Behind the scenes

“An explosion of joy”

The work of illustrator Osvaldo Casanova is one of the highlights of every issue of Champions Journal. His illustrations of classic goals from Champions League finals capture iconic moments in the history of the competition, displaying a simplicity and beauty that instantly take the viewer back to that point in time. Here the 46-year-old discusses his influences, style and process – and a passion for the beautiful game that shines through in his work.

INTERVIEW Michael Harrold

Your understanding and love of football is clear in your illustrations. Who do you support?

I am Italian, I come from Vicenza. That’s why I support Lanerossi Vicenza. The connection between a fan and a team is even stronger if you live in the same place as your team. Vicenza is a small city; you see the players and the former players who still live there around town and you can talk to them. I am a huge fan of the “support your local team” philosophy. 

Osvaldo at work (top) and on his way to watch Vicenza (above)


Where do you draw your main influences from?

My style comes from quickness. I was searching for my own personal style. I tried to start drawing in the most natural way I could, working without losing time thinking about rules. And these characters with big bodies and small heads came out. Maybe it’s because the body is much more important in sporting movements, I don’t know. Now, looking at my illustrations, I can see things I stole from the painters I love: Modigliani, Ligabue, Kirchner and Matisse and Les Fauves, but also Rothko, all the pop art, Caravaggio, Canova, Michelangelo and Bernini. Then the Japanese robot cartoons and all the TV shows I watched as a child. I love to melt different influences together. I believe that in art, music and life in general, mixing things up generates good things.

Is there a goal we haven’t featured yet that you would like to illustrate for this series?

We have already done two of my favourites – Zidane’s in 2002 and Savićević’s in 1994 [spoiler alert, Champions Journal readers: the Savićević goal will be in issue 4] – so I will go for McManaman in 2000 against Valencia and the second goal by Milito in 2010. That body swerve on Van Buyten is perfect; better than the shot. 

What is the greatest goal you’ve ever seen?

No doubt: Roberto Baggio, nearly at the end of his wonderful career – he was already 34 – and playing for Brescia against Juventus. A long, glorious pass by a young Andrea Pirlo from midfield and Roby, with an amazing first touch, controls the ball and dribbles past the goalkeeper at the same time. With just one touch! Absolutely sublime.

Preliminary sketches of the classic goal artworks

There is so much stillness around the artwork in your Champion League goal illustrations – apart from the critical moment itself. Is that typical of your style, or something that you focused on particularly for this series?

A goal is an explosion of joy, but what I look for is the second before, the moment when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode. I’d like to freeze that sensation. I always look for that moment to involve the viewer in my work and let them “complete” the story with their memories, their experience or imagination. 

How do you manage to incorporate so much movement in your work?

I remember seeing the sculpture Three Points by Henry Moore at the Tate Modern in London. I was struck by the tension. It was obviously still, but it was moving at the same time. I always look for this: freezing a moment and being dynamic at the same time. 

Zinédine Zidane, Real Madrid, 2002

Your illustrations manage to capture the whole moment. How do you pick the image or video frame to start with that best portrays the goal?

I love cinematographic framings and pushing them to the limit. I think it’s a good way to make a scene more dynamic or dramatic. Maybe it’s because when I was an art director in advertising I used to think of an illustration as a single frame of a storyboard, like you do when you think of a TV commercial. Maybe I stole the angles from the wonderful storyboard artists I worked with.

What's your process from initial concept to final artwork?

I always start by looking for pictures and videos, to see the whole situation with as many details and points of view as possible. This helps me with framing and the composition. Then I search for the right shirts, colours, sponsors, brands, style, details, number fonts, fitting; I need all this to put the illustration in the right place in history. I sketch using a traditional pencil on paper; I also have an iPad that I use to sketch when I travel. When I have the sketch, I put some colours on it – with markers or Illustrator, it’s the same – and I send it to the client. Lastly I go for the vectors, but that’s the easiest part: usually I think about shadows and light as plain colour fields directly on the sketch. You could say it’s a sort of vector thinking. 

What I look for is the second before the goal, when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode

When does the sketch go from being a pencil drawing to digital – and how important is it for you to maintain the handmade aspect?

It depends. I don’t control it. Sometimes my sketches are very detailed – when I’m working with new clients, for example. Sometimes I stop when I can discern the shape I have in my mind and go immediately for the vector. 

Your illustrations are minimalist but so recognisable. When do you know the drawing is complete?

When I reach the right balance between synthesis and recognisability. I love to take off more than I add. As Mies van der Rohe said, less is more.

Ronald Koeman, Barcelona, 1992

What you have been working on during lockdown?

We are lucky, for the moment: the Vicenza area hasn’t been touched too much by the virus. Padova and Verona, our neighbours, have had many more infections and deaths, and we are close to Brescia and Bergamo as well. Working during this period – also for charity – is the way to maintain a sort of normality. I think that everyone who has a little visibility must do something in moments like these. For example, I teamed up with Live Onlus, an Italian charity organisation linked to football, to auction off some original drawings and give all the money to local hospitals in Brescia, Bergamo and Vicenza. I am an illustrator so I’m used to staying enclosed in a room, but I miss pubs, crowded places, events and football. I am a very social person. But through work you can stay in touch with people. 

