Georgia artist goes up a notch in the Pro Bowl braces from Atlanta Falcons back Kyle Pitts

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The conversation started casually, as it usually does when Curtis Booth asks if a player wants his cleats to look more like what comes out of the box from Nike, Adidas or UnderArmour.

Kenny Osuwah, assistant chief of equipment for the Atlanta Falcons, reaches out. Or sometimes Booth hears from the player himself. So, as the relationship develops, Booth will reach out on his own. That’s how the idea came up to make the Falcons rookie tight-end Kyle Pitts has on his feet at the Pro Bowl on Sunday (15:00 ET, ESPN) look like anything but a pair of normal shoes.

What you will see in Pitts’ size 15s came to mind from a 30-year-old working in a remodeled conservatory that was converted into an office in his home in Lithonia, Georgia, with his 2-year-old goldendoodle, Jaxson who looked at.

How Booth ended up here – as the most important shoemaker for the Falcons – was a matter of chance.

He had noticed that the Falcons’ social media team had written on Instagram about players representing their area numbers. A player mentioned the 252, and it looked familiar. He Googled him and realized he had taken a picture with a friend of his.

Friends? Sister of former Atlanta recipient Justin Hardy. I’ve reached out. Offered to make some lumps for him for free. If Hardy liked his work, Booth would love working with him. Hardy did. The message spread.

And now it’s a major part of Booth’s $ 250 per couple concert. The footwear from the Falcons’ My Cause, My Cleats campaign has often been Booth’s work. Like any pair of running shoes Cordarrelle Patterson had made this season – right from those who were fighting for a new contract to raise awareness about the loss of infants.

For Pitts, who Booth first worked on on a pair of Florida Gators shoes in the first month of the season, the theme is simple. Booth said Pitts left the brainstorming to him and asked him to “do anything.” So he did.

Pitts’ rookie season was one of the best ever at his position – even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it because he scored a touchdown. But he is the first rookie-tight end in 60 years to have exceeded 1,000 yards (1,026), and his 68 receptions is the third ever after Keith Jackson and Jeremy Shockey. He’s the first rookie-tight end since Shockey to reach the Pro Bowl – and that was in 2002.

He set the Falcons’ record for rookie receiving yards, passed Julio Jones, and the team’s overall record for single-season receiving yards with a tight end, surpassing Tony Gonzalez.

“It was an ok start,” Pitts said. “I feel like there’s a lot more to work on, achieve. I think that’s just the first step.”

But those steps are what Booth focused on when he created Pitts’ shoes. He wanted Pitts’ feet – which were so integrated into his first season’s success – to show the message of how good his rookie year was, a kind of memorial service for what he achieved, sprayed over his Jordan 5s.

“He’s the other one [rookie] tighter than ever to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, so I know I want to put it on there, “Booth said.” And maybe a few stats and some Falcons logos, too. Still brainstorming, maybe make one cleat look completely different from the other clamp.

“But beginners stuff, definitely.”

Two weeks ago, Booth embarked on a brainstorming process, the first part of the creative painted journey from concept to creation – something the player did not see until he received the shoes just before traveling to Las Vegas.

This is not as easy as putting some paint on a shoe and going with it. This is an hour-long process for every pair of shoes Booth works on.

It’s a process Booth has streamlined over the past three years, a self-taught one from what he calls YouTube University. All of this happened so randomly – how the psychological major at North Carolina Central, who wanted to become a forensic psychologist, ended up doing this instead. He had never imagined this in college when his boredom and scrolling on Instagram took him to WalMart and he painted a pair of Jordan 1s pink.

He carried them to class. Because he did not know anything about the specialty shoe industry at the time, the color ran. It looked like he was wearing a pink spotted cow. But the classmates were still fascinated. This was years before it became his full-time job, before he locked himself in with the Falcons and became their clumsy creator.

With Pitts’ shoes because he had time, it started with brainstorming sessions. Knowing that he was working on a six-panel Jordan 5 – the more panels available, the more creative he can be – Booth then takes an all-white silhouette and puts it in a photoshop mockup on his computer.

