Keeping the Dream Alive With Purehoop
Nowadays, abrupt ends and prolonged pauses are par for the course. But for a time immediately following the suspension of the NBA season in March due to COVID-19, it seemed like illustrator Jack Perkins’ Instagram account acted as a bridge of sorts, keeping the season alive through periodic posts to his 30,000+ followers.
About once a week, Perkins took to his account to post colorful tributes to the game’s most iconic players with a touch of reverence and humor. As The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan docuseries, took hold and turned Sundays into primetime viewing, his account seemed to assist in filling the void of an unfinished season.
He initially started creating under the banner of Purehoop to fill a need of a different kind - his desire for team and championship t-shirts of his own when he couldn’t find any that appealed to him already on the market. Many of those same illustrations that populate his social media feeds appear in his Big Cartel shop as t-shirts and art prints.
Basketball has long captivated Perkins. His renderings are infused with the eye of a longtime fan, one who grew up invested in the Lakers vs Celtics rivalry with Magic Johnson posters on his bedroom wall, even though he grew up on the East Coast.
He’s been in the paint, so to speak, for nearly his entire life, playing the position of shooting guard as a high schooler and doing art on the side, eventually going onto pursue a degree in animation at the Rhode Island School of Design the same year Kobe Bryant joined the Lakers. He’s now called the City of Angels home for twenty years, lending his animation talents to King of the Hill, Family Guy, the Simpsons, and the forthcoming Netflix show Hoops.
For now, he’s continuing to navigate a balance between his position as an animation director at FOX and his personal work, admitting that Purehoop is more of a “side hustle” at this juncture, but one he’d like to eventually focus on full-time.
His schedule is largely dictated by a show’s production schedule and right now he’s in full-swing working on a new show set to debut on HBO sometime early next year. At present, his personal illustration pursuits are primarily relegated to when seasons wrap. He’s grateful for the opportunities and employment, but also looks forward to those gaps that provide him the time to react to what’s happening on the court in real-time.
The balance between time and freedom remains elusive, but something Perkins continues to chase. When imagining what a transition to full-time illustration would bring, he admits he entertains the thought a lot, musing on “the beauty of making my own hours and making my own rules about how much I want to take on, how much more I want to devote to health and wellbeing and exercise, family time” as the benefits he could foresee. He also envisions the impact it’d have on his actual art practice and what it’d allow for. “I mostly do digital work now, because the undo button is amazing and we’ve all gotten so used to working digitally and it’s an awesome media.”
He continues, “But I’d love to dive back into doing original oil or acrylic paintings, painting in the yard.” He also ponders the shift and impact on his shop. His limited runs are definitely by design, but moreso dictated by circumstance than by desire. “Right now, with my Big Cartel shop, I only have a limited number of prints because I don’t print from home. I have a print shop here in LA that I use but I print in bulk. I’ll order 50, 100, 200, whatever it may be and I just can’t afford to do that space wise and just time-wise to have all of my work printed. But I think I could expand the shop and open up more works to be available if that was my full-time [job].”
Drawing and basketball have intersected his whole life. “My father was an art teacher - he always encouraged drawing and I watched him draw and paint, too. We had tons of art supplies around the house all the time, which was nice.” Drawing sports figures came naturally, though at first he covered the spectrum of athletes. “Over the years I narrowed it down - my handle to being Purehoop, I wanted to do more singular focuses. I enjoy all sports, but basketball is definitely my favorite.”
Just as so many passions spring eternal during youth, his fascination and dedication also traces back to his early years. His own history playing the game is definitely a factor, but he also notes the accessibility of basketball players, “There’s something about their personalities, too; not seeing them with helmets or face masks. I think it just offers so much more; there’s so much more potential and room to depict the players and the league.”
He originally joined Instagram to post snapshots of his daily life, including sketches alongside photos of his family. “Please don’t scroll back, but if you do, in the very beginning, it’s just photos of my and my family doing whatever. The normal Instagram stuff,” he says with a laugh. Over time, the focus of his feed shifted exclusively to his sports depictions.
At the time, Perkins had just gotten into T-shirt printing. He was looking for something beyond a regular jersey, but wasn’t finding any NBA or affiliated shirts he wanted to wear himself. So using his own skills and catering to his own tastes, he set out to make his own shirts.
