A born-and-raised Detroiter, Christopher Gorski has been a self-identified “car nut” for as long as he can remember. After studying at the College for Creative Design (now called College for Creative Studies) and a career in advertising, Chris turned his love of Detroit, car culture, and drawing into his own company. He’s the founder of DetroitGT, an apparel brand with clever, and often cheeky, hand-drawn designs that promote Michigan and the city of Detroit.
Chris’ design for Peninsulas, Silver Lake Sand Dunes, celebrates Michigan State Parks in true DetroitGT style: with a dune buggy front and center, racing through the sand dunes of Silver Lake State Park.
I spoke with Chris to learn about his art, inspirations, and hear his story:
Tell me about your business Detroit GT, how did you get started?
I create and sell t-shirts out of a vintage step van named Leo.
Ok, I’ll back up a little bit. I was in advertising before I started Detroit GT. I was at Campbell Ewald, I was the Senior Art Director on the Chevy account. I was working there for about 11 years when during the economic downturn, General Motors let go of their account with our agency. By then, I was already drawing and making shirts on the side as a hobby. I was always doodling, I had a sketchbook with me all the time. People would see what I drew, and they would tell me, “That would make a really great shirt, I want that on a shirt!”
So, when my boss did have to tell me that he was going to let me go, he said, “You make these really great shirts, I think you should just leave advertising, take this severance check I’m going to give you, and start selling t-shirts.”
Is that where Leo comes in?
Yeah, I purchased a rare 1979 P10 short bed step van and named him Leo after my grandfather. We saved Leo from becoming an ice cream truck. We gave him his rat rod looks with white wall tires, racing stripe and white top. When I got the truck, my idea was to go to art fairs, music events, and outside busy brunch locations, to pull up and sell t-shirts out of my little truck.
After a few months, the Rust Belt (a great little independent market in Ferndale, check them out!) contacted me and invited me to become a vendor. What I didn’t fully understand was that they actually wanted me to put the truck inside the store! So I had to buy another vehicle. And that snowballed into eventually having a fleet of cars.
We also have Danny – a 1979 Chevrolet LUV truck named after my father; Axel – a 1981 Chevrolet El Camino; and Grace – a lime green and super rare 71' Kammback, a completely original Vega.
Are cars part of your inspiration for your brand? Is that your step van in your logo?
Yes, as a lifetime Detroiter, I’ve always been a big fan of GM and Chevrolet cars and trucks growing up. I collect cars now. I’m always buying and selling them, buying and selling them (laughter).
Is there a recent project you've done that you are really proud of?
After hearing my friends tell me about a trip they had planned – they head out to the Silver Lake State Park sand dunes every year – I started coming up with a design for Peninsulas. It includes a sand dune and the profile of a dune buggy speeding down the beach. There’s some other off-road vehicles in the background. I’m really happy with how it turned out. The art will be put on a water bottle and a screen printed poster.
How did you create your illustration, what was your process?
After doing some research, I start sketching. It’s hand-drawn – I draw using my iPad and then color it in using Procreate.
You say you’ve lived in Michigan your whole life, what are some of your favorite pastimes?
I love going up north. some of my favorite memories are going up to my parents’ cottage with my family – we’d go pretty much every weekend. I also like water sports, swimming, kayaking – I love being on the water. I have always loved hiking and camping. In college my friends and I would go stay at a Michigan campground rather than some other spring break spot.
Sounds like you are a true Michigander! One last question, is there anything that you are looking forward to right now?
The pandemic being over, definitely. My husband, Jason, is a flight attendant with American Airlines, so we have been fortunate to travel a lot together and fly to many different places. But what I’m hoping for this summer is to be able to stay home and enjoy Michigan more – go on more road trips, see what Michigan has to offer, and have some quality time together. That’s what I’m looking forward to most.
I had such a fun time chatting with you, Chris! Thank you!
All images in this blog post were provided by Chris Gorski.