Entries Tagged as 'Red Sox'

We Have Lingered in the Chambers of the Sea

The polyester double-knit Red Sox uniforms of the ’70s debuted shortly after the second Watergate break-in. They were antithetical to the tradition synonymous with Boston, but everybody else was doing it. The blow-dried Disco Strangler ethos of the decade was just beginning to take hold, bringing its synthetic fabrics with it, much as the character-filled Scollay Square had given way to the concrete brutalism of Government Center. The Red Sox were being swept asunder by baseball’s version of urban renewal.

So yes. Doorlatches were taped at the Democratic National Committee and the Sox began wearing V-necks and pants with elastic waistbands. Duane Josephson was one of the CREEP burglars. He was caught and he’d never play another game, spared from ever wearing the new unis. Maybe he got off light.

Selling out to the nascent era’s fashion didn’t completely haunt the Sox; they went on to finish in second place that year, ultimately foiled by both the strike that cost them an irreplaceable ½ game in the standings and by Aparicio falling as he rounded third, but it was the best winning percentage the team had posted since 1967. Reclamation project Luis Tiant also found a permanent home in the starting rotation. The Sox’s youth movement was beginning to blossom. Mario Guerrero was in the Symbionese Liberation Army. He would go to spring training in 1974 straight from Berkeley.

Mustaches grew and gold chains slithered down hair-covered chests like lava through the pines. Mirror balls spun and 18 ½ minute gaps were listened to, people began jogging and leaving their keys in communal bowls at suburban parties and forming long lines at gas stations. A President resigned. Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that Boston’s schools were unconstitutionally segregated. Nobody liked the solution.

Saigon fell and The Gold Dust Twins came to Fenway and played 81 dates a year. Fred Lynn’s grace was delivered from magical terrycloth wristbands, Jim Rice’s power came from his defiantly modest Afro. Beachballs bounced around the bleachers, floating lazily through the marijuana haze. Cutoffs and flip-flops and Bud Man bucket hats reigned. Amity meant friendship. A fly ball by Carlton Fisk clanged against the left field foul pole, then a bloop single by Joe Morgan broke hearts. October’s spotlight burned bright.

In the cold of winter, Peter Seitz made a ruling. In Boston, police escorts in riot gear rode alongside school buses. People wore leisure suits.

Ted Landsmark had an American flag swung at him and Graig Nettles dumped Bill Lee on his shoulder. America celebrated her 200th birthday. Lynn, Fisk and Burleson didn’t sign their contracts until midseason, which drove drunkard and probable racist Tom Yawkey to his grave. Darrell Johnson was fired. A Gerbil was hired. He set off metal detectors at airports.

Hair spilled over collars. Everyone squinted as if looking into the sun, mouths slightly open, top row of teeth exposed. They shined their Corvettes and IROCs while listening to Foghat on the 8-track. Someone thought to test the water from sump pumps in Love Canal.

The Red Sox showcased their might in 1977 as George Scott returned to Boston and hit 33 taters while making the world regret those tight-fitting uniforms. Butch Hobson hit 30 home runs from the 9th spot in the order. The sun shone warm and the Force was with us, until it wasn’t. Even the Force needs pitching.

Cocaine residue clouded glasstop tables. Husbands and wives wondered how to ask for divorces. Kids hunkered down in paneled rec rooms, striped tube socks pulled high, MAUI 76 emblazoned across their faux football-style shirts. The Brothers Gibb, deities in champagne satin suits, communicated with us through the radio. We didn’t fully understand what they wanted, but they made white people dance and everybody was scared as they waited for the clock to strike midnight. Too much glow, too much Have A Nice Day. Everything was goldenrod or avocado or burnt umber.

Then the ‘70s sent us their herald, Dennis Eckersley, who was formed when lightning from the gods struck California beach sand. Babylon 1978 was complete, and that strong summer sun became a searing glare as the Red Sox blew a 14 game lead to the Yankees. The Gerbil had benched or banished half the team’s talent. Dwight Evans was beaned by a Mike Parrott fastball. Butch Hobson rearranged elbow chips in between throwing errors. A Massacre ensued. But there was a still a little time left in the season. The Sox fought back hard enough for eight more days to force a one game showdown for all the spoils, as if they could sense an era was drawing to a close, leaving everything on the field as they valiantly shielded their eyes against the magnifying glass that hovered squarely over Fenway.

