Zen and the Art of T-shirts

T-shirt: Calgary White Water Club

In high school I did a bit of silkscreen printing. T-shirts mostly. After high school my graphic arts teacher gave me his four-color silkscreen press. In university I continued my passion for silkscreening, taking several silkscreen printing classes while working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts. But my love of graphic printing was formed way before either university or high school. It all started with my dad.

My dad was an artist and a teacher. When I was very young he was the graphic arts teacher at the high school I would later attend. I remember him painting in his basement studio, or hunched over his drafting table designing logos for our hockey teams or the local whitewater kayaking club. I was deeply impacted by his visual sensibilities. His graphic sense has always informed my own work and I’m proud of that.

Today, my silkscreen press gathers dust in the corner of my basement workshop. Tubs of dried up ink hide under my work bench. Silkscreens are stacked somewhere deep in a storage room.

I wish I had the time to devote to printing, but I don’t. I love the process and I love the result, but just don’t have the time.

Thankfully, there is an alternative to ink and squeegees. On-line printing services, like Zazzle, are just a click away and make it way too easy to have your personal designs reproduced on just about any article you desire.


One day long ago, before I moved away from home, I was working in the darkroom my father had build under the basement stairs. At that time (about 2001) it was more of a storage closet than anything else. Tucked on a shelf underneath the enlarger I found a box containing some of the old logo designs my dad had created. I made digital scans of the designs with the thought that someday I would print them on t-shirts or stickers.

A couple of years ago I decided to get some shirts printed on-line. I used my dad’s designs and made some t-shirts and hoodies as Christmas gifts for the family. Everyone loved them. This spring I made a few new designs of my own and had them printed. I get lots of nice complements on my shirts.

Unfortunately, the design I get the most comments on is not my own. If you were a teenager in Canada in the mid-Eighties, then you might remember the brand Beaver Canoe. They never sold much more than t-shirts and sweatshirts, and I can only recall them making one graphic, but for a while they were a real Canadian institution. Beaver Canoe stores disappeared in the the late-Eighties, but the intellectual property continues to be owned by Roots (the company that makes the Canadian Olympic Team uniforms, among other things), and this spring they once again started selling a few Beaver Canoe products. A typical reaction from thirty-somethings upon seeing me wearing one of my homemade Beaver Canoe reproduction t-shirts: “OMG! I haven’t seen a Beaver Canoe shirt in like forever, eh.”

The other fun design is one of my dad’s. I guess he was in his ironic phase when he came up with the idea to make all us kids t-shirts with the words “University of Bowness” printed on them. Bowness is the community in Calgary where I grew up. Bowness was traditionally a blue collar neighbourhood, with a rough and tumble reputation, known for its Hell’s Angel’s biker gang clubhouse, and rather tough hockey teams. Not many people from Bowness went to university, and the small community, which still feels like a 1950’s Alberta village, was certainly never home to one. Typical reaction from anyone who sees me wearing my “University of Bowness” t-shirt and who knows anything about Calgary: “University of Bowness!?”

As I write this, I’m stylin’ my dad-designed, blue-on-yellow “Calgary Whitewater Club” t-shirt.

Below is a gallery of some of the shirts and hoodies I’ve had printed recently. Enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of T-shirts

  1. OMG! I hadn’t seen your Pink Elephant BMX t-shirt before. Very nice! We might need to get a few of these designs on little baby onesies for your niece/nephew. Gotta pass down the graphic tee tradition 😉


  2. Discovered a wonderful t-shirt site/concept today: http://www.tpostmag.com/ sells subscriptions to their magazine printed inside a t-shirt. Each month you get a cool t-shirt and thought provoking article. I’d subscribe, but I guy at work already gets these shirts and wearing the same shirt as someone else you know is just not cool.


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