Scott McRoy talks big brand collaborations and niche football art for The Gallery

Scott McRoy talks big brand collaborations and niche football art for The Gallery

From his home in the south west of the UK, graphic designer and illustrator Scott McRoy has in recent years transformed his habits from making art of footballers as a fan to crafting bespoke promotional work for the likes of EA Sports, BT Sport, Adidas, Goal, Puma, the Bundesliga as well as Internazionale and Liverpool.

With a penchant for collaboration, in addition to crafting his own stunning football-inspired art, Scott has routinely sought the expertise of fellow creatives the world over to produce an array of multi-disciplinary projects, ranging from art-rich publications dedicated to the legends of Pro Evolution Soccer to streetwear inspired by the dazzling collision of football and hip-hop culture.

Scott recently sat down to shoot the breeze with These Football Times, talking everything from his origins in professional illustration and the development of his stylistic idiosyncrasies to his everyday inspirations, perks of the job, and the many varying forms of his creative expression.

When perusing your portfolio, though they’re far from the most exotic words to those at all familiar with art, it is near impossible not to think of the adjectives bold, colourful and vibrant. Many of your works erupt with a vivid energy and seemingly very few restrictions on colour palettes. Firstly, why? What about football is it, beyond your own personal preferences, that demands to be rendered in this way?

“Wow, hit me with an easy one straight off the bat – that’s a good question! I think my style works best when it draws on the pure emotion of the game. You’re looking for shapes and feeling to work off. Take an action point and imagine a release of energy from there and just go with it. I know that sounds corny but it’s how I think about this stuff. Celebration shots work well as the players are normally running; arms out, face screwed up, shouting.

“The style wouldn’t and doesn’t work as well if I have to draw someone in a static position but there are always ways to bring it to life. My Yaya Touré piece is a good example of this: he’s looking deadpan at the camera but I broke it apart, threw in some mental colours, and it came together. Although I’ve never illustrated any of the American sports, basketball especially is very good for this, with slam dunks providing lots of focus points to expand from.

“As a footnote, I’m partially colour-blind. So, I may not see things the way everyone else does, but if it works then I guess I’ve lucked out.”

Do you recall the time when you first began working in this style and, if not forever, what made you stick with it? How was it you found your way to becoming a football illustrator at all?

“In terms of becoming an illustrator, drawing was always something I’ve been ok at, I wouldn’t say good but I can get by. I was never a fan of traditional media, though — I studied Graphic Design at college and university — but I always had a flair for drawing and graphic illustration, I guess.

“You may remember the Grand Theft Auto artworks, for the games Vice City and San Andreas, by Stephen Bliss? I was at college at the time those came out and I thought, ‘Wow, I want to learn that!’ so I messaged him through his site, just asking how he did it, simple process and stuff, as there were no skill shares or anything like that back then, and he actually got back to me with some tips. Bear in mind, I’m 17 and he’s riding the crest of that wave. I was so happy that he took the time to respond it’s something I always try to do myself because I’ve never forgotten that.

“Fast forward maybe 10 years to 2015, I’m a qualified graphic designer, and I find myself doing some web design job that I just knew it wasn’t for me – I’m not wired that way – so, I thought, I’m going to give it a crack. Football is a very big part of my life, I’m a big Liverpool fan.

“Like many other people, I was a big fan of the 1998 Nike advert the airport, and I’ve always admired old movie posters, so I thought I would try to combine the two into a movie style poster of that advert. As I was making that I saw Richard Swarbrick’s Shwapsies project on Twitter and, fair play to him, he had compiled the who’s who of illustrators at the time, people I really looked up to. I asked him if I could submit so I showed him my work and he agreed to let me in. You see a lot of rotoscoped videos around nowadays but Rich really is the original master in my eyes.

“This project leads into how I got my style. Shwapsies was a collaboration sticker project for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and it hit just at the right time. For England, the senior team were just off the back of their worst World Cup I can remember and suddenly here comes the women’s team, and they’re good, better than good, and we get to the semi-finals and, as a by-product of this success, people in the media jumped on this project.

“I remember I did a Laure Boulleau piece which was in a traditional vector illustration style – block colours, black outline, luminous highlights; a little Stephen Bliss if you like – and it had a muted jazzy background with a little overlay over her face. It went well. Then I was told by Rich that a representative of Fran Kirby’s had asked if I would draw her, so I did. I upped the jazziness and colours, and it went well. I have a printout signed at home with a nice message from her. And she hasn’t gone on to do too badly either has she?

“So, I thought perhaps I can make this my style. I started doing players I admired and if somebody had a request I’d just draw them in that style, just to refine it and develop. I have a friend who knew Yannick Bolasie so I drew him. The Ronaldinho piece was where I really think I nailed it and it was a huge shock, honour, privilege when he posted the piece on his social media.

