Using Street Art Style in T-shirt Design

Street art in design

What is Street Art?

Your first comprehensive exposure to street art was probably in the city in which you reside, a popular city you’ve visited, or while binge watching Netflix and stumbling upon the documentary Exit at the Gift Shop.

Street art can either be commissioned or illegally crafted. Another word for street art that has a more negative (AKA illegal) connotation is graffiti. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “broken windows theory” which references acts of vandalism, and states that by maintaining urban environments and preventing small crimes, bigger ones are less likely to happen.

People are either very much in support of what they deign freedom of expression, or consider all street art to be an eyesore (and the cause of additional illegal activities in the same spirit as the broken windows theory). If you find yourself in the former school of thought, then you’re in the right place. We’ll be using street art style to design t-shirts.

Important Elements of Street Art

NYC mural street art

It’s not hard to spot street art, but there are some distinct elements that set it apart from other artistic movements:

  • Conveying a message; often political in nature
  • Displyed on a public place/building
  • Rough around the edges in style and execution
  • Images created with stencils and paste ups

Of course, all of these elements of street art are just generalizations. Each piece is much different from the next!

Major Street Art artists

Draw inspiration from these notable street artists:

Shepard Fairey

Barack Obama

If you’ve seen the distinctive “OBEY” graphics and t-shirts, you’re already well-acquainted with the works of Shepard Fairey. He’s also the artist behind the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster design. Fairey is one of the most influential street artists currently on the scene.


Banksy dreams

Originally hailing from England, Banksy’s artistic works have caused a stir worldwide. He combines satire and dark humor to create politically-charged messages. To add to the intrigue, nobody actually knows Banksy’s true identity–although the topic is naturally under intense speculation.


ROA Chicago

Another street artist with international acclaim is ROA from Belgium. Unlike Banksy, his works are commissioned murals and not technically considered vandalism. He has a unique obsession with animals, especially in a macabre manner.

Looking for more inspiration? One of Google’s latest projects is working hard to tell the stories behind various street art works, and their designers.

How can you incorporate Street Art into T-shirt design?

Street art tshirt

Here’s the good news: when you incorporate street art into a t-shirt design, you’re completely within your legal rights to freedom of expression! We can’t guarantee the same if you decide to move your design instead to the side of a public building.

There are couple easy ways to get in touch with your inner Street Art artist:

  • Be different. Street art stands out because it defies the norm and stands out. Don’t follow typical design conventions when trying to use street art as inspiration for a t-shirt design.
  • Make a statement. Street artists act questionably by violating the law to express themselves (if the work was not commissioned), but they usually do it to spread a powerful message. What message will you share?
  • Create a stencil. If you’re looking to create more than one t-shirt, you may consider creating a stencil to spray paint on multiple t-shirts for a similar look and feel.
  • Be bright and bold. Use color! Street artists captivate with vibrancy and your t-shirt can do the same by taking advantage of this fact.

How will you add an element of Street Art into your next t-shirt design project? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman.

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