Elliot, you’re known for your bodacious basketball illustrations. Yes, bodacious meaning not like the Knicks these last 20 years. Can you tell us more about your work?
I’ve always been a huge Knicks fan. It’s an interesting story. I started doing these Knicks illustrations. The first one was I Lebron NY when he was contemplating coming to New York. Obviously, that didn’t work out.
But yeah, some of them started making their way on to the Knicks blog and a few other ones. And, this really cool one called Double Scribble. That’s actually how you found me. And then, the Knicks start following me on Twitter. Then, ESPN contacts me, begin asking me for all this NBA Playoffs work. The problem was, because the Knicks aren’t in the playoffs (not even close), it was for the Nets, Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Heat. All four teams I hate.
But, I will say this, though. Again, I am not a fan of the Nets, however, I am a fan of Nets fans. They are great, they’ve been really great to me. Same thing with Pacers. I got tons of followers on Twitter and Instagram from both Brooklyn and Indiana fans. Even some Toronto love.
Miami fans are the worst. Nothing from them. Heat fans did not deserve Lebron and those guys.
I remember I went to a Jets-Dolphins game in Miami and there were more Jets fans in the stadium.
Before basketball work with the Knicks and ESPN, tell us about your illustration style and approach?
Man, I’ve been drawing since I was like four years old. I did mostly hand drawings starting out. I don’t post hand work anymore because I’m such a digital artist at this point. Basically, all my work is graphic design and on the computer. Sometimes, I do hand draw a little bit and use that as the beginning of my process. Maybe scan those in to get me going.
But, usually it’s all digital. It’s all on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I want to make one thing clear to all the people on Instagram who think that I’m using filters.
I DO NOT USE FILTERS.
Everything is Illustrator. It’s just like a pen, simply on the computer.
I get all these kids asking, “Can you tell me which filter you’re using?”
NO. It’s hard work. Late nights. Constant refinement.
It’s crazy because right out of college, I wanted to be an actor/director, which is what I went to school for. So, I’m getting involved with all these theater groups and they need posters for their film or upcoming show. That’s when I started learning Illustrator and Photoshop, making these posters and flyers.
There was this one video of this girl name Mrs. Softy. She was an Asian girl. I took the Asian girl and literally made her look like Mr. Softy. Yeah all those weird features. I had her hair with the stills of the film, which was a black and white film. That actually got a ton of traction.
Then, I started to develop that style over a long period of time.
I really love to do animals. If you look at my Instagram and Twitter, you’ll see a bunch of dog illustrations on those feeds. I’m even developing that more by doing a children’s book on the side.
I used to think that it was bad to get stuck to your computer. But, I’ve really made my computer an extension of myself in a lot of ways. It’s become so much more. I use it as a canvas in my mind. Especially, when I have a tight deadline, say one days notice for an ESPN thing, it’s all about using the computer for efficiency.
I will say one thing, I do recycle stuff. Using vectors are very easy to recycle. For example, I’ll take someone’s body and put a new a head on them, because it saves me time. Throw a different uniform on them or whatever. I think of my vector library almost like an iStock library. I’ve sort of built that up in my own stuff and just reuse it.
Tell us more specifically about your basketball illustrations? Well, the Three’s Company one, I made that soon after I burned the “I Lebron NY.” But, I took that piece and said, “what am I going to do with this illustration? I gotta do something to make fun of him.” So, that’s where I came up with the concept of Three’s Company.
I would actually think about doing a series of Three’s Company one for other teams, possibly the Celtics.
But, that one resonates best with the true Three’s Company. I mean, Dwyane Wade dresses like a woman anyways. (laughing)
For the Shumpert one, I was trying to get real creative with my stuff. Everyone had all these nicknames for him. So, I thought, “Humpty Hump, Shumpty Shump!”
That one, when I started, I wanted it be so simple, like all my others. But, then it got more complicated and I really started liking doing the golden nose and I just went all out with it.
I would say, it was one of my breakthroughs, because a lot of my earlier stuff was very clean, with a white background. But this one really broke through the mold of that.
Yeah, so, I tweet it to Iman Shumpert. Shumpert used it for his avator for 6 months. His tweet was talking about the golden nose.
What’s interesting is, I’m now receiving all these requests from other players. Most recently, I did an avator illustration for Mike McColl, Jr. He just graduated from St. Louis.
Now, all these other guys are reaching out, unfortunately, I cannot do all this free stuff. That’s the problem, I want to do it. I wish I could do everything.
I don’t know, if there’s some big guys, I’ll consider it. But, come on guys, it’s insulting.
Here’s the best one. Someone will ask me for a logo, I’ll say my minimum is 250 and they’ll be like, “$2.50?”
I’d rather do something for free than for $2.50. At least it’s pro-bono with the free stuff.
For paid work, I did the Nets Source blog. If you go to netssource.com, you’ll see it.
Actually, it’s taken from my series of “New State, Same State of Mind”. Also, I’ve done a Drazen Petrovic for them. And wait for it, Buck Williams. Up for debate too is either Kerry Kittles or Bernard King. That whole series will culminate in a poster.
What is it about basketball that attracts you to creating art based around it?
I love basketball. I’m not good at it. I play on a hoops team now, I’m the worst one on it. While I did play football, wrestling and track in high school, I was too short and un-athletic for basketball. Let’s face it, a lot of short Jewish kids in New York like basketball.
