How to make a gift with someones photo on it not look bad
February 3, 2022 12:13 AM   Subscribe

My twin sister and I have birthdays coming up in April and i know this wonderful artist who i want to draw an image i can have screen printed onto something like a coffee cup or jean jacket or some other such Knickknack. But in my mind i see the whole photograph on a gift idea as a bit cheesy, but i'm sure if done right she will love it. Do you have any gifts given or received (besides the actual art work) with an image in it that doesn't look over done? Could you give some suggestions?
posted by The_imp_inimpossible to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Print some stationary with that photo for the both of you. "From the desk of Foo" and "From the desk of Bar" same picture lol.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:51 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Zumbador, I believe that's what's happening - OP is going to commission an artist to use the photo as a reference for a drawing.

I've received mugs with commissioned art on them and they're adorable, plus having something warm and sweet to hold while I think of the gift giver is lovely.
posted by fight or flight at 4:40 AM on February 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

I think that image transfers to stone can come out really nicely and be lovely display pieces.
posted by teremala at 5:12 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I assumed 'twin' was in the "people can't tell us apart" sort of way. In that case it would be the supidist of things, that's not the point, the point is that it's the same stupid thing that you still would remember decades later. The memories are worth more than the moment, they last longer. If you don't look much alike... nevermind.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:23 AM on February 3, 2022

I think having it converted to art by a person is already ahead of the game - usually the photo things look cheesy because it’s just a whole rectangular photo pasted on something. I think making it more logo-ish with irregular edges reads more as “design for an item” rather than “photo I stuck on”
posted by brilliantine at 5:27 AM on February 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

My sister and I have given each other crudely photoshopped gifts with our photos on it for years. We had about a decade-long streak of custom t-shirts, covered in ridiculous inside jokes. I would literally save up lists of funny ideas that would make her laugh, just so I could design one to surprise her. One of my favorites was the year she slipped our faces into the famous sister act scene from White Christmas, and turned it into a shirt. Sadly, I wore it out.
posted by hessie at 5:30 AM on February 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Why not have it printed on a canvas?
posted by jessica fletcher did it at 5:51 AM on February 3, 2022

When stuck on a design question like this, think 'form follows function.' Also keep in mind: there are few perfect solutions, so go easy on yourself.

How and when would seeing the image give her the most pleasure for the longest time? Mugs can last a long time, but they can also break. You see them in the morning, which can be good or minimal.

An image on an umbrella can be dramatic, and is seen only when it rains -- so cheering! Such a nice surprise! However, umbrellas get lost a lot.

T-shirts get seen mainly by other people, and they wear out quickly.

Actual art on the wall can be seen frequently (bathroom) or rarely (behind a door in the guest room), but it tends to last the longest, and is unlikely to be lost. It gets in the way of/prevents installation of other art. It's large.

I'm not suggesting any of these specifically, just suggesting a way to think about the problem: think about when she would benefit the most from this image, and how she moves through days like that, and what she touches and sees --- at just the right moment, there's your image, hanging from her car's rear-view mirror or printed on her gym bag, or inside the door of the medicine cabinet that holds her migraine meds (the last one would be a _terrible_ thing to do, but you see where I'm going, I hope).
posted by amtho at 5:56 AM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think what makes it look cheesy is seeing the whole rectangular outline of the photo. Having an artist draw something might already take care of getting rid of that border. If not, I would either ask them to blur the edges, or make sure the photo takes up the whole space of whatever you are putting it on. I recently got a keychain with a photo printed on it, the photo took up the whole circular dongle part, it looks great.
posted by sillysally at 6:42 AM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Dose she have a pet or other loved one that you could have with her in the art? maybe you? I would love a mug with my sister and me because it would remind me of the love we have for each other every time I used it.
posted by ljesse at 7:01 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think something that helps undercut the cheesy factor is using a method that coordinates with the material. In other words, if the image is rendered in a woodcut style, it will look nice laser-etched onto wood. Embroidery looks good on fabric. Ink and paint look good on paper. If the artist is working with line art, then a rendering that uses something dimensional (raised, metallic, etc.) looks intentional and handcrafted rather than mass-produced.
posted by xo at 7:20 AM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’ve had a lot of success using an app like Oilist or Waterlogue or alternatives and printing a canvas. (They are especially great to transform for display photos that are blurred or otherwise low-quality but have a lot of meaning.) I have a few of these up in my house and regularly get (er, did pre-pandemic) compliments on them.
posted by emkelley at 7:28 AM on February 3, 2022

