Because toast!

Happy Overload, the upcoming Sparky Firepants coloring book spectacular is still in the works – but you can grab this cute-as-hell page and get it right now. Relieve some stress. Get your color on.


A funny thing happened on the way to the bathroom…

You may have seen our post and tiny campaign to raise awareness for trans equality and the right to use bathrooms according to gender identity.

We haven’t backed away from our support of trans people or fighting those ridiculous bathroom bill(s). However, we did take the shirts down and there are a few reasons:

Support for Trans People

Wow. The support for trans people and agreement over equal bathroom use, especially from the White House, has been pretty overwhelming. Is that fight over? Not by a long shot, but it turned out that our little t-shirt campaign wasn’t really making a dent. The support from the U.S. Government had way more impact. Great news, but there’s no longer any real use in pushing our tees.

Keep Calm and Copy On

Ugh. A hard thing to admit, but the design of the shirt left me feeling like I jumped on a trend. In my excitement to render an idea that I thought would be received in a big way, I lost sight of our core design philosophy, which is to not jump on design trends. I have better, more original designs and don’t need to lean on the overused “Keep Calm” meme. Lesson learned!

Rush Limbo

We kind of rushed the whole thing. Again, our support has not wavered one bit, but the campaign could have been executed much better with more thought. In the middle of a much bigger project, I popped out a design and ran with it, hoping something would spark and catch on. Instead, it got stuck in a sort of limbo. That meant zero sales and zero money donated to support awareness of trans equality. We flubbed it. We’re taking ourselves to Raising Awareness School so we get it right next time.

Polarizing Effects

This issue in particular really polarized people that follow what we do. The majority, we’re happy to report, agree with our message. I suspect the problem is that (unlike being vegan or environmentalists), even when people agree, they sometimes prefer to do it quietly, or simply by liking a post on instagram. Wearing a t-shirt to the mall that might get the wrong kind of attention is not something everyone is up for, even if they support the cause. We’re now thinking of different types of media that might be easier to display. More lessons.

The polarizing effect? We think that’s actually pretty awesome. We lost a few fans over this, but now we know where we stand. No judgement or hard feelings, it’s good for all of us to know what we believe and stick to it.

The Future

Using art to raise awareness about an issue is something Jenni and I have always done and will always do. We are still learning about how to get our message out there so it has a bigger impact. Working in conjunction with other organizations that align with our stance on a given issue is one thing we’ll seek out in the future.

There’s more to come. We hope you’ll stick around and thank you for being here in the first place!

Hey, is that vegan t-shirt… vegan?

Imagine this was printed on leather. Good idea? Bad idea?

Imagine this printed on leather.

Is that a weird question? I mean, after all, it says, “vegan” on it. Of course it’s vegan. It’s right there in the phrase.

Yup, I get it. Except I’m not talking about the message printed on the shirt. I’m asking what’s behind the printing of that shirt.

Is it vegan?

Before we get into some answers, let’s think about a situation we can all relate to.

You’re at a restaurant and you ask your waitperson if your selection is vegan. They pause, consider, and say, “Uhh, yeah. Sure. I think so. Hmmm. Probably.”

How do you feel about that? Kind of… annoyed? Frustrated?

That’s often how Jenni and I feel when we see someone selling t-shirts plastered with a catchy vegan phrase and ask, “Is your printer vegan? Do they use vegan inks or sustainable methods?” and we’re met with blank stares – or worse, total apathy.

Annoyed. Frustrated. Somewhere a unicorn just died.

Even as we clench our fists and mourn mythical creatures, we’d much rather educate than berate. Better results, ya know? Besides, we’re not perfect. We do our best. Caring is numero uno.

Hopefully, you’re one of those vegans who really does care about more than how much cash they can make in the vegan marketplace. As plant-based eaters, I believe we’re also default environmentalists. If we’re going to put our message out there for the world to wear, we should at least try to move in the right direction.

For you, Caring Vegan, I’ve jotted down some information that will help prepare you for your next run of vegan tees. Read on!

No Worms Were Harmed in the Silk Screening Process

We can clear our consciences right off the bat with this little nugget. In silk screening, also known as screen printing, a mesh screen is used as a stencil to push the ink through. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the screens were made of silk. As you might have already guessed, silk is not vegan. Oh no! What to do?

