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World of WarCrafts: T-shirts and more from Julia Minamata

Anne Stickney

World of WarCrafts spotlights art and creativity by WoW players, including fan art, cooking, comics, cosplay, music, fan fiction and more. Sample the whole spectrum on our Arts and Crafts in WoW page.

Who doesn't love a good T-shirt, especially if it's got great design? I know I do, although my T-shirt skills lean toward clicking an appropriate link on Jinx and typing in my credit card information. Creating T-shirts can be a time-consuming process, but the end result is ultimately satisfying, especially when one has the skills to back it up. Today we've got a crafter who is particularly talented when it comes to creating Warcraft T-shirts -- but given her background, this really isn't too much of a surprise.

Meet Julia Minamata, a freelance illustrator who is no slouch when it comes to art. She's worked for clients including BusinessWeek, The New Yorker and The National Post. Don't let the big names fool you; Julia's art lends itself to whimsical color and dreamy characters, something that works perfectly with a game like World of Warcraft. Julia's been creating Warcraft T-shirts, art, and sculpture for friends and family for years, and now she's sharing it with us! Check out the gallery for a look at Julia's Warcraft work, and follow after the break as we sit down to have a chat with Julia about her background in art, her T-shirts, and World of Warcraft.

Gallery: World of WarCrafts: T-shirts and more from Julia Minamata | 16 Photos

World of WarCrafts: Thanks for chatting with us, Julia! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Julia: I'm a freelance illustrator and silkscreen artist. My illustrations have a particular flat look and limited color palette reminiscent of those old games. CGA (3-color) and EGA (16-color) palettes forced game designers at that time to be smart about how they separated objects and created the illusion of depth in their games, which is what I do in my work! With silkscreen printing, every color requires its own separate screen. That means more time, effort, trouble, and room for error. I find working with technical constraints rather inspiring! Blizzard inspires me because WoW can do so much while running on PCs that aren't souped-up, roided-out monster rigs. I deeply respect their commitment to their player base and I'm sure it's a major part of the reason millions of people play WoW.

I started playing Warcraft just before The Burning Crusade. My sister and her now-husband started playing because a friend of theirs already had a max-level toon raiding Karazhan, and they got me into it. He showed us the ropes and because I'd rolled a rogue same as him; he taught me how to stab things.

I love World of Warcraft because it reminds me of Nintendo games. Its technical specs aren't bleeding-edge, but because of superior game design and innovation, it has remained on top. Sure, the polygon count is low, but that means WoW has to be cleverer with how those polygons are used. The texture maps are a masterpiece of doing a lot with a little. And I love the bright, saturated colors! I'm not a fan of gritty realism or a sea of brown, green, and beige. It's boring!

I've been interested in MMORPGs ever since they came out. Reading about Ultima Online and EverQuest way back when, it seemed like MMORPGs were the like the Wild West. Roving bands of hostile players, rampant griefing ... So not only wasn't it technically or financially feasible at that time for me to get into MMORPGs, they kind of scared me, too! I discovered WoW at just the right time. I also think that MMORPGs had finally developed to a point where they were accessible and friendly to not just the hardest of hardcores.

Even before that, I was already a huge PC gamer. When I was a kid my dad brought home a gigantic, heavy, suitcase-sized "portable computer" from work and I remember playing King's Quest I and pinball on the tiny screen. We had a Commodore VIC 20 and the weird tape deck. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve computer games. In fact, I've started to design my own old-school, 16-color adventure game using Adventure Game Studio. (You can see what I've done so far under the "digital" tag on my blog).

Tell us a little bit about your background in art -- how did you get started?

I've always loved drawing. When I was 6 years old, it was all about the princesses, thanks largely in part to Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Picasso had his blue period; I had my princess period! I think it probably lasted about as long, too. I've always gravitated towards fantasy art. I like both science fiction and fantasy, but if I had to pick one it would be fantasy all the way. That's why, even if/when Blizzard comes out with a StarCraft MMORPG, I am sticking with my Warcraft!

At around 12 years old, I started getting into comic books. My grade seven teacher was friends with Ken Lashley, who was drawing the comic book Excalibur (a Marvel Comics title) at that time. He brought Ken in to class one day to talk to us about art and comic books. I was totally blown away by his talent and his career. I remember thinking to myself, "If you're good enough you can work in this business!" I wanted to be that good. I started drawing in earnest. Two years later, I was headed to a special arts school. At that time I was still taking all my maths and sciences. I thought I was going to be an engineer or a computer programmer.

In my last year of high school, I applied to Sheridan College, one of the most reputable art institutions in Canada, just to see if I would get in. I was in major crisis mode that last year. I concluded, almost at the last minute, that I hated math and that physics was boring. I had applied to pretty much only one art school and it also happened to be the one with the most competitive application process. More than a thousand people applied for 120 spots and it was mostly based on a portfolio review. I was crapping adamantite bars. When I did get in, I still agonized over choosing such an uncertain career path, but I finally decided to just go for it.

I graduated from Sheridan with a bachelor's of applied arts illustration. In my last year, I specialized in editorial illustration. Since graduating, I've worked for clients such as BusinessWeek, The New Yorker, Macleans, and the National Post. I'm still struggling to be good enough. It's a very competitive business. But I'm happy when people want to look at my work and when I can share it with lots of people!

