It’s Just a Stupid Song

Shinedown. Shinedown, for Chrissakes.

I was assaulted by this song for most of last summer. You know, “Second Chance”.

I just saw Halley’s comet, she waved…

It felt like an unholy piece of corporate rock pap birthed by the union of Daughtry and Nickelback. The kind of song where you hit the seek button upon hearing that first recognizable strum of the guitar.

Whatever, I would tell myself. It’s just a stupid summer song.

But then I got a call at the end of August that my cousin had killed himself, the kind of shocking event that drops the floor from underneath your feet, but as you fall into that irreversible abyss you think about it and maybe you realize it wasn’t that much of a surprise at all. Not at all.

Then I’m on a plane to Phoenix to claim him, his brother flying across the country from Maryland to meet me, where we will converge and ponder the incongruity of us hugging in the desert. And the whole flight I was alternately trying to sleep or read so that I didn’t have to consider why I was on that plane in the first place, with this incomprehensible mission looming in front of me, secure in the knowledge that it was going to suck and that I had no idea what I was in for. Like, a Through the Looking Glass kind of suck.

And ultimately, I was right and then some: a few days later I’d end up behind the building of some bar in Arizona, crouching on red stone gravel under a few mesquite trees in the twilight, trying to yank a sob from my unyielding chest, unable to cry even though I wanted to. The tears would be my salvation, but I couldn’t conjure them.

And when I went back into the bar, red dust still on my heels, disgusted at myself for having failed at this simplest of tasks, I looked up at the rows and rows of TV screens. Someone had made a DVD slideshow of pictures of Danny, his kids, of him with his family and friends. They were on all of these TVs, 20 or so flat screens and one huge pulldown, and a buddy of his had put some musical accompaniment to it. The song that happened to be playing as I entered was the aforementioned “Second Chance”.

I just saw Halley’s Comet, she waved
Said, “Why you always running in place?”

Tell my mother
Tell my father…

And I crumbled. And I embraced that crumbling like it was the closest person I have ever known.

* * *

My son lurks. In a good way. He hangs around, he observes. He soaks up stuff, even things unsaid. If I’m on the computer, we shoot the breeze. Or I draw in my studio, he scribbles some stuff alongside me, asks some questions. I listen to music when I do these things, and I kind of assume he can’t even hear it, like it’s a language he doesn’t speak, even though he’s five years old and can tell me who sings “Don’t Worry Baby” or “Debaser”.

I was sitting in front of my drawing table today, looking at the blank space, a beer sweating on the shelf next to me, just kind of zoning out. Because the stereo was on, turned up loud, of course, since it was my basement studio and no one was going to object. It was Shinedown’s “Second Chance,” but I wasn’t really hearing it, I was thinking of red stone dust and a cousin who was my own age but no longer there.

My son kind of crept up to my side, which he is wont to do, and when I turned to look at him, he plainly asked, “Is this song special?”

I opened my mouth.



I’ve often lamented in these blog pages about how long the artistic process is. How draining it can be.

And it’s true, it’s true. But it’s changing somewhat, and whether that’s due to my own perception/attitude or the simple fact that I’m getting better and the typical stuff that I do has become easier for me, I can’t say. Some of both, although I’m leaning more toward the latter, I suspect.

The two pieces of art posted above represent my output for the past two days. Henrik Larsson on Thursday, Wayne Rooney on Friday. An acrylic painting and a color pastel,  media which take longer than a charcoal drawing, no less. Two months ago (hell, even two weeks ago) this would have been unheard of for me.

And neither of them was commissioned. The Larsson is something I did for myself… I’m a Celtic FC fan, and I wish I could see more of their games, and I was working out that withdrawal through art. The Rooney is for a friend who’s a big ManU fan, but it was something we talked about drunkenly a while ago, and I offered to do it for no profit, just to break into doing soccer art. And I’m glad I made that choice.

The night prior to beginning each of these pieces it seemed as if I barely got any sleep because I was dreaming about drawing and painting these subjects, and it was so intense I felt like I was awake, even if I really wasn’t (I honestly couldn’t tell). And now I’m no longer the guy on the high dive board above an Olympic pool, wondering how I’m going to get down without killing myself, which was how I always felt. Now? Now I’m looking to slice through that water like a knife and fracture the pool bottom with my fist. I attacked that Larsson painting; I just slapped on the paint, and by the end of the day, it was done. I abandoned the calculated and reserved approach I usually take because I felt like I knew what I wanted to do with it in my gut. Every thing else came from that. And I finished a painting. In a day. For me, that’s a feat.

