Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Blue Heaven Interview with Baseball Artist Monty Sheldon

Yesterday, I shared with you Monty Sheldon's most recent artistic creation - a painted Artball® of Yasiel Puig.  Check out that post here.  When I first came across that painted ball I immediately reached out to Monty to see if he'd be willing to answer some questions.  Thankfully, he was happy to oblige.

As you may already know, Monty Sheldon is an artist who primarily paints about Baseball using a baseball as his canvas.  He has also drawn sketch cards that have been used by Helmar Brewing and Topps for their card sets.  Feel free to check out his facebook page that includes hundreds of photos, and his website.

Below is my interview with Monty Sheldon.


Monty, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me.  I’ve admired you work for several years and have always wondered what inspired you to paint on a Baseball? 
MS: Ernest, Thank you very much for the kind words and for taking the time to ask me about my art!
One day while visiting the Tacoma Dome memorabilia show near Seattle back in 1997, a good friend and dealer at the show, Mark Macrae, asked me if I had ever thought about painting on a baseball before.  Mark knew that I was an artist and that I worked for Dark Horse Comics at the time and he thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.  He mentioned that a couple of tables over were examples of another artist (Eric Black) and that I should go check it out.

Now at that time I had many different passions in life, none of which really crossed paths with each other.  When I looked at Eric’s baseball art I can honestly say I had an epiphany.  With that one object I realized I could combine my passion for baseball, art, and collectables.  Over 570 baseballs later and I still feel the same way.
What are your artistic influences?
MS: Early on, many of my artistic influences were found on the pages of comic books.  They included Joe Kubert, Bernie Krigstein, Alex Toth, Lyonel Feininger, and Winsor McCay to name just a few.  After I graduated high school, I went two years to the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ, and with its proximity to New York City, I was able to go to the various art museums that lie within.  It was at one show in particular that really changed how I looked at art.  In 1986, the Modern Art Museum had an exhibit called Vienna 1900 and it was there that I was lucky enough to see the works of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka up close.  It was very inspiring to my 20 year-old self.
Has Baseball always been your artistic focus, or have you drawn other things?
MS: I have always been an artist from drawing on the blank inside pages of coloring books at the age of three, to making my own baseball cards and comic books at the age of nine, and then focusing my artistic energies after high school to become a comic book artist.  From there I worked at Dark Horse Comics for nearly 9 years up until I took too many Artball® orders and had to leave (1998).  I have been painting on baseballs ever since, with the occasional Topps art project in between.
Just to get this out of the way, what team do you follow and how would you characterize their chances for Baseball immortality this season?
MS: I have been a Cincinnati Reds fan my whole life.  I was born and raised in Ohio for the first 18 years of my life (1966-1984), and I got to experience The Big Red Machine first hand.  I also remember the great rivalry between the Dodgers and the Reds back then.  I remember as a kid that whenever the Dodgers would play the Reds, there was always a sense of dread that my beloved Reds would not win.  I still feel a little bit of that to this very day.  ;)

The Reds this year could use some of that Big Red Machine batting to augment their above average pitching.  Batting consistency is all this year’s Reds need to make a good run at the World Series.  Until I see that, I won’t hold my breath.
Of all the players you’ve painted on a Baseball, who has been your favorite subject?
MS: Since I have painted over 500 different players in the past 15+ years, I have been lucky enough to paint some unique characters from baseball’s past.  I can’t say that I have an absolute favorite, but I would say the Eddie Gaedel, the Team Steroids ball, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team ball, Dock Ellis, Moe Berg, and Rube Waddell baseballs are pieces I am all quite proud to say I have worked on.
Sentimental favorite?  I will go with the 500th Artball® I painted.  It was of my son and I gave it to him for his 9th birthday.  I’m hoping to paint more artballs depicting his baseball career as he continues to play.
You recently completed a great painted ball of Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig.  Please let me know what lead you to paint a ball for Puig?  Also, what would the asking price be for the Puig ball and the additional ball you’ll paint at the end of the season?
MS: The majority of subjects that I paint on baseballs are of older players and/or teams.  Very rarely do I paint a current player and almost never a rookie.  Ichiro was the first rookie I painted during his inaugural campaign, back in 2001.  I lived near Seattle at the time, and you could say I caught a case of Ichiro mania that everyone else had back then too.

