A skeleton sticker that is very much alive. Courtesy of John Karel.  

These Artist-Designed Stickers Put the New Emojis To Shame

There's one for every occasion—especially if you're a skeleton who enjoys indoor gardening.

by Paddy Johnson
Nov 17 2017, 12:55pm

A skeleton sticker that is very much alive. Courtesy of John Karel.  

Anyone over the age of 35 is probably late to the sticker game. And by stickers I mean emoji-style texting objects—animated GIFs that you stick in your texts, not the printed unicorns, half moons, and flowers with adhesive backs that kids collect. I’ll admit I was no early adopter myself, and had some reservations. I already thought emojis were dumbed-down texts—which itself were already almost entirely utilitarian. What did I need a sticker for that an emoji couldn’t do? Are we now so dumb we can’t read a picture?

Don’t let your mind go down this path, because let me tell you something—emoji ain’t ever gonna impress your friends; they're a default set of images that’s come with iPhones since 2011. Stickers, though, are designed by artists. The best ones are awesome, and impress the hell out of people. But they don’t come on your phone, you have to find them. And that means either downloading the GIPHY app or purchasing stickers through the app store.

The stickers I use the most tend to be those that picture a shared action or a gesture. Take the 8-bit inspired GIPHY sticker pack designed by the Hong Kong based Italian artist AILADI (available on iTunes). Each sticker has a use. For example, in the workplace, there are GIFs for getting lunch, getting frustrated, and getting work done. For those who use GIFs more in their private lives, she’s made images for getting action, getting on the dance floor, and getting well.Then of course, there’s all that other random bullshit we do that we like to share—getting up, getting somewhere, and getting mad. There are only 62 gifs (half featuring black people and half featuring white) but the only action she didn’t make a sticker for was getting fit. Three more images—running, biking, and swimming—and I’d never need to speak another word.

Of course, as in any such series, there’s an artist who fucks with our expectations. Anthony Antonellis, whose stickers can be found by searching his name in the GIPHY app and clicking on the sticker tab, are old-timey computer icons like the hourglass and an e-mail mailbox, and a sequence with his name spelled out in different fonts. Target audience: dudes with the name Anthony.

John Karel, aka jjjjjohn, produced a similarly audience specific pack of dancing skeleton stickers for GIPHY (also available on iTunes), though they can be a challenge to use (pretty much any time I’ve sent one to my 53-year-old boyfriend, he’s texted back, “What the fuck is that?!”) When I sent a series of skeletons either carrying houseplants or hiding behind them to a 20-something art writer, however, he promptly identified them as a contemporary art parody (houseplants are really in right now.) In reality, though, given the number of skeletons drinking and partying and playing video games, the focus audience for these GIFs is probably dudes in their twenties. The most perennial GIF from this series features a skeleton walking backwards and disappearing. I wished I’d had it when sharing the news that Donald Trump had fired James Comey and Sean Spicer hid from the press.

Which brings me to V5MT, who recently completed a series of word-bubble sticker GIFs for a GIPHY commission. Most of these are cute bouncing sparkly texts: “Dope,” “Love it,” “PLS.” But within this group, one smaller sticker stands out—a blank black cloud with blinking stars. Its meaning is open to interpretation, but for me, this sticker symbolizes a chat war, the blackness representing the uglier texts we send, and the stars their moments of impact. It’s probably the most artful of all of them—and one I hope I'll never need.

Stickers shown are by and courtesy of, from top, AILADI (first two), John Karel, and V5MT.