The Rooney drawing was even more interesting because I wanted to do a few slightly weird things from the get-go. I had a vision that was a wee bit different than representational; I wanted to screw with the colors and properties to make Rooney more ominous, like he was some looming beast or alien from a different dimension. Purple sky, greenish hue, liquid shirt. Making his slightly reddish hair orange. I’m not quite sure if I achieved the effect I was going for, but there’s some subjective quality about the piece, which is enough for me.

I’m going to outgrow this genre someday, and I don’t say it out of disrespect, but it’s obviously the natural progression that every artist takes. I think I’ll always be involved with it, because I enjoy the work and it pays well, but on my own time there will be a day when I start goofing around with something else. And I guess I always knew that time would come.

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.

Bottle 2 Tha Face, Yo

A very wise man and I were once having a conversation about the nature of arguments, and our musings led us to realize that the ultimate answer in any heated debate would be to smash a beer bottle against your opponent’s face. What kind of comeback could top that, really?

Him: “You see, I think that if the United States had simply learned the lesson the French were given at Dien Bien Phu–”
You: *SMASH*

Argument over, you’ve won.

Sometimes I need the musical equivalent of a bottle to the face. Usually I listen to music as a mood enhancer (the aural equivalent to having a beer on your porch), not a mood alterer. But when I draw or paint, for some reason I need songs that push buttons, not ones that hold hands. And of course I have a playlist for this (creatively entitled The Art Mix, wordsmith that I am), and it’s chockablock full of a lot of crappy heavy metal that I’d rarely admit listening to. But it seems OK because I can say, “Hey, it’s not like I listen to this stuff on its own, it’s just when I use this playlist!”

Some of it is great for the Memory Lane factor (any of the dozens of 80s hair band songs on there), and some of it is the best of what the genre has to offer, such as early Metallica. But the bulk of the list, the songs that seem to work the best for me, fall into basically three other categories: Tool/A Perfect Circle, Ice Cube, and techno.

I alluded to why I might need this kind of music in a post I made on Sons of Sam Horn in a “Helmet vs. Tool” thread (we don’t only talk about baseball):

I couldn’t begin to try to explain why without sounding like a bumbling and pretentious asshole, especially since music criticism ain’t my bag, but I will say that I often listen to Tool when I’m drawing or painting, as if it were the music itself that was ripping aside some repressed lid off of my id and facilitating the process. Puts me where I need to be.

I have to attack when I create art, and that’s just generally not in my nature. Instead I’m inclined to observe and synthesize and maybe talk about it after the fact, and in the meantime, would anyone like another beer? But this more aggressive music is like the full moon to a werewolf for me. And it’s needed.

Because the piece of paper or the canvas is the enemy. And art takes a long, long time to make. Picture the painting surface not as stretched linen, but as a slab of cement, and I literally have to punch a piece of art out of it. And each power jab, each haymaker, it only creates the smallest hairline fissure with each blow, and it’s the cumulative effect of hundreds and thousands of these punches that slowly reveals the painting as the pulverized cement crumbles away.

Dan Fogelberg is not going to assist with that process.

But Vicarious will. Endangered Species will. Keep Hope Alive will. Never Gonna Come Back Down will. The music is the bottle to the face, no doubt, but am I the one swinging it or the one getting smashed across the bridge of the nose? Either way, it works, so I’m not complaining, but it’s an interesting question.

Of Wax Paper, Baby Food Jars, and Jason Bourne

I’ve been painting a lot recently, and it’s been interesting because I never made a serious pass at it until a couple of years ago, and even then, I approached it tentatively… two paintings in two years. I’ve touched on this before, but it was an elephant-in-the-room situation, something I had been avoiding all along because of my unfamiliarity with it, and that avoidance only grew stronger over time.

I’ve picked up the pace a bit in the past six months (four paintings in that span), and what’s interesting is how naturally it’s come. I’m sure lifelong painters could have told me that drawing and painting skills translate well with one another, but it’s not like I ever asked, and besides, why should that be the rule? I doubt I can sculpt; yet that’s an art form. A brush seems pretty different from a pencil point or a pen nib when you think about it.The irony is that using a brush suddenly seems like the most natural thing in the world, and not only that, the most effective. It’s like I’ve been using rocks all my life to try to slay some menacing bear and someone just handed me a gun. The “Holy crap!” moments come crashing in like the tide. Relentless, but in a good way.

