If you're anything like me, video game t-shirts can be a weird subject. While I love games, I don't find that most of the designs we see on clothing are items I'd actually care to wear. I attribute this mainly to the fact that most off-the-shelf product uses stock images - it ends up being character cutouts or box art on a shirt. Even pre-order/special edition pieces usually boil down to a game logo and a release date. Rarely does the piece end up actually reflecting my favorite parts of the game or what the game represents, not to mention they rarely feature any artistic interpretation of the game.
Slowly, the clothing market is finding the kind of variety that creates pieces I actually want, and on the cutting edge of that movment is Rev-Level, run by Lee Revill. I had seen some of the designs on Instagram and was instantly a fan - I think they capture a lot of the fun of the games they feature, and also have a lot of great interpretations that you can only get from someone who is inspired by the subject matter. With that in mind, we worked with Lee to bring in a small assortment of Rev-Level shirts to feature in our booth, but we really hope to just serve as a gateway to people finding out about Rev-Level, and encourage them to visit their site to see more.
Lee was also kind enough to give us some history and insight into Rev-Level and being a designer.
Unique Drops: If you’d be so kind, please tell us a little about yourself.
Rev Level: I live in the North West of England. I've been a gamer since the early 80's and I've been interested in art all my life. My professional background is a little mixed.
I've worked in fashion, financial sales and a couple of things in between. The wages were good and I liked the people but I'd missed job satisfaction for too long. I decided to peruse something that I was passionate about and not only focus on the pay packet. That's when I started working for an independent video game shop. The team there welcomed me as one of their own instantly and I never looked back. Since I started we renamed the shop 'Game Dojo'.
UD: How does that tie into t-shirts and Rev Level?
RL: Whilst at Game Dojo I'd consulted people on designs and projects and was often told "that'd make a great T-Shirt" about ideas we'd come up with. I eventually bought a Mac and started tinkering with illustrator. I'd made a number of designs that I was happy with and looked into getting them made into T-Shirts. The biggest problem was to make them cost effective, I had to order a huge amount of stock.
I whittled down 6 designs based on gaming mash ups and had them made. I sold about half at a convention but knew there must've been a better way of getting smaller numbers made. I decided to make them myself so I invested into getting equipment to do just that.
Now I have a studio where I make everything I sell. I can produce small orders for reasonable prices. I spent a long time trying to find the best products to print onto and I've got some awesome stuff that work perfectly with my process.
UD: What is your background in art?
RL: My family were all either arty, creative or stylish in different ways whilst I was growing up and that certainly had an impact. I've always been receptive to artwork of all kinds and drawn since I can remember. I'd always drawn from comics and magazines and recreating game covers and logos. Things took a turn when my brother imported Street Fighter II on the SNES. I was obsessed with martial arts films as a kid and as soon as we played SF I just wanted to draw all these bad ass characters doing these amazing moves! My art style from that point was mainly based on heavily muscled video game or comic book characters. I lost all my drawings in a house fire near the end of school and I stopped for years.
When I worked in offices, I started drawing in ballpoint pen on the backs of blank documents and got the itch again. I started taking an A4 pad in my bag to draw on the train when I'd travel with work.
Oddly I stopped when I started working at Game Dojo but my girlfriend is the one who got me back into it. I met her whilst I worked there and she's very creative (she now has a cake shop where she makes the most incredible looking and tasting stuff!), we like Studio Ghibli and I'd drawn her a Totoro birthday card after she bought me a drawing pad.
I've mostly transitioned to digital art now as I use a Cintiq if I have to sketch. The main reason I use pencil and paper now is to outline a design or go over a commission with someone.
UD: Did you attend school or get any other art training?
RL: I've never had any formal training. I didn't want to go back into education when I left school as I'm dyslexic, my grades were always good but it just felt like it took extra effort on my end to get the results. I pretty much went straight into work after school.
I'd wanted to get into digital art for years, a friend who's a graphic designer had shown me vector art about 15 years ago and it had burned a hole in me since! I just wanted to try and draw in illustrator but to get myself set up would've been so expensive. Then my other friend from Game Dojo taught himself illustrator on his Mac so I decided that's what I was going to do. I bought what I had to, got the basics from him and went to town. I've been doing it for a few years now and I feel like I'm getting better all the time. I've revisited some of my old work and re approached it to good effect.