You can chill on this one. The good news is that, these days, screens are made from nylon, not silk. The term silk screening is still used, because, well, we’re used to it. Also, nylon screening doesn’t sound as artsy-fartsy.

Now that we know the worms can relax, let’s move onto inks. Are they vegan? Are they safe?

Are Screen Printing Inks Vegan?

Now and then, we get this question from some of our lovely customers. I wish more people would ask (or care). In fact, one of our customers spent time calling around Los Angeles with that question, only to be disappointed by printers who either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. Sound crazy? We thought so.

Thankfully, there’s a simple method we use to find out if the ink we want to use is made with animal products or tested on animals. You ready for this? We call the manufacturer.

Mmm-hmm. Yup. That’s it. Even better, we get answers. Sometimes we have to wait on hold while they find their chemical engineer, or we have to rephrase the question. A lot of people don’t immediately understand what “vegan” would mean, so we educate them and ask more specifically about whether or not the ink contains any part of an animal. We’ve always received informative, respectful answers. It’s just that simple.

So if you ask your printer if they use vegan ink, they may not know what you mean. Hey, that’s okay, this is your opportunity to educate them. If you explain nicely, rephrase your question and they give you flack (or don’t know), consider going elsewhere.

Soft Hand, Cold Heart

So you’re at your local vegan fest, festing it up with your jackfruit tacos and all the Soy Dream you can handle, and you find yourself at a vegan apparel booth. Wow, those are some sick vegan tees. So soft, and you can’t even feel the print. You just gotta have one!

Hold up there. Before you plunk down your vegan cash, let’s talk about how those t-shirts are printed. To get a really soft hand like that, screen printers use either water-based ink (we’ll get to that in a minute), or possibly a method called discharge printing. Essentially what a discharge print does is bleach the dye out of the shirt, then a water-based ink is applied for color. What’s the problem?

Discharge inks are highly toxic. There’s formaldehyde and a whole cocktail of other chemicals that you’re not supposed to breathe while printing (or ever). Why should you care about what some screen printer is breathing? Well, that bleaching cocktail at some point not only vaporizes into the air, some of it gets washed down the drain. Where does it go? Some of it gets filtered and sent back to you as tap water. Some it goes out to the ocean, unfiltered. Some of those those animals that you fight so hard to protect live there.

Recently, there have been developments in discharge printing that allow for an enzymatic process. That means “natural” enzymes are used to bleach out the dye rather than toxic chemicals. Still, there a couple things we need to consider:

  1. The dye from the shirt is still released somewhere. Where did it go?
  2. What constitutes a “natural” enzyme? Where do they come from? Animal source? Do you know?

If we’re going to demand that people not use animal products, we should demand to know how that vintagey t-shirt is made. It affects both our environment and the animals.

Water Based Ink is So, Like… Sustainable, Man

Water-based printing is great. It looks good, it feels good on the shirt, it even sounds really environmental. After all it has water in it! That must be awesome! The assumption is that, unlike plastisol-based printing, it’s the best thing for the environment. Why, just take a sip of this water-based ink, it’s delicious. *disclaimer: don’t do that.

Before you drink the water-based kool-aid, read about the myths of water-based inks. Then come back here.

So now you understand that water-based ink is not just water and harmless color made from unicorn breath, it’s actually made with solvents and other chemicals. Not that plastisol ink is chemical-free, but the cleaning methods are very different (and the way we do it, sustainable). Water-based printing can be done sustainably, so knowing how things should be done will help you choose wisely.

What About the Shirts?

Well, thankfully, most shirts are typically cotton or synthetic and no animals are used. However, there are no innocents in textile manufacturing. Virtually every method affects our world in some way. Here’s a great source of information on the different fabrics and their impact on the planet:

Vegans Are Environmentalists

As you can see, no t-shirt printing method is 100% perfect for the environment. It’s about making an educated, conscious choice. You can’t please everyone, but having solid answers for your customers is a pretty big deal.

If you care about the environment and the animals, it’s worth asking your screen printer about their methods. If they can’t (or won’t) answer your questions, it’s the same as a waiter not telling you if your meal is vegan or not.

