Introducing Our New Sight Unseen T-Shirt — and What Inspired the Illustrator Who Designed It

If you read our 10th anniversary story yesterday, you know that Sight Unseen launched in 2009 with a Kickstarter campaign aimed at covering our initial development costs. One of the rewards for donating? A heather gray T-shirt featuring a dripping version of the Sight Unseen logo, which sold out much too soon to be donned by anyone but our close friends and early supporters. We figured reviving it would be a nice way to mark our 10th, but wanted a design that would reflect where we are now rather than where we were then. So we asked one of our favorite designers — Berlin-based illustrator and art director Jonathan Niclaus — to re-interpret what a Sight Unseen T-shirt should look like in 2019. We chose the name “Seeing Things,” Niclaus channeled the idea into a hand-drawn composition incorporating some of our signature colors, and the result launches for sale today in the Sight Unseen Shop.

We first published Niclaus’s work in 2017, when we began stocking his blankets for Slowdown Studio in our shop. While he had spent his youth drawing and designing party flyers, and his early career doing art direction and illustration for clients like Nike and the Lost In city guides, when we caught up with him two years ago he was just beginning to branch out into three-dimensional mediums. First it was the blankets, and this year he took a break from a bigger, soon-to-be released project with a noted fashion brand to create our shirt. That said, the shirt did begin with a two-dimensional drawing. “I often start with a very intuitive and automatic process, playing around with graphic shapes and forming female-inspired bodies,” he says. “In this case I used perspective, vision, converging lines, and vanishing points as my inspirations — and the eye as the center of our universe.”

Those starting points came primarily from John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” a 1972 BBC series that was the first thing Niclaus thought of when we gave him the name “Seeing Things.” For us that phrase was a simple way of encapsulating what we do, but for Niclaus it was part of the motivation to take on the project in the first place: “Sight Unseen covers designers, illustrators, and artists I truly respect, so I was happy to collaborate with people who see a lot,” he says. Scroll down to see the eight inspirations behind both our new t-shirt and Niclaus’s work in general.

01 Berger on seeing

1. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing

The phrase “seeing things” initially made me think of John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing, which I read a couple of years ago. In the beginning of the first episode of the BBC series that the book was based on, Berger says things that feel very fitting with the topic. Above is a collage with my drawing studies overlaid onto those statements, so you can understand my process.

I also really like when he talks about how art has become more and more devoid of context. The show came out in the ’70s, long before the internet and social media, which from my point of view made the phenomenon even more pronounced. As Berger said, we used to view a work of art solely in its original physical form and its original surrounding, but now we’re so used to replicating objects and being able to see them anywhere, in any surrounding or context, whether it’s a copy of a drawing, a reproduced object, or (in most cases) on your screen. The relation between an art piece and its surroundings got lost. You can still go to a gallery and see the original, of course, but exhibitions change spaces and travel so much that the work gets removed from its context. The days of pilgrimage are over, it is the image that travels now — just as my illustration travels to you and appears on your screen or t-shirt.
02 Calder2

2. Calder’s shadows

I’m always trying to have some kind of constructed, geometric concept behind my line drawings, thinking about how I would translate them into three-dimensional layers. I love how the shadows in this image bring the work a new dimension.
03 Peter Greenaway

3. Peter Greenaway

Film has always been one of my biggest influences. There are so many filmmakers I love, but if I had to name one, Peter Greenaway is my all-time favorite. I chose to show this image of The Draughtsman’s Contract as the movie is composed a lot around the viewfinder, and the shots are a feast for the eyes. There are mysteries and puzzles in every frame and every bit of dialog. Greenaway initially was a painter, which you can see in the sumptuous aesthetic of his films. He used a lot of long tracking shots, reminiscent of how you would film a painting from a close-up angle. His films are multi-layered and aren’t easy to get into sometimes, as they’re filled with so many metaphors.

For my process it’s not always so easy to describe what brought up an idea. Sometimes it’s just an emotion, or a moment when I read a client brief, or go for a walk, or swim, or meditate, or watch a movie. Often the best ideas come when I’m engaged in a different activity. The more I want to feel creative, the more I surround myself with creativity and feed my brain subconsciously.
04 Burle Marx

4. Roberto Burle Marx

It’s stunning how the designs that the Brazilian landscape designer Burle Marx created on paper compare to his executed projects. I love his pavement patterns and sculptural elements. He also discovered many new plants — he was a conservationist who went to the Amazon to collect plants before they were destroyed by road construction and other human interventions. His work shows an incomparable love for the beauty of nature. Mostly I appreciate how his work translates to so many different mediums consistently. I’m not at all there yet, but I take him as one of the inspirations to go further and explore various things in the future.
05 Un Chien Andalou

5. Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou was a motion picture ahead of its time. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali wanted to take their dreams and put them into a film full of bizarre images and dream-logic. Its disconnected and haunting scenes and images are as shocking today as I am sure they were in the period that the movie was made. It’s interesting how the Surrealist movement took illogical and outright bizarre ideas and transformed them into art. This is important when I think of what to depict. Do I have to limit myself to something the viewer expects, or shall I push into other directions which can surprise the viewer and open the work to interpretation? Are there things in the world I don’t agree with and want to provoke the viewer into thinking differently about, to shake up the status quo?
06 Marseille

6. Marseille

I’ve traveled to Marseille at least one or two times a year in the past few years. For me it’s one of the most inspiring cities in the world, as it has so many facets. It’s like a bouillabaisse — a mix of things which you don’t think would work together, but do: rich, poor, North African, French, and so on. I like to think about what I can put into my work that doesn’t seem like it would make sense at first, but ends up co-existing.

Endoume, one of my favorite neighborhoods, is a bit outside the city center and feels like a small fishing village. It has the best (actual) bouillabaisse in town.
07 Club Meduse

7. Club Meduse

When I had my first job, at the Berlin digital studio Parasol Island, I was working for the creative director Charles Bals, who became my mentor. Not only is he extremely creative, with a great aesthetic eye, he also has one of the deepest collections of obscure vinyl from the 1970s and 1980s that I’ve seen. This year he brought out his first compilation, Club Meduse — endless summer vibes in every Balearic nugget — which always accompanies me while I work. Music is an essential part of my process.
08 Fabrics

8. Textiles

Since my collaboration with Slowdown Studio two years ago, in which I created a design for a blanket, I’ve been drawn to the way colors and patterns work with fabrics. Recently a friend of mine showed me the handmade rugs of CC-Tapis. I love how they experiment with all sorts of production methods.
SU_Tshirt_PeachClick here to purchase Jonathan’s “Seeing Things” T-shirt for Sight Unseen!