Designing Botanical Art for T-shirts

"Bog Life- Pitcher Plant"  Original Watercolor by Mindy Lighthipe ©2012      Paintng #31

When I moved to Florida, I had to leave my garden behind and start all over again. Living in New Jersey for most of my life, I guess I took it for granted that there was good soil everywhere. New Jersey is after all, "The Garden State". A lot of people laugh when they hear this. It is often thought of as the Industrial wasteland at the "arm pit" of New York. It is true that there are many oil refineries and lots of industry. NJ has ugly sections, but once you get inland the soil is rich and fertile. I had an impressive flower garden filled with Peonies, Daylilies, Hydrangeas, Bearded Irises. My vegetable garden had the best tomatoes, asparagus, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. My native garden had about 7 host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars as well as countless nectar plants for the adults. It was a labor of love for over 11 years.

My first experience with a shovel in Florida was not what I expected! It sunk into the ground and I immediately came up with a huge pile of dirty sand. I kept digging but there was no "dirt" to be found. I knew I was in trouble. How am I going to get this property to be a garden and not a brown sandy mess? I immediately joined the Florida Native Plant Society. The most important things I learned about gardening is that invasive plants can take all the fun out of gardening and buying plants that are not suitable for the climate or soil is a waste of time, energy, water and money. Florida as well as other parts of the USA have been experiencing a drought. The heat and the intensity of the summer sun makes it even worse. Planting native plants was the way to go. I quickly started to learn about host plants for Florida's native butterflies. I currently have about 20 different host plants for the caterpillars and this summer I saw more butterflies, moths, caterpillars and lots of other flying critters in my yard than I ever did in New Jersey.

The Paynes Prairie Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (my chapter) asked me to do a t-shirt design for them. Every fall they have a plant sale and hundreds of native plants go up for sale in a feeding frenzy for eager gardeners. I decided to paint the Pitcher Plant, (Sarracenia leucophylla) because it is one of the native plants in my area that is rare and endangered. They are so unusual. The open "pitcher" is a trap for unsuspecting insects. Once a bug crawls into the pitcher, it is "curtains" for the bug! The inside of the plant has many sticky little hairs that trap the insect. It eventually dies, decomposes and the plant ingests it. Yum!

The little frog in the painting is the "Green Tree Frog" (Hyla cinerea). It too is rare because if it is being pushed out by the Cuban Tree Frog, (Osteopilus septentrionalis) an introduced and invasive specie. The Cuban Frog actually will eat the native green tree frog. Both the plant and frog live in a bog environment, which because of the drought and water issues in Florida, are making it harder to survive. The Common white-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum) and the Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) also live in bogs so I thought they would be a nice addition to the painting.

Designing and painting for printing on fabric has some special considerations. Here are some tips and pointers.

  1. The images must be bold and slightly outlined. If the lines are too light  and delicate, they will not print.
  2. The color should be punched up and brighter that normal. Pastel colors sometimes fade or disappear in the printing process.
  3. Be careful in choosing colored t-shirts to print on. If they are too dark, the lighter colors in the painting will not show up.
  4. Talk with the printing company and find out what resolution and format the digital file needs to be in. Most companies recommend 300 dpi and jpeg format. Sometimes a company requires a different format and you may have to do the file over again.
  5. Have a proof done before the whole job is printed. It would be a disaster if there was a typo or the color combination of the painting clashes with the fabric color of the t-shirt. This may cost you money, but it is well worth the extra price.
  6. Find out the delivery time. If it is for a benefit or special date, give the printer a month or more to get the job done. If there are errors or mistakes, there will be time to fix it.

I have scanned the painting into the computer and am ready to start playing with text. The t-shirt will have the chapter's name and FNPS printed on it. This t-shirt helps to benefit the society and bring awareness to the public about using native plants in their garden. When the shirts are available for sale I will let ya'll know!

I haven't forgotten about the Photoshop demo on scanning, color correcting and printing. I am putting it together, so hang in there while I get it written. I am working on it!

~ Mindy