An industry veteran shares his tips for painting perfect field designs

Painting opening day artwork for the Hillsboro Hops, Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Photos courtesy of Mike Hebrard.

There’s a constant need for companies to promote their products; fortunately, the possibilities to advertise are almost unlimited. When I started my business 20 years ago, all I envisioned was painting lines for different sporting contests. Then, after painting straight and accurate lines that hadn’t been seen before, the inevitable question comes up: “Can you paint a logo?” What started as basic team letters 10 or 15 feet high has evolved into a 60-by-70-foot logo that needs to be done in three hours and without a stencil.

My first logo attempt was some 35 years ago, when I was student teaching at Floyd Light Middle School and helping to coach football. I noticed that their mascot, the Falcons, was basically the same as the NFL Atlanta Falcons. It seemed like an easy logo to create. So, with a chalker and counting steps, my first artist rendition was created.

Tips and tricks

While working as an assistant basketball coach at West Texas State near Amarillo, Texas, I was in charge of arena setup. The booster club wanted the Buffalo painted at midcourt. Since we played off campus at the Amarillo Civic Center, I had to coordinate with the arena, other users and a local sign painter. Watching him I learned some tricks of the trade, and I was hooked.

Another logo created for the Abby’s Pizza golf tournament.

The main thing we are taught in school – not to copy someone else’s work – became my main objective: copy someone else’s logo as near as possible. I used to get a letterman jacket patch and measure the dimensions and scale it up to size. During one of my requests for a “W,” an athletic director literally drew a “W” on a piece of paper and said that was what he wanted. With the introduction to computers and PowerPoint I saw that there was a grid option, but you can’t print it, so I draw lines and group them and copy a logo and enlarge it to fit the desired lines and send to the back and print. The grid prints out to exactly an inch, and with an engineer’s tri-scale ruler, I can pick the size I desire.

I lay out the grid on a poly tarp and cut out the pattern. Another quick way to make a stencil is to have a sign company print it out on 5-foot-wide butcher paper, tape it together, and then tape it on a poly tarp to make the stencil.

One of the best designs I’ve ever created is a helmet stencil. Sometimes too much detail is used for a midfield logo and it gets worn out quickly, but at the end of the game it always looks like a helmet. I discourage painting text in the end zones because of the cost and because the seats aren’t at a high enough angle to see what is painted. Put your money and effort where fans can see it.

The color contrast of this logo didn’t make much of a statement.

Laying out logos

A major shoe company in Portland, Ore., has been my biggest customer for the past 15 years. Most of their special events are planned well in advance, but the logo artwork will change up to the last minute, so having a stencil made in advance is not an option. They’ve forced me to improve my skills and become a better artist. I had one job where I got the artwork at 8 o’clock Sunday night and had to have it done by 10 a.m. Monday. I jokingly said, “I have five minutes left, anything else you need?”

I lucked into another helpful aid when I was picking up new football numbers from a sign company. They had 3-foot-high stencils of the entire alphabet available. With a string set on the top or bottom, I trace the plastic letter with a contrasting color, (usually with a pin tip) and then fill it in, usually with white.

Redone in black and white, the same logo makes an impact.

For a lot of the small logos I use inverted aerosol cans, but Graco has developed a battery-powered, airless, hand-held painter called the ProShot that is great for touch-ups or spot-repairing a color. I have also used these sprayers to do complete logos when working out of town, most notably, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho, where we paint logos in four heated tents. The lack of hoses and cords on the sprayers makes for better mobilization in tight spaces.

In preparing the canvas (grass), try to have the desired area mowed a little lower than normal. Tightly mowed turf gives the best results, but sometimes a client has a bad area or tall fescue they want painted. Painting in sunny weather is the best – once the sun goes down the drying stops. If the irrigation comes on in the morning or there’s heavy dew, you may lose a lot of the work. In wet conditions, you can drag a hose across the surface and knock off the big droplets of water or simply use a backpack blower if available.

During one of my painting presentations to sports field managers, one of the attendees was a golf course superintendent at Roseburg Country Club in Roseburg, Ore. For the past 24 years, the course has hosted a golf tournament for Abby’s Pizza, and they were looking to spruce up the event. The superintendent gave them my contact information, and I have painted their logos for the event for more than 10 years.

“Every year, Abby’s hosts one of Southern Oregon’s largest invitational golf tournaments for key customers, suppliers and investors. Since 2003, we have engaged Athletic Field Design to produce variations of our corporate logo and tournament logo. I am continually amazed at the impact of golf course grass as a big, bold medium. As golfers approach the green on the ninth hole at the Roseburg Country Club during our tournament weekend, they simply can’t miss the big statement that we are making about our identity and proud sponsorship of this annual event,” said Doug Phillips, senior director of marketing for Abby’s Legendary Pizza.

The logo for the annual golf tournament sponsored by Abby’s Pizza.

Mike Hebrard is owner/operator of Athletic Field Design, based in Clackamas, Ore. He’s a frequent speaker at national and regional conferences.