In conversation with football artist Case Jernigan

Case Jernigan is an artist from New York and the genius behind Off-Foot. You may be familiar with his animations, in which iconic footballing moments are immortalised in beautiful stop-motion picture. We caught up with Case to hear more about his work…

Hi Case. How did you start out making football artwork?
One of the first pieces I put online was a really terrible doodle of Andy Carroll’s haircuts through the years. (I’m a Newcastle fan unfortunately.) I was finding that I was making these small drawings of little details – some of Beckham’s haircuts as well, Baggio on his knees after missing the penalty (against Brasil at World Cup ’94), stuff like that – and I saw them as pretty separate from my other studio practice.

I was making a lot of paintings then – I’m trained as an oil painter – and they were primarily large, abstract, multi-layered, multi-processed pieces that would take me a month or two to complete. So I was finding some kind of pleasure in the immediacy of making simple soccer drawings, because I love soccer.

Everything I did outside of painting was soccer-related. I was either playing soccer or hanging out with soccer people, watching games and talking about soccer. And I always thought, ‘how do these (art and football) go together?’ Surely they had to go together in some way, because they’re the two biggest parts of my life. And it was just one day that I sat down and said ‘I need to try’, because I couldn’t quite see the link in my head. And I think the link came about from forcing myself to sit down and make it work.

You travelled in Europe during World Cup 2006; was that tournament a big inspiration? I remember seeing Zinedine Zidane’s penalty against Italy feature in your work…
Definitely. I’ve always had a sports hero-worship fascination, like a lot of people. I played competitive tennis when I was younger and for me it was Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras – people like that who were the posters on my wall. I bought the same line of clothing they wore, stuff like that.

And then there was a gap where no-one was filling that void for me until Zidane. Seeing Zidane’s absolute control on the field, the mastery, the charisma, the stony face – the whole package – and seeing the guts of that penalty when I was travelling, surrounded by all these passionate Italian and French fans, that was a pivotal moment for my interest in soccer.

Soccer Worship from Case Jernigan on Vimeo.

How did your cut-out and collage portraits develop into animation?
I have no animation training. I hadn’t even thought about it until around two years ago. I had a lot of cut-outs and collage works in the studio and a friend said, ‘These would look really cool if they were moving.’ It just sort of got me thinking.

I remember I went into the studio one night with the idea that I was going to make this whole moment of Zidane walking up and placing the ball down (on the penalty spot). I thought, ‘This can’t be that hard, I know what I need to do. I have all the pieces and everything is already drawn up.’

It was so hard. I worked on it for hours, the entire evening. And when I finally came home and plugged in my memory card of all the shots to play them together to see what it looked like, it was terrible. It was so bad. All the pieces weren’t working, the timing wasn’t right. That was disappointing, but it was also exciting because I was looking for a challenge at the time. It was after that point that I threw myself into animation.

With the amount of detail and moving parts, it looks like a painstaking process?
It’s very rewarding when it pays off. It’s combining the creative and off-hand moments of regular art-making that I’ve done in the past – whether collage, drawing or painting – with another side that’s almost obbsessive. I have a bit of that in me, where if you don’t get it right, you just keep going and going and going. Even if I’m tearing my hair out in frustration because I don’t want to let it lie. So animation forces you to use those two sides to your brain: a very loose, free-flowing side to think of ideas and create sets, figures and motion, but also this grafting, work side. I like the balance of those two things.

How much of your time goes into the animations?
There’s a piece I put on line a year ago, ‘A Brief History Of Soccer’ (which you can watch below), that’s five minutes long. It took me a solid year to make that. It sounds crazy, right? But I’ve been working on another piece that involves Garrincha, George Best and Maradona that’s going to be around three minutes. I’ve already been working on it for nine months.

It’s frustrating but it is fun. For jobs and things I’ve done for other companies, I’ve found some shortcuts and ways to help me do things digitally that shave off time. So I can do some things faster. But the things where I’m really coming up with ideas from scratch, there’s a lot of revision and it takes time.

A Brief History of Soccer from Case Jernigan on Vimeo.

How is your football artwork received in the art community?
My old crew of artists who I went to school with, I don’t think they appreciate it as much. They’re kind of purists for 2D and three-dimensional art that goes on a wall or in a gallery. And I respect and appreciate that too. But I’ve met a lot of new people since I’ve been working this way. People that are interested in animation, or music, or that make their own films. And a lot of those people have been super inspiring. One of them is my partner, Josh, who does a lot of the sound and music work (on the animations). It’s nice to have a collaborator as I’d never really collaborated before and now I have someone who can hold me accountable in terms of timeframes, but also, when he provides certain sounds or music, it makes me see the visuals in a different way as well.

I’m also on a Twitter message chain with a bunch of people who work in this soccer/art vein. It’s nice, if you have a question you can always shoot it to the group and get a response. It’s a positive thing knowing there are other people out there dealing with the same conversations you have in terms of jobs and things like that.

You’ve worked on a number of projects with different websites and magazines, as well as football clubs and brands; which have you enjoyed the most?
I definitely think that clubs and brands are trying to break down the traditional mould of how they’ve operated their media and advertising, and that’s only good for people like us.

I really enjoyed working for Howler magazine. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of them personally and they work on some really cool projects. They think about soccer the way I like to think about soccer, and try not to take things too seriously.

The relationship between football and art seems to be growing; is it a good time to be working in that space?
I think so. I’m excited about what’s happening, but I also want to make sure I monitor myself. I want to make sure, personally, that I’m always doing what’s truthful and right for me in terms of art-making. Yes, I want to be passionate about something, but I don’t want to be doing it just for the sake of it or because it’s popular or because I know I have an audience.

Right now, soccer and art still has so much crossover for me, so I’m engaged. But it’s easy to get sucked into something when you know people want it, or it’s growing. When it becomes a market. I see tonnes of talented people doing things I’m excited about that inspire me. But with that comes a lot of people trying to fill the void, or fill a space they see.

Are you working on any other styles of art-making?
I’m always thinking about how I can incorporate other interests or other approaches. Right now I have a fellowship at a place called The Center For Book Arts in New York. They have incredible equipment that I’m able to use for the next year, like amazing paper cutters, printing presses, etching presses, letter press material. So I’m starting to think about how to incorporate some of the techniques I’m learning there into my work.

One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is pop-up books, and the way to use thread and paper to make things more dimensional and think more structurally. Ideally I’d like to be able to use those techniques with animation, continuing to make art objects but allowing them to have a digital function by filming them.

I’m hoping for the most part that I can keep thinking in a more timeless way, so that when people look at my stuff years from now it’s not going to seem wholly topical. I’m happy to work topically but I’m hoping the design, the composition, the movements or the sound – whatever it is – is relevant in some way later on.

You can follow Case on Twitter, and check out his website here.

In conversation with football artist Case Jernigan
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