Then lounge lizard Mike Torrez yielded a popup home run to Bucky Dent as Yaz leaned against The Wall, head hanging, cleated red Spot-Bilt kicking the warning track cinders, the blood draining out of his body.

A Pope died. A new Pope was named. He died. Congressman Leo Ryan took a flight to Guyana, concerned about a cult. Stan Papi was on the tarmac, waiting. There was a gunfight. 900 people drank Flavor-Aid. End scene.

Next spring the Red Sox went back to buttoned jerseys and belted pants, embracing their Calvinist roots in order to quell this madness, penance for flying too close to the sun. Embracing mediocrity in the process. The schedule became a reason to watch Yaz get 400 home runs and 3,000 hits and not much more. To watch his last few golden years as Lynn and Fisk and Burleson were pushed out of town and the hope of postseason baseball subsided. A players’ strike. The summers stultifying in their meaninglessness, the klieg lights of October dimmed. Longingly thinking of cherry red batting helmets and V-neck pullovers, because even though the tumult had been heartbreaking, it was never dull.

Sober night fell, no longer set to the thumping bass or soaring strings of the discotheque; a glass of milk by the bed instead of a Schlitz tall boy, a tablet of Anacin instead of a line of coke and a Valium.

Spaghetti-thin stirrups pulled high under the calf-length hem of the uniform pants, the lovely striped sock rendered invisible.

Upon Induction

In the end, it was the casual bat toss after the follow-through. Just sort of a shovel pass to get the piece of ash out of the way, the coda to a compact swing, the dot on the i that was a well-struck sphere of horsehide. I found that it crept its way into my own swing. First, it was the flip of a yellow plastic wiffle ball bat. Then I did it with a 26-ounce or 28-ounce aluminum bat in Little League, on the rare occasions I hit a ball on the screws in the first place, the kind of stroke that justified such a subtle flourish. Finally, as I grew older and settled into suburban mediocrity, it was with a 32-ounce Easton softball bat, the weapon of the workaday warrior.

As reliable as the tides; a pop-up or a stupid groundball to third would result in a disgusted drop of the bat, as if it was the sweating droplets of suck that infected my palms. (Get away! Get away!)

But a laser shot from the sweet spot? That spry push that sent the bat suspended for what seemed like an eternity, a gently falling space station from Kubrick’s 2001, Strauss providing the soundtrack.

That was Jim Rice to me. And that flip is embedded in whatever part of my brain controls my motor skills, such as they are. I still do it now, 20-plus years after I ever saw it on a consistent basis.

* * *

Jim Rice wasn’t even my guy. Yaz was. I was old school like that, even at 7 or 8, and I felt that Yaz was the respected elder of the team and he warranted that deference. The other players? Hey, they were great and all, but Yaz… he was the one the Greeks would have written about.

Probably so, but little did I know at that age that Rice was a guy they’d celebrate, too. A man of such natural strength. I laugh today because in all the highlight reels we’ve been inundated with this past weekend, Rice actually seems small. Not tiny, but he wasn’t a hulk. He wasn’t 6’ 4”. He didn’t have improbably bulging arms. There’s a Sports Illustrated cover from 1979 with him and Dave Parker on the cover, and you might look at it and in comparing the two you’d think to yourself, This is man who 46 home runs and 15 triples the year prior? Ballplayers from yesteryear look fairly shriveled compared to this era’s ‘roided up monstrosities, but here’s Rice standing next to a peer. But nobody said he was small or wiry then, because he wasn’t. He wasn’t Hank Aaron, an everyman whose extra gift was lightning wrists, he was a strongman in a normal-sized (if incredibly fit) body.

But he wasn’t my guy. Nobody other than Yaz was. And by the time Captain Carl retired, I was 12 and too old to direct that child-like awe towards another player. By then I was wise enough to see behind the curtain and realize that it was just laundry that we were rooting for.

* * *

Rice signed with the Sox three weeks after I was born. His induction into the Hall of Fame happens at another curious moment in my life, one where I still feel like I have a lot to offer this world in one way or another, but the basic path has been chosen for me at this point. It’s how I work within that path that will dictate the rest of the story.

