Artist Davide Barco on His Work for the Clio Awards, the L.A. Times and More

'Sometimes, the first idea is the best one—but I'm always suspicious'

Davide Barco loves being an illustrator, but he was working toward a different career goal while growing up in a village in the Veneto region of Italy.

"I always dreamed to be one of the Italians to play in the NBA," he says. "I really pictured myself as a basketball player—as a professional basketball player."

Barco was serious about the sport until he was about 18 years old, when he realized, "Okay, so maybe I'm not that good. I started to figure out I have to find another route, another plan."

Ultimately, he made art his vocation. After studying the craft in school, Barco worked as a graphic designer and art director in advertising before venturing out on his own to become a freelance illustrator.

Ten years later, the Milan-based artist is busy with a variety of clients ranging from publications like Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to sports leagues, including the NBA, and brands such as Red Bull, Adidas and Foot Locker.

Not surprisingly, Barco specializes in sports.

Among the artist's standout work is an illustration he did last year for the L.A. Times celebrating LeBron James becoming the NBA's all-time top scorer after besting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's long-held record.

"I could see from my feed in Instagram that a lot of people were prepared to celebrate LeBron for this amazing career moment, and everybody was just picturing LeBron with a crown," the artist says.

Barco put thought into coming up with a more original idea. "I love to be frustrated in finding the right idea. Sometimes, the first idea is the best one," he acknowledges, "but I'm always suspicious."

After consulting with L.A. Times art director Hamlet Nalbandyan to to learn more about what the publication wanted the image to say, Barco riffed on a Greek myth, depicting James as Hercules stealing the world—in the form of a basketball—from Abdul-Jabbar's Atlas.

Barco wanted to do something special, something that the L.A. Lakers superstar would appreciate. "If I were a basketball player, I would want to be portrayed that way," he says, adding, "Every time I'm working on a piece, I'm really meticulous. It's really a work of love."

More recently, Barco lent his talents to the Clio Awards, creating a series of illustrations promoting the upcoming 2024 Clio Sports Awards. In the colorful, vibrant work, Barco uses the Clio statue to represent advertising excellence as the iconic award participates in a variety of sports, making a slam dunk in one image and scoring a touchdown in another.

Barco spent time finessing the lighting in each image. While these are not photographs, the illustrations look as if they are sports highlights, captured on the court or field. "I'm so jealous of the great photographers in sports who capture the moment with their lights," he says. "The lighting is something that I really care about."

The artist notes that he scored the Clio gig after reaching out to introduce himself and inquire about opportunities. Part of being a free agent is putting yourself out there in search of work, he says.

Many of Barco's clients are in the United States, and a large portion are based in New York.

"So, once every year, every two years at max, I'm in New York for 20 days reaching out to clients and having beers with friends. And when I come back [to Milan], I always get new work," Barco says. "We live in amazing situation where you can reach everyone with just an email, but nothing can defeat the human presence."

Click here to learn more about the Clio Sports Awards program. The prize ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 4 in NYC. 

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.