You wouldn’t accept that, so why accept anything less than vegan and environmentally-friendly screen printing?

More questions? Ask in the comments or email us!


Fear & Transphobia in the Bathroom

It’s a chance to be decent. It’s a chance to be human.

Keep Calm Potty OnPicture yourself in a public restroom. You’re in a stall, doing your business. The next stall opens up, a stranger comes in to do their business.

Wait. Who’s in there? Do you know? Do you even care? I know that my only goal is to get in and out of that stinky, dirty room as fast as possible. I just want to go back to what I was doing in the freshly-scented outside world.

That’s exactly what transgender people want.

This recently conjured-up fear of creepy men brazenly following little girls into the restroom is not the same as transgender people choosing the restroom that’s appropriate to their gender identity. Those horrid political ads are offensive to us. Their only aim is to create a climate of fear and even worse, they are working.

Let’s get real.

Sure, I accompany our 8-yr old son to public restrooms, always. Partly because I want him to be safe and mostly because I don’t want him dropping his pants onto the pee-riddled restroom floor (yeah, that’s a thing). That has nothing to do with the typical bathroom user who just wants to mind their own business. Just like trans people want to do.

The point is that combining child molesters, violent idiots, upskirt-photo-takers and trans people into one category is wrong. No doubt you have peed in the same bathroom as both and never knew it. The difference being, trans people are not a threat to society.

Today I had to find the restroom at the Omni hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I found this:

gender neutral sign
I went into a stall and used it. I washed my hands. I left. End of story. Zero drama.


In an effort to put an end to the false bathroom drama and show our support for transgender people, we created this image:

Yes, we are selling it on t-shirts! 100% of the profits from these tees will be donated to transgender support organizations. Help us in our mission to erase fear, eliminate hate and end transphobia.


Daddy, what made the twenties roar so loud?

Here’s a fun poster I did for our local Chamber of Commerce’s holiday party last year. The most fun element was illustrating the flapper. Unreal! Finding and manipulating the right typefaces to exude that art deco 20s vibe was also the bee’s knees.


Like a lot of the work I do, I used reference photos, tracing some parts and making up the others. The advantage to illustrating in the final design versus using a photo is that I can change the line color, weight, fills, and add elements (like the flower in her hat) to tie it all in to the poster design.

Because I created it in Adobe Illustrator, I was also able to pull out elements to make smaller signs, flyers and table signs for the event.

There’s sometimes a misconception that creating design comes out of thin air. The whole “staring at a blank canvas” thing. It can be like that. Most of the time it’s a result of doing a lot of homework on the subject matter – that’s where the ideas come from. The result you see here isn’t complicated, until you start conceptualizing all the other million ways it could have been done. There are always some pretty bad ideas (and designs) that get thrown out.

That’s the work. That’s the art. It’s also the fun. That’s why I do it.

Naked Tofu

In my quest to fill the world with the happiest, weirdest art in the world, I have dreamed up yet another vehicle for the task: A coloring and activity book!

While it’s in the works, I couldn’t resist sharing some of the pages with you. Here’s one that will both scratch your coloring itch and stave off Alzheimer’s. It’s printable on regular letter-sized paper (select Fit to Page for best results). Enjoy!

Naked Tofu ©Sparky Firepants

Color Your Own T-shirt with Fabric Markers

05 coloring

Who loves to color? Ooh, oooh, oooh, we do, we do!

If you love to color and you want to turn a blank or printed tee into your own work of artistry, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to show you how easy it is to color a t-shirt with fabric markers. How easy is it? Super easy.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • Printed T-shirt
  • Thin cardboard (letter-size or larger)
  • Fabric Markers

The Printed T-shirtThe printed tee in question.

For the purposes of our tutorial, I chose one of our own white tees with our famous Vegan Zombie printed in black. You can use any t-shirt you want, really. Go thrift store hunting if you want to do it on the cheap! Sometimes we find some pretty interesting stuff that begs to be decorated. You can also dig something out of your closet, or if you’re cheeky, your roommate’s closet. Just make sure it’s clean. Even a new t-shirt will work best if you wash it once before coloring.

