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Immortalizing Tim Duncan's championship celebration

When a moment like this happens -- a legendary player on the podium, soaking in his accomplishment and sharing it with everyone present -- it needs to be preserved.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Some of you will remember the Portraits of the Spurs that my wife drew for the stories that Michael Erler wrote about each of the players on the 2013-14 championship team. After she re-paints five of them, we will finally make good on our promises to those of you who reached out to us about buying them. Why do them over again? Well, after the last one she did of Duncan turned out so well, she decided that she wanted the rest of them to look just as good.

In the meanwhile, she's nearly finished with another project that ... you know what? I'll let her tell you all about it herself. For those interested, her (still under construction) website is here:

Just after the Spurs won the championship, as the team stood on the podium to accept the Larry O'Brien trophy, I got an idea to do a drawing of Tim Duncan standing in front of his teammates, his arms outstretched as the confetti fell around him. To me, he perfectly communicated a desire to celebrate while appreciating the moment and sharing it with everyone in the arena.

In the time since last June, I've had a 4 foot by 3 foot piece of paper set aside for this project. But for some reason, I just couldn't get started on it. On New Year's Eve, I turned to J.R. and said "Would it be too big if I made it closer to life size? It would be about 7 feet wide." First his eyes got big, then he just nodded. And that was all I needed. So I started working on a piece of artwork I decided to call "Happy." (Yes, I know what Popovich said about how "Happy isn't a word we think about in the game," but the game -- and the season -- was over at the point that picture was taken, so I think the name is fitting.)

Out to the garage I went. I needed a backboard for the paper and knew I had a piece of plastic I'd scored off Craigslist that would do the trick. Here's the board with the paper affixed to it and all set up on my floor-to-ceiling wall easel.


It is 34 inches tall and eight feet wide, which I thought would be enough. When standing in front of the finished product, I really want it to look as if you are a few feet away from Duncan as he enjoys the fulfillment of his dream -- just like I felt while I watched the trophy presentation on TV last June.

At this point, I had a style in mind for this iconic moment and I knew I was going to have to do something different to achieve it. I have never played with charcoal and acetone together, but I did some research on Google to confirm that what I wanted to do would work. But I was concerned that it would also etch the plastic backboard. I tried a few ways of getting the charcoal on the paper, and I ended up laying it on the ground, then found myself having a blast with the acetone. First I sprinkled it on. Then I splattered it. Finally I was just slinging it, hoping that I didn't ruin anything around me as I worked in the hallway at the front of our house.


Regardless of how long I've worked with a product or style of art, I still feel like an artist in training. And the more I study, the more I find that even the greatest artists feel this way. But since this is my first really crazy experiment with charcoal and chemicals on paper, it took me a while to throw myself into it.

Eventually, I looked around to take notice of my environment. I found that I was reverting back to all of the tools I used as a decorative painter. Fifteen years ago, I apprenticed with Nicola Vigini in San Antonio, and we would do murals and all kinds of marvelous work. By the end of the day my space looked just the way his always did -- except that my feet were dirty from all the charcoal I was using.

Now that the background was pretty much set, I printed out a big copy of Tim so that I wouldn't have to deal with proportion issues. Armed with my 3 foot level, my 4" badger brush, paper towels, plastic and my vision checker -- a camera -- I set to work on the initial outline.

I also used a yard stick to measure as I got the basic image laid out on the paper. I wanted to see the whole figure on the paper before I had to get serious about Tim's face and eyes. While a quarter of an inch isn't going to make much of a difference in the body of a seven foot behemoth, the face is another matter.

I find that looking at an image of my project on a camera forces my eyes to see the drawing differently, which reveals where adjustments are needed. By now I'd been working for several hours, and decided to call it a day and come back to it in the morning.


At this point, I'm just glad to finally get it off the floor

I'm always surprised at the way a good night's sleep can make eyes work again. It's amazing how I can make the same mistakes in a painting, over and over. The problem with this current drawing is that the image I'm using (not the one at the top of this page) has a piece of confetti over one of his eyes. Now, I love the image, but that confetti is just in the wrong spot. So I had to take the time to find another picture of Duncan's eyes and superimpose it onto my life-size reference. Now that I have something that looks like Tim, I realize that my proportions are off and while the eye looked right, it wasn't actually.

Which leads me back to how my eyes benefited from my overnight rest. I tend to make my noses too long, while shortening the distance from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the chin. Time and time again my eyes have done it too me. But at least I know I have to watch out for it now.

That eyeball was such a chore. It took me a few hours to really see the problem with it. Long story short, it needed a lot of little changes to get the whole thing to click together like a puzzle. The pieces were all there, but they weren't snapped in. Good enough for now. He might look just the tiniest bit happier in my drawing, but I tell myself that it's just the inner-Tim I'm letting out as I draw him.


On to the arms. I loved the way they look as I roughed it in, but it was off a bit. Yet, the lack of detail, the quick strokes -- are wonderful to look at. I am sitting 15 feet from the piece, and it has so much energy. I don't want to lose that. I have the blown-up version of the image laid out on one sheet after another of 8.5" x 11" paper. As I draw his tattoo, I'm so interested to know the meaning behind it. Just one more personal element that makes portraits so much fun to do.


After hours with Tim, I find that I'm having a conversation with myself: How long have you been drawing on this piece of paper? Well, that's a good question. About 20 hours, by now. Wow, that's quite a while. Are you done yet? Leave me alone, self. -- I put the kibosh on this conversation before I start to sound like that Twitter "feud" that Manu and Patty had going earlier this year.

The quick sketching-in of the arm was off like I thought, but not too bad. Here you can see that as I remove each page of the original photo copy, the true placement is revealed. It's almost sad to have to move some of this because it looks so whimsically right.




So I was a bit off, but now it's much better. And it's the same on the other side, except I was way off.



Now it seems I'm close to being done. I think I have about four more hours to go, if I don't make it worse in the process. I still have to do some shading, then the lettering which is my least favorite thing. I'll continue to tweak Tim's face, and finally I have to jazz up the background.

Early in the project, I discovered that the tape I'm using will lift the charcoal off the paper -- which makes it look almost exactly like confetti falling. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the project covered in tape. I guess I was having too much fun at the time.

I'll be back soon with the completed work. Until then, you can find me at my nearly-completed website.