Fantasista Q&A

Far more than just a social network, Twitter has blossomed within the past few years to become the ultimate tool for artists to share their work, gain feedback, generate interest and interact with those who admire their art. The artists behind the Fantasista – The Art of the Number 10 exhibition are the powering forces behind the rise of the ‘football artist’ in the digital age, and have harnessed Twitter’s unique networking capabilities in order to share their talent with a broader audience.

As pioneers of this new medium, the Fantasista artists are always treading new ground; interacting with other football fans in order to gain a little inspiration, finding new ways to share or promote work and gauging the reaction of their followers to particularly popular pieces. Here, three members of the Fantasista team reveal their methods, their inspiration and the way in which the relatively new social platform has revolutionised how they approach their craft.

One of the many ways in which Twitter has helped to transform the way football artists approach their work is by offering their followers an insight into the entire process of creating a piece. Dan Leydon believes in the premise that offering sneak peeks of upcoming projects can heighten interest as well as giving fans and followers a chance to see how a sketch becomes a final piece. “Sometimes I sit and doodle and just upload sketches. Other times I’ll upload a barebones plan of a more detailed piece and will work on it for a few days until it’s finished.” Tracking the evolution of a piece of work and allowing followers to watch it come to life can amplify the attention a particular project receives. “If people aren’t interested then my artwork is going nowhere!” says Dan.

Dan Leydon on Twitter

In sharing his work on Twitter, Dan actually landed his first job as a digital football artist. “Backpage Press, the publishers [of Graham Hunter’s book, “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World”] got in touch at Graham’s request, and all of a sudden I had my first proper illustration job.” The interest in his work gave Dan the confidence to pursue football art further; he is now the CEO of artwork and clothing brand, Footynews.

With his work featuring in FourFourTwo magazine and in the newly-launched National Football Museum, Steve Welsh sees sharing his works-in-progress on Twitter more of a ‘damage limitation exercise’. Using Twitter as a gauge, Steve can interact with football fans and discover what they would most like to see from his next design. “For me, there is nothing worse than spending hours or days on a particular piece, only to find out that it’s not quite right. Fans often prefer to see their heroes in a particular kit, or with a certain hairstyle. In some cases, it can be something as inconsequential as socks up or socks down.” The details might sound fussy, but Steve has learned from experience that these tiny details can be the difference between a design working or not. Such real-time access to opinions has become paramount in the creation of many pieces that football artists undertake.

Cruyff-turn by Steve Welsh

The feedback of anonymous users sitting at a computer can also be much more frank and honest than asking a friend or colleague, says Steve. “Since it’s often complete strangers giving feedback, people will tend to be a little more candid with their criticism. Personally I prefer it that way. It’s from your mistakes that you learn most about things, not your successes. Twitter helps to flag those mistakes up straight away and forces you to address them. Often people are too kind, or worried about hurting your feelings when it comes to giving feedback, but on Twitter, if people think your illustration of Roberto Baggio looks a bit like a pirate with strange eyes, they will just tell you.”

Richard Swarbrick’s distinctive and instantly recognisable style has seen his art used in a recent national television advert for The Sun, and his unique and beautiful animations take weeks of hard work, but the work he shares on Twitter is often an instant reaction to a goal or another contentious incident. Rather than providing followers with regular updates showing the progression of a piece, many of Richard’s pieces are up in the minutes immediately after an event. “I think my record is ten minutes but it’s usually about twenty to thirty,” he says of his famously quick-fire pieces.

Jermain Defoe in Chalk and felt-tip on packaging paper by Richard Swarbrick". Drawn live during The Tottenham v Newcastle game earlier this season


Where many digital artists draw on feedback and criticism from followers, Richard tries not to let the opinions of the masses influence his work too heavily. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t occasionally cast a narcissistic eye in that direction, but the initial motivation is a desire to create and share art.” Second-guessing what will be popular and what won’t seems to be an impossible task; the opinions of rival football fans are divided and contrary at the best of times, making it difficult to tell which pieces will strike a chord with the biggest number of fans.

Dan, Steve and Richard all agree that being a football artist has meant that they view the ‘beautiful game’ through a slightly different lens. “My favourite element of modern football is the soap opera plotlines that run in the background; Fergie and Wenger going head to head or Guardiola losing it with Mourinho through a press conference. I watch these with heightened interest because I think these are the driving force behind the game, these human stories. If I can communicate a part of that tension through illustration then I know I’m doing my job well,” says Dan.

Steve doesn’t believe that his work has necessarily changed how he views football, but has rather given him a higher level of appreciation for the sport and its players. “It has certainly opened my eyes to players I was not previously aware of,” he says. “It’s given me an appreciation of football and footballers outside of my own team; discovering how stories and back stories merge into one another has been one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of any ‘research’ I do. It’s often easy to get so wrapped up in the articles you read that you forget to put time aside to do the illustrations themselves, but then that’s what I love most about football – the ability to become totally and completely immersed in it.”

For Richard, the immediacy of his drawings means that he can’t concentrate on games like a spectator might be able to. “I’m so focused on the drawings that I’m not really watching or enjoying the game at all,” he says. In addition to not always being able to focus on big games, Richard, a big Spurs fan, sometimes finds himself having to draw scenarios or moments that leave a bitter taste in his mouth. Last year, he pledged to draw every single goal from one of the North London derbies against Arsenal. “Arsenal won 5 – 2 and I nearly ran out of red paint, but I gritted my teeth and got through it.”

With many football artists having their own club allegiances, does it make a difference when painting a rival? Dan doesn’t believe so. “As a Liverpool fan, sometimes people expect me to hate United, but I really admire their great players too. I love football first and foremost, and if someone can play it to an inspiring level then they have my respect.” However, in working on his Homesick Project, a celebration of old football grounds across the country, Steve, who supports Middlesbrough, says he had to think long and hard before he included Sunderland’s Roker Park in the project. “I felt excluding it would have contradicted the aim of the project,” he said.

Richard also believes that football allegiances affect how his work is received. “Manchester United seem to get more interest than any other team and, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but my most popular pictures seem to always be of goals scored against Newcastle!”

Personal allegiances aside, how do football artists decide which player, goals or moments to draw, if not doing it purely for popularity? In a world where we are offered slow-motion replays of every kick from five different angles, how do you pick the best? Dan simply picks up his pen and lets inspiration strike, choosing to remain in the realm where popular opinion and his own personal taste intersect. “I just start doodling a lot of the time. When the pencil is on the paper you stumble across things you wouldn’t have by just thinking or planning.”

Steve prefers to produce pieces that invoke a strong reaction or emotion. “I suppose for me, it has to be a player or moment that resonates most strongly with the widest possible group.” His best example is art from Italia ’90 pitted against work from Euro ’92. “One conjures up a huge number of feelings and memories, whilst the other leaves me cold and was largely forgettable. Of course, the result of those two competitions plays a part in how we remember them, but it’s the collective ‘sense’ of something that I like to explore most.” The same rule works for players. “Players with a bit of an edge to them are always more interesting to capture than the model pro. Let’s face it, if you had to choose between drawing Moore, Lineker and Matthews, or Maradona, Best and Cantona, there’s no competition really.”

It is this sense of shared memories and moments within a community that makes Twitter such a powerful resource for digital artists. One image of one memorable goal can strike a chord and be shared between fans across the world within seconds, transporting them back to where they were and how they felt at the moment when the ball crossed the line or that whistle was blown. Twitter has opened up a whole new realm of inspiration for football artists to explore, and fans of both football and art are invited to share in the process, every step of the way.

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