Another vote for making something that would hang on the wall- I would print the drawing on nice paper, so it looks like a drawing done on paper by hand.
posted by pinochiette at 8:07 AM on February 3, 2022

Because you're already working with an artist, a tapestry blanket (not recommending this specific company, tons of companies make cotton woven tapestry blankets) could be really nice verging into heirloom. There are some hints about how to make them look best in the notes, I'd provide those to the artist you're working with and you would end up with something really special!
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 8:11 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

k I haven't done this yet but socks would be hilarious and I think I might order a pair for my sister with both our faces on it for her birthday this year now lol
posted by blueberrypuffin at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

but a more serious suggestion - I've transferred photos onto wood before which looks quite nice, because you can still see the grain behind it. This would make a nice set of coasters if you seal it with some modpodge (two methods 1 2)

Fridge magnets are also a great medium for photos.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 9:00 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've received and given photos that have been turned into cartoons by an artist. The level of abstraction removes the cheese, imho.
posted by *s at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Screen-printed photo gifts usually look slapdash because there's no relationship between the photo and the object. So it's poorly thought out AND it has some kind of sentimental content, and the combination is embarrassing.

I was surprised how much I love the giant coffee mug with a photo of my nieces. It somehow works because of the way the photo makes the nieces look enormous. They're shot from a low viewpoint, standing on a mountain, with mountains in the background whose ridgeline is interrupted by the tallest niece's head, and the photo is cropped just above it. The photo is proportioned to wrap around the whole of the mug (except the handle), starting near the bottom and ending at the very top. The mug feels aesthetically coherent, and especially charming because they're our young, small-ish nieces, and yet they're dwarfing us, like the mug.

So the trick is to make the object feel coherent the way art feels coherent: form and content work together. I like xo's idea of having e.g. a woodcut-style design laser-etched on wood. This could work even better if the photo shows you two posing with an axe, for example.

[FYI: I used to use the word 'lame' the same way this post's title does. Until I said it around my uncle, who ever since his motorcycle accident had a lurching gait, a metal brace, and special shoes. He glared. He was an incredibly sweet-tempered man, and I don't think I'd ever seen him glare before. I made a mental note to drop that bit of slang.]
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:47 AM on February 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

Seconding socks because the ones I've seen have been hysterical, though if the image you're having commissioned is more of an artwork than a photo then it might make the art look less good.

If the art itself is lovely, then putting it on a mug or a water bottle can be really nice - it's something people use regularly that they don't mind having imagery on, so it's inherently less cheesy.

The other thing I've seen that looks good is when they're made into puzzles, especially higher-end ones. They're fun to put together, plus you can glue them together and frame them when they're completed.
posted by Mchelly at 3:33 PM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about doing one of those 3D "crystal keepsakes"?
posted by kschang at 4:57 PM on February 3, 2022

I took a photo of a friend and had a round rubber-stamp made of his face with letters around the border saying “Approved by [friend’s name]”

I sent my mom a potato with a photo of my face printed on it and she kept it in the cupholder in her car and talked to it like it was me until it rotted and stank and she threw it out.
posted by bendy at 12:01 AM on February 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Brilliantine you are right and aptly named. Thanks for the heads up. I got a great idea based on that troubleshoot hint. Thanks everyone. I think I'm gonna take our images and hack a movie themed spoof tee shirt
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 5:10 AM on February 7, 2022

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