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This drawing is of my niece and goddaughter Riley, my sister’s child, it was for her birthday (I had promised to do a picture of her after her christening earlier this year). Although I guess you could say it was more for my sister than my niece, but that’s OK.

I get the feeling that drawing kids’ portraits would be a lot more lucrative than sports subjects. Not everyone’s a fan of sports; hopefully every parent is a fan of their kids. And people will spend silly money when it comes to stuff like that, just because.

The problem is that I have no desire to do it. I mean, I did in this particular case, obviously, but if it were somebody else’s kid I’d have had to drink a 12-pack of Miller Lite before I even tried to start the damn thing, just to drown the self-loathing. And I have no idea why; it’s not as if athletes are a more credible genre. One could say the above piece is a “truer” work of art, in that I took the source photograph myself, as opposed to using one from the pages of a magazine or downloaded off the internet. Larry Bird is not hanging in the Guggenheim or MoMA.

I’ve given the matter some thought. Sports are a big part of my life, but I’m a serious movie buff, too, and other than a Clint Eastwood/Josey Wales drawing I’ve done, I don’t do any work featuring movie stars. I think I feel like there’s a legitimacy involved with drawing athletes because it’s the human form. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college doing figure drawings, and what I do now is an extension of that. It’s something I can respect.

But in digging a little deeper, I had a minor epiphany: I think it’s because I’m in a state of arrested development, and drawing pictures of sports stars is a thinly-veiled cover to drawing superheroes. The first art I ever took note of was from comic books. As a child I sharpened my drawing skills via endless sketches of Superman, Spider-man and The Hulk. And while I never really got into comic books themselves (I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy geek, and too many comic book narratives skew in that direction), I’ve always held a fascination with the idea of the superhero. More from a literary side of things, how they owe a debt to Greek mythology or Beowulf or Jekyll and Hyde.

Extrapolate this interest out to observing real-life specimens in peak physical condition, performing feats of wonder while wearing boldly-colored uniforms, and the comparison seems rather apt.

My son is a huge superhero geek now, no small thanks to my influence, which is great, since I get to live vicariously and credibly through him. (“Uh, I’m buying the Iron Man DVD on the day of its release for my son.”) He also watches quite a bit of sports with me, mostly because he has an inquisitive mind and wants to know what it’s all about, although he’s a TV junkie who would watch C-SPAN if it meant keeping the set on. Sometimes when I’m trying to explain a certain sporting situation I try to couch it in terms of superheroes so he can understand it better. And then the lightbulb went off in my head.

I showed him two clips from The Natural: the clock-shattering scene at Wrigley and the final home run. The intersection of sports and myth, of man and superman. Roy Hobbs and his magical bat Wonderboy.  Arthur and Excalibur. Thor and Mjolnir. Green Lantern and his power ring.

When Hobbs sent his home run ball arching into the light stand, setting off a shower of sparks, my son leaped off the couch, jumping up and down just as if Roy was wearing a cape and saving the girl. And it was great to see him and feel that same thrill again myself, improbably so, having seen that home run dozens of times before.

I was around ten years old when I switched from drawing superheroes to drawing baseball players. I’ve never really looked back. But it’s dawned on me that on some level I’m just redirecting; in drawing these pictures, I’m just choosing a more socially acceptable alternative to sketches of grown men (or mutants) in spandex. But it’s still the same thing. They are the same stories being played out since man began to put paintings on cave walls. The weight they hold is ingrained in us, just like a dog that circles to tamp down nonexistent grass before it lies down to sleep.

And this picture…

…tells me far more about ourselves than one of a smiling baby.

Raison d’Être

I was flipping through Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago when I came across this photo:

And I thought to myself, That’s a pretty cool picture. I’d like to draw that. Which is usually how it goes. Now I’m not an Ohio State fan or anything, I just like the composition: the boldness of the red jersey, the contrast between light and shadow, the intensity in Laurinaitis’s face. So I scanned it and filed it away for some day when I actually get motivated to draw it, a day that will probably never come. I’ve got tons of scans just like this, all waiting for their day in the sun.

What ultimately might get me to do this picture (or any of the others I’ve got waiting) is if I think there’s someone who would appreciate a drawing/painting of it, hopefully on two levels: because they’re a fan of the subject matter (in this case, Ohio State/Laurinaitis), and because they have some appreciation of art, however small or unexplored. If I know of someone like that, I’ll create the picture and then give it away to that person for free, usually as a surprise. It’s a win-win… I had an excuse to do the picture (I simply need to work on my art more, so any reason helps, plus I enjoy the process), and they get something they’ll hopefully enjoy. And if it’s really appreciated, so much the better. To me, that’s the juice. Although it goes without saying that if I lived anywhere near Columbus, Ohio, I’d charge $1,000 for the piece (I’m only slightly kidding). Geography plays into these things.

I posted about seeing this picture and the thought process behind why I draw things on Sons of Sam Horn, and a fellow member who is an Ohio State alumnus posted this in response (it happened to be the week after tOSU’s loss to USC) :

“Saturday was one of the worst regular season losses for the Buckeyes in a long time. I didn’t get to see a lot of the game because I was at a wedding up in Vermont. If it wasn’t for said wedding, I probably would have tried to get to the game as I have a bunch of friends/relatives in SoCal and I’ve been meaning to get out there to visit my last living grandparent, my father’s mother.