You know what I feel like? I feel like Jason Bourne in the film The Bourne Identity, at the early stages of the movie when he returns to mainland Europe, suffering from amnesia. He spends the night on a park bench in Switzerland (he has nowhere else to go), is rousted by two policemen, and before he knows it, he’s dispatched them with martial arts moves he never even knew he possessed. You can see the mixture of confusion and appreciation in his face.

I’ve got wax paper palettes taped down to glass tabletops in my basement studio, recycled baby food jars full of self-mixed opaque polymer washes of various colors, notions for which came bubbling up from my subconscious for no other reason aside from the certainty that they would work. I’m sure these are long-honored tricks. If I had applied myself earlier in life I’d know them already. It’s not even that they’re all that clever, that they’ve saved me from wasting money on real palettes, even though they have. It’s just that I understand the properties of the medium despite my limited exposure to it. And the point isn’t to crow about it; no, far from it. Again, if I wasn’t such a slacker I’d have found this out long ago.

But it just feels like if you’ve never ridden a bike before, and someone hands a Huffy to you and says, “Go for it.” And you hop on it and start pedaling and you go. For someone like me who has uselessly thrashed around in trying to find his way through the universe, releasing this thing which is so clearly embedded in my DNA is nothing short of weird. And it’s not that it’s earth-shattering, and it’s not that it will change any lives (not even my own), but just imagine if you were air-dropped into Brazil and found to your amazement that you spoke Portuguese. Some little part of yourself that you never knew existed was unlocked and stepped to the fore. It’s been almost 38 years and I just realized this, only now.

I Mean, Look at That Ass

Oftentimes when I’m in the middle of a fairly involved piece, there’s a point about halfway through when I stop and think, I could just leave it like this. There’s a roughed-out sketchy quality that happens to capture the kinesis of the moment. But as tempted as I am, I always end up finishing it off because I didn’t go in with the intention of creating a sketch; if I did, well… then I’d simply draw a sketch.

The above drawing of Larry Fitzgerald is an overt example of simply throwing down a sketch. I need to do more quick exercises like these, just to keep those muscles sharp. I’ve also made the decision to do more work like this going forward, with the intention of selling it at a reduced rate for the benefit of people who can’t splurge on a full-blown piece. Again, all part of the win-win school of artmaking that I heartily espouse.

Plus, I mean, look at that ass.

The Beatdown

My kids like to draw, and I often have them down in my studio when I’m working so they can scribble away with colored pencils while I’m doing my thing. It’s a way to spend some time with them, as well as getting them out of my wife’s hair, because Lord knows she needs a break every now and then.

I don’t think they’re artistically inclined, not that it matters in the long run. My son is almost 5 and my daughter is almost 4, and their drawings usually end up being a bunch of squiggles, interrupted by the occasional stick figure. Anything can happen, of course, latent talents emerging later in life and all, but by the time I was their ages I was doing fairly representational drawings of whatever was inspiring me at the moment: Clifford the Big Red Dog, Spider-man, etc.

The point of this observation isn’t to lament my children’s apparent lack of artistic skill. Quite frankly, I’d rather their gifts lie somewhere more practical anyway. As long as they have fun drawing, I’m a happy guy. So far so good. No, the point is twofold: 1. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. 2. And you don’t have it, there’s no getting it. 

People often wonder how I’m able to make something look like it does, and to me, it makes no sense how everyone can’t do that. I draw what I see. Here’s an arm, a leg, a face, I’ll draw it just like I see it. Obviously the rational side of me realizes that it is a quirky gift that few people have, but my gut tells me, “How hard is it to make it look like something that’s sitting right in front of you?” It’s like taking a test while having a cheat sheet full of answers right there on the desk.

Ah, the hubris. Stick around, you’ll like this.

I’m currently working on a painting right now, acrylic on canvas, and as I’ve written in past blog entries before, I’m not a very seasoned painter. This is only the third acrylic painting I’ve ever done. It’s been going OK for the most part, about as well as one could reasonably expect from such an inexperienced painter, but there’s one particular snag I’ve hit that’s been driving me up a wall. The painting is of the Dave Roberts steal in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, which turned the series around, sparking the Sox’ comeback from being down 0 games to 3 against the Yankees.

