By Caleb Jones
For the Birmingham Times
Tylar Tucker was always meant to be an artist, even if she didn’t always believe it.
Born and raised in Birmingham’s West End community, 20-year-old Tucker is a graphic arts communication major at Lawson State Community College (LSCC) who makes portraits using only scissors, glue, pencils, and, most importantly, yarn.
“I’ve always been different and wanted to stand out,” she said. “I always see people use detail. I see people use paint. Why not be different [and] do yarn?”
Tucker’s portraits have included popular cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, and Daffy Duck, and celebrities, such as entertainer and television personality Steve Harvey; radio host and comedian Rickey Smiley; “Ellen Show” host Ellen DeGeneres; songwriter and actress Cardi B; and singer, rapper, and composer YK Osiris.
The artist seldom uses paint and often incorporates holographic paper and Swarovski crystals into her pieces; for example, she used Swarovski crystals to add some detail to Cardi B’s nails in one portrait and used holographic paper as a background for her portrait of DeGeneres.
Another material Tucker uses to make her art stand out is yarn. She first tried the method during an art course at LSCC but came away disappointed about her portrait of rapper and songwriter Wiz Khalifa.
“I knew the wrongs and the rights of the portrait,” Tucker said. “I never took an art class, but I was seeing work from all the other students, and I was like, ‘Why doesn’t mine look like that?’ But I got the concept, and I was like, ‘Oh, so that means I need the bring the yarn closer.’ Not only that, ‘Don’t rush to do it. Take your time, and you will get the look you’re looking for.’”
Though Tucker was disappointed, her work caught the attention of her then commercial arts instructor Roosevelt Williams III, who praised her work and encouraged her to keep creating.
“He’s one of the reasons I work hard every day to the best of my ability,” she said.
Another influence has been her late grandmother Betty J. Murray, who helped Tucker’s parents, Curtis and Tamisha, look after Tylar and her younger sister, Chasiti.
“She just always knew the right words to say when I felt like I was at my breaking point,” Tucker said.
When Murray passed away in 2014, Tucker was in seventh grade—and devastated by the loss.
“I lost my mind, mentally and physically. I lost myself,” she said. “I started having, you know, suicidal thoughts. I went into a stage, a real bad stage in my life. I had to, like, go to counseling and everything. I had a lot of moments when I was angry at others. I even went off on my mom and dad for no reason. Even my sister, I like tried to push them away from my life. So, yeah, I was just really angry. Used to fight. Just do stupid stuff.”
Tucker credits God for helping her through that tough time in her life.
“God in heaven, strong parents. … They kept me in church, … [helped me] get close with the Lord,” she said.
When Tucker was at her lowest point, she poured herself into her art, and that’s when she began taking it seriously, working every day to get better, fine-tuning her craft anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day.
“My art, it’s like a tribute to [my grandmother], to keep pushing me for greater,” said Tucker, who has completed 16 pieces. “I have to build myself to be even better. I try to push myself to be even better than what I am now.”
When Tucker isn’t creating art, she’s thinking about creating it or online shopping for art supplies, such as scissors, glue, paper, pencils and pens for outlining, holographic paper, and Swarovski crystals.
“It’s art 24/7,” she said. “I don’t take breaks, I promise you. … Determination to me means your mind is set on something and you’re determined to get it done no matter how hard it may look or seem.”
Production on a piece can take anywhere from a week to two months, depending on how focused Tucker is and how detailed she wants it to be.
In the rare instances when Tucker isn’t honing her craft, she enjoys listening to music, particularly gospel.
“Gospel is motivation to me. Even when I’m not listening to gospel, most of the music I listen to is motivational,” she said, noting that her favorite singers include Marvin Sapp and Yolanda Adams, whose “This Battle is Not Yours” is one of her top motivational songs.
Tucker also mimes at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in West End, where she has taught classes.
“I did praise dancing, and that just wasn’t working out,” she said. “So, I was like, I’m gonna try something, you know, different. My mom was like, ‘Girl, don’t mime.’ So, I was like, ‘Um, well, I’m gonna be the first girl to mime like that.’ So, I snuck behind my mom’s back, got some gloves one Sunday, and practiced with the mime team. I ended up miming.”
Miming was therapeutic for Tucker, who recalled that she would “catch the Spirit” when miming.
The mime class she was teaching consisted of about 10 boys, ranging from ages 2 to 18. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, her church no longer has in-person services, so she hasn’t taught any classes.
After everything she’s been through, Tucker said she sees her life as a blessing.
“It’s like doors have just been opened for me,” she said. “I’ve just been patient. I just been humble. It’s like everything is just coming to me.
“Every single morning and before I go to sleep, I have to pray: ‘God give me the strength to be who you want me to be.’ … I’m stress-free, like, it’s a load off me. I don’t have to clock in at a job. I can just sit here and just, you know, focus on [art]. Even though I’m not making any money at all, … I’m not even complaining. I just thank God I have the parents I have, that they haven’t kicked me out. They show me how to do this and that. Like, I just thank God for my parents. So, I’m blessed.”