Retrospective: Surface Active 1986–2003— t-shirts in the spirit of fun.
Back in 1986, as an illustrative graphic designer; I was a design pARTner with Chrissie Terpstra in our ‘auto printmaking’ garment screenprinting studio and clothing brand, Surface Active Artwear.
We learned over the next 17 years together aboard the good ship Free Enterprise, in what began as a shared hobby screenprinting on the kitchen table, that hand-pulled screenprinting is the medium of the hard labouring graphic artist. From the drawing board, to the darkroom, to the shirtfront with squeegee in hand, to folding great drifts of cotton, employing up to four people, manning our stalls at the weekend Christchurch Arts Centre Market, The Waiheke Island market and The Great New Zealand Craftshows from Cape Reinga to Bluff… busy, busy, busy.
Of course we were big fans of the humble t-shirt. By the mid 1980s they had become hot promotional items, garments on the outskirts of fashion, and a relatively new medium for the Graphic Designer’s art. What had for a long time been considered a poor medium for Graphic Design grew to an almost essential one.
All you have to do is walk down the street anywhere in the world since the early 80s to see what a ubiquitous promotional vehicle they have become.
Back in the day, if you mailed out 100 potential clients a direct mail brochure perhaps 200 people will see it. But mail out, or better yet, sell 100 T-shirts, and assuming they’re at all decent looking, you launch 100 walking billboards.