Phil Galloway: Illustrator talks about how his big break in the industry and THAT Tierney picture

The football illustration landscape is in a very good place right now.

Whether you realise it or not, your Twitter and Instagram feeds will be regularly blessed by the talents of a growing number of creatives working across a number of disciplines. Amongst this impressive group, Phil Galloway is undoubtedly one of the biggest names. Phil’s instantly recognisable style has graced the covers of magazines and campaigns for some of the biggest brands in sport.

Most excitingly for people like you and me, his work has also increasingly overlapped with the world of football shirts. I spoke to Phil to find out more about his love for the game, and what his favourite projects have been so far…


The power of a single tweet

Q: Can you tell me more about your job?

I am a freelance digital artist and illustrator creating commissioned illustrations, designs and concepts for mainly football/sport brands and agencies but also some other companies outside of sport from time to time. I produce painterly realistic artworks mainly focusing on portraiture, detail, textures and sometimes humour along with the draw by the seat of your pants reactionary quick turnaround work for sporting events or results etc. 

I am hugely lucky to have worked with some amazing art directors, agencies and brands along with clubs and FIFA etc, being able to work with the team I supported as a kid, LFC, still blows my tiny mind!! I am based in the North West in Cheshire and work from home which is fantastic as I am more on hand with the kids and love managing my own time and having my own wee studio to create in!

Q: How did you get into illustration?

Randomly!!! Very very randomly! 

I’ve always doodled and drawn since I was a small child copying old cartoons and making up characters right through to doing my art GCSEs and A levels but I actually went to University to do a Masters in The History of Art, which I suppose has lent itself to the manner and historical slant of some of recent work. 

I knew I always wanted to be an artist as a dream job, but as for many, life takes over after university and bills need paying and the search for jobs began. I actually became a behavioural teacher in a variety of schools and settings which allowed me to use my art and sketching as a way to get through to the more hard to reach pupils, but the yearning to be an actual artist was always there. After a long long time teaching I knew I wanted to make the break for it and give art a go but leaving any job and jumping into an unknown arena is daunting for anyone so the decision was not taken lightly to leave my old profession and strike out as a freelance artist especially with all the grown up stuff going on from mortgage, kids and car etc. To make the transition as smooth as possible I tried to garner as much work and contacts in the year running up to actually going freelance. I used to come home from teaching and then start working in the evening and nights on small private commissions in traditional mediums along with personal work. 

It was around this time that I had a bit of a moan on Twitter to my paltry number of followers about my disillusion with my current phone and how I couldn’t create art on it. This is where the randomness starts! 

My tweet was picked up by Nokia/Microsoft and they very kindly offered to send me out a huge Phablet phone to try for a few weeks. It was during this trial period that I discovered I could use certain apps on the huge screen to paint with and create real looking paintings. I’d never dabbled in digital art so was blown away when Nokia and Microsoft picked up on what I was doing on the phone and got me involved in their projects and Surface tablet promotions and subsequently gained a bit of traction online, it also convinced me that digital art may be the path to take. 

I worked hard and felt I had enough leverage make the leap into freelance art, but despite landing some amazing jobs the work was sporadic and at times very sparse so the first year and a half was pretty tough and if it had continued in that vein for a few months more I would certainly have been looking for a more regular job or gone back to teaching. I tried to get my work seen by artistic directors and companies without seeming desperate or fawning and kept on working. 

The most important thing was to keep producing work and honing skills and styles so I made up self-commissioned projects of the kinds of things I’d like to work on and also got in touch with small Charities and offered up my services and ideas of campaigns I could illustrate for them which led to working with Beating Bowel Cancer and other jobs I could never of imagined. This growing body of work gave me confidence to answer Mundial magazines call for writers and artists for their next magazine and by a real fluke they happened to be looking for an artist who knew of Baroque art particularly that of Caravaggio. It just so happened that Caravaggio was not only one of my favourite artists but during my studies at Uni Baroque art was my specialised area!  

