A few years ago, Steve Thomas could have never predicted that a background in newspaper graphics and a love of Gen Con would lead to Zazzle holiday Gift Center fame. His “Visit Mars” poster is now featured on our Space Cadet Gift Center section (all you galaxy geeks, be sure to check it out). Steve shared with us how he combines space travel, science fiction, imagination and WPA poster art into the planetary creations you see on his store site.
I have a background in informational graphics and graphic illustration. I spent 14 years handling graphics for every part of a newspaper, specializing in charts, cutaway views of products and maps.
Gen Con came around one year, and I wanted to set up an artist booth at the event. I had never done anything like this before, but I was determined to figure out how I could combine fantasy with space travel, but also still retain mass appeal. I sketched out the Mars and Venus travel posters, and they got so much attention that I decided to do all of the other planets. Some bloggers found my designs (picked up in the “geek art section”), which helped build buzz.
Having a poster of just a painted dragon or simple space scene wasn’t enough for me. I decided to add one extra layer on top of my art, in the style of the old WPA propaganda posters used during FDR’s New Deal era. These posters are in bold, art deco-style and were used in everything from war propaganda to wildlife education.
I usually start out with a thumbnail sketch in my notebook and then I move on to gathering backdrop images of mountains or old retro rockets. I start on my computer, usually Illustrator and then I take the piece into photoshop. The products that work best for my designs tend to be posters and t-shirts, but if someone requests my designs on another product, I’m happy to do it. I just finished a Transylvania travel-themed poster and one about the North Pole.
If I have any tips for other designers, it would be to put the designs that you personally find interesting on products, and also have patience and persistence. When I first started on Zazzle, I just threw anything I could onto t-shirts and posters and they weren’t selling. And for good reason — the designs really weren’t that interesting. The moment I combined passion with quality was when everything really started to take off.