As luck would have it, there was a TV in this “study” area on the way to the bathrooms from the reception hall. I was rather worried about this because the place where the wedding was being held (The Equinox) didn’t seem like the type of place to have some random TV somewhere. I looked in a few of the bars in the hotel before the reception and didn’t find one. I heard about the TV when the groom (a very good friend of mine from high school) approached the table and said, “Hey man, I have two pieces of good news for you. There’s a TV in the study and the Buckeyes are winning 3-0.” I got up, grabbed my beer, gave him a big hug and went to check out the game.

I only watched a little bit. I’d check the score from time to time, but it didn’t look like it was going to be the Buckeyes’ night. 35 unanswered USC points later, my buddy goes, “See, I saved you from heading out to LA to see that craptastic game.” (He read about how I’d be in LA if it wasn’t for the wedding in my blog). As you may or may not know, a loss in college football pretty much eliminates you from national championship contention. This is especially true for the 2008 Buckeyes because of their less than stellar showings in the past two national championship games.

The nice part about the placement of the TV was that it really was directly in the path to the bathroom from the reception room. The good part about this was that I could still be social while at the same time, check out some of the game. It was also a nice reminder to head back into the reception and not spend too much time out there when I started seeing the same people or hearing comments like “You’re still out here?” It also provided some laughs when I would curse at the TV as some of the snowbirds from the wedding would walk by.

Since Saturday, I’ve been feeling really bummed about the game. I was so bummed that on Sunday, I went from predicting a Patriots win over the Jets to fearing that the Jets would romp the Pats. It would have fit right in with Liverpool’s win over United and USC’s complete demolition of the Buckeyes. Thankfully, the Pats pulled it out in (IMHO) one of Belichick’s best regular season wins during his tenure in New England. I think it was Steve Young on the ESPN pre-game show saying something like “The Pats won’t score 10 points today” that really set me off pre-game.

Anyhoo, the Pats lifted my spirits about sports in general but it wasn’t until I saw the picture above that my Buckeye pride was rekindled. I love the picture. It is of a senior, who put off making millions to come back to take one more crack at trying to win that elusive national championship. I love his number (for obvious local reasons) and the big fat swoosh on the front of his jersey. I’ve always loved when they wear the scarlet jerseys and the contrast of the gray helmets which is as familiar as fall Saturdays in the ‘Shoe. It’s a great picture. Thanks for posting it.”

This is what art can do for us.

“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. 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 does happen), 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 that is by doing an autopsy on a recently caught tiger shark, the results of which should yield definitive proof (e.g. human body parts that either are or aren’t present in the shark’s slow-reacting digestive tract).

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 and the version where I just drew what I thought looked “right”. 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.

Not a Bad Town to Live In, Considering the Gig

I’ll always have Ted.

The Boston sporting universe as we know it could come to an end tomorrow and I’d still have plenty of opportunity to draw some sports-related art for people, because we have Ted. Boston athletes come and go, our love affairs with them blossoming and eventually withering (usually in an ugly or petty fashion), but The Kid occupies a zone impervious the the whims of the sports talk-show caller or message boarder. He had the presence of mind to be incredibly talented yet equally cantankerous in an era where that was less damaging to one’s public image, an indictment of both Ted and the times we live in now. And since so many of us were born after he stopped playing, he’s simply a Warhol-esque icon, shorthand for some larger statement about the game and ourselves. I can do charcoal drawings of Ted until they put me into the ground, and there will always be a taker for them. I just finished the above commissioned piece, and I’ve got another one of Willams that’s almost-completed and already has a few prospective owners (I started it without a commission attached, I just liked the picture). Progress below:

But consider this. Boston also has the following athletes who occupy the next tier down from Ted, a tier that is still in rare air but slightly short of that iconic God status (which your Jordans, Alis and Ruths have attained): Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Bill Russell, with Tom Brady waiting outside but ready to knock on that door.  And by all rights Pedro Martinez should be included amongst that group, but his period of utter dominance was Koufaxian in its brevity, and he had the nerve to leave town of his own accord, so I doubt he’ll be truly appreciated for what he was by the majority of Boston sports fans until years from now, if ever.

Then you’ve got the tier below that: Yaz, Havlicek, Bourque, John Hannah (who would be ranked higher if he played a sexier position, nobody wants drawings of offensive linemen). Ortiz and Manny occupy this level now, and Manny would be higher if he didn’t dog his way out of town, because based on skill alone he’s the second-best Sox hitter ever after Williams. Ortiz could move up with a few more good years and one more transcendent October or two.

I don’t think any other city in America can rival the depth and breadth of this pool of sports icons, and if it can, it’s because it boasts multiple teams per sports league, like New York, Chicago or LA.

I benefit from this twofold: they’ve provided a huge positive impact upon the teams I root for, and they also possess that je ne sais quoi that make people want artwork of them.

I could live in worse places, and this was even before this current and remarkable decade, in which Boston has turned into Titletown. It’s easy to forget sometimes.