After doing the Totti cover of Mundial magazine one thing led to another and with a lot of good fortune, networking and help from lovely online folk and other fantastic illustrators the sport illustration work began coming in more regularly and I’ve been fortunate enough that it hasn’t stopped since.

A lifelong passion

Q: What about football, have you always loved the game?

I have always loved watching and adored playing football since as far back as I can remember! One of my earliest memories is wearing my old yellow Liverpool kit from 1984-5 season, running round the garden booting a ball and promptly falling asleep under a table in the living room. I used to play with my dad and brother constantly but in the early years all I wanted to be was a goalkeeper so had my dad ping freekicks at me all day. But this swiftly changed as the nets grew larger and I stayed the same size resulting in me taking up a new role as either left or right back as the defensive mentality was still there and I was pretty rubbish up front! 

My room was plastered with posters of Liverpool players and pages of shoot magazine and I used to always dream of one day playing at Anfield (which I still dream of to this day!). Football, the kits, moments of genius and the fans are all such emotive and visceral memories that it helps plant people firmly in a place or time and for me I love piecing together memories by what was happening in the league or in a world cup year etc. It’s always been a huge part of my life and while I still play every week, albeit a little slower now, I always hope it will be for the rest of my days.

Q: How does your passion for football interact with your passion for art?

Football is such a huge part of so many people’s lives on a daily basis. It transcends cultural boundaries the world over, but sometimes even the most beautiful writing or stunning photography are not quite enough to convey the narrative, humour or emotion of an event, a hero or the wonderment of a split second of genius. This is where visual art has always filled the gap from early storytelling and cave painting right through to the digital age we find ourselves in. 

Visual art leaves no-one out and can be understood by everyone in whatever way they interpret it to mean. As an art historian and lover of art I see visual art as storytelling for the masses and an emotional commentary whatever the subject is, and its usage within sport is no different. Edgar Degas said ‘Art is not what you see, but what you make others see’ and I think the growth in sports illustration and art reflects this with powerful sport art gracing magazine covers and filling social media creating reactions and buzz all over the world. 

It’s amazing how a simple piece of graphic illustration can spark a memory or a feeling of a great sporting moment and it’s wonderful to see all the differing styles sports artists use and how they provoke these reactions through varying ways. 

Q: What have been some of your favourite projects to date?

Ahh this is a tough one like trying to pick your favourite child!! 

Hmm I’ve enjoyed every piece I’ve worked on but there’s a few that stand out either because I really like them or they defined a moment in my career. My main one is the huge Renaissance piece for Bleacher Report and their World Cup campaign. It featured all 32 teams and although I only had four days to complete it and no sleep was had, the buzz around it when it went live was overwhelming. I’m a huge Renaissance and Baroque fan anyway so love it for that reason but it also felt like a step up in terms of scope and scale of what I could produce in a short timeframe. 

Other personal favourites of mine are the Oktoberfest Liverpool FC illustration for BT Sport and Wendie Renard for Copa 90 and the Women’s World Cup. The Oktoberfest one was a hoot from start to finish and again went really big on social media with fans noticing the little Easter eggs in the piece from Milner’s Ribena to respecting that Mo and Sadio have water in their stein glasses. 

The Renard one is a favourite because up until that point I hadn’t produced any work for Women’s Football and as a father of a little girl I felt acutely aware that this needed rectifying. When my daughter saw me working on the campaign she was over the moon and it was amazing to hear my kids asking if it was the men or women football on tv that night, something that sadly didn’t happen when I was a kid.

Q: Could you tell us more about this year’s Norwich kit launch?

Being involved in the Norwich new home kit launch was a real treat from start to finish as not only was it stylistically right up my street but I was involved right from the inception of the idea with the lovely team there headed by Gavin Beard. 

