St. Olaf News
Project focuses on T-shirt art — and its commercial viability
January 6, 2014
As part of a St. Olaf College independent research project, Burton has conceptualized, crafted, and produced multiple T-shirt designs under the direction of Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Peter Nelson. The project has enabled Burton to develop his skills as an illustrator, learn more about T-shirts as a medium for art, and, especially, helped him discover new avenues by which to make his art skills commercially viable.
Burton’s project is just one example of the college’s commitment to fostering independent undergraduate research opportunities across the liberal arts. Students are encouraged to combine academic interests in their various independent studies.
Just as other students have created projects that combine mathematics with ceramics and psychology with linguistics, Burton has used St. Olaf’s integrated approach to learning to combine art with aspects of management studies.
Burton was inspired by the website Threadless.com, an online market for T-shirt designers.
“When I was in 9th grade, I began taking in all the creative art that was being produced on that site,” he says. “It slowly became a goal of mine to get some work printed on similar T-shirts, and despite many attempts, it never happened. With this project, I’m able to give my dream one real and meaningful go before graduation.”
Though housed in the Art Department and originally geared toward simply focusing on design, Burton’s study grew to envelope research into the world of marketing and product development. Throughout the past four months, he has kept a journal in which he has reflected on new T-shirts that are being produced and sold both online and in local stores, and noted the growing trends in the digital art and design worlds.
Such knowledge will be especially useful as Burton begins to create a market for his designs, allowing him to better anticipate what sort of designs may sell well to specific audiences. By understanding what will sell well, Burton will have a better idea of what sorts of designs he should print — and in what quantities.
“Printing is far more expensive and time intensive than I originally anticipated,” he says. “But it’s only pushing me to work harder and find resources to push my designs to the top of the fold.”
Burton will continue work on his design project this spring. His goal is to apply his new marketing know-how to obtain funding in order to print more of the T-shirts, which will enable him to market and sell his shirts both on and off campus.