His Big Cartel shop soon followed as an outlet to sell his creations. And just as he’d found a need, a niche, he also came across challenges too. While T-shirts serve as the origin story for his shop, he admits he doesn’t sell that many anymore, “because printing shirts is its own nightmare.” His transition to art prints was born out of experiencing issues with sizing and stock on hand, as well as encountering printing errors and the actual seams of the T-shirts. Switching from apparel to art prints streamlined the operation.
Growing his own fanbase wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision and happened rather organically in the sense that his drawings caught the right attention to gain a larger platform. He posted those T-shirts to his Instagram and continued to share his art as posts too. Perkins estimates it was around a year after that the Bleacher Report reached out to him to collaborate and create content for the site. After having his art featured on the site, his audience expanded as he became more visible in the basketball art community and gained more followers across social media.
Aside from Bleacher Report, he’s had the opportunity to create a retirement painting for Spurs great Tim Duncan. “That was a really proud moment because you know I love Tim Duncan as a player and a person.” And those doors opened others. “I was able to do a piece for Donovan Mitchell and some great opportunities with Nike, like an end-of-the-year kit for Kevin Durant when they won the title,” he adds. “I’ve been lucky and I definitely credit social media to a lot of that. It’s nice to be able to have your work spread quickly in that way.”
As he’s seen, the work that spreads the quickest is often art tied to viral moments, whether it be mined from a game, Twitter or the league overall. For Perkins it all comes down to timing; most often the idea is there and jumping on it is “just a matter of do I have the time to execute this? Can I make a quick comedic sketch about this?” His practice has shifted since he first began, reflective of the immediacy he now aims to capture. “When I started out I was doing a lot more painterly pieces that would take a long time, weeks, months, even sometimes,” he says.
But now he’s found value in picking up the pace. “It’s been kind of fun to hone a style that people seem to appreciate,” and to be able to complete a project more quickly. The benefit is that it’s out in the world in a more timely fashion and able to find its intended audience that’s looking to find “something that pertains to an event or a moment that just happened.”
Those kinds of moments are continuing to happen inside the bubble, like with Patrick Beverley’s viral laughing fit in response to Damian Lillard’s missed free throws during the Clippers versus Trailblazers game. The clip trended at the top of Twitter over the weekend and escalated into post-game interview mentions and cutting Instagram comments between the players. It was more of a show than any post-game talking heads were providing and brought a bit of humorous levity to a season that only weeks ago seemed like it might not happen at all given the climate.
Between COVID-19 and the ongoing national push towards racial justice and equality, players like Lillard and Fred VanVleet expressed reservations in the weeks prior to the 2019-2020 season resuming in Orlando. A multi-line call between premiere players gave the greenlight to forge ahead and the league has adopted social justice phrases on the back of jerseys as well as “Black Lives Matter” warm up shirts when sitting on the bench and the phrase written prominently across the court as a way to keep social justice as part of the conversation. Players like Patty Mills and Jrue Holiday have publicly pledged their salaries towards related causes. In his own efforts, Perkins recently relisted his limited edition Colin Kaepernick print in his shop as a fundraiser for social justice.
As a fan and also as an illustrator incorporating it into their work along with donations he makes from the art, Perkins also recognizes the current climate of activism in sports. “It’s nice to see it coming to the forefront. It’s awful that it took ‘til now and for all these events to take place for it to get, until it could get to this point. But obviously there’s way, way, way, way, way, way more to go. But you know, any little drop towards change and moving in the right direction is progress,” he says reflecting on the platforms given to players during play within the bubble. “I think we have to appreciate that but also keep pushing harder.”
For now, Purehoop exists as less of a side hustle and more of a dream, as much in progress as it is deferred. For Perkins, it represents a passion he’s held for nearly his entire life and a pursuit he continues to chase. As a kid, he looked up to the iconic posters of basketball players on his bedroom walls and as an adult, he’s been able to create a portal into that world built off of that fandom and his skills with a pen in hand. Just as players chase championship rings, he’s seeking the promised land of the time to fulfill personal projects and create balance in his life overall. And in the meantime, he’s creating a highlight reel that so far lived beyond any one season.