Jimi Benedict (@jimiyo): Life Before & After Curating A Major Shirt-A-Day Website

Not a lot of great artists are very good art directors, and not a lot of great art directors are very good artists. Every once in a great while, a point-one-percenter is uncovered from the depths of Cybertron resulting in a talented individual that lands themselves in a position to curate the work of others. Artist Jimi Benedict (aka Jimiyo) is one such anomaly that has left a lasting footprint on the relatively soft soil of the shirt-a-day industry.  Industry owners have tried to control him, some of his peers love to hate him, and many aspiring artists wish to be him. After recently announcing his departure from his coveted position at one of the fore-runners of the online shirt-a-day model, he has been courting his one-time competitors and reintroducing himself to the industry with open arms and an open mind.

So Jimi, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and discuss your history and talents in this ever-growing industry.  For those that maybe aren’t so familiar, can you give us the highlights of your history in the t-shirt industry and making a living creating art in general?

My career started about 8 years ago when I landed my first art job designing Nascar t-shirts. I had never designed a t-shirt and I wasn’t a Nascar fan but my photoshop illustration skills were enough for the art director to hire me.

After 2 years I got bored so I decided to go freelance.

jimiyo-nascar-designs
Some of Jimiyo’s first commercial work

My first freelance year, in addition to working with clients like Sullen Clothing, Arbor Skateboards, Billabong, and others, I was a “professional online t-shirt contest winner” and won at most of the contest sites available at that time: Threadless, Designbyhumans, Shirt.woot, and many more.

Due to the publicity of the multiple wins, I was soon thereafter hired to be the Art Director for Designbyhumans and Teefury (both had the same owners at the time).  Art directing two shirt-a-day sites was somewhat taxing so I resigned from DBH and concentrated on helping build TF for the last 5 years.  If you know of TF, I was the sole decision maker on the past 1500 designs of the last 4+ years after I phased out  the inefficient multiple curator roles and centralized the decision making and aesthetic direction.

After 5 years, I recently resigned.

I’m free now. 😀

jimiyo-tshirt-designs
Some of Jimiyo’s past t-shirt designs

 

For those already rooted in the 24-hour tee industry as long time customers or artists, you are probably one of the more recognizable names that have been established over the past half-decade.  Do you attribute that to a strong personal work ethic, outside motivation and support, or maybe some other source? What has gotten you to where you are today and how can others apply what you’ve learned?

Being an artist, being successful in anything, requires you bust your ass and hustle every day, or at least a majority of the time. Always Be Creatin.

So yes, a strong work ethic has been key in my success. In at least three of my last in-office jobs, the boss/owner has come by my office to tell me to go home because they were going home themselves. Every job should be a stepping stone to the next level. Some people are content to be lifers, doing the minimum in a job. You can’t be successful that way.  Although most employers don’t deserve it, work your ass off, save money, learn as much as you can, and then move on as soon as the job stagnates your growth. Use the job, don’t let the job use you.

Now that I’m older, I do feel that working too hard might be a downfall of mine, since I should be working smart and leveraging my time like a business owner, but oh well, I’m still in a very comfortable position, I do what I want, the future is wide open, the level of freedom I’ve cultivated in my life is pretty significant.

Another crucial key to success has been the internet.

After I started to manage my “Jimiyo” artist persona as a brand online and offline, I have never had to look for a job. Resumes and interviews are for chumps who have to supplicate to gatekeepers.  If you do good things, people will notice, you will attract opportunities. They will fall into your lap.

So, if you are an artist right now, trying to break in, keep at it. You’ll get what you deserve. Play it smart though, not just hard. There are so many sites, so many opportunities to get in nowadays. Continuously strive to be extraordinary. Get noticed.

 

Did you receive formal training in illustration growing up or in school, or are you mostly self taught?

