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Sailing the rollicking Threadless sea 

A local designer dabbles in an international community

- WIELDER OF PEN, AND PHOTOSHOP:  Local designer Priscilla Wilson contributes designs to Threadless in her spare time. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF PRISCILLA WILSON
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PRISCILLA WILSON
  • WIELDER OF PEN, AND PHOTOSHOP: Local designer Priscilla Wilson contributes designs to Threadless in her spare time.
A century and a half ago a dandy might have labored over an elaborately knotted cravat or strapped himself into a girdle to achieve a pleasing silhouette. The hipster—the contemporary equivalent of the dandy—has a simpler signifier. The t-shirt.

The only somewhat-ironic blog, “Stuff White People Like” has this to say about the garment: “Many people and cultures view t-shirts as a simple piece of apparel that can be acquired cheaply and worn in casual situations. For white people, it’s never that easy. The t-shirt is one of the most complex and expressive items in their entire wardrobe.”

Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart hopped aboard the t-shirt train in 2000, founding an online shirt company called Threadless. Designers and artists upload t-shirt designs to the site, Threadless customers score each design on a scale of 0 to 5,

- SEVEN SWANS : -  - IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • SEVEN SWANS :
then an estimated 10 designs are selected to be printed on t-shirts and sold. On average, about 1,500 designs are submitted each week. Ten years in, with more than a million fans who have voted for designs and hundreds of thousands of artists who have contributed designs, Threadless has undeniably done its part to escalate the t-shirt craze.

Threadless designers hail from around the world, though there are high concentrations of the artists in California’s urban poles—San Francisco and Los Angeles. Even San Luis Obispo is represented, in the form of Priscilla Wilson, a 2006 Cal Poly Graphic Design graduate who now works as a designer for Kraftwerk Design.

- MY TURN : -  - IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • MY TURN :
Wilson became a Threadless member in November of 2006. Her friends encouraged her to join, and at the time, she was dating someone who wore lots of Threadless shirts. In the past three years she’s submitted 56 designs, and had 10 selected to be printed. When she started participating in the Threadless community, payout for having a design chosen was $1,000. Since then, it’s been upped to $2,000 and a $500 Threadless gift certificate.

“I haven’t had to buy a t-shirt in a long time,” said Wilson, happily.

The designer’s most recent successful print was inspired by the Sufjan Stevens song “Seven Swans.” The image features a half-circle of swans with long intertwining beaks emitting color droplets with ships and whales and sea monsters clinging to the surface. She describes her aesthetic as organic, inspired by nature and abounding with animals and seafarers. Growing up in Solvang she crossed paths with lots of deer, and the animal just seemed to seep into her artistic vocabulary.

- SAILING : -  - IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • SAILING :
- THREADLESS VALOR:  To purchase shirts from Threadless visit threadless.com. To see more of Priscilla Wilson’s designs visit her website Valor and Vellum at valorandvellum.com. -
  • THREADLESS VALOR: To purchase shirts from Threadless visit threadless.com. To see more of Priscilla Wilson’s designs visit her website Valor and Vellum at valorandvellum.com.
“Usually I just get ideas, they sort of pop into my head,” she described. “I do a sketch after that. It’s just really rushed, really fast. From there I’ll put it onto paper. The Seven Swans design was a little different. That one I did in different pieces in Illustrator first then combined everything in PhotoShop.”

Wilson works on her Threadless designs by night, mostly, and on weekends. Her job is her priority. But the design site has managed to seep into her social life. Wilson met other designers through blogs and Threadless forums, and became part of a community that organizes meet-ups. Those friendships take the competitive sting out of the Threadless set-up. Yes, designers are still competing with other designers for a shot at being printed. But Wilson finds the experience more motivational than cutthroat. She acknowledges that it can become tedious to repeatedly submit designs that aren’t chosen, but gives the experience a positive spin by saying that not being chosen can be great motivation to improve the quality of design. Plus, other t-shirt designers and competition often troll Threadless to find new designs. Wilson is one of the designers who has received freelance offers through her work with the site.

- OWLNAUT : -  - IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • IMAGE BY PRISCILLA WILSON
  • OWLNAUT :
Despite the uneasiness of not knowing whether a design will find a home or not—Wilson claims that a lot of it is based on the mood of the voters, which is impossible to discern until the process begins—Wilson’s experienced some satisfactory designer moments. While attending the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago she bumped into an Australian tourist wearing a shirt with her design “My Turn,” featuring a queue of monsters waiting their turn at a pie stand. But you won’t catch Wilson wearing her own designs.

“I don’t wear a lot of my own designs unless it’s laundry day,” she said. “It would be weird. It would be like a band that listens to its own music. I’ve seen some of my friends wear their shirts before and we always call them on it and tease them about it.”

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach is quill-less. Send feathers to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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