As you’re probably well aware, another holiday season is almost here. Every year around this time, I start getting this nagging voice in the back of my head, saying something like, “You should probably remind people that you sell posters, books, and t-shirts on your website.” And then I drag my feet for weeks.
Here’s the thing: I love making things. Do I love “selling” things? Not as much. Do I like the idea of someone walking around a city somewhere, wearing a t-shirt I designed? Or a coffee cup I designed sitting on someone’s desk, bringing them a bit of levity? Or a poster of something I drew hanging on someone’s wall? I do. Otherwise, all my work is just collections of pixels that appear in people’s feeds for a day or two, and then disappear. So I put stuff on t-shirts, and coffee mugs, and posters.
So this year, in the interest of:
- Informing you about things I’ve made that might be a fun gift for someone in your life, and
- Not turning this email into YET ANOTHER piece of pure marketing garbage in your inbox,
I thought I would share some quick stories and fun bits of info about some of the products in my shop. If any of these things happen to match up with someone on your gift list this year (including yourself), hey, that’s great.
Without further ado, then, here are a few stories about how some of this stuff got made:
Lots of people have bought this t-shirt; only two or three have ever messaged me to ask, “What does this mean?” I usually respond with something along the lines of: I don’t know, I was just thinking about how popular the John Muir quote “The mountains are calling and I must go” is, and thought, “What would be the most unlikely animal to be saying ‘the mountains are calling’?” And the first thing that came to mind was a lobster. So I basically traced the logo of the most popular seafood restaurant I’ve ever heard mentioned in a Beyoncé song and put it on a shirt.
This is one of the most popular t-shirts of all time for the Semi-Rad shop, and honestly, I forget what I was thinking when I drew the original sketch for it, in a pocket notebook somewhere. I am sure I was in the kitchen rooting through the fridge and found some leftover tortillas and put something in them and ate it, even though it probably wasn’t that appetizing. But if you think about it, anything can be a taco (or a burrito, really) as long as there’s a tortilla involved, and you aren’t super-concerned with it being “authentic.” One of my favorite recipes that came from this philosophy is: Scrambled eggs + tater tots + kimchi + sriracha + tortilla.
Anyway, a few years after I started selling the t-shirt, I happened upon this clip of Parts Unknown, in which artist David Choe takes Anthony Bourdain to Sizzler in Koreatown. Bourdain’s voiceover includes: “This is a judgment-free zone where there are no mistakes. A world to explore incongruous combinations without shame or guilt. Free of criticism from snarkologists, because there are no snarkologists at Sizzler.” Cut to Choe noting that the Mexican and Italian sections of the salad bar are right next to each other, and showing Bourdain how to make a “meatball taco.” This is maybe my favorite Anthony Bourdain clip of all time.
Funny story about this one: We made a film called “How to Run 100 Miles” in 2018, and it got on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. The Tour produced a magazine, and they asked for some photos from the film as well as some charts about ultrarunning, which I drew up.
A chart cut out of one of those magazines ended up on someone’s refrigerator somewhere, and a friend of that person decided it would be OK to take that chart and make and sell stickers. The stickers sold really well, and that person somehow eventually decided to reach out to me to say “uh, sorry, I took your idea and made some stickers and they really took off, but I guess I shouldn’t do that?”
We chatted, and they stopped making the stickers, and donated the money from the sale of the stickers to a local nonprofit. It ended up basically being market research, which, although a bit awkward, showed proof of concept. So I went ahead and put the design on these shirts. Venn diagrams are great because they take about two seconds to read and understand, and really, that’s about the maximum time I want a stranger staring at a shirt I’m wearing.
Back in 2012, I was talking to veteran ski writer Peter Kray about feeling guilty about saying yes to going on a press trip, which was going to take me away from my then-day job, even though my boss had OKed it. I mumbled something about Gee, I don’t know, I just feel like I shouldn’t be doing it, maybe it’s not a good idea, I have a lot of stuff on my plate.
Pete shrugged and said, “You’re not gonna remember doing the work.”
I said yes to the trip, which was a *free* trip to Norway, with a bunch of great people, and I still think back to the memories of that first time in the country, getting my mind blown by the scenery and the culture. That job I had? It was a good job. I had a couple really fun and interesting assignments in the year and a half I worked there. But I cannot for the life of me remember anything I was working on at the time of that trip to Norway.
So, the “Work vs. Skiing” mug: I used to go up to Loveland Ski Area to skin a lap or two in the morning, and then just work “second shift” in the afternoon and evening. And several times, I realized I was trying to talk myself out of skiing a second lap because I had too much work to do. A second lap, for the record, took one hour. I was literally telling myself that I should skip one hour, as if that was going to make a huge difference in my work day.
So I made this chart. Whenever I share it or re-share it on social media, someone will comment that they get to ski for work, aren’t they lucky? Yes, they are. This mug isn’t for them.
What inspired this book? Short answer: Lots of running, which meant lots of time to think—often about running.
Long answer: In fall 2018, my dear friend and collaborator Forest Woodward and I were in New York at the end of one of the many trips we had done that year in order to create a book about camping. We had a full Saturday to goof off in the city, and we came up with the idea to run a marathon around New York, while eating a slice of pizza every five miles. (The original idea was to eat a slice in each of the five boroughs, but we got a late start, so we couldn’t fit in the Staten Island Ferry.) It was a bad idea, but the sort of off-the-couch marathon with a bunch of pizza stops opened my mind to the idea of running a bunch of marathons. Not marathon races, not necessarily fast, just marathons. So I did that in 2019. I ran 2,000 miles that year, which gave me a ton of time to think about running, and I realized I wanted to write a book about running.
