I am honored to be involved in a t shirt design project for the 27th Annual Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque. It was a wild ride, but we’ve got an agreement on a design, and I’m happy with it.

Firstly, I had the great joy of learning about Mariachi culture. I combed Google Images for everything mariachi related, looking for ways to learn about the visual culture of the form. I created a Pinterest board, available here, as I regularly do when researching a new project. I pored over Mariachi (2009), by Patricia Greathouse, a gorgeous book loaded with contemporary photography and vintage images. I learned of its venerable history, beginning with Mariachi Vargas in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1898. Listening to a wide array of Mariachi music, I began doing thumbnails and studying visual details. 

Guitarron! Vihuela! The pants! The scarves! The conchas! As I worked, I soaked in as much as I could of the detail and depth in Mariachi’s visual culture. I learned about the amazing network of professional musicians, teachers, school programs and performance venues that have supported generations of players in creating an entire world of proud culture. Mariachi has grown and changed with the decades, and yet remains intimately connected to its traditions.

Drawing on the bewildering number of visual possibilities, I began to make thumbnails of compositions and characters that felt particularly lively. I wondered about ways to get more than one musician into the frame, without diluting the image. I wondered about the mythical place a Mariachi might inhabit, and about ways to acknowledge the Mariachi’s symbols without stooping to stereotype. I wondered about a cartoony or tattoo-world style versus a more photographic style, and what either might signify, and how feasible either might be for me.

Eventually, the clients and I settled on a single male Mariachi figure, face averted to make him symbolic rather than a particular identity. I got to work finishing him in black and white.  

With that figure established as the most likely candidate for a final design, I set about looking for ways to integrate him into the text of the shirt. I also kept going with alternative ideas, just in case.

I was unclear about where to go next compositionally. I knew I wanted to hand-letter the event title, so I threw myself into that. Drawing again on internet and other published sources, I cast about for a type flavor that felt right. My first thoughts ended in failure, as I learned just how hard laying out display type was. 

After some talks with Floyd, I thought to do a medallion of text, figuring that it could go beneath a monumental version of the Mariachi. I made a border, cursing my inability to get Illustrator to work on my new Mac laptop, and cursing my sloppy drawing. I was saved by the realization that it didn’t help the design anyhow. With that, the idea of using a papel picado as an inspiration in the design fell away.

With the type feeling better, and with some sleep, the final image came together. 

Mariachi Spectacular 2017 specialty T Shirt design. Yay!

Mariachi world, I hope my work expresses my admiration for your skill and dedication to your craft and your community.

Thank you to Floyd Vasquez of Vision Broadcast Network, to the Spectacular’s tireless leader Peter Sanchez, and to the wider Mariachi world for its dedication to musicianship, lifetime learning and community. 

Using Format