"It's actually really good," Butah said, laughing, surprised that even he -- a childhood friend of Sheeran's -- didn't expect that from him.
Butah and Sheeran know each other from "back in the day," when Ed's artist parents were mentoring Phillip in school, and now the duo are publishing a book together: "Ed Sheeran: A Visual Journey."
The book tells the story of Ed's beginnings as a singer/songwriter and how he rose to fame; it comes out Thursday (but those of us in the U.S. have to wait until November 18). Butah, whose portrait of Ed graced the cover of the singer's + album, provided the artwork for this project -- nearly 50 images drawn with pencil, pastels, charcoal and graphite.
On the cover of "A Visual Journey" is a baggy-pantsed Ed, tattoos running down his arm. A bright, neon-green color soaks the cover of the book, which Butah admits was almost the album art for Sheeran's sophomore LP, X. Butah's pencil drawing shows the musician as the simplest version of himself -- alone, just like he is onstage at an arena, and just like how he once was playing clubs by himself, trying to make it big.
"It's just where he is right now," Butah explains. "He's just the same guy, but a lot's changed -- just growth."
Butah, a professional portraitist -- Prince Charles commissioned him for portraits, for which he spent six months at the royal's house -- has drawn Ed multiple times, telling me it gets a little easier with each portrait.
"It's always easy for me," he said with the confidence of a natural-born artist. "You kind of get to recognize people's faces. There are probably parts of people's faces that they don't even pay attention, which sounds a bit weird, but you really get to know someone's face."
There's a section at the back of the book that features Butah's other work and shows his portraits of other people. But as other people commission him to draw, his collaboration with Sheeran came organically.
"It wasn't formal or anything," he said. "[It happened] very naturally, it wasn't like, 'We're going to start working together.' " Sheeran just suggested the drawings and Butah drew them. Simple as that.
"This is kind of the biggest thing I've done so far," he said about the scale of the project. "I am [proud], but I don't see it that way. You kind of like detach yourself from it. I think it'll become real when I see it."
"Ed Sheeran: A Visual Journey" becomes real October 9 in the U.K. and November 18 in the U.S.