These 20 Awesome T-Shirts Changed My Life!

July 6th, 2014
Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

I’ve become quite the t-shirt connoisseur lately. Since I lack a real job, the humble tee has become my uniform. And why not? They’re cool (especially the lightweight ones), cheap, comfortable, and freely available in an unlimited number of styles and designs. I tend to wear them until they’re nearly falling apart, ready for conversion into dust rags. These days, my t-shirt dresser drawer bulges with several shirts of varying levels of niceness, from shirts gotten for a buck at a thrift store to limited-edition designs.

My newest additions are a couple of offerings from Out Of Print Clothing, a company that offers apparel and gifts which lovingly pay tribute to classic books. They do both original designs (like the Watership Down one pictured above) and tees which take elements from the original books (like the Treasure Island, below). For each tee they sell, they also donate a book for children in Africa to read – what’s not to love about that?

This photo gallery includes most of my t-shirts. Who knows where the next one will come from?

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)


Fanta Grape (Target)

Fanta Grape (Target)


Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)

Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)


Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)


Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)

Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)


Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily

Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily


Quiksilver "Born from the Sea" (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)

Quiksilver “Born from the Sea” (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)


EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)

EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)


Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)

Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)


Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)

Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)


Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs

Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs


Mr. Pibb logo (Target)

Mr. Pibb logo (Target)


PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)

PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)


Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)

Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)


Columbia Sportswear (Cabela's)

Columbia Sportswear (Cabela’s)


Banana Republic "Deco" design (Banana Republic)

Banana Republic “Deco” design (Banana Republic)


Disney Store "Goofy" (Goodwill)

Disney Store “Goofy” (Goodwill)


Quiksilver "The Ranch" (Flo's On 7th resale store)

Quiksilver “The Ranch” (Flo’s On 7th resale store)

A Few Weird Cartoons

June 2nd, 2014
Trade advertisement for Walt Disney Studios' "The Story of Menstruation," 1959.

Trade advertisement for Walt Disney Productions’ “The Story of Menstruation,” 1959.

Out of all the zillions of things we watch on television every night, the vintage animated short is our constant, our go-to, the bedrock of our home video collection. Besides turning to our DVDs (the Looney Tunes Golden Collections get constant play), we’ve been checking out a lot of stuff though streaming and the internet. In particular, a great Roku channel called Pub-D Hub sports a lot of terrific, obscure vintage shorts which went into the public domain. While they carry the usual stuff like Popeye and Betty Boop easily found on YouTube and other places, you kind of have to dig deeper to find the truly strange, forgotten cartoons. Like, perhaps, the following three films:

The Story of Menstruation was an educational film sponsored by Kotex and produced by the Walt Disney studio in 1946. Yep, that’s right, Disney had a hand in helping young girls understand what’s happening with their bodies down there. Sanitized and ultra-campy as it may appear, the film conveys this delicate information in a startlingly simple and effective way. Not surprisingly, it was shown in schools for decades. Personally, I loved the elegant narration by Gloria Blondell (Joan’s sister) and the big-headed, footless vintage ’40s design on the cartoon girls in the middle of the film. A good, concise history of this film is included in the book Who’s Afraid of Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories by animation historian Jim Korkis.

1945′s Cap’n Cub, a strident, surreal bit of wartime propaganda from independent producer Ted Eshbaugh, does its best to combine cuteness with gross stereotypes and startling violence. Eshbaugh is considered one of the overlooked figures in the world of vintage animation. By the time Cap’n Cub came out, he’d been kicking around in some capacity for some time, mostly in the area of advertising and industrial films. His best-known work is probably 1935′s The Sunshine Makers, an intricate Silly Symphonies-esque production done for the Borden milk company.

Finally, a visual “Pow!” of a film – the short, surreal Russian feature Chipollino! Although Pub-D Hub’s version had no subtitles, we sort of understood that this film was about a boy with an onion head (the title character) who lives in a kingdom full of vegetable-shaped people under the rule of a cruel Tomato King. Chipollino saves the day by freeing the kingdom’s prisoners and casting the king and his bodyguards out into the ocean. For a film that came out in 1972, the character design and fluid animation harkens back to Disney’s Technicolor output from the 1930s. Very out-of-step with the times, and fascinating to watch.