As I watched NESN religiously today, I pondered this man whose professional career encompassed my entire existence. It wasn’t so much about Jim Rice and who he was, but what he represented. To me. My five-year old son, subjected to all of this, asked me at one point, “Does Jim Rice play now?”

“No. No, he doesn’t. He played when I was a boy. Like you.”

“Have you drawn him?” This apparently is a sign of legitimacy.

“Yes. Two within the past month, actually.”

And I looked at the TV screen as Jim Rice sent a frozen rope into the corner, tripling as he chugged around the bases in a polyester double-knit road grey V-neck, bold red helmet leaving a streak in the bad late-70’s video production.

He played when I was a boy.

The Kid

Ted Williams’s 1941 line is as follows:

.406/.553/.735, 1.288 OPS, 235 OPS+ (8th highest single-season mark). The .553 OBP was the highest single-season figure until Bonds’s 2002 (.582) and 2004 (.609) seasons.

His last season (1960), as a 41-year old, he put up a .316/.451/.645 with an OPS+ of 189. Which was three seasons removed from what might be his most amazing season of all, given his age: his 1957 .388/.526/.731 (233 OPS+) at 38 years old.

He is the all-time leader in career OBP (.482), second all-time in career OPS+ (190, to Ruth’s 207… Bonds is 3rd at 182).

These are the most basic of statistics, but in light of the current SABR-heavy focus on how production is measured and with today’s players’ numbers as a convenient framing device, Ted’s numbers seem all the more fanciful. What would it be like to see this guy play now, especially given his larger-than-life persona and all of the off-the-field stuff that constantly swirled around him? Let’s not forget his role in bringing the Jimmy Fund to the forefront of the public eye as well as his war hero status. Someone once said that a movie can never be made about Ted Williams’s life, because John Wayne is dead.

In the mid-80s I went to an Old-Timers’ Day at Fenway with my father. We had seats in the boxes along the 3rd base/left field line, past the bend where it juts out toward left field at an angle. Ted played left field that day, and in the lull before the start of one inning he was casually glancing at the crowd. He happened to be looking at the area where we were seated, and my father (as emotionally reserved a man as you might find) hesitantly raised his hand to Ted, giving him a wave, all the while seeming like he couldn’t believe he was actually doing it. My father was born in 1946, and Ted was his first (and probably only) idol.

It wasn’t very crowded that day (the Old Timers’ game preceded the actual Sox game, and not everyone had arrived yet), and Ted spotted my father’s wave, and raised his hand in return.

My dad nodded to him and put his hand down, then turned to look at home plate with a smile so forceful it seemed as if he was trying to repress it for fear of his face falling off or something, his hands clenched into fists out of sheer joy. He said nothing, which was par for the course with my dad, but even if he had wanted to I don’t think he could have. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and I thought to myself, Holy crap, my dad is a kid again.

Ted’s ability to make that happen is far more impressive to me than any OPS+ he ever put up.

Ted died the week before I was married. I immediately knew that I wanted to draw a picture of him for my dad, but all my art stuff was packed away in anticipation of moving in with my wife after the wedding, and I had no place to draw it, to boot. But I was insistent, so I went to the local AC Moore and bought a charcoal pad, a couple of sticks of black and white charcoal, an eraser, and a mat and frame. And I got to my parents’ house, went upstairs to the room I grew up in as a child, sprawled myself out on the floor and drew the thing.

It wasn’t very good for a couple of reasons. I hadn’t drawn much in ten years, so I was rusty, only recently having picked up the hobby again to draw gifts for my groomsmen. And the conditions were less than ideal (maybe others work well while lying down on the floor, but I don’t). Plus the stress of the upcoming wedding was getting to me, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on the piece. But I finished it and gave it to my dad the day of my rehearsal dinner. I think he appreciated the gesture, and given the timing (Ted’s death and me getting married), I’m sure it held more significance. But in the back of my mind, I really wasn’t happy with the picture. Which is kind of an artist thing, so I wasn’t all that surprised, nor did it stop me from giving it to him.