I’ve been doodling/drawing since I was in kindergarten, but I didn’t start focusing until the last couple years of my college education. Still, I consider most of my learning self taught. Although I had an art minor, I don’t really consider bookmaking to have been a benefit to my design career. 😉

I would say that online sites like conceptart.org, mintees (previously emptees) and similar sites where artists can post work, get critiques, and learn was much more helpful in getting me where I am today.

jimiyo-illustrations
Some of Jimiyo’s fore-mentioned ‘doodles’

Many artists often feel like they are left in the dark as to the inner workings of a site like RIPT Apparel.  You are one of the few that has been on multiple sides of the business as a whole.  How does being an art director affect your own work, and what insight do you think would be most valuable to an artist that might be apprehensive when submitting work for print?  What can you reveal from ‘behind the curtain’ that artists may not have ever expected?

Consider the math: Shirt-a-day sites need a design or two or three every day. Let’s say there’s 6 sites, with approximately 10 designs spots they need to fill daily. 60 designs *365 days in a year = 21,900 t-shirts that could be printed with your design this year. That’s not even considering ALL THE SITES. The needs of the voracious business model favors the productive artist. That’s true opportunity.

Manage your relationships with the businesses.

Here’s an insight that I’m sure most art directors will agree and celebrate being exposed. If you are a dickhead, no matter how bad ass you think you are, you decrease your chances of getting printed significantly.  Being nice plays on art directors hearts, even the most jaded and hardened ones like my former self. Also ass kissers and pushy emailers. Don’t be those.

Don’t be a bitter noob either especially in earshot of the art director. Oh, you didn’t get approved, but you’ve submitted three designs, tough nuggets! Try again. Just because you whine doesn’t mean you get approved. Make something good.

Artsy fartsy doesn’t sell. Pop culture does. This was not obvious until I called it out. The online t-shirt industry as a whole shifted. I didn’t cause it, but I called it, put the light on it. Artists hated the message. It was a splash of cold water… No one likes your original work.

Making the job of an art director/site easy is a good way to get approved. Include concise details of the ink count, offer various colorways, indicate soft recommendations like “looks best on navy”, etc.

Art directors and sites have to grind through so much turd, I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself having to slog through hundreds of Suck every month. Give em good stuff consistently, they will print you more and more. Develop a relationship.

Hark Pros and Noobs! You don’t have to have bad ass illustration skills to be printed. I’ve approved many a never-printed-noob whose design outsold well crafted designs by pros including myself. A good concept rules stronger than uber-great art.

Designers tend to design for designers, but the good ones design for consumers. Most customers can’t tell the difference between a well crafted piece of art vs a crappily crafted noob design.  They just want a great concept and decent art.

What do you think is the most miss-understood factor, by artists or customers, of choosing the designs for a 24-hour sale?

What the customers say they want or don’t want online, isn’t what the real customers buy.

I would be willing to bet, when RIPT has the a ton of hate about  having printed -whatever topic-, that’s when the design is selling like Justin Bieber albums. People hate the Beeb, but he’s going up in outer space just for kicks, what are you doing?

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Typical RIPT commentor

 

Do you have any success stories such as other artists that you perhaps discovered or directed in such a way that they have really come into their own since you met them?

There’s been several design concepts I’ve given to a handful of artists that have ended up being top selling designs, but honestly, you give the stage to the right performers, they will steal the hearts of the audience without requiring direction.

Megan Lara and Karen Hallion were first printed only a couple years ago, and since then they’ve blown up.

I’ve watched both of them go from 1000 fans to 34,000+ fans on Facebook. They really handle their art and fans well. They know what sells, and they know how to excite the fans/customers.

Some other notable artists are Atomic Rocket and Harebrained.  They are both from Chicago… I think… and once they found out about the opportunities in shirt design, they’ve been hitting grand slams since.

They all made my job easy peasy.

What are some common pitfalls that you may have observed that curb a design from being printed?