I love the Warcraft T-shirts you made -- they're amazing! How do you go about designing a T-shirt?

Thank you! Before Warcraft's armory had a model viewer, I would take screenshots when I was online. Sometimes the T-shirts were surprise gifts, so I'd surreptitiously slink around during raid, snapping pics like a paparazzi. I even used a standalone model viewer program for a while, but Armory's model viewer has been a real boon. And Wowhead's got a model viewer too, which is great for when I'm doing non-player stuff like the Warglaives of Azzinoth T-shirt.

I still haven't figured out a reliable way to print more than one color of ink on a T-shirt. Fabric is so fussy. It stretches and wrinkles and makes it really tough to register the colors properly on top of each other. I print the T-shirts at home, so I don't have the fancy equipment commercial printers have. I'm doing it all by hand! So I have to keep the design simple and bold.

That sounds tricky! What's the process for creating a T-shirt? What kind of tools do you use?

After I get shots to work from, I use Adobe Photoshop to eliminate backgrounds and sharpen the image up. The screenshots can end up looking pretty pixellated when I zoom in, so I have to be careful that the image doesn't degrade into an undifferentiated mass of blocks. Then, I take it into Adobe Illustrator and use an option called Live Trace, which converts the rasterized image into a vector object. There are various setting and thresholds to tinker with before the result looks decent. I often go between Photoshop and Illustrator, fixing the image in Photoshop so the vectorized image looks cleaner. Sometimes I even have to make some stuff up when there isn't enough image information, such as a T-shirt I made of Super Street Fighter IV's Ken. I'm particularly proud of that one, because I pulled a super low-res, blurry image off the internet and managed to make it look good.

From there, I go through the same process as when I'm doing a silkscreen print for an illustration job. I print the design out in black ink on a clear acetate and then I coat a silkscreen with Speedball Photo Emulsion and expose the acetate and the screen to light after it's dried. I wash the screen out in the bathtub and presto, the black parts of the acetate that blocked the light dissolve away and I'm left with my design! Finally, I push Speedball screenprinting fabric ink through the screen with a squeegee and the image gets printed onto the T-shirt.

I do want to make it clear that I don't actually draw the stuff I print on these shirts. In my professional work I totally draw everything from scratch, but these are just fun gifts for friends and more of hobby.

Have you tried your hand at any other crafts you'd like to tell us about?

I sometimes fiddle around with bits of clay. I sculpted a little mage table for my sister and a hearthstone for my boyfriend, which can be seen on my blog. Occasionally I make WoW-themed cards for various occasions, such as Love in the Air / Valentine's.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to try making T-shirts for themselves?

Speedball makes great silkscreening kits that can be found at any well-stocked art store. If you buy that and some inkjet or laser transparencies (depending on the kind of printer you have) and have some image editing or art software, you basically have everything you need to make your own silkscreen T-shirts! To make shirts that have the same look as the ones I do, you'll need software such as Adobe Illustrator, something that can take pixelly raster art and convert it to slick vector art. Or be a bit more crafty and trace the image on paper by hand.

For something less demanding, there are iron-on T-shirt transfers that can be used in conjunction with inkjets and there are even ones out there that look really good on darker T-shirts. Another fun idea might be tracing out a design onto a shirt and using fabric paints to color it in. Making stuff is tons of fun and crafts make great gifts!

Anything else you'd like to add?

World of Warcraft is great! I love that they've created a game that can be enjoyed on so many levels. Whether you are a hardcore player or more casual, whether you have a lot of time or a little, WoW will accommodate you. I also really appreciate how Blizzard has worked to keep the game accessible for new players and is constantly improving the newbie experience.

My boyfriend and I recently started playing through the worgen starting area, and we were amazed at how Blizzard has added all these little prompts and visual cues to help players along. When my worgen hunter learned explosive shot and the spell icon leapt from my spellbook to my action bar, I actually squealed with delight! Even something as simple as the phasing they've implemented -- something so seemingly small really deepens the experience for me. The world changes now. That's a big deal.

The social aspect of WoW, which is what intimidated me the most about MMORPGs in general, has proven to be the most rewarding. Sure, I'm jaded and crusty and now run screaming from gigantic raids and PUGs, but I've made friends online that I've met in real life and stay in touch with to this day. When my sister started dating her now-husband, WoW really helped me and my boyfriend get to know the guy. We probably wouldn't be as close with him now if it wasn't for WoW. I don't even think my sister knows that, but if she's reading this, she knows now! We'd do these 25-man raids together and bond over our shared horror stories of raiders wiping ridiculously on Wrath Thaddius and laugh and drink bubble tea. It's still a terrific way for the four of us to get together even when we're not in the same province. This game has given me so many fond memories.

Well thank you for your time, Julia, and good luck with your future projects!

For more of Julia's crafts, both WoW-related and non, you can check out her blog. And for a look at some breathtaking non-WoW related illustrations, take a look at her online portfolio!

World of WarCrafts spotlights art and creativity by WoW players, including arts and crafts, fan art, WoW-themed recipes, comics, cosplay, music and fan fiction. Show us how you express yourself by emailing with your not-for-profit, WoW-inspired creations.

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