Far from the beaches of Brazil, Rob Ferrel is a barber/stylist in San Antonio, Texas, who has shot to prominence during this World Cup for his remarkable artistry, namely his portraits of football's stars that are trimmed, shaved and painted on the heads of waiting customers.
Originally from San Diego, Ferrel eventually made his way to San Antonio eight years ago. In October 2012 he opened up Rob The Original Barbershop, located in a small plaza south of the city's downtown. Over time, Ferrel started generating attention by doing portraits and designs in people's hair. The first? The late rapper Tupac Shakur, who was crafted on the head of Ferrel's brother.
"I grew up in a big family and didn't have an allowance or anything like that so I was always cutting my own hair, cutting my brother's hair. I was always drawing, too, when I was a kid. Art is my passion so I've just combined the two," Ferrel said by phone to ESPNFC.com.
Since the World Cup started, the requests for music icons and San Antonio Spurs players have given way to those who practice the beautiful game: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Guillermo Ochoa, Tim Howard, Neymar and Lionel Messi. And for the past several weeks his shop has been packed with people watching games while waiting to have their footballing heroes to be emblazoned on their heads.
"When Mexico were still in it, we got lots of requests for them," said Ferrel -- a logical notion, with San Antonio being a city so heavily populated by Mexican-Americans. "But now that they are out, we are getting lots of requests for Neymar and Messi. It's amazing, fans of these teams and players are everywhere."
The end products are startling, and without question the most distinct aspect of the portraits is the use of color. It is a two-hour process that starts with Ferrel using an image of the player on his phone. He places it next to the customer and simply works off of the picture. Ferrel then takes his trimmer and a straight razor to lay the canvas for each individual portrait. Non-toxic eyeliner pencils and lip-liner pencils, which are safe on the skin, are used to generate the colors. As a final touch, hairspray is then applied to give the head an extra layer of protection.
"It helps give the portrait an extra sheen, another coating. It might smudge a little if you walk outside and it's raining, but not too bad," notes Ferrel. "If you wear a hoodie it'll be fine."
While he has a team of 10 barbers at his shop -- all in their early 20s -- who handle haircuts and some different designs, the 28-year-old Ferrel is the only one who does portraits.
"I put on my headphones to get in a zone and jam out to music while I do it. I'll check with the customer every once in a while, but otherwise I just get locked in and when I'm done I sometimes even impress myself with my work," he said.
The business and attention he has received during the World Cup has been "incredible," and the uber-motivated Ferrel, who is planning a second location and has designs on franchising, hopes it is just the beginning.
"All of us are serious about our work, we're professional and we do quality work. Hair portraits is a trend that is only growing," he said.
Who knows, maybe by Russia 2018, hair portraits of people's favorite footballers will be available nationwide at the local Rob The Barbershop.