Drawing inspiration from his wife’s leggings, ex-Greenock Morton footballer Craig Black has perfected an art that's seen him perform on the world stage.

WHEN he was 20, Craig Black gave up on his dream of becoming a footballer.
By the time he was 35, he was giving the performance of his life at the World Cup Finals in Qatar.

As a young Inverclyder he spent four years at Greenock Morton, having signed for his local team before he’d even left high school. Like many a young hopeful, his youthful dreams of glory under the floodlights floundered on the bench. Yet now, Craig looks back on his Cappielow disappointment as the pivotal moment which ultimately thrust him onto the sport’s glittering platforms, starring with some of the biggest names in the game at its most profiled tourneys.

In the last 10 months, Craig has been a guest of FIFA and UEFA, performing before thousands in the only field he loves as much as football – painting.
Since 2020, the Gourock-based designer has been scoring in the art world, with international exhibitions and lucrative collaborations with major brands, showcasing his unique medium which combines the technique of acrylic paint fusion and sports equipment.
And it’s all because of his wife’s leggings.

“My wife came into the house one day wearing these leggings with a crazy pattern on them,” said the former Morton hopeful. “She was talking to me, and all I was thinking was ‘how did someone make that pattern on those trousers?’ I went on to Youtube right then and there and started researching paint pouring and mixing. I thought it looked amazing. I bought some equipment off Amazon and started experimenting the next day in the spare bedroom.”

The National:

Much of the former footballer’s success comes down to such split second decisions. When he decided he’d spent too long waiting for his chance at Morton, he chucked it and headed to the pub in his hometown of Gourock. There he met his former art teacher at Wellington Academy, Paul Murray, who convinced him he was always better at art than football anyway.
That serendipity led to enrolment in a design course at Cardonald College, which led to several years working for creative agencies in London, which led to him going freelance, which led to him coming home to Scotland and hustling for work from here.

When he won the contract to overhaul the typeface on the official branding for Rangers, the lifelong Gers fan thought he’d gone as far as he might have in the game. But his wife Ali’s leggings and a creative curiosity led to him pouring acrylic paint onto a football, marking Scotland’s qualification for Euro 2020. He followed it up with six more in the colours of different teams in the contest, posting them on social media. Interest surged, and the penny dropped. His niche lay between football and design.

“I needed to create something that announced I had evolved to become a visual artist,” said the married dad of one, speaking to The Herald in his studio overlooking the Firth of Clyde.
“As soon as I did the first pour, I honestly thought this was going to change my life. The pattern it made, the organic form, the fact that it had never been done like this before. It was mesmerising, and it was combining my two great loves, football and art.”

From a very young age, Craig had been drawn to his coloured pencils as much as he had his football boots. But few boys growing up in post-industrial Clydeside can afford to think they might one day make a living from art. Even when faced every day with the ever-changing oil-painting of the lower Clyde, sea lochs and Argyll mountains.

The National:

The time he spent working with agencies in London helped Craig hone a “straight to the jugular” approach. Sure of the appeal of his painted balls, he found out who he needed to pitch to at UEFA. Four months later, he was in London doing a “live pour” as part of the TV coverage of Italy versus Belgium.
“It was in front of a live audience, the very first time, with all these high tech cameras. People were going nuts for it. That experience opened me up to the live art performance.”

From that moment, Craig’s painted balls have not stopped rolling, gathering a breathtaking momentum which has seen him perform to everyone from climate change delegates at COP26 in Glasgow, to the biggest names in the history of world football. “I was actually in the gym when I got a message asking if I could speak to FIFA,” he said, recalling the break which took him to Qatar last winter. “They asked me how I felt about doing 32 footballs for every country in Qatar. Of course, I was all in. After that call I was on my hands and knees crying my eyes out. I couldn’t believe it.”

He poured before some of the biggest names at the tournament, like Poland’s Barca striker Robert Lewandowski and Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, as well as some of the heroes from bygone days. “I was doing a live pour in the grand foyer of this big five star hotel and there were all these legends there, Clarence Seedorf, Wesley Sneider, Cafu, Roberto Carlos. It was this high class hotel with all these superstars, Bentleys pulling up to the door and I’m this Scottish guy covered in paint pulling up in a wee Nissan.”

I tell him the marbled effect of the balls reminds me of the giant lollipops in the 1971 Willy Wonka film, and suggest their tactile allure might lead to people wanting to touch them. “Roberto Carlos said that,” he says, laughing. “ I said to him, ‘Robbie, don’t touch them.’ As soon as you touch the paint it leaves a mark.”

His work in Qatar piqued the interest of the sports brand Wilson, who asked him to design basketballs for the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons NBA clash in Paris within days. “I came off the plane from Qatar, straight into the freezing studio in the middle of December. I ended up doing a live event there and there was a queue right down the street. It was mental.”

In May he performed outside the Atatürk Olympic stadium for the Champions League final, and this month he has designed a special Champions League ball to mark the commencement of the tournament, one he has ambitions to see used as the competition’s official ball.
He’s collaborated on everything from speaker systems and tennis gear to racing bikes and skateboards. He’ll travel down under to Sydney in 2024 to exhibit, having already been shown at Cheekwood Estate in Nashville, Tennessee, and is in discussions with Barcelona FC about a future collaboration.

It’s a lot more colourful than warming the bench at Cappielow. “There was a point when I started doing this when I had £63 in the bank,” says Craig Black, the man who lost his way kicking balls and found his way painting them.
“I believed in myself from the start. I love the idea that I can bring joy to people’s lives, combining my two greatest passions, sport and art. It puts a smile on people’s faces. And that’s super cool.”

Craig Black will perform at London’s Battersea Power Station for the NFL ahead of its Buffalo Bills Vs Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game on October 7.