But I’ve always wanted a do-over. Even though any doofus would know that there’s no way my dad would prefer some new and supposedly improved piece over the one I drew for him in the wake of Ted’s death, and just before I got married, no less. So it wouldn’t be for him, but rather for me and my peace of mind.

Almost seven years later I finally got around to taking another crack at it, this time in color pastel (which is how I would have done it in the first place, if time and materials weren’t such a factor):

Knowing that I slayed that particular dragon was enough for me, so I donated the piece to an auction benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation last week. Sometimes these things work out OK after all.

“I Can Do Anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

Because life can always be boiled down to Jaws quotes.

As anyone who’s read some of my previous posts knows, I rarely let an allegedly finished piece stay finished. There’s usually some aspect of it that nags at me until I return to the table and re-work it, and sometimes I can fix it and other times I can’t. Prior to last night, the most recent example of this phenomenon was with the Paul Pierce drawing I did in August. I had to battle to even come up with an approximation of his face, and once having claimed that moral victory, I went back to the well rather than play it safe and leave it alone. I think it ended up working out for the most part, yet it’s never a sure thing, this revisitation process. But I tell myself I wouldn’t be what I am if I didn’t have that inner eye that felt the need to improve things… I have to be my own worst critic.

So of course I wasn’t finished with the Ted Williams picture I “finished” the other night, either. Here’s the picture in its first incarnation, which I blogged about in the post previous to this one.

What didn’t I like about it? I thought the hat was kind of messed up. The visor seemed too large and the angle at which it sat on his head seemed wrong. The thing is, I scrutinized the source photo many times and determined that the proportions were correct (it wasn’t like I was overtly screwing it up, which happens), it’s just that it wasn’t working out as drawn on the page. And in the past, I’ve often been too slavish to the source material, assuming that my goal was to achieve the highest degree of verisimilitude as possible.

But lately, primarily because I’ve been drawing so much, I’ve built up a sufficent trust in my own eye and in knowing what works and what doesn’t. Which brings me to our man in blue from Amity (which, as you know, means friendship).

There’s a scene in Jaws where Hooper and Brody are drinking wine and lamenting over the fact that the shark is still at large, but the only way to prove it is by doing an autopsy on a recently caught tiger shark, the results of which should yield definitive proof.

Brody says, “So let’s have another drink and cut that sonofabitch open.”

Brody’s wife responds, “Can you do that, Martin?”

Brody drunkenly slurs, “I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

There was a time when I’d doggedly stick with trying to make the cap in the Williams drawing appear as it did in the source photo because that was the goal. Right? Well, who made that rule? I can make the cap look like how I think it needs to look to make the drawing work. Of course I have jurisdiction over that.

I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.

It’s kind of sad that it’s taken this long to assume that mantle over my artistic process, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

The kicker is that in this case, I doubt anyone can tell the difference between the version with what I felt was a screwed-up cap (above) and the version where I just drew what I thought looked “right” (below). But that’s OK. I can tell, and even if there really is no difference (and there might not be), there is when it comes to my peace of mind over the drawing. Which is what matters most. I am, after all, the Chief of Police.

As an aside, I was working on the changes to this drawing during the Sox game last night. I started once they fell behind, 7-0: knowing I wasn’t going to turn the TV off or stop watching the game (despite the score), I figured I could at least divert my attention from the train wreck while paradoxically keeping an eye on it. I paused briefly when Papi hit his home run, and then stopped altogether once Drew hit his.

Superstition will not hold sway for Game 6. This piece is finished, believe it or not. Part of me wishes it weren’t, just so I could work on it again on Saturday night to conjure up the necessary gold dust, but that would be pushing it. I think the Red Sox are now also the Chief of Police, anyway. They won’t need it.

Two Octobers

Complicity.

What was my father thinking to himself as I sat hunched over in my bed, my face buried in the crook of my arm, failing miserably at not crying?

I could almost hear him: I did this to him. Like if he had been a reformed alcoholic who watched me take one drink too many and careen into an endtable, lamp flying, me muttering to myself, “Who put that there?” That flawed gene, that came from me. This is all my fault. Years had slipped by where it had seemed there would be no repercussions, no piper to pay. Maybe the bullet had been dodged. But no, no… not on this night.