Got a question for Osvaldo about his work? Send it to us at info@champions-journal.com and we’ll put the best to him

Your understanding and love of football is clear in your illustrations. Who do you support?

I am Italian, I come from Vicenza. That’s why I support Lanerossi Vicenza. The connection between a fan and a team is even stronger if you live in the same place as your team. Vicenza is a small city; you see the players and the former players who still live there around town and you can talk to them. I am a huge fan of the “support your local team” philosophy. 

Osvaldo at work (top) and on his way to watch Vicenza (above)


Where do you draw your main influences from?

My style comes from quickness. I was searching for my own personal style. I tried to start drawing in the most natural way I could, working without losing time thinking about rules. And these characters with big bodies and small heads came out. Maybe it’s because the body is much more important in sporting movements, I don’t know. Now, looking at my illustrations, I can see things I stole from the painters I love: Modigliani, Ligabue, Kirchner and Matisse and Les Fauves, but also Rothko, all the pop art, Caravaggio, Canova, Michelangelo and Bernini. Then the Japanese robot cartoons and all the TV shows I watched as a child. I love to melt different influences together. I believe that in art, music and life in general, mixing things up generates good things.

Is there a goal we haven’t featured yet that you would like to illustrate for this series?

We have already done two of my favourites – Zidane’s in 2002 and Savićević’s in 1994 [spoiler alert, Champions Journal readers: the Savićević goal will be in issue 4] – so I will go for McManaman in 2000 against Valencia and the second goal by Milito in 2010. That body swerve on Van Buyten is perfect; better than the shot. 

What is the greatest goal you’ve ever seen?

No doubt: Roberto Baggio, nearly at the end of his wonderful career – he was already 34 – and playing for Brescia against Juventus. A long, glorious pass by a young Andrea Pirlo from midfield and Roby, with an amazing first touch, controls the ball and dribbles past the goalkeeper at the same time. With just one touch! Absolutely sublime.

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Preliminary sketches of the classic goal artworks

There is so much stillness around the artwork in your Champion League goal illustrations – apart from the critical moment itself. Is that typical of your style, or something that you focused on particularly for this series?

A goal is an explosion of joy, but what I look for is the second before, the moment when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode. I’d like to freeze that sensation. I always look for that moment to involve the viewer in my work and let them “complete” the story with their memories, their experience or imagination. 

How do you manage to incorporate so much movement in your work?

I remember seeing the sculpture Three Points by Henry Moore at the Tate Modern in London. I was struck by the tension. It was obviously still, but it was moving at the same time. I always look for this: freezing a moment and being dynamic at the same time. 

Zinédine Zidane, Real Madrid, 2002

Your illustrations manage to capture the whole moment. How do you pick the image or video frame to start with that best portrays the goal?

I love cinematographic framings and pushing them to the limit. I think it’s a good way to make a scene more dynamic or dramatic. Maybe it’s because when I was an art director in advertising I used to think of an illustration as a single frame of a storyboard, like you do when you think of a TV commercial. Maybe I stole the angles from the wonderful storyboard artists I worked with.

What's your process from initial concept to final artwork?

I always start by looking for pictures and videos, to see the whole situation with as many details and points of view as possible. This helps me with framing and the composition. Then I search for the right shirts, colours, sponsors, brands, style, details, number fonts, fitting; I need all this to put the illustration in the right place in history. I sketch using a traditional pencil on paper; I also have an iPad that I use to sketch when I travel. When I have the sketch, I put some colours on it – with markers or Illustrator, it’s the same – and I send it to the client. Lastly I go for the vectors, but that’s the easiest part: usually I think about shadows and light as plain colour fields directly on the sketch. You could say it’s a sort of vector thinking. 

What I look for is the second before the goal, when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode

When does the sketch go from being a pencil drawing to digital – and how important is it for you to maintain the handmade aspect?

It depends. I don’t control it. Sometimes my sketches are very detailed – when I’m working with new clients, for example. Sometimes I stop when I can discern the shape I have in my mind and go immediately for the vector. 

Your illustrations are minimalist but so recognisable. When do you know the drawing is complete?

When I reach the right balance between synthesis and recognisability. I love to take off more than I add. As Mies van der Rohe said, less is more.

Ronald Koeman, Barcelona, 1992

What you have been working on during lockdown?

We are lucky, for the moment: the Vicenza area hasn’t been touched too much by the virus. Padova and Verona, our neighbours, have had many more infections and deaths, and we are close to Brescia and Bergamo as well. Working during this period – also for charity – is the way to maintain a sort of normality. I think that everyone who has a little visibility must do something in moments like these. For example, I teamed up with Live Onlus, an Italian charity organisation linked to football, to auction off some original drawings and give all the money to local hospitals in Brescia, Bergamo and Vicenza. I am an illustrator so I’m used to staying enclosed in a room, but I miss pubs, crowded places, events and football. I am a very social person. But through work you can stay in touch with people. 