Artists in the industry have learned to trend surf. They see a hot topic or hot idea and they beat like a dead horse. So the market becomes saturated with the same topic or concepts. When there are dozens of designs on one topic or style/idea, it’s going to be really tough to get printed with that topic. It will have to be epic. If you are going to trend surf, don’t be late to the party or make epic. Choose one or both.

Read the guidelines. Too many colors, odd placement, or designs that are way too bootleg to pass the  parody check, they get a pass too.

 

Now that we know what NOT to do, what are the top three factors that have lead to printed designs that artists can have control over?

1. If we know that your art is clean and easy to sep, you got a foot in the door. Messy art files suck and take more work.

2. If you are friendly, and consistently submit, we’ll throw you a bone more often than not.

3. We see alot of the same ole boring shit. Give us something new and fresh, we’ll jump on it.

Why should or shouldn’t an artist print a design as many places as possible?  Is there a limit to the amount of steam a design has?  Is there a limit to the potential an artist has in this online art world, and how can they recognize those limits, if they exist?

Well, now that I’m on the outside, I can say it. I always hated when an artist took their  designs to another site. You dirty disloyal art whores! However, there are 313 million people in the US alone. Although the online t-shirt market seems saturated, just like one lonely tweet on twitter, not all the population will see a specific design that has only been on sale for 24 hours, so until the steam runs out, maximize your profits on a design by beating it like Chris on Rihanna.

Look at Qwertee. To an extent, half of their line up seems to be the top selling designs from other sites. I could almost guarantee if you just printed the top sellers of the major sites, money money money would be happenin.

 

The answer to this next question might be a little shocking or hard to swallow to some but to be perfectly candid, in your experience how important is the name of the artist that created a work, versus the content or quality of the work when the design is available for only 24 hours?

Artist names matter very little.

It helps on occasion if they have a big fanbase to increase the chance of viral marketing, but really, the bulk of a shirt-a-day website consumers don’t care who made a design provided it’s cool enough. They care about the concept and art.

Years ago, before the shirt-a-day sites, vote-to-print sites were popular. Most of those sites are now defunct except the big ones. The reasons the vote-to-print sites failed was that they thought they could  just pick up designs from the “popular” artists and that was all they had to do. Nope. I made alot of money the year I spent as a professional online tshirt contest winner, IMO solely on the momentum of my popularity, not necessarily because my designs sold well. I used to feel guilty when they would ask for a specific design that had been passed up elsewhere, knowing they were not going to recoup the money they were going to pay me because they were assuming *just* my popularity would ride them into the sunset.

You know what really helps though… is if you print an artist who knows how to crank up the marketing machine. It’s not the name, it’s their marketing prowess. Zerobriant is probably one of the best marketeers. That man is a super salesmen. Dos Equis type man of talent and interest.

 

Do you feel that being an artist while also juggling the duties of selecting and curating many others’ work has an impact on your own work?

Being in a position of power and leadership, I always tried to make sure if I approved anything of my own, it was held to a higher standard of quality, and that it did not encroach on opportunities better left for full time artists.  I’m not sure if it had a significant impact on my work. I usually tried to fill the holes where the schedule needed them… aka supply the site with a different style, different/new topic, a design to test or attract an untapped market. I had to keep squeaky clean since artists/noobs were prone to throwing around accusations of me abusing my position/having conflicts of interests/etc.

 

While you held your previous position at Teefury, what was the biggest surprise that still stands out to this day?  The most memorable day, sale, or event that you can talk about?

Honestly, thanks for giving me a chance to open up. I’m surprised that being an art director has been such a difficult position, not the actual picking art, but mentally. Over the last 5 years there has been I experienced a significant amount of angst towards me. I suppose it was because I was in a gatekeeper position.  From artists collectives talking smack about me being a moronic unprofessional twat, to internet mobs accusing me of thievery, to critics of pop culture saying I needed to be fired, to even my own bosses exchanging emails about me purportedly acting like a “bipolar diva” while lavishing me with praise in my face, the last 5 years has been a somewhat of a surprising challenge. Although I’ve come through to the other side with more confidence and firm resolve about my identity, it’s not without long lasting seeds of resentment and healthy distrust in pretty much everyone. People are dicks especially when there’s money involved. Im surprised I never went on Facebook and raged out a list of F—k you, and you, and you, especially you, and you. I’ve been silent all these years. Enough of that!  😀

There have been several events that have been memorable.

