2005 NBA All-Star Game - I was very, very fortunate to have been asked to provide the artwork for the 2005 NBA All-Star Game. The game will be held in February, and I produced portraits of eleven NBA players--Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O'Neal, and Ben Wallace. The NBA had seen my Moby piece on The Ispot, and liked the all-blue-toned approach, and asked me to portray some the NBA's finest in the same manner.

The NBA sent me a ton of photos to work from, and various changes needed to be made on the fly--uniform changes, hair changes, etc. It was a lot of work, building each of these pieces layer by layer, with as much detail as the NBA wanted. Since I knew these were going to be reprinted in huge form, I worked with massive Photoshop files and I found myself doing such small portions of each player that sometimes I didn't even know what I was looking at ("Oh! that's his right hand!"). I had never done this amount of detailed work in such a relative quick timeframe, so I had to extra-organized to get all of it done on time. I had a quota of work I had to make per day, and once in a while I had to pull some very late nights to meet it, but all in all the work went rather smoothly. The NBA liked what I was doing, and whatever changes they asked for were very minimal and easy to do. I finished the last changes on the last player, Yao Ming, around 1am on a Sunday night, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The original idea was three of the players--Shaq, McGrady, and Garnett would be on the official poster. Of course, being a big devotee of poster art, I was thrilled my work would end up something so high-profile. The work all got submitted, and I got to work on other assingments.

Not too long before the game, I was told that the marketing people from the NBA decided not to do a poster, after all. I was really disappointed since it was the poster that held the most interest for me. As nice as program books and ad slicks are, I really wanted a poster to be the main piece of promotion that everything else could revolve around. But what the hey.

The game was played on Feb.20, and I watched it to see if I could spot any of my work. No luck. Again, what the hey.

A few days later I got photos from the NBA I had worked with (a wonderful lady named Sandra) that she had taken while in Denver. Nothing had quite prepared me for what I saw (as you can see below).

The first photo was of the front of the arena where the game was played. The NBA made banners, approx. 60 feet high, to hang off the front of the hall, each featuring a different player. Plus, each of them had a spotlight shining on them from above! No poster, huh? Well, these will do!

I was astonished to see how much Denver seemed to be covered in the artwork for the game--on street corner hangings (with the cool added effect of having the same piece on two separate hangings at 90 degree angles of each other), on the 15-foot-tall pillars in the hotel garage, on glass windows, etc. It was all a little overwhelming, seeing my stuff all over the place like that, especially since I had no idea it was coming. The photos below are only a small sampling of the bounty I had received.

This was the most exciting project I've ever been involved with, and the NBA was wonderful to work for. An assigment this size was a real challenge, and meeting that challenge gave me a greater sense of confidence in my work than I've ever had before.


ESPN NFL Draft magazine -These were two illustrations for ESPN's new NFL Draft magazine. ESPN was hiring a half dozen or so artists to render iconic versions of each football player position, so they didn't want any specific faces or uniforms.

They let me know what color themes each of the pages would have, so I tried to pick colors that would be best pop off the page, and I thought the purple and orange tones looked best. For whatever reason, the Safety illustration came very easily and went under minimal changes by me, but the Offensive Guard was a lot more difficult--I think I did three complete versions of him, each with their own set of orange tones.

Since the job came in at the end of 2005, I had over the holiday season to work on them, and I needed all of that time to get the OG right. I would look at each version after a day away from it, and I kept thinking it could look better, tighter, so I used the time I had to keep tweaking. Finally version #3 looked good to me, so I sent it out, and luckily ESPN liked them both, too. Now that I look at it, frankly, I think it possibly could've used one more pass. Maybe I'm overthinking it.

Anyway, the issue came out the beginning of March, and it was really cool to see my work full-page like that. Now that I have done work related to basketball, hockey, golf, and now football, I guess baseball is next. MLB, I await your call!


Forbes 11.28.05 "The Business of Hockey" - I got a call from Forbes magazine to illustrate eight NHL player and manager portraits for an article on the business of Hockey. The art director had seen my NBA stuff, loved that look, and wanted the same thing for these illustrations.

I did change the color tone a bit, making the blues a little deeper, darker, and cooler, but I essentially used the same approach. If I thought the NBA uniforms were detailed! A lot of time as I was working on some piece of a glove or something, I'd forget what the hell I was looking at and have to pull back to see what I was even doing. But these pieces all came off pretty easily and without a lot of fuss. For Maple Leaf Sundin (far right), the magazine wanted a light background to lay some text over. Again, it all came pretty easily--a nice light blue tone with some quick, elegant movement lines was all it needed. This piece was re-used on the table of contents, as well. It appeared in the Nov.28 issue.

It's ironic to me that I've now handled two major sports with my illustration, since I know little about sports, and care even less. But since careers aren't made entirely of Universal horror movie posters and Bob Dylan portraits, it's good to know I can handle any kind of subject.

To see other assignments I've for Forbes, please check out the Portraits and Magazines pages.

  Forbes - June 2008 - This was certainly a challenge, rending all those maddeningly-small logos that cover your average NASCAR racer.

But since that was the focal point of the piece, after putting together a rough to figure out colors and placement, I spent a looooong Saturday drawing each of those logos. After I was finished, I sort of felt like Donald Pleasance in The Great Escape, having gone blind from forging endless Nazi documents. (Its hard to see them from here, but they do hold up upon closer inspection!)

Forbes is always a pleasure to work with, and this time was no exception.


Golf Digest - I did this for Golf Digest magazine, for an article about current golf champion Annika Sorenstam. As I was told by my art director (I know even less about Golf than I do most other sports, and that's saying something), Annika has been crowned the Tiger Woods of Women's Golf, and has even had a much better year--winning multiple championships--than Tiger ever has.

But since Women's Golf is less covered than men's, she's relatively unknown outside the Sports page. The article was Golf Digest's attempt to give Annika some much-deserved recognition. He stressed the idea of "victory" to me, to let people know that Sorenstam has absolutely dominated the game.

I came up with the idea to combine the sort of propaganda poster theme we had discussed with one of my favorite looks--that of the early 1940's, in particular the gorgeous WPA posters produced during the FDR Administration--somewhat muted colors (for the first time I think ever, I didn't use any black), some off-center axis', and, most importantly, a really hyperbolic tagline! So I combined the various elements, played with the fonts (had to find the one that just felt like that era to me), and what I ended up with I thought got across the idea that the magazine wanted, that of...Victory!

Thankfully, Golf Digest really loved my approach, But it also satisfied me artistically, from the likeness, the overall composition, and the attempt at an evocation of an earlier era in design.


ESPN - February 2011 - This was the second batch of head shots that ESPN magazine asked me to do for their "Scale of 1 to 10" feature, this time for the 2/21 edition.

Because these portraits are running so small (each is about about 1.5" high), I could leave some detail out, which not only helped make sure I could get them done on time, but gave them a slightly different look than a lot of my other portrait work.

These were fun to do, I hope I'll be hearing from ESPN again soon!

e:namtab29@comcast.netp: 856.261.2265 • all material © 2012 Rob Kelly