“Draw Until Your Back Hurts” – An Interview With Best-Selling T-Shirt Artist Vincent Trinidadby Michael Essek · Updated: May 27, 2020
Vincent Trinidad is a natural-born artist – and his creative output is nothing short of staggering.
For the past few years he’s focused that talent on designing T-Shirts, and he’s achieved enviable success.
Chances are you’ve seen his designs somewhere – from his bestsellers on Threadless, Teepublic, TeeFury and others to Redbubble’s Christmas Marketing Campaign, or even on Samuel L Jackson’s chest.
Vincent is not just a highly skilled artist – he’s also proved himself to be a brilliant ‘ideas man’ – producing original work that sells consistently, alongside pop culture inspired designs.
Vincent has been a valued member of my Facebook group since the early days – and was recently kind enough to answer some questions and share his advice for T-Shirt designers everywhere.
I’ve summarised some takeaways at the end of the post – where you’ll also find links to Vincent’s stores and social media.
OK – let’s get to it!
Q: Tell us about yourself – who is Vincent Trinidad?
I am an Illustrator and designer, I was born in the time of Marshall Law here in Manila, overthrowing the Marcos Dictatorship in the Mid 1980’s.
I started when my college buddy Dan Fajardo from art school told me to make designs and post it on Threadless back in 2016.
Q: What does a normal day look like for you?
My Normal Day is always drawing on my computer lol.
I get up when my back hurts. hahaha.
But this year I try to stay away on drawing because health keeps a toll on you and now my focus is on regaining my health.
I draw at least 10 to 12 hours a day, everyday in the last 2 years – after I resigned on my day job and went full time on T-Shirts.
I started full time on T-Shirt designing because of fear about money (drawing is the only source of income in my family so you know how it is) but now I made thousands of designs so they keep me a float.
Now I focus on picking subjects and ideas that interests me the most, rather than drawing because of fear.
Q: Is it just you or do you have help?
It is just me who makes and draws the designs.
Q: Your designs are regularly amongst the top selling on Redbubble, Teepublic and other big platforms. Which POD sites are the best performers in terms of income for you?
Teepublic is the most consistent best selling website for me.
Second is Threadless, because of my design Ramen Wave is heavily promoted in their site.
It really depends on how the website likes and promotes your designs.
Q: You regularly work on commissions for brands, bands and others. Do you receive royalties for such designs, or just flat fees? And what percentage of your income comes from royalties vs. Commissioned work?
Most commissioned work are one time payments.
But some websites give initial payment plus royalties if the design is exclusive for them in a time period.
80% of my income comes from royalties and 20% from commissioned work.
Q: You regularly work on similar themes and styles to produce collections of designs (eg. Japanese style, 80s style etc.) Is this something you do consciously or does it just happen?
It just happens.
I think because growing up in the 80s watching Transformers, Thundercats, Denver the Last Dinosaur and Sentai Henshin… T.V shows like Power Rangers, Masked Rider Black, Jetman, Bioman, any show that has a “man” on it – I watch it!
This made me do the 80’s and Japanese designs unconsciously.
And also last year when I traveled to Japan – that impacts me heavily on Japanese designs, I love it back there.
Q: A lot of your work references the IP of someone else. Do you get a lot of takedown notices? Does doing this kind of work worry you? What do you think is the future for IP-related work?
I tend to make designs on IP related work in the previous 2 years because of fear that original art will not sell well.
But then my design Ramen Wave design sold a lot, and that gives me a boost of confidence to make at least 60% of my work on non IP related designs and 40% – when an idea and timing is good to make pop-culture related designs.
And also seeing Steven Rhodes and Hillary White Rabbit sell their non IP designs really gives me the confidence that the market will buy them if you have a good idea and execution.
Q: Your work must get copied and stolen a lot. How do you deal with that?
Well it is frustrating… But I tend to be in the offense side of things, and not to worry about defense.
So I just focus on what I am good at – designing and creating what interests me.
Because when you are the first to make the design, and to make sure that the design is well crafted (because you love doing it), it will really stand out against other designs that are not well illustrated, and are just a rendition and a copy of your work.
Q: You have a large audience on Instagram and Facebook. Can you offer artists some advise about growing and managing social media – and the value of doing that?
Well to be honest the value of it, is that people just perceive your work is good enough if you have lots of likes and followers and that is it and nothing more.
Also It will give you the insight on what subjects and style people responds to so you based on and improve your next designs on that.
Q: You have had good success tapping into pop culture trends. Can you share a little about how you go about coming up with ideas – in particular ideas that are more likely to make sales?
Well the majority of people will respond more to what they are familiar with – so I just try to link on what subjects interests me on that notion.
Like Cats, Bacon and internet sell well.
Q: what is your all-time best selling design – and why do you think it was so popular?
The Great Ramen Wave I made that when I just got back from my travel in Japan.
I think because Ramen is now a popular dish and The wave is a popular Art – that the combination of the two is a novelty to them – and until I made the artwork they didn’t see see the great connection between the two.
Q: You are a prolific creator, you seem to create new stuff almost daily. Can you tell us a little bit about how you work?
I just comes natural to me. That is what I do and nothing else. I just draw – that’s my existence.
It is nice that there are websites like Teepublic where we do not need to sell and pitch our work to people.
