Meet Gabe Richesson, artist to the athletes

Gabe Richesson's painting of Chiefs receiver Steve Breaston goes beyond normal on-game action. Gabe Richesson

So you're an athlete. And you want a painting, a portrait, something that stands out on your wall. Oh, and you want it to look completely and utterly like nothing else.

Whom do you call?

Gabe Richesson is a pretty good option.

Richesson -- a Missouri native and Phoenix-area resident who played football at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. -- has become something of an artist to the athletes over the past several years. He paints surreal, cartoonish, almost comic-book-like portraits and images as commissioned by the players themselves.

His focus is mostly NFL, thanks to one special connection (brother Luke Richesson, a longtime strength and conditioning coach and performance trainer now with the Denver Broncos). But naturally, other athletes have taken notice.

And he just keeps working; when we caught up with Richesson via email last week, he was about to live-paint the wedding of Arizona Cardinals defensive back Patrick Peterson.

Here are Richesson's words -- and a lot of his work:

Vontae Davis.

How did you get your start in art? And sports?

"Basically, I drew all the time as a kid and never stopped. I used to draw all the [Kansas City] Royals back in the day. I would get requests from my friends to draw U.L. Washington the most, because he had a sweet toothpick in his mouth at all times.

"My pencil never stopped moving. If I wasn't taking notes or writing out of necessity, I was filling notebooks with sketches of Angus Young, random faces, caricatures of our teachers, etc. So all of these hours spent drawing with no direction at an early age gave my art a unique look. By the time I got into college and learned how to paint, I already had my own style.

"Combine that with the fact that our family loves football. We were straight-up 'Friday Night Lights'-style for a minute there, so I feel like I can relate to the movement and action of the sport. All of that knowledge can kind of be harnessed into the artwork, believe it or not. I mean, in college I was usually the only guy on the team that knew how to paint, and I was also the only guy in the life drawing class that could throw a football. I learned to take the best from both worlds."

Pat Williams.

How did you first get connected to the pros, then?

"Out of school as an art director, I would fill sketchbooks during my lunch breaks, and I painted until late at night after work, as well. In 2005 my brother Luke [then director at Athletes' Performance training center in Tempe] gave DeAngelo Hall [then an Atlanta Falcon] a small painting to show him what I can do. He ordered three more and I haven't stopped since."

What was it like the first time you did one for DeAngelo?

”I went to Lake Tahoe for a Damian Marley concert with two friends. I had taken a canvas and some paint with me, and while they went skiing I stayed back at the room and painted a 9-inch by 12-inch portrait of D-Hall and shipped it to him. He liked it and asked what else I could do. I mocked up a bunch of options for him and he ended up ordering a 48-inch by 48-inch piece with custom lettering and two images of himself. He liked that one too and ended up buying four paintings over the next three years. He is a great dude, in my book."

DeAngelo Hall.

So how did the word spread after Hall?

"Luke and I lived a mile from each other in Tempe while he worked at Athletes' Performance. He was around guys like Julius Peppers, [Terrell Suggs], Levi Jones, Brock Lesnar, Ray Edwards, etc., and he wasn't shy about whipping out his iPhone to show my work. Those guys all bought paintings and then vouched for me whenever someone they knew needed some artwork. I also used MySpace at first and then Facebook, Twitter (@Richesson), Instagram, etc. to reach guys as well. Things are constantly changing, so I'm still evolving the way I make business relationships just like I evolve my artwork."

Julius Peppers.

So what's the process when an athlete commissions your stuff? I'd imagine it's pretty different all-around.

"Once I start talking to an athlete, I will do a photo call and email the ones I think will look the best on canvas. From there it can go all over the place. Some guys want a straight-up portrait, or they may want to add their hometown in the background or their nickname in Old English. But some guys like to push the limits, and those are the most fun.

"I painted three murals for Brock Lesnar in three days, and I didn't know what he wanted until we woke up each morning. Aaron Curry had me read Revelations 4:1-8 and paint what came to my mind after I read it. Steve Breaston is a comic book guy, and he is doing a villains and heroes themed set. Darnell Dockett has all of his tattoos as the background in one of his pieces.

Darnell Dockett.

"... I take their ideas and create mock-ups which we email back and forth until they sign off. Then the paint starts flying. I take pictures every couple of hours during the process so I can send updates and also make a time-lapse video of the creative process when it's done.

"I usually ship them overnight to avoid damage. I've only had one painting destroyed through shipping and it was for Mike Karney [fullback for the Saints at the time]. His portrait got crushed by a forklift in a warehouse or something, so I had to redo it. I like the second one better and his mom salvaged the first one so I think [it] came out OK. Tough lesson learned, though.

Very cool (well, cool except for the Karney mishap). Do you have a particular favorite at this point?

"I like Pablo Sandoval's piece the best so far, but the murals for Lesnar were the most fun."

Pablo Sandoval.

So how did the Peterson wedding go?

"Hands-down the coolest reception I've ever attended, let alone paint live at. The music was out of control, and that helped. Pat and Antonique looked straight out of a magazine, which made the painting look cool. Their friends and family really made me feel good about it by checking in on progress throughout the night. It took about three hours, and I'm used to spending four or five days on a painting like that.

"It was hard for me to stop because I wanted to keep refining it. But you can't beat it for capturing the moment."

Patrick Peterson and Antonique Peterson.

DeAngelo Hall (with Richesson), Levi Jones (with Richesson) and L.J. Shelton (with paintings).