Helpful Hint: If you use someone else’s shirt, make sure they are not wearing it at the time. Although in certain situations, that might be fun.

The Cardboard02 cardboard

In our house, finding cardboard is easy. There’s always some kind of cardboard available, if it hasn’t already been taken by our 8-year old to build a Bionicle diorama. A cereal box works great (take out the cereal first). If you don’t eat cereal (what’s wrong with you), you can use a cracker box, the back of a notepad or cut up one of those boxes from your latest Amazon order. You just want something large enough to fit behind the area you’re coloring. If you have a small piece you can move it around as you go. No biggie.

The Fabric Markers

You can find Fabric markers in most craft stores like JoAnn, Michaels and Ben Franklin. You can also get them online. Most markers are about the same in how they work, so don’t sweat that too much. Try to find ones with fatter tips to start out. If you’re coloring a large area you’ll start to get cranky using a fine tip. Not that I would know, of course. Call it… intuition.

Let’s Color!

03 markersGet yourself set up in a well-lit area with a nice, clean, flat surface. I usually pour myself some sort of cocktail before starting, but you can substitute cocoa, tea, or I hear some people even drink water. Let me know what that’s like.

Put your cardboard piece inside the shirt (not behind it). This keeps any ink from getting through to the back side.

When you start to color, you’ll notice the color going onto the shirt is a lot lighter than the cap. That’s okay. It might look like your marker is running out of ink already, but it’s not. You’re coloring on fabric which soaks up a lot of ink, hence the cardboard. Fill an area with color, then let it dry for a few minutes. Go over it again and you’ll notice that it’s much darker now. Yay!

Let it Dry, Already!

If you’re like me, you’ll put your shirt on right away and go parading around like you just invented cereal. While I can’t fault you for this, I do recommend that you let it sit overnight to dry completely. I guess you could use a hair dryer if you’re in a hurry, but I haven’t lab-tested that as of this writing.

The Result06 colored

Here’s how mine turned out. I really loved doing this because I could add shading and make my Vegan Zombie design look more hand-drawn and sketchy.

You can see that the color is not particularly dense. I left mine this way, but you could always let it dry, then go back over it again to darken the colors.

In the side-by-side below, you can see that our full color screen printed version is much brighter and darker with lots of flat color. This is what I love about doing this crafty coloring project, no two t-shirts will be the same, even if I colored them myself.

09 side-by-side

I Want to Do This RIGHT NOW!

It does look exciting, doesn’t it? Like I said, if your significant other, partner, brother or roommate has a t-shirt that looks like it would be fun to color, that’s the quickest route. But since you have to live with them afterwards and you still need to go out and get markers, why not pick up something new (or used)? You’ll sleep better.

If you think you can wait longer than five minutes (or even a few days), you could order one of our ready-made kits.

I hope you have fun with this. Let me know how it works out for you!

Sparky Shop Tour

It’s a Sparky print studio tour. Expect nothing less than weird.

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Screen printing a four-color t-shirt

Is this Vegan Zombie shirt just so awesome? You can get it here!

Crazy Happy Love Love Topanga Art

“We just want something really cool that has our ‘Unplugged’ theme and reflects the spirit of Topanga!”

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the direction I was given for a piece I did a few months ago for the 66th Annual Topanga Chamber of Commerce Awards dinner. Translated, that means, Yay, I get to play!

Topanga is a community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California (my favorite). It’s somewhat rural, the people here love their trees, animals, festivals, flowy-colorful clothes, sunsets, and folk music.

Check out the final result:TCoC 66th Awards Program v3

This was the cover for the program. Heather, the event organizer, also needed it in oodles of different formats for flyers, posters, Facebooks posts, emails, and even table placards. Because I created the final art digitally, it didn’t take much more work to adapt the design for those oodles.

This is one of the most fun pieces I’ve done in a while and not only does the art reflect that, the responses of the attendees were off the charts crazy happy love love. Loose direction leads to fun art creation, which equals crazy happy love love. Yes?

I don’t remember painting this.

Love Bird on Wood

Sometimes I look back at a piece of artwork and I can’t retrace my steps. Where did that line come from? Why did I choose that color? Why a heart?

