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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.

This Is the Way the World Began

Sort of. In a Star Wars IV: A New Hope kind of way. In that A New Hope seemed like the beginning, but it turned out there were really three other movies before it, only we saw them 20 years later. “Prequels.”

But now that I think about it a little more, the Tiger Woods drawing is actually the beginning of a third trilogy in a series, not that Lucas has gotten around to making the Star Wars equivalent yet. The whole comparison a little tortured, I admit. But let’s run with it.

OK, so if that’s the case (which I think it is), then the first trilogy, chronologically speaking — Phantom Menace through Revenge of the Sith — would be the series of drawings I did for my groomsmen back in late 2001 through early 2002, pieces to be given as gifts at my wedding’s rehearsal dinner in the summer of ‘02. Although that’s not quite right, either. Maybe it would go back as far as the pen-and-ink Nomar drawing I did for my freshly-minted brother-in-law as a Christmas gift in 2000, in honor of his having joined the family that October.

Now that I think about it, yes, that’s it. The Nomar’s the one. Because prior to that I hadn’t really picked up so much as a pen, a charcoal stick or a paintbrush with a purpose since I left Syracuse in the winter of 1990. Ten years gone. Which would make my high school and aborted college years The Hobbit, if only I weren’t mixing epic sagas.

At any rate, my middle sister Michelle was the first of us to get married (fall of ‘00), and her husband Mike was a Sox fan (of course), so I thought drawing him a Nomar picture as a Christmas gift that year would be a cool thing to do. I never had any brothers, just two sisters, so the arrival of a fellow man into the family who was close to my own age was a profound and welcome change in my life. Despite not having drawn for almost a decade, it was something I wanted to do. And to my surprise, in the course of drawing this picture for him, I found myself enjoying the process. Like the cokehead who lays off the snow for an extended period of time, but comes back despite knowing better, I suppose. *I’ve never done cocaine, but my addiction to animal porn is probably not as relatable.

When Mike unwrapped his gift, I could tell he really appreciated it, but the kicker was that he didn’t know that I had drawn it. He just assumed it was some store-bought piece, until a few moments passed and he saw my signature. Which isn’t really a signature, just my initials and the last two digits of the year in which it was completed; I always got annoyed when artists had ostentatious signatures, drawing attention away from the piece. Digression aside, he liked the Nomar, and I liked that he liked it. So art wasn’t such a useless thing anymore.

I got engaged the following spring, and by that time I had already decided I was going to give my groomsmen some original artwork as gifts, which ended up taking around 6 months to complete (one month/piece for each man in the wedding party). It was a lot of work, but it was an important development for several reasons:
• That I even decided on such an undertaking after being “retired” for so long in the first place.
• I had to bust my ass and stay on schedule, because if I created five masterpieces but wasn’t able to start the sixth due to time running out, the whole concept was shot and I’d be screwed. “Hey, sorry Rob, you don’t get a drawing. I’ll get around to it after the honeymoon.” That I succeeded is all the more surprising because busting my ass and staying on schedule has never been a strong suit of mine in any walk of life, let alone when I was an art student in college, which was the last time I had to match that kind of artistic output.
• I enjoyed the process. A lot. Which is the most important, if I may state the obvious. Creating art (even unoriginal and derivative art such as mine) is an incredibly draining process, and there’s really no reward at the end of it, at least not for me, because I usually dislike the final product. It never ends up being what I saw in my head. So it’s a drag, which is why I buried it for ten years. That and the fact that I curse the skill to begin with, which has never been anything but impractical. I’d feel a lot more comfortable in my skin if I had been blessed with the discipline to study law or medicine, or if I had a nose for finance, or even to wake up without hitting the snooze button seven or eight times first.

But this is what I’ve got instead of those things, and Project Groomsmen worked, which was a refreshing development, given my track record.

Anyway, I think we were talking about the time continuum of the Star Wars universe. You know, it’s not as if I worship the Star Wars canon. Really. It’s just the most appropriate analogy. If six Godfathers or six X-Men had been made, I’d be trying to shoehorn them into this scenario, you can bet. Which is silly anyway, because I’ve already stated this art saga thing is really three separate chapters (chapter equaling trilogy, in this case), while the Star Wars series has only two. But it’s the closest thing. That’s all.

So which drawing is A New Hope, then, if not the Tiger Woods? The first Pedro I did. That was the first piece I actually sold (I really should be posting or linking to pictures of this stuff, by the way). But I’m not, because I want to address each one on its own merits. Which is strange, because I haven’t addressed the Tiger drawing, and that’s what this post is supposedly about.

I’ll get to it. In due time.