How a Life is Good artist’s work goes from freehand design to graphic tee

No matter how you channel your creativity, you have to admit there’s something special about drawing on paper. The texture pens and pencils create feels refreshing in comparison to digital expressions, and it’s motivating to work within the boundaries they create.

It’s a process that’s especially inspiring to our in-house designer, Bill, who took the brilliance of everyday objects—the intricate typography of an old dictionary, the ornate patterns of a basic deck of cards—and transformed them into a wearable graphic tee. Check out his step-by-step process of how he makes it happen, from creative kickoff to a finished Freehand tee.

1. Do your creative research

It all starts when the creative team is tasked to create a circular, ornate design that includes the Life is Good Superpowers. From here, Bill ideates, researching and gathering inspiration from the complex designs of playing cards and lettering from old dictionaries, even looking at the Mayan calendar for ideas of how to segment a circle in an interesting way. He keeps these materials close at hand to reference during his creative process.

2. Get to sketching

Bill sketches the original graphic concept by hand, incorporating a series of keys and abstract shapes. Aside from his research materials, Bill references keys he’s drawn for past Life is Good designs, taking bits and pieces of previous work that suits this project’s hand-drawn theme. The phrase, “The keys to happiness are all around us” is inscribed along the center of the circle.

While sketching, Bill uses an erasable non-photo blue pencil to lay out basic shapes, proportions, and angles. To him, the tool is especially helpful during this step of the design process because its marks are easily seen on paper, but, for the most part, are too light to be seen in a scan.

3. Clean up (but not too much)

Bill scans his sketch into the computer and creates a simplified version in Adobe Illustrator. Given the concept, he doesn’t want his design to look too clean or composed and makes sure to keep some of the imperfections of his original drawing for an authentic, personal touch.

4. Fill in the details

The digital version of the original sketch is printed. Next, some shading, textural lines, and other details are added by hand with pen and ink. Some of the hand-drawn elements are shown below: Tiny leaves, intricate pattern work, and hand lettering. These new components are translated in Adobe and final adjustments are made.


5. Take time to redesign

Bill then shares his design with members of the creative team for constructive feedback, which is then used to revise and improve the graphic. The team decides to change the script at the center of the design from the simpler type featured in his first draft. Options with varying degrees of complexity are explored through new sketches and a final style is selected. This script suits the overall design: It’s further from traditional letterforms and conveys just as much art as information.

6. Save it, size it, and let it out into the world

Bill saves his final design as a digital file and shares it with the Product and Production teams. From here, it’s sized to fit and is placed on Life is Good products. From hoodie, t-shirt, or long sleeve tee, consider this graphic an expression of gratitude for the little things. And who knows? Like Bill’s old dictionaries and playing cards, it just might ignite your inspiration when you least expect it.

Want more straight-from-the-sketchbook graphic tees? Shop our full collection of Freehand styles, created with an eye for line, form, and all kinds of cool. Shop now »