“The BT Sport Champions Draw competition really put me on the map, if you like. I was invited by Leigh Moore, who worked for BT at the time, and it was his idea to try and combine the rising popularity of football art with their recently acquired Champions League rights package. It was myself, Dan Leydon, and the Daves, Merrell, Flanagan and Will. We have a little critique group, the five of us, and I can’t tell you how helpful it is just to bounce ideas off of each other. I really respect their work and they’re top guys, all of them.”

What for you are the best and worst parts of being an illustrator and how do they rank alongside the perks and disadvantages of any previous jobs you’ve had?

“From a personal perspective, when you can turn something that started as a hobby into something that keeps a roof over your head you got to be happy, haven’t you? I used to do this stuff for free and now I’m getting paid for it. I don’t want this to sound like I’m money mad\, though.

“I’ve done a few mundane jobs in my time. I worked for my dad’s company as an electrician and it’s something I could have easily gone into as a career but I knew it wasn’t for me. I used to clock watch all day but now it’s completely different. I can be working on something ‘till midnight and not worry about or even notice the time.

“The closest thing I can relate it to is – and I’m sure there are many people who will share this feeling – when I used to play Championship Manager 01/02; you’d look at the time, it would be 6pm, just finished my dinner and you think ‘I’ll just have a few games.’ Next time you look its 3am, Maxim Tsigalko has just scored his 90th goal of the season and you’re tying down Taribo West to a one-year extension even though he’s 48.  

“I think I’ve benefited from the social media craze. The barrier to entry now is very low, you can put something on Instagram or Twitter, get the right person to retweet it or like it, and bingo: you’re a football artist now! And with the increased reliance on unique content from not only brands but clubs and even leagues now, there is an absolutely huge demand for this stuff.

“This can be both a blessing and a curse, as you get up and coming illustrators devaluing their own worth and churning out work for next to nothing for companies with big pockets just to say ‘I worked for these guys.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the Johnny-come-latelys myself. There are guys who have perfected their craft over years and years, who I consider to be the true football artists, who I have the utmost respect for.

“I still work part-time at Pro Direct as creative director, and the perks I’ve had through that job are probably unrivalled, to be fair. I’ve played at Anfield twice – my goals-to-game ratio there is probably better than Salah’s, I might add – played at Wembley, and I’ve been to many games I would ordinarily never have gotten the chance to. Plus I’m a bit of a boot head, you will have gathered from my Instagram. I’ve got a small collection at home, not many but some rare ones, so I can get first dibs on the collectable boots when they come out.”

Throughout your work, you’ve also established a precedent for inviting your contemporaries on board fascinating projects to aid in bringing them to life. One such project is Club 99. Could you tell us a little more about the origins of this project, what became of it, and what excited you most about the collaboration?

“The idea for the project came from a tweet that I saw from 90sFootball on Twitter. It was a screenshot of Adriano’s stats, most importantly ‘99 shot power’. and anyone who has played Pro Evo knows about Adriano; he really needs no introduction. It just sparked an idea in my mind, to find out whether there were any other players who had a 99 statistic in any attribute within the game. I did some digging around on a few forums and found that a guy named Erlantz from Spain had compiled a list. So I printed it off, went out to CEX, bought a PS2 and all the games, and checked all his players. And they were correct.

“I knew I wanted to compile something tangible as the foundation of the project, as well as having a social presence, and I’ve always enjoyed designing for print.

“I’m a fan of Rick Banks, aka Face37. His books and other projects are always so well produced, he takes a niche idea to a broader audience and compiles them so astutely. I knew that this project could sit within that genre. I initially thought about illustrating the whole project myself, chipping away at it in my spare time, but deep down I knew it would have been a far richer and diverse project if I invited people on board, and see their own unique takes on the players.

“I made a proposal and sent it round to people who I had followed and looked up to online. Almost everybody got back to me saying they were keen. It’s worth remembering I asked them to work for free, too, which I was especially appreciative of as this was a passion project of mine and I was going out on a limb, just hoping that people would relate to the idea and agree to work. I’m very much against working for established brands for free. But what was most interesting was that most of them had fond memories of the game and had an immediate connection to the idea, so I guess it goes to show, contrary to what my missus may think, I can have a good idea now and again!

“The most rewarding aspect, for me, was seeing illustrators who I had admired for ages agreeing to be a part of it; real big hitters like ILOVEDUST and Stan Chow. Plus, of course, Dan and the Daves. Once their names were associated with the project then selling it to others became easy.   

“The other thing that I think swayed a lot of them in was the opportunity to draw players that maybe they’d never had the chance to do so before. I think most football illustrators probably draw Messi or Ronaldo every other week but how often do they draw players like Roberto Carlos, Obafemi Martins or Zlatko Zahovič? Once I had the full complement of illustrators on board. I tried to match their styles up with the player and statistic.

