Graphic design graduate draws his way into Michigan-based clothing industry


Shelby Tankersley

While designs might take a month to go from the paper to a shirt, Tasker creates personalized drawing with each order in a matter of seconds.

Working at a small desk in a small office in Madison Heights is Neil Tasker. His business, Ardent Ink, is small, too.

But he has big dreams.

He runs his business alone: He prints, packages, embroiders and designs everything he sells. He said he’s glad he loves it so much because it consumes his days.

Ardent Ink is all about Michigan. The Great Lakes State is the theme behind every piece of clothing Tasker takes off the printing press.

“I chose Michigan because I grew up here, and I know it well,” he said. “I saw a lot of designs, and I knew that I could do it better.”

While there are what seems like a million stores designing Michigan-themed clothing, Tasker heavily incorporates calligraphy into his designs. Since he hand-draws everything, his designs are different from the run-of-the-mill graphic T-shirts found all over the state.

“I was studying at Oakland Community College, and all of the classes were full,” he said. “So I randomly signed up for typography without knowing what it was. After the first week, I just fell in love with it.”

After that class, Tasker went on to study graphic design at Oakland University and graduated from there in 2014.

“I had no idea that people actually got to do this for a living,” he said.

After about a year of studying graphic design and learning how to make letters on a computer, Tasker wanted to get closer to his work. So, he bought a calligraphy set — that’s how he got into designing everything by hand.

One of his first and best-selling products, Ardent’s Great Lake State shirt, incorporates calligraphy. It’s become a passion of his, which is rather fitting since “ardent” means “passion.”

He said not all of his designs incorporate calligraphy because he understands not everybody enjoys that style, but it has had a heavy influence, especially on his early designs.

“When I started, it was something unique because everything was coming right from me,” Tasker said. “I still do it today. I write everybody’s name on their order. I think it’s kind of a unique touch that other shops might not have.”

Tasker sends a drawing of the customer’s name with every order. The drawings don’t take him long to make, since he spent a good year working on his calligraphy skills. He said he’s gotten feedback from customers that they love their drawings.

“All the time, people email me thanking me for the customer service and personalization,” he said. “As a small business, it’s great. I can be personal with people because I’m not some big business.”

While he said he loves the smallness for now, he eventually wants to see Ardent Ink flourish.

“My goal isn’t to always have just Michigan stuff,” Tasker said. “I would love to see people wearing this stuff all over the place with Michigan stuff in it, but not have Michigan so blatantly on my clothes like it is now.”

This article was first published by OU News Bureau, a student-run online news outlet that covers metro Detroit, under the title “At Ardent, the writing’s on the shirts.” To read the original version, visit