Michael Jackson died.

Within a few minutes of the TMZ announcement, I decided to create and run a tribute shirt with the Teefury bird doing the moonwalk and wearing the iconic white hat. I had to bump the scheduled design, but it sold great as well as create controversy that helped keep TF exciting and differentiate us from all the other sites. Controversy is good. Much of the education about marketing and consumer perception is that most things are counter-intuitive. Votes don’t count. Popularity doesn’t matter. What people say online doesn’t matter much…

Remember the Twitter Fail Whale? I scheduled a similar design which was an origami whale and cranes. It had been scheduled a month in advance and then the Japanese Tsunami occurred. When the shirt went on sale, all the Facebook and site commentators were like “too soon” and they were raising hell and being negative. It sucked. I ended up calming the internet down by donating a dollar per shirt sold out of my own pocket to Red Cross relief funds, and I also let them know I was born in Japan and I was obviously not trying to make fun or make light of the situation. Internet people like to jump to conclusions and accuse the worst of businesses.

Early on, Teefury got hacked and hackers posted Goatse pictures all in the forums. That was pretty funny.

strange-days
A history of strange days at one of the leading shirt-a-day websites

 

What changes, positive or negative, have you observed while you’ve been in the trenches of designing work for sale online?

Positive? Well, there’s definitely much more opportunity for artists nowadays.  Making a living as an artist is much easier with good marketing and good art. Etsy, redbubble, shirt-a-days, direct.  You don’t have to work for anyone but yourself!

However, with opportunity, there will be more players and competition. On the negative side, there’s many more artists who just trend surf and loot a design concept/idea as soon as one takes off. It’s become very competitive. Shark tank baby.

What changes would you like to see happen in the near future?

The shirt-a-day market is way saturated.  The first s-curve is complete ya’ll. Until a shirt-a-day innovates and really takes it up a notch and recreates themselves, it’s just going to be a long hard road for growth for all of them… IMO. You ever take a look at Alexa traffic reports between the top players? Stagnation. Homogenization.

No one is really doing anything different. There are small advances by a few players in the industry which I have a strong feeling will bode well for them. It’ll be interesting to watch.

 

Let’s bring it back to Jimiyo proper.  If I may bring this up, a few years ago there was a bit of an internet flash fire that attempted to question your ‘artistic integrity.’  It surrounded a piece of yours that was up for sale at a 24-hour t-shirt site and the possibility that you ‘stole the design’ from another artist.  A year later, do you feel you got a chance to represent your own side of the situation?  What range of emotions did this situation put your though at the time, and is it any different than now?  It is this interviewer’s person opinion that the accusation was blown out of proportion and clearly meant to garner pageviews for the publisher of the article, regardless of journalistic integrity.  Did you and the other artist ever discuss this mano e mano?
Here is the article in question.

The event occurred Sept 2011. I had *just* left for a cross country road trip on the day it went on sale so I didn’t have a reliable internet connection or time to respond to it properly. A few minutes before I got on the road for the first 10 hour drive, and before the storm of internet hate, I did get this tweet response out

Honestly, although it was difficult, being on the road driving allowed me to experience the event disconnected from feeling too much about it. Although there were horrible things being said about me, and I was being portrayed as an thieving “f–kstain  douchebag”, I think they just ended up helping Teefury sell more shirts. I made some sweet coin on that design. Thanks haters! 😀

My twitpic response was sufficient IMO. There’s no way to convince anyone of a contrary opinion when they are emotional about it, so I’m glad it happened when I was unable to brood and worry too much about it.

hp-lovecraft-jimiyo
Eerily similar, or just plain eery?

