You might not know Sligo’s Dan Leydon but the chances are you’ve seen his work in adverts and posters
Whether it’s Eric Cantona’s collar fluttering in the wind as a seagull sits atop his head, Diego Simeone studying Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as he plots the downfall of Real Madrid, or a flexing Zlatan Ibrahimovic showing off his impressive collection of top-flight medals and equally impressive array of tattoos, you’ll have come across Dan Leydon’s work.
Football art is a growing industry, with numerous talented individuals looking to portray the game’s stars in a variety of creative ways.
Dan Leydon is a member of this blossoming club. He is also his own boss, a self-taught illustrator and the owner of a particularly broad imagination. Above all though, he is a football fan, and a Sligo man.
He still lives and works in his native Strandhill, though he has recently made the “glamorous transition” from drawing footballers in his bedroom to drawing footballers in his office. His home town is clearly very important to him and he acknowledges how nice it is to be able to work in the place where he grew up.
“Sitting on my toilet, I can look out of my window and see a) the sea, b) the national school I went to and c) the forest, behind which sits my office – I don’t know if Branson or Zuckerberg have it that good,” he said. If Strandhill is his first love, there’s no doubting his second.
“I would say 99 per cent of what I draw is to do with football,” he explained. “I’ve done a few surfing pieces too, in addition to literature, video games and film but beyond that I’ve never really tried anything else.
“I love football and am hopelessly enthralled by it.” By his own admission, he’s been fortunate – his social media presence has really taken off and he now spends his time working on various football-themed projects for clients such as Nike and ESPN.
But to attribute all his success to luck would be doing Dan a great disservice. He has had to work hard and is always looking for new ideas, constantly searching for ways to improve.
“I look at my work and I only see the bad things, but I don’t embrace this as negative, I use it to keep evaluating and making attempts at development,” he said. “I can plan and draw something, spend time choosing colours for whatever reasons I feel suit at the time, but it’s not a finished piece until it’s been viewed and someone has commented on it.
“It then exists in someone else’s mind, they have formed an opinion off the back of something I devised but their input is the final one per cent.
“And every single person who sees it brings their own unique one per cent to the overall, and that’s how art is different for everyone.”
— Dan Leydon (@danleydon) June 12, 2016
The website, hotfootynews.blogspot.com, was visited around 250,000 times in its first year, and this was what opened Dan’s eyes in terms of an appetite for football art and the power of social media.
“I’m grateful that I can make a living from it. I live my life in my own way and I try to realise how lucky I am,” he said. “The biggest success is people interacting with me about my work across social media.
“That’s the nicest thing for me. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t want to provide an interesting piece of work for people to look at for a few seconds of their commute or lunch break.
“To actually have conversations about something I’ve pulled from my head is amazing.
“To make something and have people place value on it is a life-changing thing and I am forever grateful to the people who keep up with what I produce.” True to his creative nature, Dan also dabbles in writing by blogging about his experiences as a sports illustrator.
He explained how he has wanted to be a writer since the age of seven, and that he regularly creates characters and pens short stories. He added that although he hasn’t quite found the magic formula just yet, he intends to effectively merge his illustrations with his narrative in the future. In the meantime, he will continue to expand his collection of innovative drawings, looking around each and every corner for inspiration.
“I read a lot on varied subjects and jot down notes,” he explained. “I also try to maintain a silly mind – that might sound bizarre but I think it helps with generating odd thoughts that can lead to ideas.
— Dan Leydon (@danleydon) June 13, 2016
“And from those ideas, once every year or two I may possibly arrive at an actual interesting idea.”
Dan has no special relationship with a particular footballer, though when looking through his portfolio he noticed he had a tendency to sketch Sweden’s Ibrahimovic – a player he says he “enjoys drawing”.
As a staunch Liverpool fan, however, this affection might change if the charismatic centre-forward completes his rumoured move to Manchester United. Dan might draw whatever pops into his head, but he hasn’t ignored his countrymen, portraying goalkeeper Darren Randolph and winger Robbie Brady in the build-up to the Republic’s friendly matches against Slovakia and Switzerland in March this year.
And like a lot of supporters, he believes there is the potential for something interesting to happen at this year’s European Championships – “so long as Roy Keane doesn’t murder Aiden McGeady or something like that”.
That scenario, though unfortunate for McGeady, would certainly make for an interesting illustration. The drawing Dan would really like to produce, however, would include a rather different set of ingredients, including a sea of green, the Stade de France, Robbie Keane and the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
Check out more of Dan’s work on his website: www.danleydon.com