Pretty Pictures: Rachel B. Glaser’s MS Paint drawings of NBA players

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Pretty Pictures spotlights cool pieces of art created by basketball fans for basketball fans that'd look great in your living room. Seen something worth sharing? Let us know.

When Edith Zimmerman of the great blog The Hairpin shared a link last week to a blog featuring paintings of NBA players created using the non-high-falutin' program MS Paint, I expected a series of intentionally choppy, comedic images along the lines of what my friends at Kissing Suzy Kolber often produce. Then I clicked through. Not only were these not dashed-off jokes, these were fully formed, clearly labored-over pieces of art celebrating players both contemporary (like the stars of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat) and classic (like Magic Johnson and the immortal Muggsy Bogues, which you can see above). And they looked freaking awesome.

NBA Paintings features the work of Rachel B. Glaser, a 29-year-old author, visual artist, animator and hoopshead whose fandom blossomed while growing up in the '90s in New Jersey. Upon visiting the site, I immediately wanted to know more about Glaser and her work, so I asked her. From her base of operations in Northampton, Mass. ("or western Massachusetts, whichever sounds least glamorous"), she answered.

Below, Glaser talks to BDL about falling in love with "The Worm," the choice to compose in what can be a really time-intensive application, what MS Paint offers that physical paint doesn't, what kind of players pique her artistic interest and being asked to render "The Chief" in his birthday suit.

Ball Don't Lie: Did you have a favorite team as a kid, or did you find yourself drawn to individual players more than, say, the family/regional squad?

Rachel B. Glaser: I had always liked shooting around and playing H-O-R-S-E, but in seventh or eighth grade I got very interested in the NBA, mostly through learning about Dennis Rodman. Those days I was into dying my hair with Manic Panic, and listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When I read the Rodman article in Sports Illustrated — the one where he's on the cover dressed like Tim Curry in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," with a parrot perched on his finger — I was fascinated to see his unconventional style and lifestyle cross with the very uniform world of organized sports. It sort of thrilled me how Eddie Vedder and Rodman were friends, that the Chili Peppers were huge Laker fans.

When I started watching Bulls games, I was struck by how entertaining it was to watch Rodman fight for rebounds, that someone could be so captivating without scoring, though every time he scored it was amazing. It was a good year to watch the Bulls, and my mom and I became very involved and ended up buying League Pass so we could watch all their games.

You mention on your site that you've been drawing basketball players since you were 14 — who did you draw? Why did you pick those players?

Around the time I got into basketball, I got into drawing as well. I had these sketch books filled with drawings of Pearl Jam, [Jimi] Hendrix, the Beatles, next to pages of the Bulls and Bill Russell, Gary Payton, any player in SLAM Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Basketball players are often in these great, dynamic, dancer-like poses, not that dissimilar to the poses the models were attempting in my figure drawing class. These early sketches were my first experience of drawing a face and having it look like the face — seeing Scottie Pippen in my drawing of Pippen — and it felt funny and cool.

When did you start working in MS Paint? It seems like you use it in other, non-basketball work (these two pieces, for example) but not as frequently as in the NBA stuff. Is there something about that particular method of creating that's connected to basketball for you?

I started working on MS Paint in the late '90s, making desktop backgrounds for my parents' computer. After art school I returned to this medium because I got a kick out of it. I did a self portrait in MS Paint while looking in a mirror, and was surprised how color mixing skills could translate digitally. In experimenting with file formats, I saved as a GIF and was pleased when MS Paint transformed my image into a dot matrix. I am drawn to patterns and enjoyed this effect — that the computer was putting on a final touch.

In some ways, I see how it is connected to basketball — that we watch basketball on screens and how, before HD, things looked more pixelated when one was straining to see, say, Ron Harper's face or number. Also, I am a big fan of Super Nintendo and the way computer graphics looked in that era. If you zoom in close into the Muggsy image, he seems like a character from a basketball role-playing game.

How long does it take to make such detail-rich pieces in MS Paint?