October 27, 1986. The Red Sox had lost Game 7 to Mets, my first dance with the fickle mistress of postseason baseball (I was fifteen). I had made it through the aftermath of Game 6 OK, angry as hell, of course, but with jaw set and focusing on the fact that there was still one more game to play. So what the hell was happening now?

I had stepped across that Sox fan threshold and finally understood what it meant to live and die for this team. And there I was, fucking crying, and I couldn’t control it and it wasn’t fair and I didn’t know why I had to feel this way at all. I had thought I held it together in the immediate wake of the final out, just morosely slinking off to bed, but once the darkness settled in and the reality of days without any more baseball and the tortured joke of how it all went down caught up to me, and it happened. I cried. Like each breath was being torn out of my lungs. I was fifteen, for Christ’s sake, but I still couldn’t help it.

And my father came in, and I wouldn’t look at him, I kept my face smashed into my arm as if this would somehow deny the reality of what was happening, and I think part of him had to be wishing he never nurtured my love for the Sox in the first place, never took me to games when I was very young, never sat and talked baseball with me, as if all of this could have been avoided if I just never cared about it to begin with. Complicity.

His words to me weren’t historic, not bathed in the glow that inspires orators, but they were pragmatic and heartfelt. There would be next year, he assured. He was careful to point out that my grandfather, his father, had followed the Sox for his entire life without seeing them win a World Series, and we had to appreciate what was given us (Poppy had passed away in 1983).

But it didn’t help, not at the time. And despite my grief over this love for a team that my father had passed down to me, despite his own role and accountability in what I was feeling at the time, I think he was proud. Because I cared that much. Cared too much, in fact, although that was really an impossibility, when you think about it.

* * *

Scott Rolen had just flied out to right field, making the first out in the bottom of the ninth. I told my wife to go get our five-month old son out of his crib and bring him down for this.

“Can’t you wait until there’s at least two outs?” she asked.

“Edmonds might hit into a double play.” Pujols was on first.

She went to go get him.

There were maybe sixteen people in a room that was designed to seat 6. Kitchen chairs had been brought in, people were sitting on the arms of couches. I had driven two hours from my home in Maine to watch Game 4 at my sister’s house in Massachusetts, weeknight be damned. My wife didn’t quite understand why, just as she didn’t understand what was to be gained from waking an infant to witness a moment he wouldn’t possibly ever remember. But I had to watch the game with my dad. I had to be with my dad. And my son had to be there, too.

I sat on the floor at my father’s feet. He had the corner of one of the couches. We were faking being at ease, but not overly so: even false hubris would smack of the preconceived notion of celebration, therefore taunting the baseball gods.

Back in the top of the third, when Nixon got to a 3-0 count with the bases loaded, we both simultaneously muttered, “I bet he’s got the green light on this pitch.” And indeed he swung, missing a homer by a few feet and scoring Ortiz and Varitek in the process. And the game progressed to its preordained conclusion, but you still had to wait for it to get there. And in waiting, you start thinking of all the ways that things could go wrong. But then it gradually became clear that none of these bad things were going to happen, and the Sox were indeed going to win the World Series, but you had to wait that interminable moment or two until victory actually arrived. Because baseball does not run on a clock. You had to get the outs.

Such anticipation regarding the Sox was audacious, considering their calamitous postseason history, but then again, the Cardinals were fucking cooked. Absolutely dead, and it seeped out of their pores the entire game. We could smell the stink of it in Hopedale, halfway across the country.

So in the bottom of the ninth my wife stood in the living room cradling my stirring son, and once Edmonds struck out, I shifted from my sitting position to a kneeling crouch. I threw a glancing look back at my dad, wondering what was passing through his mind, and saw that while his face was one of guarded calmness, he was grinding his palms together with such force that the veins on the backs of his hands stood out. And my eyes flitted back to the TV, intently watching Foulke face Renteria, and as soon as the hopper back to the mound was stabbed, the room erupted. Me leaping out of my crouch and instinctively grabbing my father, burying my face in his shoulder as I once buried it in my own arm on another October night long ago, crying just as I did then but for entirely different reasons, a long journey that we had taken together finally having come to fruition.