The Ever-Shifting Consensus

May 11th, 2014

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, #24)

“So many films, so little time… ” Recently, I discovered The 1,000 Greatest Films. Coupled with our access to the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus, this is a potentially dangerous thing. A carefully curated database of critically lauded cinema, this annually updated project comes from the laudable efforts of the website They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?. The films’ rankings are determined from 1,900-plus “Best Of” lists from critics, filmmakers, and scholars. Being aware that taste in anything is entirely subjective, you can arguably approach a project like this with a grain of salt – what it tells me is that film experts overwhelmingly prefer their themes heavy, their running times lengthy, their languages non-English, and their directors auteurist. Despite all that, it’s stimulated me to go back to the biggies (in the top 100) to review as many as I can.

While a good half of the films in the TSPDT top 100 I’d already seen (in several instances, much too long ago), it also contained a number of bona fide classic Classics which got an overdue first viewing. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (#24) was as jaw-dropping as I’d always heard, an unforgettable and beautifully performed work of art. By my definition, the truly great films are ones that linger in your thoughts for days and weeks afterward. Persona fits that description, as does Robert Bresson’s devastating religious allegory Au Hasard Balthazar (#35). Bresson took a deceptively simple story – about a donkey who passes through several owners – and made it into a carefully constructed, dry yet oddly touching statement on humankind’s innate cruelty. We also streamed the proto-realist 1934 comedy L’Atalante from Jean Vigo, the acclaimed French auteur who died at a young age. Quite a charming little film, although its ranking at #17 seems awfully high. Hulu lacked Jean Renoir’s stately pacifist statement Grand Illusion (#39), although I managed to snag a copy of the out-of-print DVD from the local library. That was another heartfelt, stunningly constructed masterpiece, although it loses a bit once the main characters leave the prisoner-of-war camp. Andrei Tarkovsky’s non-linear, deliberately obtuse Mirrors (#26) seems more like what you’d expect from a list like this. While it didn’t wow me like the others, I admired Tarkovsky’s impeccable craftsmanship – his attention to detail shows in the nuanced performances and the gorgeous photography. I’m currently halfway through Federico Fellini’s excellent La Strada (Giulietta Masina must be the greatest silent comedienne never to appear in a silent movie). Once that is finished, I will have seen seventy of the top 100 – what a joyful learning experience.

By the way, I’ve also started logging my movie viewing habits at Letterboxd, a site that allows film fans to catalog and compare their viewing habits. It’s fun. C’mon and join me!

Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, #39)

Mirrors (Andrei Tarkovsky, #26)

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, #35)

Louise Fili’s Perfetto Pencils

April 6th, 2014

I’ve long been an admirer of the Deco-inspired, sinuous work of designer Louise Fili – so it was especially delightful to hear that she was available for interviews in connection with her latest venture, Perfetto Pencils. For this boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils, Fili applied her usual panache with playful typography, polka dots, and a striking color palette. Like her other products, they’re almost too lovely to use up (I’m gonna need the red parts for tracing over my illustrations, however!). Even better, they provide the opportunity for our first interview at Scrubbles.net.

Following the chat, I’ve selected a few of my favorite Fili designs throughout the years. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the Perfetto pencils are available at Amazon.com.

Your design and typography are characterized by a pared-down elegance and flair, reminiscent of vintage design while avoiding looking aggressively Retro. It takes a lot of discipline to have that aesthetic, but I imagine it also takes a lot of compromising to maintain your high standards – even with clients who are expecting a “Louise Fili” look. How do you convince a client that simpler is better?
Since many of my clients are in the food industry, I can simply explain that good design, like fine cuisine, is about using the best ingredients.

I read that your love of all things Italian extends to listening to their film soundtracks while working. Who are your favorite composers (mine’s Stelvio Cipriani)? Any specific albums you enjoy?
I like to listen to Nino Rota soundtracks for Fellini films, and anything sung by Anna Magnani or Vittorio De Sica.

