By Jayvon Brown
For Utah native, Daniela Lopez, a love for the Houston Rockets, unique background in makeup artistry and passion for painting, has led to a dream career painting some of the NBA’s biggest stars.
Today, the internationally known artist referred to as “Yella” is trailblazing a unique path bridging her passion of art and sports. Growing up in West Jordan, Utah, Lopez loved two things—the Houston Rockets (yes, the Houston Rockets) and painting. Lopez could have easily become a Jazz fan, but her older brother loved the Rockets, so as many younger siblings do, she followed her older brother and his love for the Rockets.
Initially, Lopez viewed “painting as an emotional outlet.” Painting functioned as a “healing component” for her to deal with “life’s daily frustrations.” When dealing with a heartbreak or a relationship gone sour, Lopez would turn to her painting utensils. Through painting, she was “able to transform any struggle or obstacle into a piece of art that people can enjoy,” she said.
As time progressed, she developed a proficient skillset for painting. In particular, she focused on painting various facial features and expressions. She would highlight a set of eyes, or a cheek bone. For Lopez, the mix of facial features and the related facial expressions tell a unique story. In the sports world, the story may arise during an important juncture in a game, such as a player making a game winning shot or a player’s preparation before shooting pivotal free throws while the crowds tries to distract him. For Lopez, these instances seemingly provide a window into the soul of the player at that point in time.
Lopez’s unique ability to capture real-world like expressions in her paintings was complemented by her job as a freelance makeup artist. As a makeup artist, Lopez became “infatuated with how angles complement certain facial features.” In looking at her portfolio of paintings, which features many of the NBA’s best players, famous musicians and notable politicians, one sees how the knowledge of understanding the nuances of the face translates into making artwork come alive on the canvas.
With her unique background, Lopez was awakened to the possibility that she could combine her talent with her love for basketball. While watching a Rockets game with her family, Lopez thought about painting portraits of some of her favorite players on the team. She thought to herself, “I should paint my squad.” She suggested the idea to her family, and they agreed.
Having a few open canvases, Lopez got started that night. She painted portraits of then Houston Rockets players Sam Dekker, Trevor Ariza, and Patrick Beverly. After finishing, she posted them on her Instagram account. Like wild fire, Rockets fans started following her account. Players on the Rockets also shared her art work. Little did she know, that her life was about to change.
A few days later after posting the pictures, Lopez received a call from Tad Brown, the Houston Rockets‘ CEO. He came across her portraits of the team’s players, and asked if she could create a painting for NBA hall of famer, Yao Ming. The Rockets were commemorating Ming’s career by retiring his jersey. Since the the retirement ceremony was scheduled for that coming Friday, Lopez only had a couple of days to complete the portrait. She “had to shut out the rest of the world to get the job done.” Typically, the detail, thought, and carefulness behind each painting takes Lopez about a month to complete. However, she finished the commissioned piece for Ming within two-days. The Ming painting established an ongoing relationship between the Rockets and Yella, as she is often invited to the team games when they play in Utah.
Though Lopez is a devout Rockets fan, her painting portfolio includes a bevy of other NBA athletes. For instance, she’s painted Utah Jazz point guard, Donavan Mitchell, and Los Angeles Lakers forward, LeBron James. She remembers being “absolutely speechless” while watching James catapult the Cavaliers to the NBA finals during this past playoff season. Lopez said, “Instantly I had to stop what I was working on, and pay homage to the ‘King.’” In following the theme of facial expressions telling stories, the LeBron James portrait, according to Lopez, seeks to provides “a glimpse into James’ thought process while at the free throw line. It seems as if LeBron were saying to himself, ‘I can do this.’”
Asked which portrait is her favorite so far, Lopez says it’s the portrait of Houston Rockets All-Star guard, James Harden. On behalf of Rockets CEO Tad Brown and Harden, the organization gifted the portrait to Harden’s mother for Mother’s Day in 2018. The hyper realistic portrait of Harden showcases his calm demeanor as he calculates his next attack, according to Lopez.
This season, Lopez hopes to expand her portfolio and with expectations high for the Rockets, she imagines she’ll capture a few more storytelling expressions this season.