I think the art I’ve done that I like best is the art where I can’t retrace those steps. It’s art I’ve created where it feels like I dreamed it all. Which I suppose is at least sort of true.

Love Bird on Wood

How We Do Social Media

Social Media Nightmare © Sparky Firepants

If you arrived here from our seminar Debunking Social Media Myths, welcome! Thanks for being there for our lil’ ol’ seminar, we appreciate it.

If you found this by any other means, get out. Just kidding. You may have missed the seminar, but we’ll share the PowerPoint slide show online. If you want to be updated with the link when it’s live, send us an email:

As we promised during the seminar, here is a short list of social media sites we use and how we use them. We acknowledge that our way is not THE way. You’ll find that things that work for us won’t work for you and vice versa. We think that’s just fine and dandy. Use this as a guideline and sally forth into Social Media Experiment Land.

From here on out I’m going to start abbreviating Social Media as SM. Cheese and crackers, that gets tiring to type.

FacebookFB monster

Let’s start with the most popular SM network out here right now. Jenni and I both use Facebook personally, Jenni being the more active one. Frankly, FB makes me crazy but Jenni has a super force field that allows her to peruse without clenched teeth and nightmares.

That said, so many people we know use FB regularly that we created a Sparky Firepants fan page (right here). We’ve been using it for several years, but our activity has tapered off in the past six months or so. The reason is that because of FB’s new algorithms, our customers just aren’t seeing our fan page posts in their feeds as well as they used to. The interaction was declining and we found we were working very hard to push those fan page posts in our FB friends’ faces. It just wasn’t effective anymore. If you were at our seminar, you remember how we talked about being where your customers are. For us, it’s not our fan page.

So, we post here and there to keep things active for those who really enjoy seeing us on FB. That’s about it.

Twittertwitter monster

This is my personal favorite. I’ve been active on twitter since 2007. For Sparky Firepants customers, we’ve found that Twitter is the numero uno place where our people hang out.

For the uninitiated, Twitter looks like a hugely random stream of meaningless thoughts and way too many links to click on. It looks daunting. It’s like a loud cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.

Take a deep breath. Very little of what you see in your twitter stream matters. Here’s a great tutorial of how to use Twitter.

Now, if you’re already tweeting like an eagle, here’s how we use Twitter. In two words, building relationships. Just like in the real world, it’s about making a real connection with your customers. Sparky Firepants has about 2,800 followers. It took about seven years to get that many. We estimate that we connect personally with about 10-20% of our followers over the course of a year. Some more than others, some not at all. The numbers are not the most important factor. What’s how well you connect with real people on twitter.

Do we want more followers? Sure. We prefer to build that number organically. When you pay SM experts to get you thousands of followers instantly!, it will probably work. What you’ll get is a giant list of people who don’t know you or care about what you do, which is a waste of your tweeting time and marketing efforts.

LinkedInlinkedin monster

Fancy online resume. That’s how most people see LinkedIn. While your user profile is essentially your resume, there’s private messaging, articles, and groups you can be involved in.

I’m very protective of my LinkedIn network. The only people you’ll see in my network (if we’re connected, that is) are people I’ve either worked with or know personally (and would recommend them for work in their field). While on Twitter I may connect with a lot of people I don’t even know, I keep my LinkedIn connections very tight.

LinkedIn groups are key for your business. Participating in a group that’s relevant to what you do makes you more visible than just putting up a profile. I’ve met a lot of great people, made new customers and learned from others in my career field through groups.

Instagraminstagram monster

Why eat when you just scroll through photos of what everyone else is eating? Instagrammers get a lot of flack for posting pics of every meal and multiple selfies a day, but it can really boost your online presence.

It’s the easiest marketing you’ll ever do. Hosting an event or just attending an event? Take photos, post to Instagram, add a hash tag that’s relevant to your business or event. Just one example.

Beyond posting your own stuff, you really need to be active in other people’s accounts. Favorite things you like, comment on posts, and share others’ posts with friends. That’s how you organically build a following. Like all SM and personal relationships, it’s not all about you.

But wait, there’s more!

So much more. There are new SM networks popping up almost every day. Like we covered in the seminar, we don’t think every network is right for us and one network could be perfect for you that we just don’t use.

