LeBron’s Comeback: How Illustrator Robert Carter Designed the King’s Return to Cleveland

Interview with Robert Carter of Cracked Hat Design

As you all well know, the Cleveland pride is bursting through the walls of Go Media, where we sit only 2 miles from Quicken Loans Arena, new (and old) home to LeBron James.

On July 11, we sat with bated breath, awaiting the news of his possible return to our great city.

Then there it was.

Sighs of relief filled the office. (Particularly mine). He was back.

Saturday came and we were in for a different treat, this a designer’s dream.

While folks say print has come and gone, this, the LeBron coverage in the Plain Dealer proves to us yet again otherwise. With something so moving and electric in your hands, it’s hard to say print will ever be irrelevant. Nothing like it.

Josh Crutchmer’s post on snd.org reveals the painstaking process the folks at the Plain Dealer went through crafting up these 20 pages I read, then reread with intensity last weekend.

The story starts with the mindset of any Clevelander: some hope filled with a lot of doubt.

As he notes in the snd post, “Even as buzz built and rumors swirled that James might be serious about a return, we kept it at arms’ length.”

With more information gained, including “open speculation that there was no backup plan for James,” Josh and the team realized that it was time to get serious.  T-minus 60 hours.

At the 60-56 hour mark, the concern to Josh and team was The Plain Dealer cover. What would it be and how would it get there?

They immediately decided that the cover stray away from a simple remake of the iconic 2010 cover, “Gone.”

| LeBron 2010 Cover from snd.org |

Enter Robert Carter:

Once the 2010 cover was out of the picture, Josh and the team decided that instead an illustration might suffice. They called upon Robert Carter of Cracked Hat design to see if he might be up for the task.

Why Carter?

He reflects, “I like to think my style is why they hired me in the first place. I think really for any artist it’s their unique signature that a client or fan is drawn to and the reason they want to work with or purchase or be part of that person’s art. It always blows my mind when every once in a while I’m asked to paint or illustrate something and they’re like ‘We really love your work but can you do it in ‘this’ kinda style.’ Style didn’t come into discussion with Josh, he knows the kind of work I do, and expects to see that. Nobody wants to hire you based on your established style only to be surprised by something completely different.”

After a quick email back and forth, Carter was in. Now the Plain Dealer had to wait for word that LeBron was, too.

Still, time was of the essence, and Carter wasted no time getting to work portraying one of basketball’s greatest. “I think even more so than his likeness (which is usually the main concern in portrait work) in this case it was to get the right feeling of impact, drama, that this was something big! The iconic pose and stark black backdrop, those are the elements that sold the piece more than anything I think,” he says.

“After being contacted by Josh and talking back and forth a bit about the piece, I got to work on the rough around 1:00pm. I sent it over for approval around 6:30pm, which thankfully it was. As they didn’t know exactly when James would make the announcement, Josh asked if I could have the final to a point where they could use it if absolutely necessary by 10pm! Scrambling to get as much done in that time as possible I sent them what I had. It was missing a lot of detail work like his tattoos and other things but it was enough that in a pinch it could have been used.”

| LeBron Rough Sketch from snd.org |

“Thankfully they didn’t need it that night so had until 6:00 pm the next day to take it to completion. I was pretty burnt out by that point so I called it a night and picked it up again in the morning. By 6:00 p.m. I delivered the final piece.”

The Final Hours

In the final hour, the unbelievable happened. Word came in: he was actually coming home.

With only a few hours to go, and the final illustration in place, the Plain Dealer team cranked out the print piece I thought would never be.

LeBron Plain Dealer Cover courtesy of Robert Carter

Read Josh Crutchmer’s story, 60 Hours in Cleveland: The Plain Dealer’s LeBron Section

LeBron Illustration courtesy of Robert Carter, Cracked Hat Design

More about Robert:

Robert Carter is a multiple award-winning full time professional freelance illustrator. Born in St. Albans, England, he moved to Ontario, Canada, at an early age. Robert began his journey into the world of art from the get-go, constantly doodling and sketching anything and everything. Robert went on to study Art and Illustration, graduating from the prestigious Sheridan College School of Art and Animation.

Robert has been working constantly as a professional illustrator for more than a decade. Combining a strong foundation in portraiture with a unique sense of visual and conceptual problem-solving Robert creates striking, vibrant, and textured illustrations and portraits with subjects ranging from the realistic to the surreal. With a background in traditional oil painting Robert applied those skills to the digital realm and taught himself the digital painting medium, which is now his preferred method of working for it’s speed and flexibility.

Taking a short hiatus from illustration in 2013 Robert went back to Sheridan College, this time to study Computer Animation, graduating with honours.

Robert would like to continue to explore and expand his work, continually striving to improve himself and his art. Robert now lives and works as a professional freelance illustrator in Baden, Ontario, Canada.

About the Author, Heather Sakai

Heather Sakai

Heather Sakai is the Arsenal Manager here at Go Media, home of the world's best mockup templates, vectors, textures and other must-have design weaponry. She also serves as the Event Director at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest. Heather is proud to work for the most passionate creative agency in the universe, the best in Cleveland Web Design, custom branding and print.

Discover More by Heather Sakai

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