I held him for a lot longer than I care to admit. The embrace had its origins in baseball, but it became an opportunity to silently thank him for everything he’d ever done for me, to simply show him how glad I was that he was my father. He who had handed down to me this wonderful gift, wrapped in horsehide and red stitches.

When I finally let go of him, my wife put my bleary-eyed son in my arms. He was not crying. No, his face bore the serene look of the starsailor gone through the other side of a black hole, beholding a new universe, one where it just so happened that the words Dent, Buckner and Boone held no weight, nor would they ever. And I gently brought his forehead to my dampened cheeks, baptizing him into this strange and euphoric unknown.

I Never Drew a Manny

In his 7 1/2 years as a Red Sox, I never drew a picture of Manny. I’ve seen some great photos of him that would make a terrific drawing or painting, either due to the composition itself or the significance of the event depicted, but I never felt the emotional attachment to him as a person that is a requirement of any subject that I draw. Compounding matters is that Manny was such a polarizing figure that the market for any artwork of him was 50% less than that of someone like Ortiz or Pedro. A lot of fans just weren’t that into him.

I recognize his prodigious talent, I generally supported him through all the “Manny being Manny” antics because it wasn’t like we didn’t know what we were getting when he came to Boston, and I appreciate his role in the two World Series the Sox won during his tenure.

But his aloofness and mercurial ways ensured I’d never feel any sort of connection to him, unlike with Papi or Pedro or even Nomar. The way I feel about Manny is the way I imagine non-cat people feel about cats. Who can understand them? What’s the point?

So I am not saddened in the least by this trade. I do think the Sox will miss Manny’s bat, and if the Sox get to the postseason, I’m sure there will be a moment where I wish he was in the lineup, so in that sense I have a tinge of regret. But it’s only because I root for the Sox. I have no animosity toward Manny, but I feel like I never really “got” him, either, so seeing him go doesn’t disturb me one bit.

But the Sox do seem to have trouble with departures like these, and it makes it difficult when trying to choose a next art project to work on. It’s not like painting a portrait of the family patriarch; odds are that whoever you spend hours on trying to render in charcoal or paint is someday going to leave town in a very ugly manner, and all that time and effort seems like a silly waste (there are a few Clemenses I did that are floating around out there somewhere). I have no idea if the Nomar drawing I gave my brother-in-law back in 2000 still means anything to him, but if it doesn’t, I can’t say I blame him.

Oh, Nomar was a pain in the ass even more than Manny in some ways, but the difference between him and Manny is that I felt like Nomar genuinely cared about the team and the town, but he was an OCD type of guy who wasn’t built to articualte his feelings (and made things worse when he tried), and ultimately he couldn’t deal with the fishbowl that was Boston. All of which I can understand, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I still think of him as someone who was in just completely over his head in terms of what was expected of him as a baseball hero in this town and all that came with that, and as such, I feel some sincere sympathy for him. I think he felt like if he played hard and people just left him alone, things would work out and all would be OK. But he suffered through some nagging injuries and then suddenly there were some rancorous and public negotiations leading up to his contract year, and I think he was out of his element when it came to balancing such matters. And then he was gone.

But I’m glad I drew the picture of him, for several reasons. Still am. I don’t think ill of Nomar.

Manny? Manny was a scuba diver from Jupiter. I can’t even pretend to know what the hell was going on in his head, so I just sat back and watched. And it was entertaining, but in an oddly detached way. And when I think of drawing a picture of him, I just kind of shrug and think, “Why?” It’d be like trying to paint someone wearing a blank mask.

There’s the Why, and Then There’s the How Much

The above piece is something I drew specifically for a charitable auction for Curt’s Pitch for ALS organized by the Sons of Sam Horn website in the memory of John Hoyt.

 It’s on the block until August 10th at 8:00PM, so far the highest bid is $550 (as of 7/17 at 10:45AM), which is nice. Until now, the highest amount of money I’ve ever sold a piece for is $200. Of course, that $550 isn’t a true reflection of the buyer’s valuation of the piece as art, because the bid is inflated due to the charitable nature of the auction. But that hardly matters, because what it essentially amounts to is that it’s the equivalent of me writing a $550 check to this cause, something I’m not actually able to do at this point. So I was able to utilize my talents to benefit a noble cause in a way that far exceeds my own financial capacity, and it feels really good to be able to do that. If the buyer ends up actually digging the piece, so much the better.

I’ll be doing a second drawing for the auction as well. There’s a possibility that the combined sale prices of both pieces will exceed $1000. It’s kind of mind-blowing, and I genuinely feel much better about this sort of transaction than if I were selling the pieces for profit at a lower price. I’m still really uncomfortable about charging money for my artwork, primarily because I’m usually selling pieces to friends and acquaintances, so it just feels awkward  to me. In all seriousness I know I’m undercharging for my art (which is borne out by the fact that I have steady work and future buyers on tap), but it’s hard because art is subjective and what’s worth $200 to one person is worth $550 to another and worth 75 cents to yet a third. Ideally I’d create a piece on my own and set a price I thought was fair based on the amount of work I put into it, and some stranger would agree and then buy it from me. Doesn’t really work that way, at least for 99.9% of the artists out there.

 In the meantime, participating in stuff like this is a really rewarding consolation prize.

We Choose to Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy, but Because They Are Hard

Despite spending almost my entire life as an artist, including 6 years of art classes in junior high/high school and 3 semesters in college, I’ve rarely painted anything. I was always a pencil/charcoal/pen-and-ink guy. And when I did paint, it was usually because I had to as part of a school assigment and it was usually watercolor, but not in the way that watercolor was meant to be used (I was guilty of flat and even color application with no exploitation of the inherent characterisitics of the medium). I might as well have been utilizing poster paint.

I can’t say why I avoided it so much. Comfort level was definitely a big part of it. There’s a greater sense of control using a pencil or a pen as opposed to paint and a brush, and for a not-terribly diverse artist like me, it’s very easy to avoid delving into that whole medium. And once you start avoiding something, it’s that much easier to keep avoiding it. Which is a shame, really, since painting comprises the vast majority of what the average person considers art.

So flash forward to late 2006, and I still hadn’t tried to paint anything. But it was nagging at me; it was kind of like playing golf but picking up your ball after your drive and moving on to the next hole because you’d never chipped or putted before. Well, then you haven’t played golf.

Compounding matters was that not only had I never seriously painted anything before, but I also had no knowledge of the required materials, be they paint, brushes or canvas. I had assumed I’d be using oil paints, but after doing some research I found out that acrylics are much lower maintenance, although they lack the richness and blendability of oils. I live in an apartment with two small kids and no studio space, so ease of cleanup and no worries about toxic fumes rank high on my list of priorites, thus oils were out. So I picked up a bunch of tubes of student-grade acrylics, some brushes, and a few pre-stretched canvases from the local art store. Being paralyzed by not knowing which brand of brushes to buy or what type of canvases to get was a potential problem, but then I realized that the only reason I know what kind of charcoal I like or what kind of paper works best for which drawing is because I learned it through doing. So I just said, “Screw it,” and bought nicer brushes and cheaper canvases. Because in my limited experience I know that a good brush can make all the difference, and I’d be using them again and again, whereas any canvases I bought were going to be wasted on my learning curve. The undertaking was more important than the result.

So I painted the Pedro picture above, not having any idea of what I was doing. I think it shows, but on the other hand, it will always mean something to me because it represents doing something simply because it was there to be attempted. And I enjoyed it, and the felt the urge to do more. So I’ve expanded my repertoire.

Of course, for all of that, I didn’t attempt another painting until 10 months later, but just one piece removed from my Alan Shepard/Freedom 7 moment, I think you can see the differences in approach and brushwork. It’s not finished yet, but hopefully it will be soon (it’s a little out of focus because I killed the flash to lose the glare):

So there you go. All it takes is the decision to actually get started.

Here’s Your Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

This was the first piece I ever sold. It was in 2005, a couple of years into my marriage and my first child had just been born, and I figured that maybe it was time to try to parlay my talent into the dizzying riches that so often come to artists (especially untrained ones). It was a commissioned work, done through the Sons of Sam Horn website (a Red Sox discussion board), where I was a member. Since I gravitated toward sports subjects in my art, if there was going to be interest in that type of work, it would be shown by some of the members there.

