Saturday, January 1, 2011

Anatomy of a Portrait II: Mike Tyson

Years before I started writing about boxing, I was infatuated in creating art. I drew whatever I could from an early age (right around seven or eight) and I started out by copying images from comic books. As I got better, I began challenging myself and tried different mediums. I goofed around with paints here and there but I always thought painting, overall, was a pain-in-the-ass and a little much on the wallet. In order to defy spending a lot of money on art supplies, I kept strict control of my own needs and perfected my own style of portraiture; in graphite.

As time went on, I got more involved in writing and began experiencing the work of contemporary sports artists like Richard Slone and Vincent Valdez. Now, I was already quite familiar with LeRoy Neiman and I idolized non-sports art icons like the Rosses; Alex and Bob (no relation). I gained a speck of attention from my black-and-white renderings but I wanted to run with the big dogs, while trying my best to be known equally for both writing and art. Those who have the overflow of artistic passion go above and beyond to do so without hesitation. Why do guys like Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda (a personal influence of mine) and my good buddy Chris Guzman, host of “The Bolo Punch Boxing Hour,” juggle art with their respective creative pursuits? Because they can. And once they do, they can’t tear themselves away. The only way I knew how was to step up my game and finally (sigh...) work in color.

I didn't just dip my toe in the pool. I flat-out leapt in, man. In March of 2009, for the first time in 14 years, I dropped an acrylic rendering. The subject? Pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao.

A couple of months later (after working on a large graphite rendering of John Lennon, as a birthday gift, for my sister), I knocked out an acrylic rendering of former Undisputed Junior Welterweight Champion Ricky Hatton. Five months later, I nerded out and completed a painting I put off trying for years, Darth Maul from the Star Wars franchise. I was on a roll, Howlers. I'm not one to heap praise on myself for anything, really, but I was pretty proud of my work rate. I mean, I hadn't painted in years and I created what I thought were three pretty cool pieces. I wanted to paint just one more before the end of 2009 and I had the perfect subject.

Former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson.

Years ago, when I mulled over getting back into painting, Tyson was one of the personalities I made sure I had a good, clear photo reference of first. As I later discovered, upon showing off the finished piece, there was concern about the era of Tyson I had rendered. A few of my readers and friends wanted to know why I chose to render a later version of the once-“Baddest Man on the Planet” as opposed to rendering Tyson in his prime. Well, my reasoning was simple. I wanted to show a different side of “Iron Mike”: a calm, contemplative side. A step away from the roiling, troubled soul. Good, bad or indifferent, Mike Tyson is an oft-misunderstood human being, much by his own doing.

But remaining in my penciling paradigm was a sure way to make certain my close-up reference of Tyson’s tattooed profile would stay safely tucked away in a “future works” folder of mine that I stashed in what’s known as “Coyote Corner.” With a mere couple of months left in 2009, I already had a good start on a fun, meaningful project.

And I thought I would do something different with this one. A number of months back, I worked as an editor for a mixed media site called Convicted Artist Magazine and spotlighted a tutorial format featuring my Darth Maul painting (which also can be found here at I figured I would do the same for you fine folks who visit, albeit not so much a detailed step-by-step (so’s ya don’t get bored). Read on!

Step One: I started with an 11” X 14” canvas panel and sketched Tyson’s profile with a softer lead. Normally, I’ll use something like a 2H since my surface is so rough. Had I been working on Bristol board with just graphite, I would’ve done my lay-out with a denser lead like a 6H; then finished with Ebony pencil. Since there are barely any values or contrast going on here, it might be hard to tell that "Iron Mike's" chin is obscured by his shirt collar in the photo reference. I had to re-configure that area, deep-sixing the shirt so "Kid Dynamite" could have his chin back…

Step Two: Here, you're seeing a full-penciled rendering of Tyson's profile. As you can see, I eliminated the shirt collar and threw in a chin. Now, the chin is obscured by shadow, as is Mike's rear left side. The incoming shadow from the rear is somewhat of a cheat. But it's a reasonable cheat! If I had tried to proportionately render Tyson's ear, only a little would've been visible; creating the illusion of a gimpy ear. When everything's said and done, you'll see a gradient dark coming in, as if Mike's stepping out of shadows into the light. And although I didn't have to, I knocked in some black around his face to give you Howlers a view of how Tyson's face will be framed with the darkness…

Here's a full, close-up scan of the canvas panel…

Step Three: Now, as a guy who really just got back into painting in 2009, I still manage to keep my supplies relatively low-cost. I use Galeria acrylics by Winsor & Newton as well as Liquitex paints. I don’t buy a lot of off-colors. Anything I need, I simply take the time to mix myself. They don’t have to be a perfect match for me. There’d be no point to painting if they did. I could just cut a photo out of a magazine and tape it to a wall and call it art. As for brushes, I use Galeria size 3 and 4 rounded brushes for detail and Galeria and Grumbacher size 4 flat brushes for larger areas like the background. Below is a quick, rough drop of color separation just to give me a guideline of where I'm going. The darker brown skin tone was an absolute bitch and required a LOT of layering…Don’t worry. The lips are coming…

Step Four: So after locking in some simple skin tone, here I dropped some variances of shading and light. As I progressed, these little elements blended a little better to reflect the style of my previous paintings…

Step Five: And here it is! Your final product! An 11" X 14" acrylic profile portrait of "Iron Mike" Tyson complete with a few exaggerated tones and some deep blues to frame the face. I hope you dig it!

Now that I’ve gotten my painting legs under me, I’ve filled 2010 with new projects; most relating to boxing (besides writing and editing a heap, of course!) and can't wait to continue well into 2011 and beyond. If you have any ideas of fighters and/or fight scenes, real or hypothetical, feel free to shoot me a line!

I also do private commissions. I’m just sayin.’

Questions? Comments? Complaints? Wanna take a road trip to Six Flags and make fun of the caricature artists? Yeah, me too. Whatever the case, you can hit me up at!

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