Q&A with Illustrator Dave Flanagan

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Frequent visitors to Forza27.com will be familiar with the fantastic illustrations of Dave Flanagan. The freelance illustrator and graphic designer from the Northwest of England has worked with some of the biggest names around including The FA, ESPN, Manchester City, Arsenal and Juventus to name but a few. We recently caught up with Dave to have a chat to discover more about his work.

Firstly, can you tell us how did you get your first big break in the football design industry?

When I first started out as a freelance illustrator I used to produce illustrations for a small monthly music magazine. One month they asked if I could illustrate Thierry Henry which I enjoyed doing as I’m a big football fan. I then decided to illustrate some of my favourite players in the same style and posted them on Flickr. A few weeks later I was contacted by a design agency who work with Manchester City and they asked if I would be interested in illustrating the full squad for their City Kicks promotions. The project went well and gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to produce work. You can still see the interview they did with me on YouTube

Was it always a goal to work as a freelancer in football/sport design, the ‘dream job’ as it were? Or were you previously working as a graphic designer on other types of projects?

I am a graphic designer by trade but my passion is illustration. I didn’t ever set out to be a sports illustrator, I didn’t really know there was such a thing. My ‘dream job’ was always to work for a big design agency in Manchester.

What is the piece you are most proud of?

I was very fortunate last year to be commissioned to create illustrations for the FA Cup official programme. I thinks it’s the best competition in the world and I’ve watched every final since I was small. To see my work in the programme and know that thousands of fans were looking at them was a very proud moment. I also recently worked on product illustrations for Man City and seeing a stand in their store with just my products on it was also a great feeling.

Manchester City aside, at present who is your favourite team to create illustrations for?

Arsenal give me a lot of freedom to experiment with styles, which I love doing, so I would have to say they’re a dream client to work with. 

You’ve done some work for Juventus recently, which looks very cool. Its great to see designers getting the chance to work with big European clubs. Can you tell us how the opportunity came about?

They contacted me out of the blue having seen an illustration I did of Paul Pogba online. Social media has really changed the way people source creatives and I strongly believe that if your work is out there, and it’s good enough, it will get seen.

If you could choose any club or brand to work for in the world, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with a sports brand. You see posters, adverts and social media posts from the top brands and every time I see them I think ‘one day’. In terms of clubs to work with, I would love to work with the England team on a project.

“Social media has really changed the way people source creatives and I strongly believe that if your work is out there, and it’s good enough, it will get seen.”

What is your favourite social media platform, and which do think is the best for getting people to view and appreciate your work?

I really like Instagram because its so visual but Twitter for me seems like the best place for the ‘right people’ to see my work and know how to contact me.

What is your favourite sport aside from football? And would you like to work in it more?

I have always had this pipe dream of working with the BBC on the Olympics animations they produce for each event. It would be great to illustrate all the different sports and see them animated. I have also recently worked on a project with England Rugby, which I really enjoyed and would love to do more. 

What’s your favourite website for design inspiration?

I like using behance because you can see full projects and contributors but for random inspiration you cant beat Pinterest.

Can you tell us your computer set-up, are you a Mac or PC man? What graphic tablets or any other devices do you use in your work?

I work on an iMac, which is great, but I really need to invest in a Mac Pro at some point. For my drawn style I use a Wacom bamboo, which is OK but I should be working on something a little more advanced.

How do you see the design industry in football progressing? More and more clubs are using designers to create commissioned artwork for promotions on social media etc., do you see this trend growing in the future?

I can only see it getting bigger. Clubs and brands are constantly searching for ‘content’ to use on social media and promotional work. If you can produce work that is of good quality and stands out, then you’ve every chance of getting seen.

“Clubs and brands are constantly searching for ‘content’ to use on social media and promotional work. If you can produce work that is of good quality and stands out, then you’ve every chance of getting seen.”

What is your ambition as an illustrator and designer and where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have achieved a number of illustration milestones over the last few years but I would love to have an exhibition of my work at some point. I’m not sure people would be interested but as a creative it would be a very big box ticked. In 10 years I hope to still be illustrating and more importantly still enjoying doing it. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give young designers who would love to work in the football design industry?

A lot of people ask me how I get in touch with the clubs and agencies who commission me. I have never contacted them directly, every project has come from someone seeing my work online and then emailing/tweeting me. If your work is good enough it will get seen.

I also think having a decent website can help your career. Once someone has seen your work through social media they will ultimately want to visit your website and if you don’t have one, or it’s not great quality, then they may be put off using you. There is a lot of trust that can be gained from a decent website and it should only showcase your best work.

See more of Dave’s work here or follow him on twitter and instagram.

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