Ever since I’ve been out of school, I’ve been in a bunch of rec leagues, always the worst one, but hey, I try hard.
I remember my senior of high school, I was at a Knicks game. My friend got us really sick seats and we’re sitting close, like 3rd of 4th row man.
It’s Knicks-Heat and Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson get into this really big brawl right at our side of the basket. It turns out, that was the epic game where Van Gundy grabs ‘Zo around the ankles at the free throw line.
Then, the next day, I’m on the front cover of the NY Times Sports section. I didn’t even know. Someone tells me at school and I’m like, “What?” But, there’s me rocking my Charles Oakley jersey.
My other teams are Mets and Jets. Just a terrible sports collective. I’ve stayed through all of it, although I’ve dropped off as a Mets fan at this point. I’ll still watch games, but I’m not hardcore.
I’ll watch any Knicks game, no matter how terrible they are. I can’t get enough basketball. Syracuse is also my college team, which is why I love ‘Melo.
He’s not my favorite ‘Cuse guy, though. G-Mac is my favorite of all-time.
Basketball has a lot of special places in my heart. The reason I’m a huge Syracuse fan is my grandparents went there. The season they won the national championship, 2003, my grandmother passed away. My grandfather was really lonely and what not, so, I would call him about the games or go watch a game with him. That title helped our family get through a tough time.
Football is tough, you have a mask. The first sports illustration I made was a football player. It’s just harder to see their faces. I won’t not do football.
Baseball, I haven’t really gotten into it, maybe it’s because I’ve stopped being a Mets fan. I did a pretty Jose Reyes one, but I’d like to more baseball. It’s more fluid.
Hockey, too, they have a helmet. It’s shielding the face.
Basketball is the only sport where you truly see their faces. If you look at my stuff, it’s all about the face.
I’ve got some non-basketball ideas. One is a Michael Sam one. I’m worried that it might be too controversial.
What’s your long term goals with sports design?
I want to be a professional sports illustrator. It’s my favorite thing. I work full-time as a graphic designer at Turtle Beach, where me make headsets. We do sports-affiliated work by making the speaker plates that go on the headsets for professional athletes, like Dwight Howard and Dez Bryant.
Recently, I saw a freelance illustrator on ESPN that did a banner of all the NBA teams with the trophy. He does other stuff for them, Reebok and other sports brands.
In Times Square awhile back, I saw these huge basketball billboards, either put on by Nike or Adidas that was very elongated and stretched of Durant and Carmelo. Believe it or not, it was quite similar to my illustrative style now. I forget the artist, but I think I can do that and would love to do that.
Also, I’ve been hacking away at ideas for a children’s book that involves sports.
If I could get really famous and sell a lot of t-shirts on Rally Sports, then who knows???
The great thing about the the social web now is I’m getting a lot of good feedback. Being able to connect with Nets fans and Pacers fans and Raptors has been amazing.
As an artist, I used to hate social media and think the computer was a crutch. But now, I’ve broke through a wall and love the computer. Like a paint brush, you make it what you want it to be. It’s a tool.
What’s your most far-out, ridiculous idea for a sports piece? Mount PushTheIssues-More. Donald Sterling. Magic Johnson. Jason Collins. And Someone Else. It all has to do with pushing Donald Sterling out of basketball. I’ve started it, don’t know if I’ll finish it.
For Michael Sam, I’ve got a few ideas brewing for it. You might get great feedback, but you know, you’re gonna get bad feedback along with it.
Here’s one good example. A fan came up with the idea for a Joe Jesus piece, after seeing a Nets illustration I did for ESPN. It’s Joe Johnson in a Jesus pose. I loved the piece and it’s really great. I showed it to the ESPN guy and he said it was way too controversial. That’s the thing with ESPN. You need to always stay inside the box.
Nets fans loved it. So, I’ll probably sell it on Rally.
Not only do fans have tons of ideas, I also have lots of ideas. I can’t do free ideas anymore. I’ll work on my own now, when I can this is. Like, a Kevin Durant one, where he’s electro, with a storm behind him. Stuff like that.
How do you decide what your next piece is?
It’s been client work for the most part. ESPN has been consuming my time, along with the Nets Source blog.
A full-time job and a kid on the way, I’ve been pretty busy. It would be nice to have some consistency with original pieces.
Every time, I do something on my own, I’ll get a request from ESPN. Like, we need this by tomorrow. Not a bad problem to have.
It’d be good to have a cadence going. A series or ongoing project, like the Nets one. It’s simple and to the point.
It’s interesting after doing work for ESPN, I’ve kind of taken a step back and looked at things differently. I don’t think I want to do favorite teams as much anymore. You know it’s too personal. Probably just do sports in general.
I made an Evolution of a Championship Team piece, with Amare, Carmelo and Tyson. But they never evolved into a championship team. Not even close. (laughing)
People loved it, but they also love to make fun of it.
I’d like to do more concept-driven sports work. The I Phil York is so simple. People just get it. While it hasn’t sold much yet, I think it can sell really well. They are simple graphic statements that people can wear.
I did try selling the I Lebron New York shirt to other companies and they were like, “No, you’ll get sued.” I mean, if Lebron sues you, how much is he really going to get from you? Not much!
Where can we find you online now that, you know, you’re embracing social media and all?
Originally published at blog.rallysports.co.