I’m a tech geek and I like to experiment with new apps and networks all the time. That’s me. If that’s not you, then let it go. However, I will say that if you find your customers are talking about a new SM network, it’s probably in your best interest to at least check it out. Remember our social media marketing slogan:

Just connect with people.


Painting Art in the Real Wood – er, World

Sparky Art Box

Same art box I’ve used since 1990.

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you probably know that I create a lot of digital art. You may not know that I didn’t start my art career as a digital artist. Nope. In fact, I am from that very long ago Once Upon a Time time where art schools did not even teach digital art. My school, the American Academy of Art only had one little Macintosh (what we called them back in prehistoric times), tucked away in a closet. Only advanced students were allowed to touch it [HAND SLAP]. Which was fine by me, because my computer knowledge at that time was limited to writing “go to” commands in BASIC. Adobe Illustrator (88) was still an infant.

So I did what I’ve always done, which is to create art using my hands, pencils, watercolors, ink, paper, glue and whatever I could find laying around. It was much later in my career that I started using a computer to create graphic design, and then animation for Nickelodeon. Which is amazing, because I feel that my experiences in crafting mixed media art from real world materials, sketching and painting helped me be more creative with my digital tools.

I still do a lot of digital work, but these days, more than ever, I like to get my hands messy by painting on wood.

Here’s a piece I’m just completing on a skateboard:

pub guy skateboard

I like to use paint pens and Sharpies. This one in particular I did freehand, without an idea in my head of what it would be. Sometimes I just go with the flow to see what happens.

Other times, I’ll pick up a piece of wood and try to figure out what it wants to be before I start decorating. Like this chunk of 2′ x 4′ that I had laying around:

raw wood piece

I’m trying to figure out what it wants to be. Which sounds like a lot of New Age bullshit, but really, it…

…nope. It does. It just sounds like New Age bullshit. Anyway, what I’m doing is scanning the wood and trying not to think about bills, pets, kids, my broken windshield wiper, bills, what’s for dinner, bills, or why my shoe keeps coming untied.

After I cleared my mind (more bullshit, that never happens), I flipped this puppy over and saw…

whale wood piece rough

… a whale!

Here’s where I stop blogging about it and get to work. If you want to see the finished piece, follow Sparky Firepants on twitter or instagram. You can also see it in our Sparky Firepants Etsy shop, among our other specially special painted pieces.

Questions? Comments? Let ’em rip!

Grateful Greetings to You

grateful card photo

Sparky Grateful cards in our Etsy shop

It’s that time of year again. Everyone is going around being all grateful for everyday things, like underwear and spare keys. Some people even go so far as to be grateful for other people. Isn’t that astounding?

I know I’m grateful for all the people who liked, retweeted, purchased, complimented and otherwise glanced at or sneezed in the general vicinity of Sparky Firepants art. You guys are super awesome.

What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for?

Taco Passing Shot

Taco Avocado Badminton ©2014 Sparky Firepants

Obscure Halloween costumes

©2014 Sparky Firepants

Printer Jam

Printer Jam copyright Sparky Firepants

Fake Noodle

fake noodle ©2014 Sparky Firepants

The Weirdness of the First Walker

Who was the first person to walk? That had to be weird, right? Think about it. Everyone is born laying down. And when we’re born, we don’t even know what those things growing out of our hips are for. They sort of move around, sometimes even on purpose. Every now and then strange liquids, gases and solid things squirt out from between them.

So in the early days, before anyone was around to tell the freshly born that those things are for standing and moving around on, what was that like?

“Guys! Check this out! I’m so tall, I’m standing on my squirt-betweens!”

“Oh my God. It’s Carl again.”

“What’s he doing?”

“I have no idea. He’s like, tall. Sort of. And moving.”

“Moving? You mean he’s crawling, right?”

“No, he’s… sort of… I… just don’t know. Oh, jeez. You gotta come see this.”

So Carl was weird. Now we know that he was on to something, but to Early Man he was certifiably insane.

Squashing our innate and individual weirdness is like denying that our legs are for walking. Somebody has to be first at everything.

Maybe it’s time to try out your squirt-betweens.


mustard sneeze ©Sparky Firepants