Being self thought is a funny thing because I never know where I sit on whether to be proud of what I've achieved or if I feel like a pretender.
UD: What are your artistic influences?
RL: In my earlier days Akira Yasuda's (Akiman) and the other artists involved work in Street Fighter enraptured me. I'd pour through the instruction book and additional artwork in magazines. Later I became hooked on Jim Lee's art in comic books. When it comes to graphic art, The Designers Republic work on the Wipeout games really stood out and since I've seen their other work with Warp and other campaigns, it was all top notch. I've been to Japan a couple of times and I absolutely love Japanese graphic influence. The adverts you see on trains and billboards are so cool. Such strong lines and excellent colour choices. When I look at the presentation of their video games packaging, I'm often so impressed. It goes beyond the front cover, it's the discs, manuals and inlays, there is so much careful thought placed in how they present their products. When I'm doing adverts for companies, I try to get in that head space.
UD: Can you describe your creative process?
RL: From an idea standpoint it's annoying because I don't sleep very well, which is a pain but some of my best ideas come to me whilst I'm trying to sleep. Selecting games is often based on the series I like the most. There'll never be a shortage of Zelda, Nintendo, Metal Gear or fighting game designs. Sometimes I can have an idea for a theme or a punchline that I want to produce a design for, but I can't think of how to make it into a good visual. I write those ideas down until I can figure them out.
As far as artwork is concerned, it depends on a couple of things. Some of my artwork I don't think would translate to my T-Shirts very well so it's mostly the graphic art I put onto them. If I'm recreating something, like the Alert Phase Metal Gear design, then there's a few things that are key. Finding typefaces that fit the mood of the original image, and interpreting what's important to include. It can also depend on whether I'm trying to add details or subtract them. Take Majora's Mask for instance, I've done a version that's more simplistic than the original, with clean eclipse shapes and straight lines. I've done another that was a Day of the Dead Sugar Skull inspired version that is more complex than the original. I've worked on some minimalist pieces, one of my favourites being the first screen of the original Zelda. To the untrained eye, it's just two simple shapes on a yellow Tee, but when I've worn it I've been pleasantly surprised by how many people get it. When recreating an existing logo with just simple colours and shapes, it's about pulling it as far away from the original whilst still making it recognisable.
UD: What is your gaming background?
RL: I have an older brother and sister, my brother had me gaming earlier than most of my friends and we used to take it in turns on the Spectrum and Commodore. I only really adored gaming when we got the NES. The first time I played Super Mario Bros, I was hooked. The gameplay, graphics and soundtrack felt so far ahead of everything else we'd had. Then my first love turned up in a golden cartridge. The Legend of Zelda changed everything! We spent such a long time working on this adventure that saved our progress! We used the map to ensure we'd explored every corner, bombed every wall and burnt every bush. It was simply mind blowing what this game did. The NES continued to bring it with Mega Man, Castlevania, Probotector (Contra), Bionic Commando, Double Dragon, Metroid, Metal Gear & Zelda II (yes I liked it).
The SNES was another power house that had better versions of some of the games I've listed above and my favourite game of all time, Zelda III: A Link to the Past.
I only really got into RPGs on the PSone where Final Fantasy changed the landscape. My favourite RPG ever is Suikoden II on the PlayStation. Tekken and Street Fighter alpha kept me scrapping whilst Resident Evil and Silent Hill held me on the edge of my seat.
My GBA SP used to be a saviour! I used to travel for work and I'd wear a suit. My SP just slipped into my inside pocket and I spent many journeys ploughing through the amazing range of Castlevanias on the Advance. It's nice now to play them upscaled through the Retron 5.
These days I go between playing retro, indie and mainstream games, I'm still mainly a console gamer. I tend to be a sucker for Metroidvania games, as long as they're decent. I don't play much online and rarely play competitive shooters. We sometimes get a group of us together to play some on the N64, Dreamcast or GameCube but I don't play modern FPS shooters much. This generation I've enjoyed Deus Ex, Uncharted, MGSV, Mario Kart, Nintendoland. The games I've enjoyed most lately have been indie titles like Axiom Verge, Inside, Guacamelee, Nidhogg, Chasing Aurora, Papers Please, Undertale and my favourite game for years, Hyper Light Drifter.
We've recently struck a deal with a cinema to host gaming events there so I'm looking forward to playing some of this stuff on the big screen.