The problem is a simple one, it’s where Jeter’s hand is poised over his lower leg as he awaits Posada’s throw. I can’t get the proportion or color of his hand right, can’t get the light and shadow right, can’t get the uniformed pant leg underneath his hand right. I’ve tried 20 different incarnations of it, I’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this stupid square of canvas, and I’ve come up snake eyes each time.  I feel like I’m trying to think in English and for some reason it keeps coming out as French. I have no idea why it’s happening… just haven’t found the right combination of brush, color and stroke yet, but it’s clear I don’t know what I’m doing.

And suddenly, just like that, I’m the guy drawing the stick figure, wondering how anyone possibly can render a fleshed-out limb. A novel feeling, to be sure.

“Why can’t you draw that?”

 Because I can’t. 

I’m sure I’ll be able to figure this out eventually. Part of being an artist is having problem-solving skills, so I’m not too worried. I can already tell that some of the issue lies with the medium itself, as acrylics are pretty unforgiving because they dry so fast, so blending colors to create convincing shading is a challenge. Something I wouldn’t have known three paintings ago. There’s a reason why I’m doing this, even though it invites a figurative ass-kicking.

The feeling is alien. And probably needed.


I’ve talked about this in a prior blog post, I’m sure, but when I was very young and first started drawing (around 3 – 5 years old), I used superheroes and comic books as inspiration. This was an auspicious development, as my interest level in characters like Spider-man was intense enough to motivate me to draw quite often. And in doing so, I got a lot of practice drawing the human body, which I think is important, regardless of what kind of artist you are.

By the time I was 9 or 10, I switched from superheroes to baseball players. Baseball cards and each year’s Red Sox yearbook became my source material, typing paper and ballpoint pen my medium. And though I branched out into more traditional/legitimate subject matter through high school, I always drew athletes on the side.

After leaving Syracuse in the middle of my sophomore year, I didn’t draw much for about a decade. Partly out of apathy, but mostly out of spite. I’ve mentioned here before that what got me back into it was drawing gifts for the groomsmen in my wedding party. This is true. But I haven’t brought up what put that idea in my head, what provided a target to ultimately shoot for, the byproduct of which was the first step of creating groomsmen’s gifts.

I got engaged in Scotland in June of 2001. During that trip I took a tour of Celtic Park (home of Celtic FC),  and while we were on the executive level, I noticed that the walls were adorned with a series of very large canvases of past and present Celtic greats*. The tour guide went on to explain that the paintings were done by a season ticket holder, a regular guy with artistic talent whose ability was brought to the attention of the club somehow (I don’t think we got any more detail than that).

So I stood there, looking at them, and thought to myself, Geez, I could do that. Not in a derisive way (nor a jealous one), just a simple and true observation. Of course, I just meant it in the sense that I could draw/paint such things. Whether or not they’d ever be bought or commissioned by a professional club is an entirely different matter, reliant on connections and luck as anything else, but it was the idea that there was such an outlet for some weekend warrior with a brush, that was the galvanizing force. So I could be another weekend warrior, too, and whatever happened happened.

Shortly thereafter it occurred to me that as a newly engaged fellow, I was going to have to come up with some kind of gift for my groomsmen, and being that art was already on my mind, the decision was an easy one.

So the soft-focus goal would be to become a self-sufficient sports artist, doing work like Stephen Holland, Dick Perez, or James Fiorentino. Each piece is hopefully a step toward that.

*Somehwat evocative of Pawtucket’s McCoy stadium, whose murals were not lost on me as a young artist, trust me.

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.

In the Land of Skinny Ties and Hockey Hair

When I’m drawing, I ruminate. That’s the word. I ruminate about the subject matter, usually… it’s inevitable when you spend several hours hunched over a piece of paper under the circular glare of an artist’s lamp. My mind has to go somewhere. And I’ve always felt better about a drawing when I was able to connect with it on a particular level, so this rumination is good. As if my firsthand knowledge would infuse it with more life, more magic, more… something. On the other hand, if it holds no significance for me and my mind takes me to dead ends as I work, you can bet that’s going to be a bad piece of art.