“After I had received every submission, I set about laying them up into a book. I should just mention Mikey Traynor. I found Mikey through Twitter, he had written an article for about the master league players from Pro Evo, and he wrote with such a knowledge and humour, he just got it, I knew he was my guy. I really couldn’t have done it without him, so I need to thank him for that. He actually found a player to join Club 99, too. Being Irish, it was only right that he should point out that the list was missing a Roy Keane 99 mentality, obviously. I had missed him so I ended up drawing him myself.

“Once the book was complete, I then produced 99 copies only. Everyone who was involved in the creation received a copy, as a thank you, and the rest went on sale to cover the initial print outlay. Oh, and Adriano has his own copy too.”

In addition to Club 99, you also co-founded Killa Villa. For those who don’t know, what is Killa Villa and what is its purpose in the overlapping worlds of art and football? 

“It’s interesting to observe the increased crossing over of music and football. It has always been present, look at Oasis and their Man City links, and Kasabian launched the England shirt in Paris in 2010, Adidas used Stormzy to announce Paul Pogba, AJ Tracey launched the Spurs kit, the famous picture of Drake in the pink Juve jersey. There’s definitely a uniting of these worlds and Killa Villa is something that exists in the hybrid in between.

“The brand, if you could call it that, started as a legitimate football team with a few workmates of mine. The word Killa Villa is the nickname of the flat a few of them lived in, and they had a Wu-Tang ‘W’ poster on the wall, so, it made sense to call the team FC Killa Villa. Of course, like any team, we needed a kit, so this is where my overactive mind kicked in.

“I took the Wu ‘W’ and combined it with the song ‘Cream’, and that was it; we made a kit for our team. I put it on my Instagram and quickly began receiving messages asking ‘where can I get hold of this kit?’, ‘how can I buy this?’ So, we thought, ‘why not try it?’ We produced 50 jerseys and it sold out instantly. Then we did a white kit. Same story; sold out. So, we just evolved on the theme of hip-hop colliding with football and people seemed to love it.

“As you may have gathered by now, I’m all about collaboration, so we stuck with that theme. We used Jay Roeder, whose style is based on hand-drawn type, for the Biggie Shirt, based on earlier works we had seen on his Instagram, as we wanted to see how it translated as a shirt sponsor. For our latest range we worked with Aaron Givens for NWA, Adam Gill and Peter O’Toole of Grammar Studio for Snoop Dogg, and myself and BeGoodStudio worked together on Cypress Hill.

“On a personal level, Killa Villa is just another avenue to pursue a long-held lofty ambition of mine to run a clothing brand. I designed a lot of tees for colleges in the USA when I was straight out of uni, and it’s something I really enjoyed. The reward for me comes from producing goods that people respond to positively, which I suppose is true of everything I do.”

Do you have a single favourite illustration or especially beloved series of illustrations that you would be most eager to point soon-to-be fans of yours in the direction of? Any big plans for projects existing fans would be excited to hear of?

“One of my favourite pieces, which I talked about it earlier, was the movie poster interpretation of the Nike Airport advert 1998. It was the first World Cup I can remember and the Brazilian team, led by Ronaldo, were the team that everyone was excited about pre-tournament, and bar the final they certainly didn’t disappoint.

“In 2017, I began by producing artwork for Taylormade to coincide with the Masters, and one of their athletes, Sergio Garcia, ended up winning the tournament. I produced artwork for Puma announcing that Usain Bolt was going to be training with Borussia Dortmund, and he posted my work on his Instagram and Twitter.

“In the space of three weeks, I produced artwork for arguably two of football’s biggest cup finals. Firstly, I was commissioned to produce artwork for the FA Cup final programme, featuring players from both Arsenal and Chelsea, and, probably the biggest job I’ve ever undertaken, was the BT Sport Champions League goals recreated arena mural. There were two pieces to produce: a presenters wall, featuring Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and two ex-Reds in Stevie Gerrard and Steve McManaman, and a finalists’ piece of Buffon v Ronaldo.

“Another job that meant an awful lot to me was the programme cover design for the Liverpool FC Foundation Legends match against Bayern Munich, earlier this year. Having the chance to work for the club is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m aware of the good work and the initiatives that the charity undertakes. 

“That’s probably enough trumpet blowing, so looking forward to the future I’d love to do another project like Club 99; another illustrated book of some sort. I’ve got a few ideas in the pipeline but nothing concrete, it’s just finding the time. I designed the upper pattern for a Gazzetta dello Sport x Pantofola d’Oro brand collaboration — there’s that word again — and it’s something I’d really love to do again so, if any brands out there want a Scott McRoy spin on a boot, hit me up.”

By Will Sharp @shillwarp

Thanks to Scott McRoy for speaking to These Football Times as part of The Gallery. If you’re an artist for whom football remains the ultimate muse, and you’d like to feature in The Gallery, please email us with examples of your work.

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