I wanted to make something that would a) encourage non-runners to believe that they could not only run, but that they could run long distances, and b) help longtime runners explain to people why they do what they do (because runners are often the “weird one” at the office and/or family gatherings.
For a model, I looked at Austin Kleon’s creativity books, which were short, entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I actually physically re-typed Steal Like an Artist into a Word document on my computer just to figure out how many words were in the book. (9,514 words, 61 quotes, and 35 illustrations in 10 chapters). Then I built a book proposal around that same structure, and figured out exactly what I wanted to say. In the end, I Hate Running and You Can Too ended up being around 14,000 words, with about 80 illustrations, in 13 chapters, and a bunch of quotes, including Japanese proverbs, Cardi B, Bernie Mac, Courtney Dauwalter, and Oprah.
I’m never quite sure what to write when I sign books, but for this one, I was sure. In all the signed copies I sell in the Semi-Rad shop, I’ve written either “Have fun out there! (or not)” or “Have fun out there (or ‘fun’)”.
I have learned over the past few years that although it’s fun to put the F-word on a t-shirt, the market of people who will actually wear a t-shirt with the F-word on it is, well, not as large as you might think. Although I can verify that Anton Krupicka owns one. This set of phrases popped into my head after about 50 laps of the Jidenna song “Long Live the Chief,” which I believe was his breakthrough, but nowadays is not even close to being his most popular track. It is, however, a banger, and plenty of the lyrics stuck in my head for a long time, especially “You can either lead, follow/or get out the way/Make a fucking move/it will make my fucking day”.
Anyway, only about 60 people own this shirt. I did eventually put the design on a coffee mug, which is way more popular than the shirt.
Most of the stuff I’ve drawn and posted online since 2016 only requires a few seconds of thought and/or interaction from the viewer, and that’s fine and all, but I kind of wanted to do something that could hang on a wall and catch someone’s attention for a bit longer. I spent several hours over the span of a few weeks thinking up element names, writing “atomic symbols,” and drawing the first drafts of the design on 11 x 17 graph paper.
As I got near the end, I was running out of ways to create atomic symbols, so the “High Fives” (element 71) symbol is “Gb,” which stands for Glenn Burke, the Los Angeles Dodger who invented the high five in 1977.
Side note: I was invited to submit this design to a call for proposals for murals for a company’s corporate offices, and it was not one of the final selections, but I did learn a ton of stuff about how to paint murals, what kind of paint artists use, et cetera.
I originally drew this design for my book, I Hate Running and You Can Too, and just before the book came out, I put it on a t-shirt. I had been writing the last chapter of the book about how there are no “hacks” in running, and that when you look back, all the hours you spent “training” are actually hugely rewarding and memorable—even though we often think of them as preparation for a race or other goal.
A few weeks after the book came out, a guy named Martin messaged me and asked if it would be OK if he got the diagram tattooed somewhere. I said of course, but also, just FYI, it’s on a t-shirt too if you’d like something less committing/less expensive. A few days later, he sent me a photo of the tattoo, which was now permanently on the back of his hand. Martin is obviously a legend.
Anyway, the shirts are $27.99 and you can take them off whenever you want.
In 2011, I wrote an essay called “Make 2012 The Year of Maximum Enthusiasm,” and it might be the most widely-read thing I’ve ever written. It was one of those things that was partly (or maybe even primarily) just a note to myself, like, hey, just find things to be enthusiastic about and that will make the world a better place. After a couple years I noticed that people were re-sharing the original article on social media every year in late December or January, so I decided to re-publish it every year, just changing the name of the band in the story to make it a little more current.
And eventually, I had the good sense to put it on a t-shirt, and sweatshirts, which sold a few, because it’s kind of a good thing to have on a shirt, in terms of a message to the world.
Side note: I found out last year that some company stole the idea for this shirt and has been selling them on Amazon. Which would be kind of maddening, except that these douchebags are selling a shirt that has the word “Maximum” spelled incorrectly. So if you want a shirt that says “Practice Maxiumum Enthusiasm,” those are here. (They literally copied and pasted lines from the original story into the product copy for the t-shirt)
Several years ago, I was in Chicago with my friend Syd and my friend Tom, eating a Giordano’s deep-dish pizza. We got to talking about the idea some people have that deep-dish pizza is “not really pizza,” or is inferior or superior to other pizza. Syd said something along the lines of “It’s all pizza. Why can’t we just enjoy it?” If I were to make a list titled “Top 10 Wisest Things Syd Has Ever Said To Me,” let me tell you, that pizza thing would be No. 1.
Fast-forward a few years, and I forwarded Syd some article in which the author tried to make a case that some city, somewhere, was the pizza capital of the world—I forget where, or why, or what their argument was. Syd responded, “The pizza capital of the world is my stomach.” Which I think is the best attitude to have, unless you’re someone who likes to argue about pizza as much as you like to eat it.
So I put that quote on a shirt and had one sent to Syd. He loved it, and I asked him if he would be OK with me selling the shirts, and we somehow came to the agreement that it was OK, as long as a percentage of the sales of the shirt were donated to Slice Out Hunger, a nonprofit dedicated to hunger relief and prevention. So if you buy one, 75 percent of the profits are going to Slice Out Hunger.
Some other new-ish stuff in the shop: