Friday, June 14, 2013

The Making of an Artist (and a painting)

While cleaning out my Mom's house after she passed away last summer, I came across a painting I did way, way back in 1985. It was hidden behind a bookcase that was placed in front of it sometime after I left home to go to college. Looking at it again after all these years, I had pause to remember why I became an artist in the first place. So many years have passed since the days I spent locked in my room experimenting with paints and chalks, discovering perspective and learning how to make something look real. We didn't have money growing up, and through necessity I drove myself to master drawing and painting in order to have the nice things I wanted to put on my walls, but could not afford. Later when other kids found I could draw, they would "hire" me to turn out posters and paintings for them as well. Painted jean jackets were popular back then and I made a nice nest egg for college painting Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath on the back of those worn-in jackets. Diner parking lots frequented by burn-outs became my very own art show every time a greasy-haired punk turned around.

This painting of Satchel Paige was done at a special time for me because I was in the process of discovering the Negro Leagues for myself. There weren't very many books back then, no Internet and newspapers were on microfilm or in big bound books in forgotten sections of the library. I guess that was what was so much fun - the discovery part. At 14, 15 or 16 years old, I felt like a dumpy version of Indiana Jones, compiling rosters for the Newark Eagles or reading a contemporary account of a Josh Gibson home run. I felt like I was finding something important that needed to be uncovered again. Box scores and Xerox copies of newspaper articles were nice, but I wanted my own visuals to represent what I loved studying. Not able to find any good pictures of the blackball greats I was learning about, I took a fresh canvas and created my own. I can remember doing this very painting - my easel was set up in a corner of my bedroom and I was playing The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy LP on my old record player. I was experimenting with a technique called "dry brush" which is just what it sounds like - you put a very small amount of paint on your brush and gently move across the canvas, increasing the pressure to make dark sections and ease back to make it lighter. Up close, the painting becomes a mass of abstract brush strokes, but when you pull back and take it all it, it comes together an almost photo-realistic photograph. I wanted to give the painting a grainy, newspaper feeling to it, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. So happy, it hung on the wall all through my high school days and continued to hang there long after my old room was turned into the storage space that all kid's rooms eventually become after they leave home.

Necessity is an odd way of finding a talent, but that's really how I became an artist. The same could be said for this blog as well. Being a designer and illustrator I decided to create my own baseball cards - featuring all the players I wanted to see and written the way I wanted to read about them. In short, to make the set I always wanted when I was a kid. And there you have it: The Infinite Baseball Card Set. It was kind of neat to look at this painting and think that I'm still doing the same thing I did all those years ago - make my own when I could not find or afford what I wanted.

So anyway, I no longer need the painting. Just seeing it again after 25 years was good enough and I have other things on my walls now. I rarely keep any of my old art. I'm always afraid that I'll dwell in the past if I surround myself with older work and usually toss whatever I complete into one of the 4 steamer trunks that are packed with decades of old work. Problem is, a painting won't fit in one of those and I thought I would give someone else the chance to enjoy ol' Satch. I'm putting him up on ebay here. I figure is he sells I'll buy some new paints, brushes and canvas and start painting again. I hope he goes to a good home and whoever gets it knows that for this little-known artist and amateur baseball historian, it was a very important piece of work!


  1. This is a great piece of art. Thanks for sharing your story.