Yasil Puig is the first player since Ichiro to inspire me enough to spend 40+ hours painting him on a baseball.  His natural ability is off the charts, and I love those throws he makes from the outfield.  Being an outfielder in my youth, I really appreciate what he can do.

The price for this Puig Artball® is my standard $2500.00 (insured postage paid).  My special offer with this price is that I will include one other Yasiel Puig Artball® that will be completed at the end of this year.  It is basically a two-for-one offer.  The second Puig Artball® will include his final season statistics as well as any highlights/awards he may collect by the end of his regular and post season. N.L. Rookie of The Year? NLCS MVP? World Series MVP? The sky's the limit for this kid.  The design will be very similar to the first one I have finished, so they will both seem like a set when looked at together.
These will be the only two Yasiel Puig Artballs® that I will have finished in his rookie season (2013), and this first one will be the only one finished while he is still playing out his rookie campaign.
Are there any other current or former Dodgers that you’re planning to paint that we should be looking out for?
MS: There aren’t any on my schedule for the next year and a half, but I have painted a Dazzy Vance, Sandy Koufax, and Clayton Kershaw in the past couple of years.  The Kershaw Artball® commemorates his Triple Crown season of 2011.  All of those Artballs® can be found in my photo section on my Face Book art page [ link ]
I understand that you are a Baseball card collector, so I was wondering how your deal with Topps for original art cards came about and what where your thoughts about seeing your artwork on an actual Baseball card?
MS: Since I used to make my own homemade cards when I was a kid [ link ], seeing the real thing in my hands after they were printed was like the completion of a 35-year-old dream come true.  Really humbling.

As far as that humbled feeling came to be…

Back in 2006, I had provided the baseball card hobby with the first set of cards, of which all were comprised of one-of-one, hand-painted originals, through Helmar Brewing.  I happen to have sold a couple of those cards from that set to Keith Olbermann and he in turn liked them so much that he showed his friends at Topps his two cards and said that they should work with me.  After a few phone calls and emails with Topps, it turned out there wasn’t a project they could use my artwork for at that time.  It still put me on their radar map though.

Well, fast forward to late summer 2009 and I get a call from my fellow artist friend, Paul Lempa, letting me know that he recommended me to Topps for the upcoming National Chicle Football project, a throwback to the all-painted sets from the 1930s through early 1950s.  One of the first 10 artists that Topps was going to use backed out of the project and they needed a replacement.  Paul was one of the remaining nine artists when he mentioned me.  Topps remembered talking with me in the past, as well as being familiar with my art, that they hired me right then.  Four years and 155 cards later, spanning six different sets, with the latest being the 2013 Gypsy Queen art/patch 1/1 cards, I am still living my childhood dream.
As a huge collector myself, what is your collecting focus?  Do you have a favorite item, and what is it?
MS: I still get the basic Topps baseball sets each year as well as the Wacky Packages sets.  I also like to collect any Rube Waddell items that I can find, which is easy because there isn’t much available–at least not in my price range.  If you ask my wife (and she would be happy to tell you if you did), the ghosts of my card and comic collecting youth still linger en masse in the studio.  Now I just call it “reference material”.
Thank you so much for speaking to me.  Do you have any closing words.
MS: Ernest, Thank you very much for your interest in my artwork!  I remembered you posting about my 2010 Brooklyn Dodgers 55th Anniversary set of sketch cards that I was selling on eBay back then and I thought you would appreciate the Yasiel Puig Artball® as well.

I am thankful to be able to do what I do for a living and I am determined to paint the entire history of baseball on as many baseballs as I can before I pass from this Earthly home.  Luckily, I have found a kindred spirit in a fellow baseball collector who has a passion for baseball history, Jay Caldwell.  Jay has written a baseball history book, Artballs: A Baseball Tapestry, that will be featuring over 250 of my Artballs® as illustrations.  I am currently finishing up around 65 baseballs for this project and we plan on having the book ready to sell by Christmas 2014.  Stay tuned! (here is the link to Jay’s web page: )

* Please follow on twitter @ernestreyes *
* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *

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