Lupe Fiasco’s Defenders of Dreams

In 2016 I ran into a guy named Derrick while I was in New Orleans on business.  We talked for a bit and found out that we were both artists.  He mentioned that he was a musician.  We ended up getting each-other’s Instagram info and that was that.  New fans of each-other’s work.

A few weeks after meeting Derrick, he shot me a text.  He wanted to get a piece done for someone that he had recently worked with on a new album, Lupe Fiasco.  The best part of his request, was that he gave me the freedom to basically create whatever I wanted to create.

As I do with any of my clients, I started to research.  “What makes this guy tick?” I thought as I looked through his Instagram (@LupeFiasco), his Facebook (@LupeFiasco), and Twitter (@LupeFiasco).  It didn’t take much effort as I was instantly blown away by Lupe’s LOVE for martial arts, with Iaido as the core of what I could find.  Lupe was raised in a home with a Karate instructor for a father.  He is not just a speaker of the word, but a doer.  In a recent Instagram post, he said that he “practices daily, physically and mentally.”  With all of this new found knowledge, I knew that I had to do a related piece.  Luckily for me, I used to practice the same martial art that he does.

As I sat, pondering what to create, I knew that it had to be special.  At first I considered something like a triptych, but the more I thought about it, I knew that it needed more dimension.  It had to have depth and meaning.  I couldn’t just paint a canvas and call it good, I wanted this to pop.  I wanted it to be a piece of art, not a painting.  As I thought about it, I begin to think about what I would want if I were to have something made for me.  The number one thing any samurai really wants (besides food, water, shelter, and a high paying honorable master), is a really badass sword with a name!   So I decided that I would incorporate a set of Bokken into the painting.  I would name the weapons, create a story, and paint them in a way that they were incorporated into the image.

With a little looking around, I found that Lupe was purchasing his wooden training weapons from a company called “Shinbudo Weapons,” (  I looked through their site to see if I could get any inspiration.  As I looked, I realized that they were located about an hour and a half from where I am located here in Portland!  This project could not have gotten any more organic.  It all just felt like it was meant to be.  I gave Dennis and Ethan at Shinbudo a call to see if they could do a custom order of weapons for me that were not finished so that I could paint them.  They were very accommodating and were able to cut me a custom Bokken set within about 2 weeks from the time I had requested them!  They were as excited about the project as I was.  In addition to the bokken, I included an actual katana (with a very sharp blade) that I had had from years ago.

I decided that in order to really integrate the weapons into the painting, I would have to be meticulous in painting the set together.  There were a total of 5 items to be painted: Katana, Large Bokken, Wakizashi Bokken, Sword Stand, and a 24×48 Stretched canvas.  Before applying any paint to any of the weapons or the canvas, I had to plan out the image and start to think about colors.

I spent a lot of time sketching out designs, until one really popped out at me.  I decided that the painting needed the symbol for “Light,”  that Lupe had recently used on his “Drogas Light” album cover.  Lupe had also recently announced that his new album would be called “Drogas Wave,” so I begin thinking of a way to incorporate the two albums.  I did not do this because of my love for the album or any other related items.  I did this because I knew that these two albums would symbolize this time of his life.  When he thinks of 2017, he will have a multitude of thoughts that come rushing to him, and these symbols will hopefully activate those thoughts for him.  As I thought of how I would portray the idea of “Wave,””  I knew that it had to be done with a new fresh look at Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” This print has been my absolute favorite since I was a child.  When I think of the art that I remember from my childhood, I see this right alongside the works of Van Gogh and Dali. I spent some time thinking of how to incorporate “Light Wave,” and decided that it should read from right to left (as Japanese is to be read).  After a lot of thought  and a few iterations, I came up with this:

I set up all of the pieces and used Montana brand spray paint to cover the swords, stand, and canvas in a “Pink Raspberry,” color.  Once everything was well coated, I laid a basic set of lines over the canvas.  Once the image was on the canvas, I set the stand and swords on top of the images to complete the lines and make sure that it would all line up.

