How I Started Designing for NFL Players

We always enjoy hearing about our 3Pointers’ passions and hobbies outside of work — especially when they are able to take the skills they learn and grow in their 3Points role and apply them to outside interests. One great example of that is our design lead, Jeffrey, who has used his design skills — and social media savvy — to build an impressive side gig in the world of pro sports. We asked Jeffrey to share his story below.

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Everyone has an origin story.

The more I’ve grown up, the more I’ve learned the unfortunate truth: many people do not go on to pursue their dreams. Fortunately, I’ve known for a long time what I’ve wanted to do, and have pursued it to the absolute fullest. If you ever got a chance to read my 3Points intro blog, you can learn more about my background, how I got into design, and all that good stuff. But in this blog, I wanted to share my experience in one area in particular: becoming a freelance designer in the pro football community.

To jump into the story: in June 2019, I was set to become the lead graphic designer at 3Points. This was it. Since around the middle of high school, I had had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to graduate college, become a graphic designer in the communications industry in Chicago, eventually become a lead, and hopefully, one day, a creative director. And of course, somewhere sprinkled in that long, winding path of a career, I hoped to have the opportunity to work with the Chicago Bears, probably my all-time favorite sports team. Here I was at 23 years old, already in that lead design role (years ahead of my meticulously laid out career plan). There was one catch to my design role, however — since we were still building out our design offering at that time, I was only going to be in the office three days a week.

So what was I going to do the other two days of the week? I like Xbox just as much as any other guy still clinging onto childhood, but the fact is, I wanted to be designing. I was pursuing my dream, and didn’t want that to be a part-time gig. I was scrolling through Instagram, and saw some work done by my favorite digital artist in the world, Bosslogic. I’m sitting there, I’m looking at it, and I realize… I want to make that, and I think I can (with practice). So, I changed my Instagram account to public, changed my name and bio to reflect my design work, and decided from that day forward, I would be using social media to share my work with the world, and hopefully drive some more business opportunities my way in the process.

I first started making really nerdy stuff. Marvel fan art, Game of Thrones screen-cap artwork, superhero movie fancastings, you name it. There was one thing that had to be true as long as I was going to pursue this “Instagram design thing”: the work had to be authentic. I wanted it to be about subjects that I love, and I wanted it to be something that I truly enjoy doing. After about two months of this work, the 2019 NFL season was upon us… and at that point football was all I could think about.

My mind was absolutely racing with ideas. I had a note on my phone of about 60 so graphic artwork ideas for the Chicago Bears, many of which were also inspired by superhero movies and comics. At that moment, I realized that this was the angle I should take. I could incorporate all my nerdy interests and creative ideas into the sports scene, and really break ground as one of the only designers trying to do stuff like this.

The first piece I created that really got the fanbase going was Khalil Mack as Thanos — with the way Mack dominated opposing linemen in the 2018 season, he really did seem as powerful as the Mad Titan. People flooded my messages for a signed print. They asked me if they could make videos based on the design. A man who is now a writer for Sports Mockery (Dave Prince) even wrote a whole article on why Khalil Mack is Thanos. I was bewildered. Had this just gone viral? It shot to the top of r/CHIbears on reddit. The spinoff video created by my friend Rishab was getting thousands of views per day. I knew that at this point I couldn’t really turn back, even if I wanted to.

Once September came around, I had been made a full-time employee for 3Points, and I was going full steam ahead with the Marvel and Bears work on my nights and weekends. Soon enough, I was getting attention from Bears players themselves. I had photoshopped linebacker Joel Iyegibuniwe’s face onto the Hulk, after he made a post comparing himself to the green giant. This must have caught the eyes of wide receiver Javon Wims, who wanted to see himself reimagined as the iconic Mortal Kombat character Scorpion. To keep this professional (and appropriate), I’ll just describe the experience as surreal. It had only been a few months since I started this whole journey, and now both of these Bears players took the time to give me shoutouts and message me about the work.

