The Piranha Saga

September 9th, 2006 | Posted in General

Well, the Piranha shirts are finally done and on the racks. It was quite a struggle to get them out, and ultimately the Minnesota Twins had to give up on what we felt was an integral part of the design in order to just get them done. A lot happened over the last week between Major League Baseball, the Twins, myself and the printers of the shirts, but the bottom line was that we couldn’t get the proper approval from MLB and each team in order to go with the original design. Here’s the timeline and various steps that happened.

At first I worked directly with the Twins and submitted initial designs and sketches. Directions like leaving player numbers off the fish and changing the title were followed in subsequent sketches. This was the last pencil sketch:


One further change was asked, to change “Minnesota Twins” to “The Little”. At this point I was told to go ahead with the final. MLB was in the mix at this point, but to what extent I didn’t really know. It sounded like we had a rubber stamp go ahead. I made the change and did the final art as I posted before:


Now the fun began. The printers of the shirts got involved. Apparently there were also more MLB people who got involved, and they didn’t like several things. For one thing, they wanted only one font in the title. Why that mattered to them is unclear. Not a problem. Easy to fix:


Then we ran into more problems. There are lots of legal issues involved with the use of team logos. MLB has certain rights to use them, especially if more than one are used at a time, and the individual teams have certain rights as well. It was questionable if he could depict the logos as “chewed up”. So I had to do a version without the bite marks. I still stuck to the ‘floating” feel of the logos, however. This change was not an easy one, as I had to do a significant amount of drawing to make the logos whole again, especially within the wavy feel of the drifting logos:


Not as much fun as the first, but rules is rules. Unfortunately there then was discussion that this image still was “distorting” the team logos. so I had to do a version with the official logos totally unchanged. I did tilt and rotate them so there was SOME illusion of their being in drift, as well as altering the sizes so they had some depth of field:


Much less interesting, but whatyagonnado? The real kicker is that at this point some of the Twins folks felt they could get the original chewed up logos approved based on early conversations with MLB. So for a little while it looked like we were back to design #1 and all these extra revisions would be discarded. However, as it turned out this would entail getting approval from every team whose logo was in the art, and that proved to be tough on short notice. Phone calls were fast and furious, but replies were slow or not forthcoming at all (damn Yankees). Eventually the Twins gave up on the chewed up image, and even the floating one, and we went with the final one. We still had to add all the copyright and trademark signs on everything. But the final design is now printed and in stores:


Thanks to VF imagewear and the Minnesota Twins??ᬨ‚Ćfor allowing me to post the art here. The entire process is a good lesson on several fronts. First, it puts into perspective what an illustrator’s role is in this kind of process. We are hired to realize the visions of someone else. Yes, that someone (if they are smart) will choose their artist carefully and take full advantage of their creative skills, but ultimately it’s the client (or in this case their bosses) who dictate what the final art will look like. Keeping that in mind can sometime be hard, because as an artist it’s difficult not to become emotionally invested in your work. In other words, when you do something you really think turned out well and it gets shot down for something you don’t think is nearly as effective, it’s sometimes hard not to get upset by that. There are two ways to handle it. You can get mad and say something stupid or otherwise act like a baby, or you can shrug your shoulders and move on to further revisions. There is a name for the artist who chooses the latter course: a professional. You can be disappointed that something you felt worked well was altered or abandoned for something that you thought was less effective, but acting unprofessional is never acceptable. One of these days I’ll write a long rant on this subject, because I have a lot to say about it. In the meantime the second lesson this kind of process teaches is that communication is the most important aspect of this or any project. The lines of communication between the Twins, MLB and the graphics company that printed the shirts were not working in tandem at all times, and that resulted in a lot more work than was necessary on the project for all involved. Nobody is to blame. In fact all parties involved were great to work with, except the *&$^#@ MLB lawyers. Oops, that was a little unprofessional. The end result turned out pretty well, though. The Twins loved it:




  1. SteveH says:

    Tom, always admire your professional approach, your a guru for us all! AWESOME work on the illustration and congratulations on completing the project and sharing it with us here!

  2. Trevour says:

    Great story! It was fun reading about the progress of this project from start to finish. I’m still new to the world of freelance illustration, so this was a very informative post as well. Now to get one of those shirts!

  3. cedricstudio says:

    Thanks for sharing Tom. Each encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who sometimes runs into frustrations with clients. All things considered you did a terrific job.

  4. Nammer says:

    I live in Texas… HOW CAN I GET THE SHIRT!!!!!!!

  5. Lar says:

    Ah the dreaded “art by committee” and it sounds like the committee involved got bigger and bigger and more lawyer littered than anyone ever anticipated. A shame, but your professionalism is as wonderful to read about as your art is to view.

    Sometimes I wish I could add on an ‘idiot surcharge’ to my invoices.

    Thanks once again for sharing your experiences.


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