Once the lines were all down and I was sure that everything lined up, I begin the tedious process of creating the designs, and color combinations that would eventually cover the entire set.  As you can imagine, it was a very very long process.  I had to lay paint on the canvas, then line the sword up, and paint it again.  Because I like very bold colors with good saturation, I usually paint 4-5 coats of each color as a minimum in order to really get the coverage/ look I am going for.  This meant that I had to mix and store the colors that I was using to make sure I would have enough and keep the colors true as the days and weeks went by that I worked on the piece.  When I finally finished the painting, I was left with just enough of each color to provide small touch up paint bottles that Lupe could apply should anything happen to the collection.

After weeks of work, I was eventually able to finish the collection and photograph it.  I was very happy with the end result.

With only a few days before the show/ presenting the piece to Lupe, I hung the painting in my home so that I could look at it and see what details would pop out at me.  I do this with all of my work as a form of quality assurance.  You spend so much time looking at a piece when you are creating it, that you sometimes overlook small details.  By hanging the work in your home or studio, you are much more likely to find these details as you are now looking at art, and not work.

Once I was happy with the product, I modified a gun case to be the form of transporting the swords to the venue where Lupe would be performing.  I also used the colors from the painting to put my handprint on the case as a maker’s mark.  In addition, I painted the frame work for the canvas with my signature gray/ green markings and placed my hand print on the canvas as well.

Now that the work had been done, and was packaged and ready, the plan was to meet Lupe at the show so that he could pack the set home in his tour bus.  I wasn’t exactly clear on how I was getting in other than I was on the list and I needed to get a hold of his tour manager when I got to the venue.  Details like this usually over complicate things, so I decided to just show up early and see what happened.  Within a few minutes of parking I ran into Lupe as he was walking to a shop down the street from the venue.  I introduced myself and let him know the painting was in my car.

As we walked and talked he asked me how long I had been painting?  “My whole life I guess,” I said chuckling not really knowing how to answer the question.

“Yeah, but like seriously, like for work,” he said as we continued on.   A moment later he asked about my goals and what I had hoped to accomplish as an artist.

“I am very blessed to even be handing art to you,” I said, “I just want to be able to live a normal life, and pay my bills with my art.  That is my goal.”

His response? “FUCK THAT, GET RICH!”

I instantly knew that I liked Lupe a lot.

Once we finished up, we walked out and went straight to the car.  He knew I was bringing him art, but he did not know what it would be.  He mentioned to me later that he had seen it on Instagram, but did not realize that it was his.

As we walked to the car, we continued to talk, and I pulled out the gun case first and set it down on the ground out side the car, opening it to reveal the swords.  Lupe was taken aback.  His eyes grew wide as he was taking in the work I had done.  I wasn’t really sure if he was into it at first, so I let him look as I went to the car to pull out the canvas.  I set the canvas down on the the opened gun case, and leaned it against a city street parking sign.  I was silent and looked to Lupe…

“Oh my, wow, just, wow,” he said as he put his hand over his mouth.  “We are going to be friends now, I am speechless.”

Coming from a master lyricist, can you get a bigger compliment/ approval of your work?  I went from nervous, to totally stoked that he was so happy with the work.

Once we were done looking through it and I had his grace, he told me he had flown to the show, so I would need to just ship it to him.  This would be no problem, but it would also mean I would have to get make a creative shipping solution (see below).  I gave Lupe the Timbers Jersey that the team had made for him and packed the piece back into the car, hoping it wouldn’t be stolen while I was at the show celebrating 4/20 with the rest of my Portland people.

The show was great and Lupe wore the Timbers jersey (which for a Portland Timbers fan is absolutely fantastic to see).

The next day he took to social media and really had great things to say about the piece.  I must say that I was very blessed for the opportunity and incredibly thankful for his kind words.

The next week I had to rush to create something to ship the art in.  I decided to make a box with a custom cut foam insert for the weapons.  The box was incredibly cool and even had a small shelf to hold the painting above the weapons.  I also took the time to create names and a story for the weapons.  “The Defenders of Dreams.”

Once everything was done, I wrapped the painting and carefully packed up the box so that it could be sent to its new home.

I had a lot of fun creating this incredibly unique piece, and look forward to the next time that I can do work for Lupe.


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