Window to the Soul: Meet Fine Pencil Artist Barry King

Written by Artie The Panda

He won a nationwide art competition at age 9. He’s created commissioned portraits of Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, and Barbara Bush. He’s directed celebrity-studded TV commercials. Yet he’s never had an art lesson. Who is this creative wonder? Say hello to Barry King.

Capturing the Essence

Barry has always been interested in the story behind a person’s eyes. In fact, the right eye is where he begins every portrait. His commission clients are often surprised at how his drawings have more depth than the photographs he works from. One example is his pencil drawing of Reverend Albert E. Chew featured above; you can see his portrait progress through various stages here.

Tower of Power

Barry’s artistic toolbox includes his go-to ebony pencil, shading stumps, kneaded erasers, and a chamois cloth he’s used for over 50 years. He created “Tower of Power of Support,” featured below, for the M2G Donor Soireé. This event raises money for research on depression — a struggle Barry has shared about in his own life. He framed the piece with Frame Destination’s Metal Profile 11 in Matte Black. “Frame Destination has amazing quality at a GREAT price,” says Barry.

Barry’s finished drawing of “The Tower of Power of Support,” which raised $8,200 in an auction benefitting mental health awareness.

See More of Barry’s Work

Barry’s website showcases open-edition prints and best selling portraits, along with a page to request commissions. There you can also read more about his career as an advertising creative director. Visit his Instagram for videos of Barry’s work as it progresses, including a portrait of his wife, Leah (see 6/23/22 post). Want to know what he vows he will never do with his talent, and which new medium he wants to try this year? The Q&A below tells all.

Now for Artie’s Eight Q&A with Barry King… 

  1. What is your background; how did you get started?
    Upon reaching the third grade, I entered a worldwide art contest for children sponsored by UNICEF. My entire elementary school got involved, and my entry into the contest was a painting of pro football player Jim Brown. Much to my surprise, I won first place among all of the entries from around the world. From that day on I knew I wanted to be an artist! My specialty is people. More specifically, faces. I’m fascinated by the story the eyes tell, and many people comment first on the eyes of my subjects. I don’t sketch out the drawing in the traditional way most artists do. Each one of my drawings begins with the subject's right eye — the one to my left when I’m facing the illustration board. Yes, I literally start with the reflection in the person’s right pupil. The subject guides me from there. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of selling original pieces to Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, and Billy Paul (of "Me and Mrs. Jones” song fame). I also presented President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush with a portrait of Barbara Bush that I completed before an exhibit that I participated in at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas. I draw a limited number of commissioned originals annually.

  2. What role do you think the artist plays in society?
    Inspiration. In my childhood, I discovered the gift of drawing brings joy not only to myself, but to others. To this day, I’ve never had a lesson. I have no idea how the execution of my work happens. When I finish a piece I’m as surprised as others are when they view my gift! What I do know is that I am only the co-pilot of this skill. I truly believe we all are gifted with a skill. My hope is that whoever looks upon this gift of mine will know that they, too, have a gift — and here’s hoping they will be inspired to find theirs if they haven’t. I’m living proof that finding it is possible.
  3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice you’ve received within your career?
    Do NOT waste my gift. I know it is special, as is everyone’s.
  4. In what ways does your work reflect your personality?
    I’m not sure that one can truly see their own personality. But I will say this: As a Libra, I’ve been told that this particular Zodiac sign comes with artistic ability. Other Libras who are are in the artistic and performing arts world include Caravaggio, Vermeer, Greco, Leibovitz, Pavarotti, [Chuck] Berry, Lennon, Tutu, Thatcher, and [Ralph] Lauren.
  5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?
    Never had one, fortunately.
  6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)
    People and their unique faces.
  7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?
    I want to start sculpting busts in 2023!
  8. What is your favorite color to incorporate into your art?
    Given my medium of pencil drawing, Ebony.

All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.

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Las Updated May 2, 2023