The concept of the Gladiators opening night (or weekend) tee shirt is one that came along a larger number of years back than Glads Merch Guru Christi Johnson cares to admit she was here for. I think I saw one of your typical Georgia/Florida rivalry tees on someone and thought that it would make for a good opening night concept, she explained. Responsible for designing the bulk of the Gladiators Team Gear, and wanting each years design to be unique and personalized, Christi set aside time each off-season to come up with the shirt.Fast forward 10 or so years and thats a lot of designs shes had to crank out. A few years back the Glads held a Design a Tee contest for the artwork, and received some amazing submissions. Last year she commissioned one of the ECHLs national vendors to present a concept. They did, and fans flocked to the store to purchase the traditional must have item at the season opener. For 2015s Opening Weekend, Christi wanted to bring in something or someone - fresh. Giving some thought as to who she might reach out to, one name kept popping up on her Twitter feed. On a trip to Chicago back in 2010, Christi met Kat Velez among a group of hockey friends whod planned a December Tweet Up for a Blackhawks game. Theyve kept digitally in touch since, mostly following each other on Twitter. Over the years, Christis seen plenty of Kats graphic design work, and found herself enjoying Kats Cute-ify NHL Mascots project this summer when the proverbial lightning struck.Id been trying to figure out how I was going to do this, said Christi. I needed to design the opening weekend tee in the midst of trying to get everything ready for our name change announcement and the start of the season that was to follow shortly thereafter. I saw one of Kats mascot renderings and went THATS IT. Christi reached out to Kat and commissioned her to design the tee for 2015. Opening Weekend is now upon us, and its time to unveil her amazing work! To shed some light on the artist behind the art, Glads Insider spoke with Kat via email for our story GI: How did you get into graphic design work?KV: I’ve always been that kid who drew on every scrap of paper set in front of me, but I was always told that there’s no money in art, so I should go to college for something else. In college, I sort of drifted for the first few years until I heard about the graphic design program. I always joke that I got into graphic design because I didn’t like the starving part of the starving artist stereotype.GI: Lets talk hockey did you grow up a Blackhawks fan, or is your love of the sport a relatively new thing?I got into hockey after going to a Blackhawks game back in 2008. It was really that simple. Everything was so fast and I could hardly catch my breath during the first period that I was like I want to watch this for the rest of my life. GI: Was there a moment you consciously decided to begin using your design talents for hockey, or was it more of a natural progression from hey I like to do this and I like to be a fan of this to let’s put them together! There wasn’t any conscious decision, so yeah, it was a more natural progression to put two things I like together.GI: Favorite design project you’ve worked on so far?I always say that my favorite design project is the one I just finished, so that would be the t-shirt design I created for the Boston Blades, a CWHL team.GI: Tell us a bit about your 26 Shirts design/project!Del Reid, the guy who runs 26 Shirts, came to me in July to design a shirt for them. 26 Shirts raises money for families in need, the majority of which have members with severe health issues. So I drew up a few designs that I guess would be considered more corporate or mainstream. Then, almost as an afterthought, I threw in this design that I had drawn up a week before -- Jonathan Toews as a Cap’n Crunch parody called Cap’n Clutch. Surprisingly, Del picked Cap’n Clutch design. It went on sale on September 21, and the ended on October 4.GI: What was the thought behind the Gladiators design?I wanted to do something that had almost a college football rival game-type feel, since the Gladiators and the Everblades have an... interesting history together. When I started working on it, I kept going back to the shield design that echoes the G Shield alternate logo, so I went with that and started building it from there. Hopefully, people like it!
GI: Any chance we can convince you to do a Cutify ECHL Mascots project in the future?Perhaps! I’ve been busy with work, so I haven’t even able to finish up the NHL mascots yet. Once things finally settle down, I hope to continue with it.Many thanks to Kat for her contributions to the Opening Night tee. Fans - be sure to tag your pics #GLADitude this weekend so we can see you sporting your new Glads gear!!