Justin McAllister with artwork
If you have picked up a copy of TapouT magazine, you probably have seen artwork by Justin McAllister. His drawings have been published in TapouT and MMA Worldwide and used for t-shirts for fighters. MMA Recap’s Brent Todd caught up with McAllister to talk about his craft.
So what got you into drawing MMA Fighters?
Truth is I was trying to figure out how to make some money about five years ago now. I drew a picture of Chuck Liddell, a character from lost and a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was selling them on ebay and I noticed I was selling the little Liddell pictures a lot faster. For a while I was just adding little fighters here and there to make like $5 per print on ebay. That’s what got me started and real into it. Shortly after doing that, I did a t-shirt for the Hillbilly Heartthrob Brad Imes. He saw my work on myspace when myspace was hot and that’s how it got going.
Which fighter piece would you say has been your most recognizable?
That’s a good question. Probably Chuck Liddell and it isn’t the first piece that I did. It was probably a year into drawing fighters, me, Evan Showman and a couple artists did a charity piece for the Ryan Bennet foundation. That was the most recognizable. People were buying those pieces for anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a pop. And then there’s everything that’s been in TapouT magazine.
Anthony Petis by Justin McAllister
Which piece was your favorite after it was all done?
To be honest, unlike Showman where his stuff has been awesome from day one, I feel like I am constantly growing trying to get to the top level that I can find. I told Pettis last night that was my favorite piece and that’s the truth. I like the Bart a lot, but there’s something about that Pettis that I want that to be my gold standard. Usually it’s my latest piece. In this case it is one of the last, and since I am growing it is usually the most recent piece of artwork.
How long does it take for you to complete a drawing?
When I started doing the drawings, the early stuff I did I could do two in a day. I don’t know if you have seen the real old stuff I would just do black and white and no details. Back in the day I would bang out two in a day in maybe a six hour session. Pettis though took between thirty and forty hours. Pettis was probably made out of 50,000 dots. The other thing about it is I can’t screw up. There’s a lot of just looking at it and trying to figure out what I am going to do next. If I ink the wrong spot it is dead you know.
Cain Velsaquez by Justin McAllister
What mediums do you use to draw the fighters?
I’ve drawn all my artwork for years, except when I was in jail with Sharpies. Sharpie is real cool. The head lady over there is kinda anti-UFC; she doesn’t think it is family friendly. So I don’t get any monatary support or real interest in the fighters from Sharpie. But they do like my art enough that I get free pens whenever. I make a phone call and I will get a thousand pens from them. A lot of people don’t realize it, but Sharpie has about a hundred different colors. A lot of people will get the black pen or the 10-colored pack. But if you get into what they have, there’s probably that many color options. I also draw on watercolor paper and the pen kind of works that way. You can layer it and kinda blend colors. It is really versatile. To me, it is amazing. From the transformation from the first drawings where I would use a black Sharpie the whole thing. Now I got a selection for shading. I could go from a maroon to a red to an orange to a light orange. It’s amazing to me to see the growth. Figuring out the pens it would take a while to see how versatile those pens are.
Which fighters do you have in the pipeline shall we say for you to draw?
We are going to see Jens Pulver soon. I had a buddy follow around Pulver. Plus he’s such a popular guy even with a six fight losing streak before his XFO victory. That’s coming down the pipeline. I want to do a Jeff Curran. I want to focus on more local guys. That’s why I did the Pettis, the Bart. I spent such a long time getting after who I liked the most or whoever the fans think is the best. And I decided its time to give back to the local guys. When I am thinking of the pipeline I am thinking of local guys.
How big are these original artworks? How big are the prints?
The original are 24 inches by 18 inches. The prints are 8.5 inches by 11 inches.
You scan them in after they are done to do the prints?
Actually I do my own photographs on them. I am not a professional photographer, but I feel like I am a professional art photographer. I have a tripod and a nice camera. All that is just so I can take square pictures of my drawings.
Chuck Liddell by Justin McAllister
Your work has been published in TapouT magazine, where else can fans see your work?
Not just in TapouT, it’s also in MMA Worldwide Magazine. If you can find an old shirt from Premier Fighter before they closed up shop I got those out there somewhere. For a while I was doing shirts for Premeir Fighter and did like twelve fighter shirts. A couple years ago I saw Alan Belcher wear my stuff, Clay Guida wore one of mine. You can also see my work at rattling-the-cage.com and Facebook of course.
Do you sell any of the artwork, original or prints and if so where can the fans find them at?
I just went up and got prints from Pettis. I gave him a real good deal on the artwork. I am going to do limited runs on each drawing of 50 to 75. I am going to sign them and number them. I know some of the fighters lately have been saying they want to buy my drawings and that’s pretty cool.
Do you take requests from fans for artwork?
It’s really hard. Here and there if someone comes through and it really has to be done. Or if a fighter says they want me to do it. Basically if the money is there I will. With the time that I put in its nearly impossible to do it just because someone wants to see it.
Anyone you want to thank or give a shout out to?
Always want to thank TapouT Magazine. All I did was draw pictures and they did something with it. I remember the first thing was all my pictures on one page. I want to thank all the local events that give me the best seats for free cause I am out there doing something for the love of the fighters. Jeff Curran over at XFO, the guys at Ruckus, all the promotions that welcome me. Half the time it is just because I draw a fighter.