I did the Bourque and Evans pieces back-to-back a couple of months ago, just before Thanksgiving. This artistic visitation of the Reagan era was by pure happenstance. The Bourque was for my cousin Chris (he of pogo-sticking/deck-crashing fame… Baltimore still bears the psychological scars). He was in town for the holiday and had been none-too-subtle over the years about his desire for a picture of Ray. The Evans was a commissioned piece, to be given as a gift by the buyer to her cousin. So I spent a good week-and-a-half banging out these two drawings, thinking about the individual athletes as well as the time period when they flourished in this town, and of course this led to thoughts of me and who I was back then. Because it’s hard to believe that it was 20 – 25 years ago.

One reason that sports fascinate me is that they provide a natural marker to the passage of time. You could watch The Godfather on 34 separate occasions over a span of 20 years and you get sucked into the story each time because it’s the same, no matter when you watch it. Maybe you think about when you first saw it, but it’s a fleeting notion. On the other hand, you happen to flip to ESPN Classic and they’re showing Celtics-Rockets from 1986 and you think, “Holy crap, those shorts aren’t flattering! And I completely forgot that it was Jerry Sichting who took down Sampson in that game!” You can watch the Celtics or the Sox for decades, but it’s an organic and spatial thing, ever-evolving, each moment a living time capsule.

I was in high school in the ’80s. Bourque and Evans were my guys at the age when I first begin to see athletes as people, however incomplete or inaccurate that vision was (and always will be). Not just men wearing my team’s pajamas anymore, identifiable only because of the logos on their chests. Not players who came before me: swings frozen in time, photographs forever tinged with yellow, backstories needing to be told to me as if they were fables. No, these deeds unfolded before my own adolescent eyes.

And I drew those guys back then, of course. When I was in high school I just assumed I was going to make my living as an artist. I didn’t really know how or in what way, but I never addressed the thought head-on because it was the thing that I was obviously most talented in, and that was enough. Everything would work itself out. But at the same time, a nagging and probably subconscious part of me didn’t want to commit to it, either. Mostly because I didn’t want to have this one thing that I was in sole possession of given over to someone else and have them determine what I was going to do with it. A boss. A customer. Whatever. I’ve bagged groceries and cut plastic lenses for light fixtures with table saws and created computer-aided pattern templates for fat men’s clothes, all with varying degrees of success and for different rates of pay, and it never bothered me too much because those aren’t things I’d ever do on my own time. Tell me to do it and I’ll do it.

But tell me to draw something that I didn’t want to? Open myself up to criticism of an idea that wasn’t mine in the first place? This perversion of my gift? And get paid absolute peanuts for it?


It goes without saying that I was dimly stubborn (stubbornly dim?) about the matter. Not that I was wrong about it — I was dead-on in my assessment — but it was naive. Back then it was all about integrity and whatnot. Now? While I realize that you’ve gotta do what you can to make buck, exploit any avenue that separates you from the competition, it doesn’t change the fact that I know I’m not psychologically built for that kind of artistic employment. And that’s a shortcoming, not something to be proud of.

So I look back and sort of shake my head. I don’t know if they were wasted years, rife with opportunities not taken. I don’t think so… like I said, I’m pretty sure that was never going to be the path for me. Better that I short-circuited it myself pretty early on, rather than finding out one day when I’m 45, I guess.

But on the positive side, those years marked my first steps toward independence, that hopelessly awkward transition from boy to teenager to young man. A feeble and staggering gait towards self-sufficiency and self-determination, the dawning realization that my gift was big fat fucking zero in the Life’s Profession department, over before it ever began. And weaving its way through that, the arteries that supplied blood to the muscles and organs, the fabled Best Years of Your Life. I got my driver’s license. Had a couple of jobs, could see movies whenever I wanted to, went to some parties. Discovered beer. All the while feeling the tectonic plates of my existence grinding against each other, the continental shelf entitled Girls shifting and passing over the one called Goofing Around. Good things. Finding a purpose, even if it was to get her to say yes, or to find someone who could buy booze for you, or to do just enough to avoid failing Trigonometry.

On Friday or Saturday nights, the grocery store where I worked would close down and some co-workers and I would hang out in the parking lot afterward, throwing around a football until the manager shut off the lot’s overhead lamps, usually about an hour after we punched out.

