Behind the Scenes: How Curtis Valentine O’Malley Made His Gold-Leafed 2pac Wood Sketch

Spread The Word

Do you love hip hop? Are you a big fan of gold leaf? If so, then you’ll seriously dig what Curtis Valentine O’Malley produced for our 2Pac – Changes exhibition last week. He, along with 14 other talented individuals, were tasked with bringing to life the 2Pac song, Changes, in art form.

Curtis’s submission was a 60.5 cm by 60.5 cm ink sketch of 2Pac on wood, incorporating fine line work, gold leaf and the word ‘Changes’ across the top in edgy typography.

We had a catch up with Curtis after the exhibition and found out this about the piece:

You were one of only two people who contributed a something on wood for the exhibition. What made you choose this medium?

I love using wood, as it’s a great middle ground for light and dark. I could draw with my biro to create the shadows, then use a white marker as the highlights, whilst the wood runs throughout the piece with its beautiful grain. I couldn’t have asked for a better canvas to start with.

How much draft sketching and drawing did your piece require?

I had to draw a lot of roughs before I could even think about my final piece, as I was looking into the composition a lot. My intention was to create something revolved around 2Pac that was visually exciting. I had around seven different sketches to choose from. Once I started on the final piece, it took roughly seven days to complete, with around tens of thousands of lines using my biro. I couldn’t be happier with how it came out.


Your use of gold leaf really made the artwork pop. How easy or difficult was it applying it?

The gold leaf was a major part of my piece. In the early stages, I attempted to add gold coloured paint but once I tried it in a draft sketch I found it didn’t shine off the surface as I wanted. I was watching a cooking show and funnily enough they were using gold leaf in their recipe, and it intrigued me.

Once I got the gold leaf, I looked through about 10 tutorials on how to apply it to wood, but doing it yourself is a challenge if you haven’t worked with such a fragile material before. But through a lot – and I mean a lot – of trial and error I was happy with how it looked on my 2Pac piece. This process took around four to five days to complete.

We love how you put the word changes right out there in the centre of the piece. Was that a conscious decision or something that just came about naturally?

My very first sketch had the concept of the word “changes” being broken up, with 2Pac in-between. I felt using typography for such an iconic brief would be effective, as I wanted to be forward with the audience and the idea behind my piece. This is the first time I’ve used typography in a major piece, and it surely won’t be the last.


A lot of your work is very symmetrical and sharp edged. Your 2pac piece, for example, is very striking in the jaw area. What is it about this drawing style that you’re attracted to?

I’ve been told this before and I can’t quite work out why I always draw people with such strong jaw lines. I like to use straight lines and angles through-out all of my work. I try to keep away from traditional drawing styles with smooth lines and soft features. I always attempt to make my work look rough and gritty, as I like it to pack a punch.

What is the key message underpinning your 2pac piece?

I felt I couldn’t just draw 2Pac as a normal portrait; I needed something to push the piece in conceptual way that was aesthetically and emotionally pleasing. The word “changes”, here, is broken up by 2Pac’s mind as a reference to the fact that that he was constantly pushing the boundaries through-out his life. The smoke protruding through the side of the piece represents his mind coming back to the current day, and how he influences change through modern artists and popular culture. I used gold to finish it off, as he was in the golden age of rap, with himself being at the forefront.


Like what you see? Curtis’s work will very soon be available for purchase on our site. In the mean time,  read our full interview with him. You can also hit up his Instagram page.

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