“Who Doesn’t Like A Gorilla Or Angry Panda In A Gi”? An Interview With BJJ Artist John Connell

Art by John Connell (detail)

If you are a BJJ addict, you have no doubt seen the cool shark in the gi artwork. The man behind the art is self-professed jiu-jitsu addict and professional artist John Connell.

We had the chance to sit down with Connell and talk a bit about his art – both his pictures and jiu-jitsu. Here is what he had to say.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: John, your unique animal-themed designs are catching a lot of attention in the BJJ world. First of all, how long have you been training jiu-jitsu, what belt are you, and where is your home academy?

John Connell: Hi, first, thanks for this opportunity. I’m a brown belt and I have been training for about ten years.  I started my jiu-jitsu addiction when I lived in Boston, training at Connors Jiu-Jitsu Academy and then moved to North Carolina with my family where I train at Open Guard under Geoff Balme and Wayne Spinola. Geoff comes from the same school Connors came up through the ranks in, both from Roberto Maia in Boston. Jiu-jitsu is a small world!

On the mat I’m known as “hardcore” not because I’m the tough guy necessarily, but it’s because I love to drill the basics. It’s where jiu-jitsu lives.

Posted by Ground Shark Designs on Monday, February 13, 2017

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How do you go about creating a new design? After the initial concept, how do you bring the idea into the next steps? What software do you use?

John Connell: I like to illustrate the core inspiration first; the ideas come from those primal dramas. Like in jiu-jitsu, think of smash-passing or pressuring your opponent from the top with your shoulder—the dominant game. These are concepts that make for compelling and fun illustrations.

HI New working design for the love of smash passing .

Posted by Ground Shark Designs on Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The process is just lots of work, like editing a book. I start with a terrible quick sketch in black and white and work it up, adding color and refining the idea, adding more detail as I go along. It’s a time consuming process.

Then I start thinking about slogans and logos or various sayings, like the shark’s ocean being the mat. I usually have a couple of projects going at once and bounce back and forth on them. Any artist’s method is hard to explain, but it’s really not different from building your jiu-jitsu game. It’s just a lot of of painstaking work. All of the art is done in Photoshop and Painter with a Wacom drawing tablet and various nibs. I spend hours just drawing skulls!

Posted by Ground Shark Designs on Monday, October 17, 2016

Jiu-Jitsu Times: What is behind your concept of pairing various animals with BJJ? What is the connection between the 2?

John Connell: Well, who doesn’t like a gorilla or angry panda in a gi? It comes from what you always hear at the gym, “That guy is a Gorilla!” or a beast, and so on. Then there are the traditional animals that have been associated with jiu-jitsu through quotes and  competitors that often represent various animals’ traits like the shark’s power, the octopus’s intelligence, and the alligator’s menace. And actually, studying animals and mimicking their motion is the heart of martial arts! Think back to those old traditional kung fu styles with the Shaolin monks studying monkeys and mantises and such. So really it’s just an extension of that. Jiu-jitsu is about mixing the menace of a beast with the intelligence of a person. It’s not just muscle and athleticism; jiu-jitsu is a mental game as well. I just try and have fun with it and blend human and animal in the art as best I can.

HI. New working Jiu Jitsu print from Ground Shark

Posted by Ground Shark Designs on Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Are there any well-known artists out there who you would count as inspirations for your work?

John Connell: Well, for the art side it would have to be Frank Frazetta and Norman Rockwell. It’s kind of a weird combo but they really convey a story through their art, though from totally different worlds. On the jiu-jitsu side it would be Marcelo Garcia and Roger Gracie.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: If someone is interested in your art work, how can they get their hands on it? Do you do logos for academies? What BJJ products do you make with the artwork?

John Connell: For now I’m selling it through my face book page: Ground Shark Designs. There is a website in the works, hopefully up soon. I’m always up for doing school logos! Just message me with a description of what you want for a logo. I started up with the art prints and I’m expanding into creating rash guards and maybe some vinyl jiu-jitsu sculpture figures.

Thanks to everyone who has supported liked or purchased prints from this jiu jitsu addict! There’s much more to come!  Ground Shark Designs



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