As the season continued, I continued to produce work relevant to what was going on in the season and in the larger world. I learned quickly this strategy would help get the most attention to my work (and would also lead to one of my coolest experiences thus far). The “Joker” movie had just recently dropped its first trailer, and the comic/movie nerd inside of me was freaking out. A couple weeks later, Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had an amazing game against his former team. I can’t really explain my creative thought process (that would take another blog in itself) but with a name like Ha Ha, a Joker reference felt necessary. Needless to say, the fanbase loved it. My friend Rishab once again created a video inspired by my work. He featured highlights from the game, and used the audio of the Joker trailer. We used my artwork as a “cover” for the video. The cherry on top was waking up the next day to see Ha Ha had reposted our work on his own account, and left me a very nice message. Since then, more and more players, both active and retired, have been reaching out and also reposting my work on a consistent basis.

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As time has gone on, my social media work has grown out of simply being a hobby. It is now a full-on side hustle, and it is truly surreal to think that people will reach out to me, asking me to help them by doing what I love. Athletes past and present now come to me, versus me simply creating work for them and hoping they see it. At this point, the whole thing truly feels like a dream. Whether it’s old friends, complete strangers, NFL stars, or other world-class athletes, it’s always a humbling experience when anyone reaches out to me asking for my design services.

To me, there’s only one thing I truly pursue in each and every piece I create: constant improvement. I really like reflecting back on my old work. If you were to scroll through my Instagram feed back to my original design posts, I’m not ashamed to say that the work is mediocre at best. It has even led to me revisiting some of my old ideas and improving on them. While my creativity has always been there, it’s the execution that I wish to constantly grow on.

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On top of constant growth, I have been trying to push my boundaries lately by creating new kinds of work. I remember my AP Art teacher telling me that to grow as an artist, I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Although it isn’t necessarily fun to do, regardless of what you’re doing, getting outside your comfort zone can often lead to some of the best experiences of your life. One amazing opportunity I had to push those personal boundaries was when former Bears receiver Johnny Knox personally reached out to me asking if I could create some highlight material for him. Although I don’t traditionally work in video, I had done some research into animation techniques with our content director, Sam, and found something called blotting. I asked Knox if he trusted me to try something for him I had never done before, and he said he was thrilled to see me try. Rishab put together a highlight reel for him, and I individually drew over 400 frames to help the video come to life in a way that Johnny said he had never seen before. Check out the full video here!

The greatest feeling is knowing that I’m getting better at what I love to do. I first picked up Photoshop a decade ago now. And for a very long time, I knew graphic design was my future. If you had told me in high school that by 24 I’d be well on my way on the career path I wanted, and I would also be working with pro athletes, I’d have called you crazy.

Starting to create work relating to sports and the Chicago Bears is one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. It was absolutely nerve-racking at first. However, knowing that the actual players love the work, along with the fans, is only fuel to the fire that is my passion for design. (And just last week I found out that the team itself has noticed my work, as the Bears’ official Instagram page reached out to me about reposting some of my art!)

I hope that by reading this blog post, you’ve gained some sort of urge to do what you love. Follow your dream — seriously. One day, I was sitting at home not doing much. The next day, I was working at a communications firm in the Loop. And shortly after that, I was creating work based around my personal interests for tens of thousands of people to see. There is no secret to how I did it — I picked something I love to do, tried as hard as I could, and stuck with it.

The best part about this growth is that my freelance work helps improve my work for 3Points, and in turn, my work at 3Points helps drive my personal artwork. While working on an infographic for a client, I can have a new idea on how to create an art composition; while manipulating a photo of a Chicago Bear, I may learn a new technique that will improve 3Points’ marketing material. Because of this, 3Points’ design offerings, and our overall capability, have only continued to grow since I joined the team. Approaching two years as a 3Pointer, I am very eager to see how much more we can grow our design practice in the years to come!

PR & Communications for Fintech & Chicago Tech. www.3ptscomm.com

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