It makes artists be artists – you just draw and draw and improve your work everyday.
I do not know what I would do If I do not draw and design. It is what I am designed for.
Q: What is your design process like when creating some new artwork?
I think this video will sum it up: (see below)
Q: How many t-shirt designs do you currently have?
I am really not sure… But not more that 1,500 for sure… Because in the last 2 years I have been making 1 to 2 designs a day – so at least 600 per year.
So for 2 years I think I have 1,200 to 1,500 designs… But many had been taken down so I do not have a definite number.
Q: How do you currently organise your designs? do you have any kind of database where you store them all?
In the first and a half year I did not have a database – now I have a a dropbox where I can just search the design and also just folders in my computer and external hard drives.
Q: Do you limit the number of colours you are using in each design (such as for a screenprint) – or is that something you don’t worry about anymore?
I have to say I want to limit my self up to 4 colors because some website like Wistitee in Ireland only accepts 4 colors.
But I don’t exceed 7 colors at most, because that is the limit of silk screen printing machines.
I know that most POD sites use DTG printers – but some websites use purely silkscreen and you also need to prepare your files in their preferred screen print halftones.
Also websites like Threadless will have to use silkscreen print if your design sells well, because it is really much cheaper if you will print thousands using silkscreen rather than DTG printing.
Q: What do you think the future hold for independent artists creating work for print-on-demand type platforms? Do you see significant changes coming down the line?
Daily sites like Teefury drastically went down on sales because of how many can easily peoeple can make a POD website… But I really do not know what changes will come down in the next 3 to 5 years.
What I know is you just need to work and bet on your self and your skills to be able to cope with the changes.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who want to do what you do – or to the Vincent of 10 years ago?
Do not be afraid to take the leap.
Start early and work hard. Lower down your living expenses. Because I started a family very early when I was just 21 years old after graduating college. So going to the unknown without a consistent monthly earning is a lot of fear – especially when you have a kid and housewife that depends on you.
I do not want you to experience panic attacks because you only did 1 artwork today, because of fear that you are not working hard enough because you will think that next month, you will not have money to pay rent, food and school for your daughter…
We are very fortunate to have the internet today – so bet on your skills, work hard but manage and lower down your expenses. Live on your parents when you are starting so you will not have to worry that much.
Q: What are your plans to grow your business from where it is today?
As of now I am just trying to make a design that I enjoy and interest me the most and nothing more.
I will enjoy every bit of it.
Also I am planning to make occasional convention visits that I can sell my designs, so that I can travel along with it. Like New york Comicon and the likes.
Q: Any resources, books or other stuff you would recommend for new coming artists?
I like to listen to documentaries and audio books it keeps me focus more while I am drawing.
BBC art documentaries are the best.
- Creative Confidence by David Kelly
- Myths of Creativity by David Burkus
- Audience Of One by Srinivas Rao
- Daily Stoic and The Shortness Of Life is one of my favorite books and it helped me a lot to be a better artist.
- Robert Greene – Mastery and The Laws Of Power to guide you on your journey.
Awesome – Thank you Vincent!
(If you enjoyed this article – why not thank Vincent by buying something!)
My Takeaways & Thoughts
- Vincent only started focusing on T-Shirts a few years ago (2016). Since then he’s produced around 1,500 designs, and created a very healthy income for himself and his family. It goes to show that great skills, plus hard work for an extended amount of time, equals success. If you have skills like Vincent – and produce as much quality work as Vincent produces – you are almost guaranteed results.
- Vincent’s passion for drawing is evident in both his answers, and the quality of his work. This is a guy who just loves to draw above all else, and has found the perfect partner in online licensing through print-on-demand sites. Vincent doesn’t want to create his own clothing brand or manage staff – he simply wants to do what he is great at – turning good ideas into wearable, shareable art.
- Social Media: Instagram is a perfect platform for an artist like Vincent – his work attracts the eye, and this gives him the opportunity to market his stuff – without users realising they are being marketed to! Vincent also points out the value of Instagram as a testing ground for new work – to help you judge what is popular and not-so-popular – to help inform your next design choices.
- T-Shirt Design Fundamentals – when you glance at Vincent’s work you might think he designs without limits. But Vincent is actually very conscious of concepts like colour separation (for screenprinting), limiting colours and using halftones. This informs all of his designs, and as a result his artwork looks completely natural on Shirts. These fundamentals are really key if you want your art to look like it was designed for the T-Shirt – rather than just being an image slapped on top (which is now possible due to DTG printing).
- Vincent is one of only a handful of T-Shirt artists who has had multiple, original best-selling designs that aren’t tied to someone else’s IP, or to some flash-in-the-pan event or viral internet trend. His Ramen Wave is a great example, as is his Rad T-Rex. These are designs without text, without any obvious ‘joke’ – and that rely almost completely on the quality of the idea and aesthetic of the art to generate sales (because there’s nothing else motivating the sale – no brand, no celebrity, no single event). It shows that a quality original idea, when matched with quality execution (and ideally also tied to the popular ‘zeitgeist’ in some way) – can produce big results for anyone – regardless of following.
Thanks again to Vincent for taking the time to provide such useful info!
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And if you want to become great at coming up with original T-Shirt design ideas (just like Vincent), then check out my new book – The Little Book Of T-Shirt Ideas.
Until next time!