I do have a few comments:

1. The late artist Skummie said it best, “Looks like they are both guilty of being unoriginal, that’s about it” because if you google for Lovecraft and Cthulhu, you will find many other images with the basic concept, tentacles/Cthulhu behind Lovecraft.

2. The article conveniently put a disclaimer at the end which revealed we both used the same reference photo. Initially, without that data, it allowed people to think I traced the image of Lovecraft from the other artist.

3. After tracing was debunked, the single Cthulhu eyeball was purported as another piece of evidence in me copying the design. However, if you look at the reference photo, the cast shadows on the right eye make it hard to reference, so eventually, although I initially had Cthulhu eyes for both eyes, since the photos cast shadow obstructed the eyeball, I eliminated one of the eyes to match the shadows.

4. The article took a quote of mine from an old blog and omitted a part to incite the mob. They left out, “This statement though, is not an excuse to take the easy path and skirt the line of inspiration and conceptual theft” of the paragraph of which they only quoted, “Screw other people’s opinion about whether you ripped an idea or not. They don’t know what’s in your heart, and even then, art is a business, it’s competitive, and barring any infractions of  actual executable law, all is fair in love, art, and war.”

It’s all water under the bridge. Honestly, I love observing and pondering about human/social psychology so although I was the recipient of the internet mob hate, I appreciate the experience. I was physically assaulted once. I have the same opinion about that experience as well. Battle scars makes you stronger, albeit a little more paranoid. 😉

It often seems the world expects one to be guilty until proven innocent.  What advice would you another artist that may unexpected find themselves in a similar situation, starring down the barrel of the internet’s accusation gun?

Enjoy the Beating.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Don’t Get Sucked in and Respond to Comments.

Who’s successful?

Shepard Fairey. He’s been sued for “stealing” and has been accused of much more.

Urban Outfitters. The company gets hounded by internet hate all the time for purportedly “stealing” Etsy designer works.

No one in the world is original. I still stand by my “STFU Comparison Police” Blog that Comic Alliance misquoted to make me out to be a thieving asshole.

Seriously, besides snakey CEO’s and corporate elite, who gets paid the most? Celebrities/Public Figures.

They get beat up every day. I think the reason celebrities get paid so much is that they have to live daily with unflappable demeanor amidst all the negative criticism.

The world pays those who are confident. Learn to be confident and accept that there will always be hate  for those who decide to step into the limelight.

 

You seem to be no stranger to these sorts of ‘internet assault.’  How did you feel when a collaboration you were involved with was blatantly used without any alteration for an artist’s show? Did you feel the accusations, this time going more in your favor, were warranted?  Sometimes to me, it seems that large groups of people not specifically tied to either side of the discussion will take it upon themselves to ‘fight for great justice’ when the situation is easily amicably resolved.
See some fan reaction here.

I didn’t care. True to my attitude in my “STFU Comparison Police” blog, I didn’t get butthurt even when it was a straight lift of my own work.

Threadless had already paid me for the design and they continued to pay me for the design in residuals.

As I stated at the time, “just as long as it sells shirts. come with the residuals! pappa needs a new android based tablet come this winter.”

There are 313+ million people just in the United States. If you are so uptight that you are getting upset that someone might be profiting off of a micro-sliver of that pie with some janky shit they stole from you, you are ignoring the 313+ million chunk of opportunity pie that’s still left to sell to, with your non-janky original shit.

JimiZen Perspective O’ the World: People who come from the scarcity perspective annoy the hell out of me. One has to come from abundance to really open themselves up to opportunity. You don’t get into Flow being in fear that what’s being “stolen” from you is finite. If you are an artist, you should consider yourself an endless well of creation.

In the Rob Pruitt scenario, scarcity attitude. “Oh noes, he stole my design. I want my portion of the money he’s probably not making much of!!!” which costs you emotional currency in being upset.