There is a real range in terms of timeframe. The LeBron [James] portrait I was doing for an article on The Classical, I was inspired and it just flowed well, and I did it in about two hours, whereas the Magic Johnson one took about 20 hours. Every image painted on canvas is bound to take longer, because I can't just shift an eye over with my arrow key, or mix a color in a second.

You accept commissions and will create pieces to order, but how do you decide who to draw when it's just for you? What makes you want to draw one player over another?

I tend to like very expressive players. My favorite player is Russell Westbrook. I also really like Joakim Noah, Tony Allen (who's been very expressive on Twitter and Facebook this past season), any player who plays unpredictably (Brandon Jennings), any team that has insane group chemistry (like the Thunder and the '11 Grizzlies).

I love when I feel like I understand or know a player. I think that basketball shows more facial expressions than any other sport, and that this contributes to the feeling that we the fans know what these guys are really like, and what they are thinking while they are playing, and what it would be like to have Kevin Garnett as a teammate, or sit on the Lakers bench.

I've spent so much time painting players this past year that sometimes I can't believe I still haven't painted Derrick Rose or someone I really, really like, or other people I think would be really satisfying to translate into image form — Amar'e Stoudemire, Stan Van Gundy, Pau Gasol, etc.

Have you turned down any commission requests?

I haven't yet turned down a commission. I am pretty much open to anything and would paint any player in any medium or situation. Shawn Kemp watercolor, Tony Allen watching "Inside the NBA" in his hotel room, you name it. Someone once showed interest in commissioning a naked painting of Robert Parish, and I would totally create that.

"Miami Heat Sleepover" is great. What inspired that? How did you pick out the posters on the wall? Are we to read anything into the sleeping arrangement — LeBron on the top bunk, Dwyane Wade on the bottom and Chris Bosh on the floor?

A while back, some of the FreeDarko writers got in touch with me about contributing artwork for their site. Around the same time, I'd had this image in my head of the new Heat. The team had just been assembled the summer before, and the media was really scrutinizing LeBron. In those early games, James seemed less life-loving and good-humored than he had in Cleveland; I assumed that he felt sort of confused or overwhelmed. Everyone was making such a big deal about him, but then mentioning Bosh as sort of a joke. Bosh was made to seem like a tag-along.

I think Jacob Weinstein's NBA art opened my brain to imaging a scene like this, but I imagined the new Heat team having a sleepover, and I placed the sleepover in the late '90s, when I was having sleepovers. I tried to pick out posters that I thought young Wade would have in his room. A lot of those posters are ones I had seen in people's rooms. There is a real social aspect to basketball, one that I am very drawn to — the idea that teammates are friends.

I meant this image to be sort of a political cartoon about the Heat. I felt like Wade had nothing to lose because the Heat were his team and he had already won a championship, so he is fast asleep at the sleepover. LeBron can't fall asleep because he's not used to wearing Heat pajamas — he's used to Cavs pajamas — and it's not his house, and he's not used to the sleeping sounds of Wade and Bosh. Bosh gets the sleeping bag because out of the three of them, he's the least celebrated, but he doesn't really mind, he's a good sport.

Are there any players, past or present, that you're dying to work up when you've got the time?

I want to do another Westbrook in the basketball-card style I did Harden — a portrait with a smaller action shot of the same player — but I want it to be a big Westbrook with like seven little Westbrooks laying it up or dunking. I've begun printing out the full body paintings life-sized, which has been really fun. In my living room I have a 7-foot Kevin Durant, and next to my TV is a life-sized Muggsy.

I want to do more "sleepover"-type paintings that show the players in imagined off-court situations. A while back I wanted to paint a "Madonna and Child"-type image of Kobe [Bryant] and [Sasha] Vujacic, but Vujacic got traded the next week.


As noted above, Glaser accepts commissions and "will paint any player in any medium (digital, oil, acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, pencil, marker) in any uniform, situation, or style." She also sells prints of all digital images on her site, including the aforementioned full-body printouts of KD and Muggsy. For more information on how you can get a piece of your very own, you can email Glaser at rachelbglaser (at) gmail-dot-com.

Hat-tip to Friend of BDL Brian Wall.