We’d fling our aprons onto the ground, shouting and whooping as we scuffled around the asphalt in our workboots, tossing spirals as our car radios broadcast the feats of an Evans or a Bourque through rolled-down windows.

Getting Some Pub

A fellow poster from Sons of Sam Horn was kind enough to forward my website info to Paul Lukas, author/creator of Uniwatch and contributor to ESPN’s Page 2. Paul’s site is a blog dedicated to the minutiae of sports uniforms both past and present, and he’s very good about linking to any related items of interest to be found in the vastness of the internet.

Paul gave me a shout-out in his blog entry for Monday, January 12th (it’s toward the bottom of the page, submitted by SoSHer Peter Greenberg — thanks, Peter). My site usually get 10 – 20 hits per day, 30 – 40 if I’ve posted something new. On Monday and Tuesday I had close to 400 hits, so the exposure was definitely beneficial. I even got an email from a fellow sports artist who had some very supportive words, which I greatly appreciated.

I’m not sure if it will generate any new business, but if not, it’s mostly my fault because I really haven’t configured this website as a commercial development. That’s mostly by design; I’ve wanted this to grow organically and use it as an outlet to spur me to do more work (paid or not) and provide some self-evaluation for me as an artist, and it’s done that so far. Kind of like a “soft opening,” in restaurant terms.

I have some changes in mind for the near future, nothing too radical, but a few tweaks that will hopefully make it easier for a random person who might be interested in some art to approach me about it… more info about the process, pricing structure, etc. It’s probably time to move onto a grand opening, and the link from Lukas’s blog helped me realize that, if only from a psychological standpoint. It’s interesting to see the progression from when I first started the site almost a year ago to now. It may only be visible to me, but trust me, it can be measured in light years.


My first drawing of the new year. Non-commissioned. I just think Lincecum has a great delivery that’s full of energy, even when captured in a still. It’s always jumped out at me, and I’ve been planning on doing a drawing of him for a while. I’ve been pretty busy with a lot of commissioned work for the holidays, but once the season was over, I had some free time. I had a blast doing it… the time flew. Charcoal is a very quick medium anyway, but this piece took only two hours to finish.

I don’t think it’s any surprise to me that the pieces I’m most happy with are ones that I chose to do myself. Usually all I see are the flaws in any drawings I’ve done, but there are a few where I wouldn’t change a thing, and they were all non-commissioned. 

I’m sure it’s psychological. I had serious trouble with being told what to draw when I was in college, which didn’t bode well for my educational or professional prospects, at least as an artist. The fact that I can do it now is due to a few things… I still have some control over the process because usually I’m given a subject but have free reign on the actual composition. (“I’d like a drawing of Ted Williams, I’ll let you choose the source material.”) I also think I’ve matured somewhat over the last 19 years. And finally, I can’t complain about the money. I’ve done worse things for a buck, something I had no foreknowledge of when I was school. An office career provides perspective. So I can usually bang out whatever drawing is required, but sometimes it feels like a struggle, and I rarely like the finished product. That doesn’t happen with the ones I’ve done on my own, and certainly not with this Lincecum, which is one of my best pieces, I think.

Just more food for thought.

The Fight

You throw.

You throw because you have no choice. To do otherwise would be to admit defeat. So you throw and you throw and you throw. The source material is a puzzle to be solved and you are but a thief trying out different combinations.

The paper is your enemy. It will be bent to your will. And as each permutation of pencil and eraser fail, your resolve only grows stronger. You must embrace failure as part of the learning curve. Because somewhere in the back of your mind you’re thinking to yourself, I got this beat. This stupid 2-dimensional image. I got this beat.

Charcoal or pastel dust being ground into textured paper.  The tricks aren’t working, so you improvise. And as the outcome hangs in the balance, there are no worries because a mantra keeps repeating itself in your mind:

 I’m the best that ever was

 I’m the best that ever was

 I’m the best that ever was

The Enemy

I recently completed this picture for someone who is going to give it as a gift, and when he approached me about doing it, he first asked me if I’d even do a drawing of Magic Johnson. An understandable query, but I’m not really hung up on that kind of stuff.

In my younger days, back when I was a lot more passionate about individual players and thought that they were inextricably tied to the hometown team and the city, I might’ve had an issue with it. Maybe not even then, though, at least not with Magic; every Celtic fan knew that Kareem was the real douchebag on those Lakers teams, anyway.

