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Renaissance man? Bucs CB McClain is also a talented artist

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Robert McClain draws "Deathstroke," a DC Comics character, after morning training camp workouts at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa on Thursday. McClain has been drawing since he was a kid. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Robert McClain draws "Deathstroke," a DC Comics character, after morning training camp workouts at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa on Thursday. McClain has been drawing since he was a kid. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published Aug. 6, 2017

TAMPA -- Ask Robert McClain if he is a Renaissance man, and the Bucs cornerback extends his left arm, palm up, to show two artists who have left their mark on him.

A week after he signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in May, McClain got a pair of tattoos, the first the iconic crown symbol associated with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with "SAMO©," once Basquiat's graffiti tag. Below that is the signature of Leonardo Da Vinci.

"Those are my two favorite artists," McClain said. "They were kind of off the wall with some of their stuff. Leonardo Da Vinci especially, he wasn't just an artist or a painter. He was a mathematician, a scientist, he built weapons, did a lot of stuff. I kind of like being diverse in my art in the way Basquiat and Da Vinci were."

So versatility for the 29-year-old McClain means more than being able to play inside at nickel or outside at cornerback. He paints, he sketches -- even during training camp, when time allows, he'll open the small notebook he carries and continue a pencil sketch -- this week, it was an ornate collage of comic-book villains.

"It's always been an outlet for me," said McClain, who began drawing in fourth grade. "It's something I do as a hobby and on the side, and people appreciate it, so I just want to continue and try to improve."

Tampa is McClain's third team in a year, following stints with the Panthers and Chargers last year, but he always has art supplies with him -- he paints abstracts, sketches from photos of public figures.

McClain still has that first backpack he covered with Dragon Ball Z drawings in grade school. His attitude with art is the same he has a defensive back: cover anything he's asked to, so one of his favorites are "custom Vans" -- taking a pair of white shoes and making the canvas his canvas, for an assortment of friends and teammates.

"It's fun, it's quick, something I can do real fast for somebody I know," said McClain, who will come home from the shoe store with a bag full of boxes, in each a blank pair waiting to find their identity. "It's a 1-of-1 pair when I do drawings on Vans."

When McClain was with the Panthers last year, quarterback Cam Newton bought a painting of his -- a steal at $200. He has another fan in Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who was his head coach with the Falcons from 2012-14.

"I own a piece of his artwork," Smith said. "It's a Martin Luther King charcoal drawing, with his speech written on it. Beautiful, beautiful piece. He is a great artist, very smart and one of the more well-rounded guys on our team."

McClain sells prints of his work on his website, McClainsart.org, with sketches ranging from the Joker to Steve Jobs, from Barack Obama to Frederick Douglass. He'll often post photos of works in progress on social media, so fans can see a piece evolve over a period of days.

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McClain takes summer classes each year to add to his repertoire and took up photography last year. He isn't the only artist on the Bucs roster -- center Joe Hawley, a teammate of his in Atlanta as well, loves pottery much the same way.

"We're going to do a collaboration one of these days," McClain said. "I'm going to paint a pot of his or something like that."

McClain started at cornerback in the Super Bowl two years ago for Carolina, picking off future teammate Jameis Winston that same season. He isn't assured of a roster spot with the Bucs, but likes the break he gets from training camp when he has time to sketch, even at the team's facility.

McClain jokes about augmenting his NFL salary by selling prints on the side, but at the same time, the same week he got his tattoos, a Basquiat painting sold for $110 million at auction in May. Now two years older than Basquiat was when he died in 1988, McClain understands his football days will end at some point, but he can be an artist for the rest of his life.

"It's a positive outlet," he said. "Instead of going out or partying or whatever, I can always sit around and draw or paint."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

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