Pawel Nolbert on what it's really like to design for Nike

After creating paintstroke-based artworks and patterns for both shoes and clothing, the illustrator and designer tells about blending his style with Nike's.

Nike is on the list of dream clients for most designers and illustrators. But how do you create great work for the shoe-and-lifestyle brand?

To find out, I contacted Polish illustrator Pawel Nolbert, who has just updated his site with illustrations and patterns that he's produced for Nike over the past three years – though his first project didn't appear in public for two years after he started on it. This is not unusual when working for Nike, as the nature of the company – having a worldwide presence and ties to many professional sports teams (and the US Olympic team) - means that lead-times are long.

Pawel is best known for his multi-coloured brushstrokes - which have been used typographically for the likes of Forbes magazine but Pawel has also applied this style to the Nike 'swoosh' logo.

Most recently, he's used strokes to envisage a version of a NY Giants jersey (that's an American football team, for us Brits) for an event to launch this season's Color Rush - where teams where one-off uniforms to promote specific games.

The design of this is based on the Giants' uniforms from the 1990s.

NB: How did you first come to work for Nike?

PN: "I was first approached by the creative director at Nike Basketball. I think he found my work online, as with many of my clients."

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NB: What was your first project for the brand?

PN: "I was first asked to work on the development of the 2015 Easter pack patterns, featuring floral motifs and some optional easter eggs. It was a rather small project, but it [led to] a series of other projects. I was able to learn what Nike's production pipeline looks like – and that you often get to see the result of your work two years [after you created it]."

NB: What was your initial understanding of the Nike brand - what it stood for and how the company liked to see it represented?

PN: "It’s hard not to have any opinion on a brand as ubiquitous as Nike. To me the company has always been pioneering when it comes to clothing and footwear, and it always brings excitement – 'what do they going to come up with next?'.

Image: Nike Lebron 12 Easter 2015

"I have worked mostly on the basketball projects and some NFL, which is a small fraction of what Nike does, but I could always sense the energy and striking dynamism of the brand [when I was working on each] project – from the initial brief to the very final results, the further marketing of it and with what happens after the project is finished and lives its own life."

Image: Nike KD Aunt Pearl 2016

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NB: How much creative freedom do you have working for such a clearly defined brand?

PN: "As much as Nike has a distinctive design aesthetic, they are still able to make various art styles work with that visual language and make it very successful.

"They’re very much about innovation and they believe in people who share a similar approach. It’s a huge corporation, but it allows for a lot of creativity and they allow themselves to get surprised by your ideas, rather than sticking to the preconceived ones.

Image: Nike KD Aunt Pearl 2016

NB: Tell us a bit about your favourite project for Nike so far.

PN: "All of the projects were nice at some point but I like the one for Color Rush launch event especially as it reflects my own style very much, even if it’s not as experimental as some other projects that I’ve done for Nike."

NB: What would you like to work on for Nike next?

PN: "I would like to do something for the Jordan Brand for sure. It’s an icon on its own!"

Image: Nike KD Aunt Pearl 2016

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Pawel's bold use of colour also saw him recently create this surreal series where bright slabs of colour hang in real spaces through a mixture of photography and Photoshop.

See the project here.