This is where he messes around with different fonts and sizes to get an idea of ​​what could go where and what type of space he might need in order for each idea to come to life.

“I usually go a lot on Instagram and post my mockups and get people to vote on which one they like best and the loudest voice I want to go with,” Booth said. “Many times I want to do it to make sure we’re on the same page. I know what I want to do with it, so I’ll send another mockup to see if people see the same thing I see.

“It helps me a lot because it’s such a different opinion that definitely does. Because otherwise I’re thinking in my head, ‘Ahh, should I do this or that?'”

Booth learned from experience editing who can see mockups in his stories – often blocking his clients so as not to ruin the surprise. Sometimes there are leaked screenshots, a danger to social media and a lesson Booth learned.

The design is done, the real work starts. Each shoe must be specially prepared. Booth starts by taping the soles of the cleats – they can not be painted – and then takes acetone, places it on a pillow and scrubs down each shoe to take the clear, unseen seal off the top of each cleat. This will prevent the paint from running and slipping off the shoe or cracking once applied.

“The reason for that is to open up, I say to open the pores a little bit,” Booth said. “To give the paint something to stick to.”

Once the original shine is gone, Booth can start painting. He adds an adhesion promoter to the shoe to add a layer and give the paint another opportunity to adhere to the shoe. If he makes a detailed design, like a logo or a cartoon character or stenciled font – as for Pitts’ shoes – he will print stencils and lay them down while the shoe is still completely white.

Then he adds a base coat of paint – usually white or gray depending on the colors he works with on both the shoe and the design – and let it dry. Then he starts painting in the detailed design and stencils. Finished there, he will return to make touchups just in case any of the paint soaked into another area of ​​the shoe.

“I make my contour last because it makes the design pop,” Booth said. “Pretty much the important step in preparation. It’s the important step because football players, they’re pretty rough with sneakers. They run and jump and slip and tackle, and everything and the worst thing that happens is that the paint falls off.

“And as an artist, you do not want that to happen, because that kind of tells you that the quality of the work is not there.”

Booth is careful with each pair. When he has finished painting and likes the work with the shoe, he will seal it again – just as it was originally on the shoe that he scrubbed off. He first uses a scratch-resistant sealer, which in turn protects his work from the realities of football. Then he will use either a glossy or matte finisher depending on the look he is going for.

The average time it takes on a shoe, from brainstorm to completion, is about eight to 10 hours. For some of Patterson’s work it took 15. To Pitts’ shoes he devoted 20 hours.

“I really want to perfect that design there,” Booth said. “And I want him to really stand out at the Pro Bowl.”

This is not the first time Pitts has tried to show some creativity during his rookie season. His request to switch to the old Florida Gators shoes had kick-started the relationship with Booth early in the season.

And then there’s something else – something he had every game, but was not always noticed: the design on his hands.

When Pitts signed with Jordan Brand – the blocks he carries – one of the things they asked him was if he wanted to help design something else. Pitts decided he was interested in helping create a pair of unique gloves for him.

And what he ended up playing with every game this year had one meaning – even if it ended up looking like another.

“With the eight in the middle, it was just one of the designers,” Pitts said. “I did not think of it as a bullseye until I had seen it and seen the colors, and it was pretty cool. I did not think it mattered.”

But for much of the season, it did. The Pitts became Matt Ryan’s top scorer in the 2021 season after the team traded Julio Jones to Tennessee, and Calvin Ridley left the team on Halloween to deal with personal issues.

The rookie, who was drafted to be one of the options, became the best option. And the gloves became a place where Ryan could potentially look again and again.

When Pitts saw the design, he liked it, but did not think it would get attention, for “they’re just gloves.” But they are also more than that. They have a cachet for them, part of why he does not give them away after games.

Instead, Pitts said he keeps them in a bag – since December he was not sure if he would do anything with them – but because they are Jordan’s brand, he knows they have value. They also have value because they are his and were part of a history-making first season in Atlanta.

When Pitts goes to the Pro Bowl this weekend, he will have custom designs from his hands all the way down to his feet.


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