If anywhere amidst the spiralling Venn diagram of your myriad interests the worlds of football and illustration intersect then it’s pretty likely you’re already a long-time fan of the work of north London-based illustrator and designer Dan Evans.
Routinely hand-picked by the likes of Adidas and Puma, Hustler and ShortList, VICE and Noisey to collaborate on an eclectic array of creative ventures, Evans’ professional portfolio is as diverse as it is dazzling, with all its book covers, magazine editorials, advertising campaigns and character designs. Still, what he does perhaps best of all is illustrate footballers with a heavy helping of uncanny likeness and an excessive sprinkling of personality.
Dan recently sat down with These Football Times to discuss the perks and problems of freelance illustration, his favourite footballer to draw, his most beloved projects from yesteryear, and plenty more for you to tuck into.
First things first, how would describe yourself and the work you do?
“I’m a freelance illustrator who specialises in digital editorial work. I look to produce pieces that make people smile, with a lot of my work based around blending sports and childhood nostalgia – for me that’s late-80s, early-90s.”
What are your earliest memories of football and art and how do you think these impacted your career choice? Do you think people who knew you as a child would be surprised to hear you became an illustrator?
“I don’t think they’d be that surprised, no. Drawing was the only thing I ever put much effort into, so I didn’t leave myself with too many options!
“I was trying to think of the first time in my life that football met art and all I can think of is that cartoon that was on telly in the 90s: Hurricanes. I used to love that. If you don’t know it, it was about a football team that played in the ‘World Soccer League’ and went on crazy adventures and solved crimes, using football in some obscure way. YouTube it.
“My first memory of live football came a few years later. I went to school just around the corner from Highbury and they used to give my school spare tickets on nights that weren’t a sell out. I went to see Arsenal play Odense in the second leg of the first round of the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup. The game was a 1-1 draw but that was the year we won our only piece of European silverware – so far – so, in retrospect, it was a good first game to go to.
“To be honest, I don’t remember the game itself as much as I remember the feeling of walking up the stairs to see a floodlit pitch for the first time and 30,000 people singing in unison. I’d never seen anything like it and that was when I started supporting Arsenal and getting properly into football.”
Was there a particular commission after which you first felt comfortable calling yourself an illustrator?
“I think after my first real commission, to be honest. It was a portrait of the late, great rapper and producer J-Dilla, for VICE, and it was a fairly quick turnaround. The writer and editor were very happy with it once it was done. I was terrified when I first received the commission but, once it was up on their site, I thought ‘if I’ve managed to do this once, I can do it again’.”
What, for you, are the best and worst parts of being an illustrator and how do they rank alongside the perks and frustrations of any previous jobs you’ve had?
“The best part is that I get to do the thing I love, every single day. There are difficult days, and days I’d rather not be sat at my desk, but really I just love drawing so to be able to do it as my job is an incredible privilege. As a freelancer, I’m able to work with a load of amazing people on really wide-ranging projects; I’ve designed toys, clothes, skateboard decks, beer cans and book covers. I never imagined I’d get to do all these cool things and work with so many great people.
“The uncertainty of being freelance, and the precarious financial side of things, is definitely one of the bad parts. When one job finishes and you’ve got nothing lined up it’s very easy to spiral into a panic and think you’ll never work again. And, actually, even when you’ve done a job and everyone’s happy and you’ve invoiced, you often end up chasing that invoice for months. The longest I had to chase to get paid for a job I’d done was 13 months. Chasing people to pay me is one of my least favourite parts of the job.”
How important is it for an artist to have their own recognisable style and do you think maintaining this sometimes comes at the expense of work that might require greater flexibility or adaptability? How do you manage this?
“When I first started out I figured it would be much more useful to art directors and editors to have someone who can be flexible in their style and it would allow me to work for a wider range of clients. I think over the last few years, a more distinct and recognisable style has started to show through in my illustrations, but I still often vary my style from job to job. Part of that is also try and keep myself inspired, so I like trying out new techniques and new styles as often as I can. I want to sustain this over a whole career so I feel like being flexible and evolving my styles will help – but we’ll see about that.”
Alongside drawing footballers, you’re also known for your illustrations of rappers, wrestlers, celebrities and all sorts in between. Is there anything you think makes drawing stand out as being particularly rewarding or challenging?
“I think the immediacy of pictures can be very rewarding. Showing people your work gets a reaction straight away; good or bad – more good than bad, usually. Obviously, platforms like Instagram have pushed this to another level. You can have a daft idea, spend a couple of hours drawing it out, stick it on Instagram and potentially thousands of people can be looking at it straight away and letting you know what they think.”
What do you look for in a player that makes you believe they’d be ideal to base an illustration on and do you have one favourite player to draw?
“Looking back through my work over the last few years, I think I’ve probably drawn Wayne Rooney more than any other player. So I guess he’s one of my favourites. Usually when I draw players it’s for a specific job so I’ll have quite a tight brief about who needs to be in the piece.
“I tend to look for hairstyles and things that might help identify the player if I’m struggling to capture the likeness. Kits are also good for this. If I’m really struggling I just draw them from the back so you can read their name on their shirt. If you look back through my work and see a player drawn from behind, it was probably because I was working to a very quick turnaround and couldn’t get the likeness right in time.”
If you were commissioned to draw the advert for a game whereby you could also choose the two teams playing each other – with either team coming from any era in history, in their prime – who would you choose and why?
“I reckon I’d pick the Dutch team from the Euro 88 finals vs Arsenal from the 1991/92 season. There are some great faces to draw on both sides, and some brilliant hairdos, especially in the Dutch squad. If I could stick Arsenal in their ‘Bruised Banana’ away kit then I’d get to draw two of my favourite kits as well. Realistically, I think Arsenal would get a bit of a kicking on the pitch but fashion would be the overall winner.”
Do you have a favourite piece 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 or irons in the fire your existing fans would be excited to hear of?
“There’s a set of portraits I did for Adidas in 2017 for the launch of the new Predator boot that I still look back on and feel very happy with. Also earlier this year I did a portrait of Andre The Giant for the release of the HBO documentary about his life. It didn’t get used in the end but I was really happy with the way that turned out and very proud to have been asked to do it. Both of those are up on my site if people want to have a look.”
By Will Sharp @shillwarp
Thanks to Dan Evans 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.