting to lose interest in the storyline. Maybe with the new Avengers movie coming out we can hope for a crossover.