Antarctic Centre Adelies on ice Antarctica design on a white and a dark blue T-shirt

WILDLIFE ART FOR THE ANTARCTIC CENTRE – Surface Active design pARTners’ good art achieves standout 1991 competition win

Christchurch is the gateway to Antarctica, has been for well over a century. The International Antarctic Centre was established in 1990, the visitor ‘Antarctic Attraction’ was opened to the public two years later.

Getting Antarctic people to vote on the Antarctic T-shirt designs

In 1991 the Attraction’s “Antarctic shop” merchandising and trading manager invited New Zealand’s leading souvenir T-shirt screen printers to each enter a set of Antarctica T-shirt designs into a competition, speculatively, to be judged and voted on by staff members of the various national Antarctic programmes based in Christchurch—hundreds of world-class scientists, explorers, transport support staff and the likes involved in preparing for their work in Antarctica. The brief was wide open, wildlife art designs, historical designs pertaining to Christchurch’s involvement with the 1912 epic of Captain Scott’s race to the Pole.

Portrait of design pARTners Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh for their annual mail order catalogue.Design pARTner Chrissie Terpstra and I submitted eight highly finished presentation visuals of prospective designs into the contest. We were thrilled to learn from the trading manager, Shirley Calverly, that we had swept the competition with seven of our designs selected as competition winners.

In 1992 the visitor attraction was opened just a few minute’s walk from the passenger terminals of Christchurch Airport and right next door to the national Antarctic programme offices based in Christchurch, the United States Antarctic Programme and USAF Operation Deep Freeze.

Antarctic Centre Emperor and chick, Weddell seal and Adelies on ice T-shirt designs for kids

Antarctic Centre “Emperor and chick”, “Weddell seal” and “Adelies on ice” designs, bright, lively T-shirt designs for bright lively kids.

A good Antarctic themed T-shirt design is self explanatory

Lifelike graphics make a vivid impression because people relate to them, wildlife art, witty designs, prints that customers feel express their individuality have mass appeal, these are the elements of design which are essential to stimulate sales.

Antarctic Centre Adelies on ice Antarctica design for kids on a white T-shirt

Antarctic Centre Adelies on ice design for kids, hand screenprinted in four spot colours on a white T-shirt. As this design shows so vividly, it is always a great idea to let the garment colour be part of the screenprint design.

When it comes to a brief like designing souvenir T-shirts for the Antarctic Attraction gift shop the lifelike graphic approach is easier, more appealing than graphical abstraction.

Customers relate most to real things, understand them easily and therefore know it is the right T-shirt for them. It is the direct route to an impressive and memorable garment graphic and accelerated sales.

Printability and production costs are also key constraints on design thinking

During the concept development stage it is essential to think like a screenprinter, think traditional spot colour hand-separated methods, make sure that every colour counts and where you can “cheat” and let the colour of the shirt be part of the design. From the business point of view printers charge a base price for their shirts, and then charge extra per colour, more screens, more ink, this costs more money. While cost is not the primary factor when determining the designs to print if there are a range of cool Antarctic T-shirts that are equally popular with the public, one using 8 colours is going to be retail at a higher price point than others that only used 3 or 4.

Jewelled Gecko 8 colour print - Chrissie hand screenprinting the 8th colour

There is beauty and perceived value in a thing well made, in small batches, by hand.

The public, many of them tourists and people from around the world returning from working at McMurdo Station or Scott Base, when shopping for souvenirs at the Antarctic gift shop liked to have the choice to pick locally made T-shirts from a range of designs, colours, sizes and price points, often buying T-shirts in bulk for everyone back home.

Many customers appreciate having the retail price range reflect the range of labour and materials involved in each hand screenprinted design. The perceived value of locally made craftwork accelerates multiple garment purchases because the customer perceives they are receiving an exclusive product for honest and fair retail value for their money.

Surface Active well made in New Zealand t-shirt neck label.

Surface Active artwear, making waves in a sea of sameness.

On the aesthetic side the design maxim “less is more” as the colour concept is key, employing overprinting, crafty graduated blends, with a truly great screenprinted design every line, shape, and colour is thoughtfully placed and picked for a reason.

Adelies on ice - Antarctica wildlife art design coffee mug

Based on the sales performance of the designs on T-shirts several were adapted to be applied to other merchandise.

Antarctic Snow & Ice experience logo

A new immersive experience of Antarctic conditions was added to the Antarctic Attraction in 1998, Surface Active was commissioned to create the branding and promotional merchandise for the gift shop.

Also it’s a good idea that designs be self explanatory. Good art applied consistently to a custom range of cool Antarctic T-shirts lets the designs tell the story themselves, so when other people see the shirt, they will be able to understand the design too… peer approval achieved! Working to the standard of ‘good art’ the single-mindedness, intelligence and clarity of concept applied across a range helps the customer understand the design, and because they get it this gives them more comfort that this is the right shirt for them, and so on, good art really drives multiple sales in the retail setting.


Date: 1991–2002
Client: International Antarctic Centre
Design, art direction, illustration, screenprinting: Design pARTners, Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh, Surface Active art-to-wear.

©magentadot brands

1988–2002 Surface Active, Advertising and promotional, Apparel, Award or competition winner, Digital illustration, Fauna, Illustration, International Antarctica Centre, Lettering, Retail, T-Shirt print, Travel & tourism

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