I posted on the board about being available to do some artwork, and when an interested party responded, my first thought was, Uh oh. It was like asking a woman who was way out of your league on a date — to borrow from Sir Edmund Hillary, because she’s there — and to your surprise she said yes. The unexpected affirmative answer opens up a lot pitfalls that didn’t seem so important when you thought you were going to be shot down.

Luckily the process went smoothly. The prospective buyer wanted a drawing of Pedro Martinez, which was just fine with me, and I had plenty of source pictures to work from. We traded some emails until he decided which one he liked best. I had no idea how to price what I was doing, only that I didn’t want to charge too much because it felt was absurd to be asking for money for this in the first place. I ended up charging $100, which came to net of $70 after the matte and frame. The price seemed astronomical at the time to me, in an I-can’t-believe-I’m asking-for-this-kind of way, even though it broke down to an hourly rate of less than $10 when all was said and done. Not that you can price art by the hour.

Thankfully the buyer seemed very appreciative, so much so that I’ll gladly plug his own entrepreneurial endeavor, Maple Street Press, publishers of the Red Sox Annual, among other things.

So this drawing ushered me into the ranks of the professionals. I sold a couple of pieces after that to some other SoSHers, but between my wife and I having another child and moving from Maine back to Massachusetts, I didn’t pursue it as aggressively as I could have. Looking back, that was probably a good thing. Too much going on in other arenas.

This is a piece that I’m not happy with overall (you’ll sense a theme here). It just seems too fuzzy, I think. Part of that is inherent to the medium (color pastel) and part of that is the crappy digital camera I used to take the picture (it’s actually a still shot from a camcorder), and since the picture is all I have left of the work, it’s bound to taint my view. But still. However, I believe the buyer when he says he’s happy with the drawing (we still meet for beers on occasion), so that’s all I can ask for. It was an important step, this charging-money-for-art thing. Women and power were soon to follow.

Remember When Fast Eddie Heard Vince’s Break?

That’s what this Nomar drawing was to me.

If the Pedro drawing was A New Hope, as established in my prior post (which is the one below this one, not above, stupid blog format), then this was The Phantom Menace (presuming high school and college were The Hobbit, wrong universe but bear with me). We talked about it already, I’m just rehashing because the continuity is hard to follow. The act of drawing the Nomar picture, the spark that was struck, was the equivalent of Newman in a dive bar, shilling watered-down whiskey to bartenders and hearing that unmistakable snap from over his shoulder.

The funny thing is that while I was downright ecstatic when I finished this piece, I’ve since grown to dislike it more over the years, which is the reverse of what usually happens. With most of the art I create, I hate it from the get-go and over time I gradually come to terms with the fact that it might be OK after all. But it takes many years. If ever.

Mostly I don’t like the way his cap was rendered, there’s no gradation whatsoever. His face is a little muddy, too. And once I see something like that, that’s all I see.

But I embraced the artist in me once more because sometimes you simply need to do something you’re really good at. None of these pieces are groundbreaking, and I equate the ability to do them to a kind of autism — I can draw things as I see them — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a skill. In my case, most of the time it’s not even about the act of drawing or the piece itself, it’s just about sitting over a drafting table and feeling like you could do anything you wanted to and it would somehow work, that you were that goddamn good. The flash of intuition that tells you a certain stroke with a charcoal stick will look a certain way, even though you’ve never tried it, and you’re right. And you think, How did I know that? Circuitry that has existed in you since birth, since before that. In the womb. Mapped neurons inside a fetus no bigger than a pinhead. It’s alien in a way… I didn’t choose it, no more than I chose red hair or to be 5’10”. But I hope everyone has something like that in themselves, an instinct they can trust because it’s never been wrong. Mine is a purely impractical talent, but at least it feels like God smiled on me in some way, even if it’s a parlor trick.

I’m really not digging the Nomar piece these days. I think it shows very clearly that I hadn’t been near an inkwell in ten years, but I’m old enough now to take that into account. So I’m proud of it anyway. I remember that my brother-in-law hung it up in his house, and later that year I was there at a party, staying up most of the night drinking (as was usually the case at his and my sister’s parties), and after everyone had passed out or gone to bed I stood in front of this Nomar picture for a long time, nursing my beer and just looking at it. It was a symbol, you see. I heard the break.