They said, “We'll give you a blank Nike Tee; do something with it!”
So, I just did it.
Here is a breakdown of how I designed my first Nike Tee.
Actually, this is my 2nd Nike Tee I have ever designed. The first one was designed way back when I was just a kid, around the year 2002, when I cut-out my first ever stencil. It happened to be the "Secret Tournament" (also known as "Scorpion KO" or "The Cage") logo. So, I cut it out with my own hands and spray-painted it on a random T-Shirt I had. Looking back now, I believe this was the very beginning of my interest in street art and fashion as such. Something weird happened though. Because of the fact that I grew up in a small town, friends saw my Tee with the stencil and pretty fast everyone wanted it on their stuff as well, after they learned that I spray-painted it myself. So, I painted it literally everywhere - skateboards, bags, school notebooks and anything friends gave me to spray paint. Everyone had it now. I remember the feeling, it felt damn good that someone actually wanted something I have created. Even if it was just a small stolen logo from the Web. I guess this was my first experience with the “word of mouth” advertising effect. My Stencil became famous in my small city. I guess Nike global advertising campaign coinciding with the 2002 FIFA World Cup worked excellent, if a kid in the middle of nowhere spread the logo around without any good reason. From this point on, I started to cut out all kinds of designs to spray paint them around on everything. Here, for example, is a wooden plate with my Nike Scorpion stencil on it.
Let’s jump back to 2019 now. So, how to design a Tee in a world where everything has been done before and multiple times over and over again? How to create something that has never been done before? Stupid questions. It’s simply hard to imagine something that doesn't exist. Yet, that’s the main job for any artist, designer or creator of any kind - to “see” the future. The paradox is, because no one knows how stuff will look in the future, you have absolute freedom to create anything you want. [A little rule of thumb - if you want to see glimpses of the future, check what kids are doing now. They are the ones who dictate the trends and movements.] So, the question remains - how to design something that Nike doesn't already have? A brand which already has all the possible Tee designs under the sun I could ever imagine, and many times over, and created by the best designers in the world? The answer is by doing stuff my way. As always. Conceptually, it definitely should be something the opposite of what everybody else is doing right now. If designs now focus more on the final look to be likeable for consumers, maybe I should focus on the process instead and emphasise on HOW the design is actually created. Creating a legend with the process.
As in any project, I started with my favourite part - the R E S E A R C H. So, What is Nike? Googling this pretty simple question, something caught my attention. It was a quote by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman - “If you have a body, you’re an athlete”. Well, this was uplifting to read because I’m definitely not an athlete, but here this guy is saying that I am. This triggered ideas of the possibilities to maybe create my Tee design by actually playing some sports. That would be funny. The thing is, I'm not into any sports at the moment. Well, I still ride my skateboard occasionally and kinda have my school diploma of the fastest lap time in year 2001. Not sure how this could help me here now. But hey, Bill said anyone is an athlete, so I just kept digging. I listed all the sports that Nike represents and what could work in my case. Basically, I searched for something I could actually perform with my old and weak body. I needed something where I could add paint and the art will happen genuinely.
Within a few minutes, I was staring at a picture of a tennis ball. "It’s hairy and soft like a sponge or a brush. What if I play tennis, but the ball is soaked in paint? What if the ball hits the tee and wherever the ball hits that is the actual design?" Unpredictable print on the Tee and it’s all authentically created by actually “playing” this sport. The emphasis on the actual process and not focusing so much on the final design - everything adds up perfectly here. No one knows how the Tee will look at the end and that’s the exciting part. Unpredictable, like any sports game itself. I searched deep into Google again to find out if anyone has ever done anything similar like this before - painted something, anything by playing tennis with balls soaked in paint. Luckily, I didn’t find anything, so this was it! I have never played tennis before though, but hey, Bill said I can! Also he said “Just do it, Kiwie!” No he didn’t, it was my mind screaming through my lungs.
In winter this year, I was invited to check one wall at a private place outside Riga city. It was a wall in a Tennis court. The owner wanted me to spray paint it with something colourful, so it would have some life on it. A kids playground was right next to it. Once the tennis ball idea triggered, I remembered this Tennis court with the huge wall. “Perfect spot where I could design my Nike Tee” - I immediately thought. After I explained my idea, the owner agreed to give me the wall for my weird experiments with only a few rules - I had to make sure not to trash the court field with paint splatters, so I’ll have to cover the ground with something. And, if the painting looks terrible, I would have to repaint the whole wall back to its original colour. This was a Done deal.
Researching Tennis courts, I put together a mood board with the most used colours in Tennis. Of course, it was blue mixed with white lines and yellow green ball colours. At this point, it was also clear that I would wear my Hawaii shirt, orange shorts and the orange visor, to make it all look extra juicy, or how my old boss said “eye candy”. Something I learned when I was working as an artist in the field on movie production sets - all the details are important, e.g. environment, accessories, clothing and everything on the screen. Obviously, it creates the whole video vibe and overall look. So, if there is a wall that needs to be in a different colour, it just needs to be repainted. Once we cut down half of a field edge in a rural area just because the director thought it didn’t look good in the picture. It was one scene. It took 2 hours and 10 people, but it was done. Was it necessary? Probably no one would even notice the edge in the background. It was simply done because of the mindset of creating the picture rather than just filming stuff how it is. Professionals know it. I recently saw a cliché written on my good friend’s studio ceiling - “Remember, you don’t take the picture, you create it” Write it also on your ceiling, so you see it every time you cry or yell up to the heavens - “Why me?”