How did the Perfetto Pencils (Princeton Architectural Press) come about? It looks like this particular project is inspired by the pencil boxes pictured in Italian Art Deco (Chronicle, 1993).
I love my collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes.  My most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework. (“Errore lieve, segno rosso; errore grave, segno blu”: red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.) When Princeton Architectural Press invited me to come up with a line of gift products, the two-tone pencils seemed perfect—thus the name. Steering clear of blue, my least favorite color, we opted for our signature red and black. 

Finally, one last question – what’s the coolest piece of vintage design ephemera you’ve ever found?
I found a series of pasticceria papers when I was researching the Italian Art Deco book in Milano years ago. That’s what made me want to become a package designer.

Polaner wine labels, 2013.

Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age book cover (Thames & Hudson, 2012)

Streamline book cover (Chronicle, 1995)

Good Housekeeping seal redesign, 2009.

Daily Drop Cap contribution, 2011.

Sunset Years

March 21st, 2014


Don’t you love this May 1938 cover of Sunset magazine? It heralded the venerable Western Living mag’s 40th anniversary, hence the nostalgic image of a 19th-century train engine. The clean typography and bright colors actually give it quite the contemporary feel – which was definitely in line with what Sunset has always been about. Enough with the memories, it says, let’s go out into the sunshine – and build a patio! From this particular cover, I get a distinct, forward-looking Disneyland Frontierland/Main Street U.S.A./Americana vibe. That’s the main reason why it was posted today at 4 Color Cowboy.

Since my mom had a Sunset subscription in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I grew up with some pleasant times browsing through the mag’s staid yet comfortable images of flowers, cacti, salads, and blissed-out people lounging around on their groovy outdoor, multi-tiered wooden decks. Looking at the covers from that period now, I’m astonished by the color and the simple, restrained layouts (AND they use my all-time fave font, Clarendon). Sunset has had a pretty amazing history – their main office even survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to rebuild anew. What a metaphor for Western perseverance! Although it’s still hanging in there – as a watered-down, Martha Stewartish lifestyle publication owned by Time Warner – Sunset‘s 1932-83 period is where it truly excelled as a primer on casual Western living. The covers shown below demonstrate just a part of what made it such a unique icon in publishing history.

Sunset, August 1932.

Sunset, October 1935.

Sunset, April 1937.

Sunset, May 1941.

Sunset, October 1949.

Sunset, October 1957.

Sunset, February 1966.

Sunset, February 1970.

Sunset, February 1972.

Sunset, June 1974.

Sunset, March 1983.

The Beautiful World of 1981

March 11th, 2014


Whaddaya think about 1981? I created an 8-hour long Spotify playlist exploring the music of that year, to go along with my previous exercises listening to 1968, 2003, and 2013. Like the others, 1981 is a combination of longtime favorites and new finds across a wide variety of genres. This was a year when Arena Rock ruled, the British were doing amazing stuff, R&B shimmered with the fumes of Funk and Disco, and Hip-Hop still had a scrappy, urban aesthetic. Personally, it came as a surprise how much of the playlist evoked a visceral, “riding in mom’s car on the way to the mall” reaction.

In 1981, I was thirteen – an age when many kids transition from passively enjoying something to becoming more deeply involved. That year, I had my own little clock radio in my bedroom. The radio was undoubtedly tuned into a lot of safe local Pop/Rock stations then, although the thing I enjoyed the most was tuning into Dr. Demento every Sunday night with a portable tape recorder on hand. A lot of the hits included here – “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Rapture,” “Queen of Hearts,” “Urgent,” “Private Eyes,” “Physical,” “I Love A Rainy Night” – are the aural equivalent of chocolate chip cookies. It kind of astonished me how much fantastic music came from that year (or, in a few instances, late in the previous year). There’s a few silly things in there as well, such as “Hooked On Classics” – a tune I forever associate with the campy fashion sequence from the TV special Night of 100 Stars. I suppose you don’t have to have been a youngster in 1981 to appreciate this, but it sure helps.