Abundance attitude? “Oh hell yeah! This is going to get some good publicity because artists and internet love to beat the hell out of people. This sells more shirts, which will get me more residual commissions checks. Thanks Rob Pruitt!”

rob-pruitt-panda
Thanks dude!

Now that you are a free agent, if I may refer to you as that, what can the world expect to see from you?  Do you have any teasers?

I wrote a blog alluding that I was going to be an artist again. It was only a  half truth.

Ever since my first post college job, I’ve always kept a little gun powder in the bank for taking breaks from employment.  Although it takes cahones, stepping back from security allows one to discover new endeavors, maybe even better paths.

The short term plan for the next 365 or 1460 is to take it easy and see what manifests in my life.

I’ve been day trading in the stock market ever since my former employer pissed me off by stagnating my growth and neglecting to praise my good work.  Although it’s a little scary, I’m only 36. If I make some bad investments, I figure I have all the time in the world to wait it out, as well as the opportunity to design some t-shirts to generate cashflow while I wait, watch, and learn. Having guided and watched TF grow from nothing to a cash cow, it’s simple to discern most things just take time to grow. I figure, if I pretty much guided the Teefury ship by approving and picking the last 1500+ designs of the last 4+ years, maybe I can do the same with stocks, and I won’t have owners to deal with. I think the stock market endeavor agrees with my Abundance perspective of the world, or at least it will allow me to test my thesis that everything will always be okay, and that I am intelligent enough to succeed in anything. Also Screw The Man.

So that’s the deal. I keep getting offered partnerships to start my own shirt-a-day site, but you know, after 5 years, I don’t feel like slogging through a bunch of designs, sepping, marketing, and all the other crap just to make money. I want to learn new things. Money is nice, but doing things you don’t wanna do isn’t.

Who inspires you and your work now, alive, dead, active, or legendary?

Aaron Horkey.

Do you have a favorite piece that you curated or art directed over the years, or even illustrated yourself?

ZombamaReduxWeb
Zombama by Beastpop

Although we’ve exchanged unkind words on the internet, my favorite piece is Zombama by Beastpop.

The design is clean, it’s cool, it was timely since Obama was still a hot topic back when it was printed. Hate or Love Obama, it was ambiguous enough to attract both sides.

The reason that it is my favorite was because, it wasn’t a design Beastpop submitted. He submitted something I thought wouldn’t sell well, but after looking through his portfolio, I was like… That’s the one. I want it. Even the owners had their reservations at the time, but I stuck to my guns.

AND BLAM! The hottest seller up to that point.

I’ve hand picked many other hot sellers since then. It was the first of many wins. It let me know I was talented at picking art, and not just from a lineup of good submissions. From then on, I scoured the internet and portfolios, and pretty much ramped up profitability for TF at the time by picking the best selling designs.

 

Why do you think the internet is so crazy about cats?  Don’t they know people all over the world are deathly allergic to them?

THEORY:

1. Internet surfers are introverts. Introverts don’t like people.
2. Cats don’t seem to like people either.
3. Internet surfers and cats have that in common.

Think of a dog. They are all in your face, want to be around people, outside playing, etc. The people who own them are most likely the same. They don’t surf the internet as much.

Personality test time:

 

Finish this “Tommy Boy” quote however you would like.  “We don’t take no…”

I forget. My knowledge of Sandler was around the “F–k me in the goat-ass” era.

For the answer:

Art or Design?

Design

 

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Something about a carrying a coconut or something. Monty Python?

 

On behalf of RIPT Apparel, I really want to thank Jimiyo for taking the time to answer some really prodding questions that we all hope will be a resource for those trying to get a foot hold in this industry.  We look forward to seeing what the future holds for him and watching how he helps cultivating the next legion of artists across the world. You can keep up with Jimiyo at his blog, follow him on Twitter or become his fan on Facebook!

GraffitiNation_LG
Graffiti Nation by Jimiyo. I own this tee!
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