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Crossing His Tees
Baton Rouge designer Clint English creates iconic T-shirt designs for rock and roll royalty
Band T-Shirts have for decades done the yeoman’s work of drawing social lines in the sand, kick-starting conversations and forging the likes of late-night flirtations and even lifelong friendships. Besides, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the marks of amazing music just feels different on the body. Baton Rouge designer Clint English knows this better than most, and when he opens a sliding door closet filled with dozens of music T-shirts and says, “Here are my shirts,” he means they are his shirts in a way that very few others do.
Since 2007, the 29-year-old Lake Charles native has been a graphic designer almost exclusively for the music industry — first for independent and local bands, then slowly he cultivated a roster of clients that reads like a slate of Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame inductees and GRAMMY winners past and present: Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Britney Spears, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Doors and Marvin Gaye, to name a few.
“I think the first design of mine I noticed in a store was a Paramore shirt I did, and it was for sale in Hot Topic,” English says. “That was obviously a cool feeling, but, honestly, I’m used to it now.”
At any given time at least one of English’s designs is available in a mall or on a tour somewhere in the world. Commissioned directly by the major record labels, his graphics and illustrations become merchandise — T-shirts, jackets and tote bags, mostly — that then become the beloved apparel of a new generation of music fans.
English was one of those very fans when he began making the shirts for bands he performed with during high school. “Just iron-on designs, punk-inspired DIY stuff,” he says. “I got really good at using [Microsoft] Paint.”
To make a career of music merchandise design, English gathered his first portfolio and, while still working at a print shop and living at home with his parents, he contacted every decision-maker he could think of in the music business.
“I must have emailed thousands of record labels and management companies — maybe five got back to me,” English says of his start in the industry.
But with a drummer’s attention to detail and timing, and a skill for delivering a platter of options even on a tight deadline, good word of mouth about this Louisianian’s work spread far and fast through industry circles.
English recently turned around a design for a The Head and The Heart tour within 24 hours. When Tom Petty’s people emailed him, English submitted 15 designs. They chose one.
“I get to work from home, and I don’t really feel like I have a job,” English admits as he navigates his Google calendar, scrolling past names like Norah Jones and Matchbox 20. “I make my own schedule. It’s beautiful.”
The home he works from is brand new, and almost minimal in appearance now just a few weeks after he has moved in. He’s most proud, though, of buying it solely using graphic design money. One particular room is filled with instruments and audio gear. When his eyes are bulging from hours of staring at a computer screen, English will break every afternoon and bang on his drum kit.
Many of his designs, even for more polished brands and artists like The Beatles or Ariana Grande, retain a look that feels lived-in, loved-in, and classic, even if a little rough around the edges. It all calls back to his love of punk music and DIY design.
“I hope I can design a shirt that is iconic years from now,” English says. “Like those old Metallica shirts. I don’t want it to just be on the band’s merch site for a few months then disappear. I want it to last.”
What’s the biggest lesson about creativity or work that you’ve learned in the past year?
My biggest lesson recently would have to be realizing that there are a lot of really great designers out there, and you really have to be at the top of your game at all times to stay current with design trends.
Describe the time when you first realized ‘I’m pretty good at graphic design.’
I started designing full-time in the music industry in 2007, but it probably wasn’t until 2012 that I really started digging into what I was capable of. Before then, I kind of did what I could to get by, but in 2012 I really started doing serious work for really big names like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Ramones.
Besides hand-drawing designs and playing music, what are some other hobbies or things that interest you?
Well, I enjoy binge watching ‘The Office’ on Netflix. Music and designing are huge parts of my life. When I take a break from designing, I play drums, guitar and write and record music. A lot of my friends are in bands as well so if I’m not playing music or working, I’m usually out with them watching live music. Working from home can get boring at times, so it’s nice to be able to get out and go enjoy some great bands.