Got a question for Osvaldo about his work? Send it to us at info@champions-journal.com and we’ll put the best to him

Your understanding and love of football is clear in your illustrations. Who do you support?

I am Italian, I come from Vicenza. That’s why I support Lanerossi Vicenza. The connection between a fan and a team is even stronger if you live in the same place as your team. Vicenza is a small city; you see the players and the former players who still live there around town and you can talk to them. I am a huge fan of the “support your local team” philosophy. 

Osvaldo at work (top) and on his way to watch Vicenza (above)


Where do you draw your main influences from?

My style comes from quickness. I was searching for my own personal style. I tried to start drawing in the most natural way I could, working without losing time thinking about rules. And these characters with big bodies and small heads came out. Maybe it’s because the body is much more important in sporting movements, I don’t know. Now, looking at my illustrations, I can see things I stole from the painters I love: Modigliani, Ligabue, Kirchner and Matisse and Les Fauves, but also Rothko, all the pop art, Caravaggio, Canova, Michelangelo and Bernini. Then the Japanese robot cartoons and all the TV shows I watched as a child. I love to melt different influences together. I believe that in art, music and life in general, mixing things up generates good things.

Is there a goal we haven’t featured yet that you would like to illustrate for this series?

We have already done two of my favourites – Zidane’s in 2002 and Savićević’s in 1994 [spoiler alert, Champions Journal readers: the Savićević goal will be in issue 4] – so I will go for McManaman in 2000 against Valencia and the second goal by Milito in 2010. That body swerve on Van Buyten is perfect; better than the shot. 

What is the greatest goal you’ve ever seen?

No doubt: Roberto Baggio, nearly at the end of his wonderful career – he was already 34 – and playing for Brescia against Juventus. A long, glorious pass by a young Andrea Pirlo from midfield and Roby, with an amazing first touch, controls the ball and dribbles past the goalkeeper at the same time. With just one touch! Absolutely sublime.

Preliminary sketches of the classic goal artworks

There is so much stillness around the artwork in your Champion League goal illustrations – apart from the critical moment itself. Is that typical of your style, or something that you focused on particularly for this series?

A goal is an explosion of joy, but what I look for is the second before, the moment when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode. I’d like to freeze that sensation. I always look for that moment to involve the viewer in my work and let them “complete” the story with their memories, their experience or imagination. 

How do you manage to incorporate so much movement in your work?

I remember seeing the sculpture Three Points by Henry Moore at the Tate Modern in London. I was struck by the tension. It was obviously still, but it was moving at the same time. I always look for this: freezing a moment and being dynamic at the same time. 

Zinédine Zidane, Real Madrid, 2002

Your illustrations manage to capture the whole moment. How do you pick the image or video frame to start with that best portrays the goal?

I love cinematographic framings and pushing them to the limit. I think it’s a good way to make a scene more dynamic or dramatic. Maybe it’s because when I was an art director in advertising I used to think of an illustration as a single frame of a storyboard, like you do when you think of a TV commercial. Maybe I stole the angles from the wonderful storyboard artists I worked with.

What's your process from initial concept to final artwork?

I always start by looking for pictures and videos, to see the whole situation with as many details and points of view as possible. This helps me with framing and the composition. Then I search for the right shirts, colours, sponsors, brands, style, details, number fonts, fitting; I need all this to put the illustration in the right place in history. I sketch using a traditional pencil on paper; I also have an iPad that I use to sketch when I travel. When I have the sketch, I put some colours on it – with markers or Illustrator, it’s the same – and I send it to the client. Lastly I go for the vectors, but that’s the easiest part: usually I think about shadows and light as plain colour fields directly on the sketch. You could say it’s a sort of vector thinking. 

What I look for is the second before the goal, when everyone realises that it’s happening. In that moment your heart is full and ready to explode

When does the sketch go from being a pencil drawing to digital – and how important is it for you to maintain the handmade aspect?

It depends. I don’t control it. Sometimes my sketches are very detailed – when I’m working with new clients, for example. Sometimes I stop when I can discern the shape I have in my mind and go immediately for the vector. 

Your illustrations are minimalist but so recognisable. When do you know the drawing is complete?

When I reach the right balance between synthesis and recognisability. I love to take off more than I add. As Mies van der Rohe said, less is more.

Ronald Koeman, Barcelona, 1992

What you have been working on during lockdown?

We are lucky, for the moment: the Vicenza area hasn’t been touched too much by the virus. Padova and Verona, our neighbours, have had many more infections and deaths, and we are close to Brescia and Bergamo as well. Working during this period – also for charity – is the way to maintain a sort of normality. I think that everyone who has a little visibility must do something in moments like these. For example, I teamed up with Live Onlus, an Italian charity organisation linked to football, to auction off some original drawings and give all the money to local hospitals in Brescia, Bergamo and Vicenza. I am an illustrator so I’m used to staying enclosed in a room, but I miss pubs, crowded places, events and football. I am a very social person. But through work you can stay in touch with people. 

Got a question for Osvaldo about his work? Send it to us at info@champions-journal.com and we’ll put the best to him

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