Because of my experience in painting walls, I could calculate pretty accurately as to how much paint I would need to paint the blue wall. But how much paint do I need for the flying balls? No freaking idea! So I just bought the biggest bucket. Just in case.
Ok, so far so good. But now, where to stick the Tee? I could hang it on the wall as a canvas, but I needed emotions. I needed someone to actually stand at the wall and just take the hits. Luckily, I had the right guy in mind. Viesiits. “Bro, hell yes!”. He agreed before I even finished to explain the concept. We had done something similar in the past, where I spray painted over him while he stood at the wall. So, he kinda had a good CV with experience in this.
It was clear that I would need a cameraman to capture all this mess. Originally, I wanted to make the video as a raw, uncut sequence with the whole process from start to end and from one point of view. But this meant the video could be up to 5 hours and who has the time to watch such a long video nowadays? For an exhibition show, maybe, but for YouTube this was not a good option. It had to be short and to the point. Again, I had the perfect guy in mind. After explaining the whole concept, Dree agreed to help. Stuff got real once we got our hands on a Red Epic Dragon camera with slow-motion features. For those who don’t know what a Red Epic camera is, it’s basically a spaceship and time travel machine compressed to a size one can hold in their arms and capture RAW film. People in Hollywood make movies with these cameras. Dree was all set up and at some point looked like something from a future “Robocop"
We covered half the court with black plastic. I wanted it to be green to imitate the original “artificial grass” of the court, but there was no green plastic available in the stores, so I just went with black. I figured this could give a good contrast anyways. [No worries, this was bio plastic made from recycled stuff and will not kill dolphins in the ocean.] There was a downfall with the back colour though. Once the sun started to heat up, I understood that we just created a big frying pan. The black plastic heated up so much in the sun that we were toasted in minutes.
“As in any project, it needs to have a name”, I thought. I really like this part. Figuring out names for stuff could be my thing to do when I’m old. Oh, wait…
When thinking about names, it is best to try to describe the video in one or two words and then just look for not so popular synonyms or even antonyms. In this case, It was definitely aiming. And just by changing one letter in AIR it becomes AIM. This was. Smooth. Criminal.
An important part of any video, any video really, is the sound or soundtrack. It can make the video much better than it is or it can destroy it and make the whole footage look worse than it is. Even if it’s filmed with the best cameras on earth. I usually avoid famous songs or music tracks for the soundtrack of my videos. That is mostly because if one uses a famous specific song for a video, it’s already associated with something else and generally will kill the whole vibe. If for some reason I don't’ like the music, I will not like the whole video, or will skip watching it at all. Been there and done that so many times myself. So I dove into Latvia’s Electronic Music’s underground scene. Dirty Deal Audio was the right place to jump in first. Somehow I managed to stumble across the 181h track "Poughkeepsie Tapes". I immediately understood that this might be the right rhythm and mood I needed. It had that unusual sound I was looking for. I needed something unusual that could become iconic in combination with the footage. 181h from Dirty Deal audio agreed to help us by allowing us to use his masterpiece in our video. He even adjusted the track for our video’s length to make it just right.
It was clear that anything could happen in the process of this performance. The unpredictability here was at high levels. "In theory, it should work, but there is a risk I could accidentally hit you in the face with the ball” I said to Viesiits. Predictable unpredictability I might say. And so it happened, I accidentally hit Viesiits face with blue paint right after saying “now you can relax, I will hit over your head”. their was a direct hit on his sunglasses and of course it damaged them a bit. It is a good thing Dree actually captured this "money-shot” and now it’s the best part of the video, capturing the whole essence of the concept.
Fun fact - shortly after this video shoot, these sunglasses were stolen by some random kids. They actually face serious charges, so please a moment of silence for these guys and sunglasses.
The Tee was designed, the soundtrack was adjusted, the timeline was edited and so the video was done.
There, we added the last punch with a blue ball to finish our Tee design.
Here is the final look of my Nike Tee.
And this is how all our accessories look after the whole intense “tennis painting” design process.
Accessory pictures by Vents Aboltins.
You might think - all this hustle just to design one T-Shirt? For me, this project was an experiment where I searched what a T-Shirt design is and what it could be. I always want to push myself further into the unknown and throw myself outside the usual comfort zone. Searching for new ways on how to do stuff is definitely one of the best ways how to get uncomfortable really fast and I think it is the only way to grow. If just the idea alone makes my blood pump faster, then I just need to do it. This project forced me to do things the unusual way, which already triggered ideas for my next projects. Tennis was just something I chose to use this time, but in general it’s applicable to any sport or even things other than sports. Just replace the tennis ball with a football, basketball, hockey puck, floorball or an axe and you’ll have different results, playing around with the same concept. I was lucky enough to have the right people around to help me execute this idea. I could never pull this off alone. Thank you guys - especially Julijs Krumins!
I hope this project inspired you and will trigger new ideas for your next creations. Feel free to steal my ideas and create your own stuff.
Thanks for reading!