I don’t even have a “favorite player” anymore, so I really can’t summon up enough vitriol to have a most hated villain. The only player in any sport I’ve ever felt some sort of spiritual connection to was Yaz, and that’s only because I was a kid, and he was the Sisyphus who so clearly embodied the Sox during my formative years as a baseball fan. He wasn’t even the best player on the team by the time I started to get into the sport… Rice and Lynn were clearly superior, Evans was in the process of developing into the force he would become, Fisk provided as much offense at a position where production comes at a premium.

But Yaz was the elder statesman, and I was naturally deferential to that. I equated him with my father; he was my father’s player, so I wanted him to be mine, too. Even as a child I was buying into the mindset that the older generations of players were better than the newer ones, despite knowing so little about the sport at the time. It just felt like Yaz had some sort of authoritarian legitimacy about him. Or something. Maybe I just wanted a common bond with my dad.

Once Yaz retired, I was in a strange new world as a fan. I was thirteen years old and without a favorite player. Who would fill that vacuum?

Nobody, it turned out. I was already at an age where no player would ever be a hero to me, no matter how good he was. I was aware of the fact that they were people who were paid by the team to play, and while I could appreciate their skill and feats of athleticism, I never really felt connected with them. Plus, even when removing the pragmatism from the equation, immediately after Yaz there was nobody on the Boston scene who could inspire or evoke that kind of emotional bond, except for Larry Bird. But to me, Bird was almost freakish in how everything he did worked; how can anyone identify with that? Yaz, on the other hand, was like a talented Charlie Brown. I felt like he was one of us, only better through sheer force of will (as opposed to being touched by God like Bird, or Ted Williams, for that matter).

Wade Boggs was a little too selfish. Clemens originally fell into the Bird category, then he started to seem a little unhinged, neither of which make for a connection on spiritual grounds. At least not with me. Funnily enough, Ray Bourque was about as regular as you could get, yet boringly so. Unlike Yaz, there was no Greek Tragedy to Bourque’s storyline, no feeling that he was Batman as opposed to Superman. He was a tweener. He was close to Bird’s level of proficiency in terms of skill, but lacked the swagger and the killer instinct. He was a nice-guy replicant. Cam Neely? Neely was the guy everyone in Boston should have been worshipping. The owner of a scorer’s nose for the net coupled with the lightning fists of the hardiest goon, Neely was a god, but only among the puckheads of the town. A demographic that was larger than most cities’ at the time, but still not big enough. And then it all ended way too early for Cam.

Which brings up the only guy I’d never draw. Ulf Samuelsson. Not that anyone would ever want a picture of him in the first place, unless it was a Boston fan who wished to see a simulation of him being disemboweled by ravenous pigs.

Shortly after Neely retired, Clemens and Mo Vaughn left town via free agency, and after that, it wasn’t too difficult to remain detached about who was wearing the laundry. Pedro was the closest, but he was so prideful that I knew there was going to be a split somewhere down the road. Which is fine, that pride is what made him the pitcher he was. I’ve switched companies several times in my career, I’m certainly not going to begrudge anyone else for doing it. Usually it’s the doublespeak afterwards that pisses me off, but if press conferences were held every time some regular guy took a job elsewhere, they’d probably sound very similar.

So if I feel no transcendental bond with the players on the teams I root for, I really don’t hate any opposing players, either. Aside from Ulf. Or maybe Bill Laimbeer.

But Magic? Nah, no problem. I’ll even draw old Yankees without any hesitation, guys like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. I’d do a Reggie Jackson or Ron Guidry if the price was right. I’ll generally avoid any post-1996 Yanks*, but that has more to do with their recent fan base than the players themselves. In a vacuum I think Jeter is (or was, anyway) very good player. He’s just not the Messiah he’s made out to be by Yankees fans (similarly, I genuinely like Peyton Manning as a player, but I can’t stand the people who never saw fit to mention Brady’s name in the same breath as his). It’s kind of weird to feel so blasé about it all.

I feel like Mr. Glass in Unbreakable. Maybe all I’m looking for is a worthy nemesis. Is that too much to ask?

*The exception being that I’d love to do a Paul O’Neill drawing, with his whiny constipated face all contorted as he threw a bat or bitched about a call or took a swipe at a Gatorade cooler. Commentary, if you will.


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.