Neil Tucker grew up in Terrell and spent majority of his time reading comic books day and night. His interest in art landed him at Shipley’s Donuts on West Moore Avenue where he spends his weekday mornings hard at work, drawing and creating life-like portrait sketches of people and places and art pieces of familiar characters like Marvel Comics’ Captain America or Disney characters like Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.”
Once you walk into Shipley’s, you can see Tucker focused on his art, sketching and drawing on his Easel. And with him, his completed artwork spread across the table, all set to catch the attention of customer’s young and old.
Tucker said that his passion for comics and artwork is something that stayed with him from boyhood, keeping him grounded and inspired to face the world.
“Since I was five years old it has always been a passion of mine,” said Tucker. “I would have comic books around. My cousin collected comic books, and I started from there. And before I knew it, I would see my cousin … Jamie Davis … do still life’s and people caricatures and it evolved from there. My favorite subject is people and animals. And I can pretty much do anything I see. God gifted my mother … she was an artist. She use to design my shirts and would get regular T-shirts and paint Mickey Mouse or Cookie Monster or Superman or Spiderman on them. And I realized that … it came from her and my cousin. Before I knew it, I loved to do it. One of the first people I ever drew was Michael Jackson.”
Tucker was born in 1975, a time where comic books were growing in popularity, and growing fast. As Tucker grew in his love for comics, he found Marvel Comics to be his comic collection of choice. His favorite comic book hero, however, was the DC comic hero, Superman.
“My cousin has a big collection of Marvel. He had DC here and there, but he had plenty of Marvel. He was a big Captain America fan, my cousin Terry … had a bunch of huge collections,” said Tucker. “Black Panther is my favorite right now. As a kid it was Spiderman and the Hulk. You know, with the Black Panther phenomenon from the movie, you didn’t see much of him but they had the comics of them. But at the same time, because of the movie, it opened up a whole new Marvel thing. It’s just good to see.”
Tucker’s interest in art also kept him grounded in his younger days. Now, Tucker’s passion for all things artistic are finally paying off, opening doors to opportunities to create for people he never thought he would find himself creating for. He’s been self-employed as an artist for 10 years, creating and selling his art under the business name “Pencil Perfect.” And while in business, Tucker’s had the opportunity to create for well-known Terrell citizens like the late Herman Furlough Jr. and Pastor Richard E. Rollerson.
“It was my love for art that kept me well-balanced. It kept me from ever being bored … my escape. It was something I could always do when there was nothing to do outside. I never had a dull day because my theme was the pencil and paper. As a kid, I was also in sports too. I was in Basketball and Football. It [art] was always an outlet for me and yet it gained a lot of attention … I’ve won art contests in and around the area, earned money from commissions,” said Tucker. “The late great Mr. Furlough was one of the main ones who believed in my talents and he asked me to do a piece for Gilbert Willie, who the Elementary school is named after, so that blew my mind. To get that notoriety and respect and to get me to do a portrait of someone of great significance to my community, and I was a sophomore in high school then, I was blown away. That was big for me. That’s when I knew I had something.”
Tucker was also recognized as Mr. Black Texas, earning second place as his gift continued to make room for him.
After high school, Tucker started a family right away, raising three boys all while continuing in his endeavors as a self-taught artist. Though he had to work a regular job for a moment, he got back into the art world and began to create. It was then he experienced one of the biggest turning points in his art career.
“After high school, I started a family and put a lot of energy into my sons so they had a good example as it related to raising them,” said Tucker. “One of the main turning points … I was working on a picture of Barack Obama, right before the election, and I finished it on election night. After I did that picture, it took off. I took my original, and made prints of it, and I started signing them and sending them. I couldn’t walk down the street or the mall without selling a picture. We’re talking thousands of dollars in just a couple of weeks and it just opened everything up. During that time I did that portrait of Barack Obama, I was just laid off from my job at Ashley’s Furniture. At the time, the economy was down ... I realized I had to do something. I finished the portrait … I realized I could do this.”
Tucker spent countless days and nights, praying, asking God to help him raise his kids all while managing and growing his art career. Tucker would spend his days with his sons and late nights drawing.
“Everybody who has spent one penny on me, I love them. I love Terrell. Terrell has always been a great and supportive place. They’ve always shown me love and support, even officials of the city,” said Tucker. “I’m honored … I’m humbled … my gift is God given. When I had nothing else, I had my pencil, pen, pad and I look outside and I see God. I see trees, animals, birds, and at a young age, I was communicating with God. My aunt introduced me to God all the way to four and five years old. That’s where my roots were and where my motivation was. If you have nothing, all you have is you and God at the end of the day. Your faith is produced and cultivated through struggle and time alone with Him. At times, when you don’t have inspiration and your motivation is shot and things in life cause you to lose hope and lose faith, that artist or writers block, you need to go to that quiet place and seek inspiration and every morning I pray, ‘God, touch me, I need you, open up my heart, give me the vision and creativity and what I need to display and to make what I have inside come out.’”
Tucker grew up going to church, attending Mount Calvary Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Nathan Holmes, a minister whom he grew up under. Tucker calls Pastor Holmes his first Father in the ministry.
“As I got older, my mom and my dad went through a separation, I later went to Bethlehem,” said Tucker. “Pastor Rollerson helped me in so many ways to display what manhood is supposed to be … my art, thank God, always kept me grounded. And my dad taught me how to be a man and how to always stay away from those bad things, love and respect all people, just being a southern gentlemen. And my mom is amazing. And Pastor Rollerson was like a model for me. He was the one that really helped me to stay sound and grounded.”
Tucker was also asked to design the logo for Bethlehem Baptist Church, an opportunity that he said was both confidence building and an honor.
“He [Rollerson] built my confidence. He said ‘I see your work, I know you’re talented and God-gifted,’” said Tucker.
Tucker’s advice is to never give up doing what you love.
“Always put God first and continue to not only love what you do but give your best in what you do. Never stop. Keep pushing. Challenge yourself. And be inspired by everything around you,” said Tucker.