For some, to earn a living from your passion is like hitting a home run.
Christopher Brown combines his three loves — art, sports and teaching. To him, that’s like winning the World Series.
Brown is the lead art teacher and pitching coach at Keller’s Fossil Ridge High School. And since 2009, he has been the artist for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (LSHOF) in Natchitoches. (http://www.lasportshall.com)
As the hall of fame artist, he creates portraits of each year’s eight inductees and the winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sport Leadership Award. Previously, a couple had been the LSHOF artists for 50 years. A competitive position, he was invited to submit samples by the hall of fame executive director who was in the audience at a Northwestern State University fundraiser where Brown had donated his artwork to his alma mater.
Before Brown, all the inductees’ pictures were head and shoulders. But when Freddie Spencer, a world champion motorcycle racer, became a 2009 inductee, there was no way Brown was going to portray Spencer’s sports career in a head and shoulders painting.
“My portraits tell a story. Even if you don’t recognize the face, you know something about their life,” Brown explains. He portrays hall of famers in a variety of poses — action, reflective, full length or head shot with backgrounds as unique as the individual.
The sports figures select photos they like, and with Brown, they decide on the pose. He also talks to the individual or family to get more insight into them and their career.
“I use prismacolor pencils on the figures and a wide range of mediums in the backgrounds,” says Brown. “I use prismacolor pencils on the figures to get the details I need. I feel they are the best for what I'm trying to accomplish as an artist.” He may use 10-12 colors for a skin tone.
“I want more than just a face, so with each background I use a difference technique. I want each piece to stand alone, be a quality piece that would be suitable in a gallery or a museum.”
For the background, he may use acrylic paint, watercolor, wood stain. “I am always trying different mediums and I normally use a combination of different mediums to get the effects I am looking for. I find that I only get the look that I'm after when I combine different mediums that most artists wouldn't.”
His portraits, which can be seen at www.chrisbrownsportsart.net, are an explosion of color. This from an artist who is color blind. Brown says his vision is almost black and white.
He hid his colorblindness from his college instructors. He was “outed” after he was named the sports artist by his former college roommate who is now an eye doctor. The LSHOF was happy to publicize this quirk of their sports artist.
“The pencils I use have the name of the color on it and I sharpen both ends. I have learned processes to compensate over the years,” says Brown. “As for what colors items are, I do research a lot of times to find out what colors were used in such things as uniforms. I also have an app on my phone that tells me what color an item is if I point my phone at it. If I'm doing a portrait of someone I always ask them what color their eyes and hair are no matter how obvious it may be. You'd be surprised how many people can't pinpoint their own eye color when asked. I will also ask fellow artists what color they think items might be if all else fails.
“The interesting thing,” Brown continues, “is when mixing colors to match a certain tone of color, I may use colors that people wouldn't normally think to try in order to get the result I'm after. Color is always going to be a battle for me but I've learned to embrace how I don't see things the way most people do and I run with it.”
Brown started drawing with pencils at age four to fill time after his brother started school. After he realized that his artwork “was not too bad,” he continued to pursue art, as well as baseball. He was on championship teams in high school and his baseball talent paid for college.
He earned an associate of arts degree from Cowley College in Arkansas City, Kan., and a bachelors in art education from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. He was pitcher for several independent minor league teams and the Chicago Cubs minor league.
While he knew art and sports would be important parts of his life, he also realized that good art and baseball instructors had made his junior and high school experiences enjoyable. “After high school, I was thinking about what I was good at and I realized the importance of teachers in my life, and that influenced my direction,” Brown says.
In his art classes, “I want my students to get over the fear of failing. That frees them up to make a mistake and enables them to try different things. Someone has said that a teacher fails more times than a student even tries.”
Portraits are Brown’s forte. “My first commission was from parents of players I had coached who wanted me to paint their children. The best advertising is word of mouth and it mushroomed from there.” His “portraits” have included beloved pets and cars. “Basically, people contact me about doing artwork of things they care the most about.”
Whether in the classroom or in his studio, Brown paints every day. These days he and wife Paula, a music teacher, also make time for 2-year-old Maddux.
“Every day I try to work on a painting. The more I work the better I get. In the classroom, when not teaching and observing students, I work on a project. That way the kids can see the effort it takes to complete a piece of artwork.”