Months before the launch we had conference calls about what was planned and how I could achieve some of their ideas focusing on a series of baroque paintings which would be printed off and hung in the stadium for the video. It was great having the time to experiment with styles and palettes to make sure each portrait was bang on and the colours and textures of the kit were faithfully painted. It was amazing to see what the team did for the final edit in the video and how they utilised my early sketches into it and seeing the positive reaction from their fans was fantastic making the whole process so worthwhile. 

As a bit of a football geek and kit lover it was also extra special to have the full kit sent to me months before it was released after signing the NDA, the top secret nature of it all and the build up to launch was so exciting and I hope to get the opportunity to be involved in something similar again.

Q: What about your involvement with Arsenal’s new away kit?

Ha! It went a bit bonkers didn’t it!?! This commission took me totally by surprise and couldn’t have been more different to the relaxed pace of the Norwich kit illustrations. 

After an exceptionally busy few months I’d decided to take a few weeks off towards the end of lockdown and before the kids went back to school, but I always give a few caveats to my partner before I down tools: one is I will take a break unless an amazing project comes in, and the other is if a brand I’d love to work with that I’ve not done before comes knocking. 

When the lovely folk at the design agency The Midnight Club got in touch and pitched the idea I quickly realised that this ticked both of my rules as it was awesome and I had not worked with adidas up until that point. The deadlines were very tight with four illustrations being planned and executed in about a week and a half so it was all hands to the pump and manic long nights for a few days but I also love this method of working, like leaving your homework to the last minute it sometimes results in the best outcomes! 

The scope of the project was massive and seeing how they would incorporate my paintings into their 3d generated video was mind blowing so I went to town on the pieces and threw all I had into them in the short space of time. The ideas were given to me and I went away and produced my own take on them with Tierney in the King of the North tesco bag touting pose, Saliba riding into town on his trusty steed and Viv as the golden queen of women’s football. There was lots of room for humour as well as the keen need for detail within the commission so it was thoroughly enjoyable throughout and to see the reaction from all fans not just Arsenal ones was overwhelming. 

I had no idea they would all erupt online like that especially the Tierney one. I think my following on Twitter went up over a thousand in one afternoon which is nuts and truly humbling!! Now seeing Ian Wright wearing the Tierney painting on a tshirt which is due to come out soon and fellow arsenal players commenting on it is bonkers and makes me a very chuffed artist!

I had no idea they would all erupt online like that especially the Tierney one. I think my following on Twitter went up over a thousand in one afternoon which is nuts and truly humbling!!

Phil Galloway
Illustrator

Q: Do you have a dream team you’d love to work with?

Hmm. This is also very tough! I’ve been hugely fortunate to work with huge clubs, national teams and even FIFA so it is hard to single out future potential clients. 

As a lover of old Italian Serie A kits it would be cool to be involved in a big campaign for one of the big teams over there. I had an amazing opportunity to live in Italy for a while when I was younger so know first-hand how passionate the fans are and if I could get my work onto big billboards there then that would be very cool. But in all honesty and though it sounds a bit cheesy, all my work is like a dream come true whoever the team or brand is, I never could’ve imagined being in this position and having the opportunity to work with such talent and have an audience so large. I think my ultimate dream team is just to keep working and growing as an artist.

Q: What about a dream brand?

Like the teams answer I cannot believe who I’ve worked with in the past and am unimaginably fortunate to have got the opportunities to do so and also to learn from the creatives involved so it would be tough to single out individual ones. But if you were to push me, it would firstly be to work on a big billboard campaign in my painterly style for the likes of Nike, Puma, adidas etc. To see my paintings on a large scale in cities and shop windows is definitely a goal for me. 

Secondly in terms of individual brands I would love to do something with hummel and Le Coq Sportif as not only do I love their kits through the years but some of their campaigns and launches have been really eye-catching or positive like the Everton away kit this year and it’s support for the local community. 

Q: Where can we follow you on social? 

If you’d like to see more of my art and any social media ramblings come say hi on:

Phil Delves

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