When Carolina Panthers season ticket holders received their ticket packet this season, they opened up a package with imagery that undoubtedly looked a little bit different than years past. No, the Panthers didn't uncover some cool new Photoshop filter.
They went in a uniquely new creative direction, and it all happened because of social media.
Meet Joe Bello, a self-described "Panther from Cali" who moved to Camden, S.C., less than a year ago. Bello grew up with a crayon or marker in his hand at all times and became a self-taught graphic illustrator. He also grew up as a Panthers fan amongst a family of Niners and Raiders fans.
"I really latched onto the Panthers around the 2003 Super Bowl run," Bello said. "I loved the colors of blue and black and the ways that guys like Steve Smith played. I was the only Panther fan that I knew, and it kind of fit my personality to be in the minority."
As Bello began honing his artistic craft, his illustrations were predominantly of images from the sports that he loved. Especially football. Definitely Panthers football.
He began to post pictures of his illustrations on his social media channels, and within the last year, it all started to blow up for him.
Panthers players began to retweet his posts, showing off artsy and stylized illustrations of themselves that were unique and creative. When Bello and his family moved to South Carolina, he was then able to reach out to players and get them the original pieces.
"James Bradberry saw an image of a painting that I had made, and he direct messaged me and offered to pay me for the original," Bello said. "And we met up at South Park Mall and talked and exchanged the artwork and we took a picture together."
However, his biggest get was a person by the name of Kalen Rearden, the Panthers' hospitality and marketing manager.
"Each year we try to come up with a creative look for our campaigns across the board," Rearden said. "It kind of starts with the season tickets and then it goes into so many other things. In the last couple of years, we used photos of players with a dark look and then a lighter look with more action.
"We were looking to go into more of a creative direction for this year when we stumbled upon Joe on Instagram. We looked at his social media accounts and then just set up a meeting with him to see if his style would fit our brand and what his capabilities were."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Based on actual photos, Rearden tasked Bello with illustrations of 16 different players, several group shots and one of the Panthers statues. The artwork resides on the physical season tickets, but also on billboards, digital ads, print ads, magnets, email marketing imagery and even Snapchat filters.
"I can do it with both markers and ink," Bello said. "I try to dissect areas of shadow and see where the light looks best. It's a contrast piece. You want to balance that light and then use the blacks and blues to simplify it. It takes close photo analysis and sketching it out, and then just going in and picking the spots where it should look light and dark to make it jump off the page."
The response so far has been terrific.
"I've had people call that want a second pair of season tickets, just so they can frame them," Rearden said. "We've definitely had tremendous feedback on the entire rollout, and I know that Joe has received a lot of praise as well."
The exposure has helped Bello secure more clients for his unique approach to sports illustrations.
"I've definitely had more people reach out to me since my stuff has gone out with the Panthers," Bello said. "I've gotten more and more clients with increasingly crazy ideas for illustrations. I definitely have to credit the Panthers for that."
As of right now, most of Bello's original pieces are getting stockpiled in his studio, but he's been all ears if anyone reaches out and is interested in a particular illustration.
"I'm young and definitely eager to keep growing and getting better at my craft," Bello said. "With each new project, I'm just trying to be a little better and more creative than the last, and I'm having a lot of fun along the way."
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Photos of illustrations from Panthers fan Joe Bello that were used in 2017 marketing campaign as well as further original art. Follow Bello on Instagram @thatpunkpanther.