Uni Watch: Meet the artist behind Blue Jackets' sensational game-day posters

One of the coolest developments of the current hockey season has been a new initiative by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who've been promoting their home games with a series of sensational game-day posters. The posters, which the team has been circulating on social media, are gorgeous and clever in equal measure. The poster for a game against the Maple Leafs, for example, shows an overhead view of a Blue Jackets fan mulching blue maple leaves in his yard:

And the one for a game against the Canucks shows a Blue Jackets fan defeating Vancouver's lumberjack mascot, Johnny Canuck, in a log roll:

The posters are the work of Anthony Zych, a 27-year-old graphic designer who's on the Blue Jackets' creative services staff. We recently caught up with him to pick his brain about the posters and his approach to sports graphics.

Uni Watch: What's your background as a sports fan? Who do you root for?

I was born and raised here in Columbus, and I also went to school here, so I live, breathe and die the scarlet and gray. I love Ohio State football, and of course the Blue Jackets. But outside of that, I'm not really a big Ohio sports fan. I grew up a Vikings fan because my uncle was a big Vikings fan. It helped that the Vikings always seemed to draft a lot of Ohio State players in the 1990s.

Actually, this is kind of embarrassing: At the very first Ohio State football game I attended, I didn't root for Ohio State. I was 3 years old and they were playing Northwestern, and I associated purple with the Vikings, so I sat there rooting for Northwestern. I think my dad had to tell me, "No, we don't root for that purple team."

What's your background as a designer, and how did you end up working for the Blue Jackets?

When I studied at Ohio State, I was fortunate enough to work as an intern with the athletics department. So when this job opened up here with the Jackets right after I graduated, it was a really great opportunity that presented itself, and I had a really nice transition. It was a great way to start my career.

What do you do for the Blue Jackets when you're not designing completely awesome posters?

Designing everything else. We're a team of two designers here, and the amount of work we do is staggering. Print ads, web ads, stuff for social media, big-sign installations inside the arena -- everything.

How did you come up with the idea for the game-day posters, and how did you get the team to start posting them on social media?

The idea actually originated three or four seasons ago. It just wasn't something we really acted upon. This year we wanted to find a different way to promote the games, and this was just another way to do that. We don't have a lot of time to think here -- the sports industry is very fast-paced -- so if you get an idea, you have to run with it. So we kind of hit the ground running this season and it caught on.

Have you received any art direction from the team's staff, or are you pretty much on your own to execute the designs however you want?

I have a lot of creative freedom, but I like to bounce ideas off of everyone. As much as I like to think I've researched something, there are plenty of people here who know about things that I've never heard of, and that can be a great source of inspiration.

Of course Columbus has a strong tradition of game-day posters, thanks to the Eleven Warriors posters for Ohio State football. Were you influenced by that?

Sort of. They've been doing those posters for years. I love the style and how simplistic it is. So yeah, you could say they inspired me to do something similar for the Jackets. I've seen how their posters get people excited, so that was an inspiration. But it really started as just something fun to do on the side, because I've always loved to draw, and then it grew from there.

Any other influences? How would you describe your artistic style?

I like the illustrator Ralph Steadman for his line work and style, but a lot of my inspiration comes from architecture. Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, people like that, they've really formed the foundation of what I do. As for my style, I treat these posters as if I'm drawing in pen. I like to use different brush sizes, like I'd use different pens if I was sketching in my sketchbook.

Which is your favorite poster that you've done so far?

That's easy -- the Maple Leafs.

That's my favorite, too. How'd you come up with that idea?

Mulching leaves is a big thing here in town -- everyone just attaches a bag to their lawnmower. So there was that. And then there was this old Nike commercial that showed a Canadiens goalie mowing maple leaves on his lawn because they reminded him of Mats Sundin. So that was another inspiration.

How long does it typically take you to do one of these?

Four, five hours, maybe. But that's just the actual production -- there's more time that goes into it in terms of research, sketches. Maybe 10 hours of research and development.

For all the people shown in these posters, like the guy mulching the leaves or the guys on the log roll, are you using any photos for reference or are you just drawing all of that from your head?

I've been drawing since I could hold a pen or a pencil, and figure drawing is something I've always enjoyed, so I can do this kind of work without looking at something for reference. If I need help, I have one of those wooden mannequin dolls to refer to.

Are any of those people in the posters based on real people? Like, is the guy with the lawnmower based on one of your friends or co-workers? Have you put your own face on any of the figures, sort of as an inside joke?

Not yet. I do plan on sneaking myself into one of the posters -- maybe not as the main subject -- but other than that, it's just knowing how to draw faces.

Do you plan to keep doing the posters for every home game throughout the season?

That's the plan, although it's not a guarantee. I have to fit it in with all the other jobs we have here.

What about road games -- any chance of that, or are these just for the home games?

They're just to promote the home games and encourage people to come down to the arena.

Will the posters be made available in printed, hard-copy versions?

I don't really know about that yet. I know we're trying to figure it out, but there's nothing definite so far.

You can follow Anthony Zych's poster concepts on this page, where additional designs will be added as the Blue Jackets' home schedule progresses.

Paul Lukas had lots of sports posters on his bedroom wall when he was growing up, but they weren't as cool as the Blue Jackets posters. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.