Rulers of Retro: Four Players in the Golden Age of Baseball Design

Something wonderful happened to baseball on April 6, 1992.

Retrosheet and Baseball Reference say that the home Baltimore Orioles defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-0 in front of over 44,500 fans. What might not be mentioned is that the opening game in Oriole Park at Camden Yards successfully transported those baseball fans into the past.

Designed by Kansas City-based architecture firm HOK (since sold and renamed Populous), it was the first decidedly retro, baseball-only big league park after a seemingly endless trend of building symmetrical, concrete, multi-use eyesore facilities that marred the otherwise colorful 1970s. Rather than demolish the old B&O Warehouse that was on the site near the Inner Harbor, HOK brilliantly incorporated the long brick structure and adjacent Eutaw Street just outside the right field fence into the design of the ballpark. The side of each dark green seat even included the 100-year-old double bat logo of the original Baltimore Orioles.

For many ball fans, Camden Yards was a glorious gift that honored the game’s past while also providing modern conveniences, and a blizzard of new major- and minor-league parks in the last two decades have utilized the same winning old-time look. It also launched what I call the Golden Age of Baseball Design, an all-consuming love for artistically rendering the game’s rich past through myriad mediums.

In today’s consuming world of digital media, it is easier than ever to relish dazzling new work by the game’s “retro artists.” Graig Kreindler and his cottage industry of breathtaking baseball history paintings have been with us for a while, and more recently, “BSmile” and his dazzling colorizations of ancient photos have risen to the fore. Here, though, are four other wonderful baseball designers you may not be familiar with who recently agreed to answer a set of similar emailed questions.

L to R: Todd Radom, Bethany Heck, "Gypsy Oak", and Paine Proffitt

TODD RADOM

http://toddradom.com/

https://twitter.com/ToddRadom

Radom, who lives fifty miles of New York City in the town of Brewster, NY, is a fourth-generation working artist, and has been “observing the visual culture of baseball”  for over 40 years. He describes his work as “solid, crafted, creative solutions; inspired by the past and brought into the present, built with the future in mind.” I call most of the logos and posters he does for hire impeccable and gorgeous.

Do you feel you would still be creating your brand of art if things like Photoshop, Illustrator, and the Internet didn’t exist?

Without question, because that’s the way I originally did it. I’m old enough to have been able to bridge the pre-digital and digital ages. Classically trained, my first jobs involved cutting apart type, drawing, and real hand-lettering. When you think about it, for design and illustration purposes, a Mac is simply a very fancy, versatile pencil.

Please describe an average day in your creative life.

Although every workday is different, my typical one starts at 8 a.m. or so.  I like to dive right in, attacking design work that's best dealt with before the phone starts ringing and the emails start flying. Ideally, I’ll take a half hour for lunch and keep cranking until 6. There are days that are filled with several two-hour conference calls, but my favorite kind of day is one where I’m solving visual problems in a hands-on way. I also like to devote several hours a week to writing, an important component within my creative toolbox. In terms of specific design jobs, every one is different—some are sprints, others are marathons.

What percentage of your work is purely for the joy of it and what percentage to just make a living? Or is it a healthy combination of both?

In an ideal world, we should all be able to make a good living and still have time left over to create some stuff for the pure joy of it. For me, this ebbs and flows, depending upon how busy I am, what else I have going on in my life, and what the workday is like. At this point I subscribe to a fairly well balanced approach of work, life, and sleep. And I’m a big proponent of getting out from behind the computer and getting inspired, especially via travel when possible. Time away from work often makes my work that much better.

Do you root for any specific teams? 

Although I grew up 10 miles away from Yankee Stadium, I am a Boston Red Sox fan, and have been since I was 10 years old. Yes, it’s a long story.

BETHANY HECK

http://heckhouse.com/

http://eephusleague.com/

https://twitter.com/EephusLeague

Devoted baseball game scorekeepers are likely very aware of Heck’s amazing “Halfliner” scorebook, available from the shop on her rapturous Eephus League website. Heck, who I’ve been partial to anyway for designing the kick-ass banner of my Mystery Ball ’58 blog and book cover, is an Auburn graduate who is now a creative lead at Microsoft up in “sunny Seattle.” Her innovative, nostalgia-laced designs have been featured in New York Magazine, the New Yorker, Wired, Smashing Magazine, Uppercase Magazine and several other international publications. She calls them “historically inspired.”         

How long have you been creating your baseball designs?

I started the Eephus League in 2010, as my final project in the graphic design program at Auburn University.

When did you first get interested in art and/or baseball?  

I can't remember ever not being a baseball fan. I grew up playing softball, watching the Braves, and collecting baseball cards. Design came to me later, in junior high, when I taught myself the Adobe suite while learning to make websites to house my DBZ images.

Was there someone or something specific that inspired you?

There's any number of vintage pieces of baseball minutiae that I love. Ticket stubs, uniforms from the early 1900s, scorebooks, baseball cards, they're all inspiring to me.

Do you feel you would still be creating your brand of art if things like Photoshop, Illustrator, and the Internet didn’t exist?

No. I have zero hand skills and if computers didn't exist I would have stayed far away from anything artistic. I was told multiple times in art classes growing up that I was bad at drawing and had a professor at Auburn tell me I had "no natural talent."

As far as daily schedules go, I have made it a rule to not force myself to keep to one when working on Eephus League designs. If I'm not inspired, I don't do it. I never want it to feel like work, and it tends to come in bursts. Every day it's a part of my routine to visit certain sites and pull down images that inspire me, and if something feels like it connects to the Eephus League, I'll set it aside. When I get the itch to design baseball goodies, I pull out all of those images and let them spark me to create new things.

Did you begin creating baseball visuals just for the joy of it? Have you ever been able to make a living with your Eephus League products?

The first time I created any design that was baseball related was for a late semester type project, just as the season was ramping up. I had such a good time doing it that I wanted to do a senior project that was baseball themed, which resulted in the creation of the Eephus League. Baseball has proven to be an almost infinite well of creative inspiration and it's always a joy to work on anything for Eephus. The site pays for itself and a bit more, but it's not a big enough brand to support me on its own. Scorekeeping is a very small niche within the baseball community, and while I think the brand has increased, the number of folks who participate is always going to be a small subset of the fan base.

Do you root for any specific teams?

As I mentioned, the Braves are my team—though I can't say I'm watching them much during this rebuilding phase.

GYPSY OAK

http://gypsyoak.bigcartel.com/

https://twitter.com/gypsyoak

I’ve only recently discovered the strikingly original “cigarette-style” baseball cards of Jeff Baker, professionally known as “Gypsy Oak”. Residing in Chandler, AZ with a studio in neighboring Gilbert, he grew up in San Luis Obispo, CA, has been creating his pieces for about six years, and says that “99%” of his creations are on commission. He is very enthusiastic about his art, and well…I’ll let him talk to you about it:

“My style is constantly changing. A few years ago I was doing a lot of wood engravings of baseball players, and then moved on to some linocuts and woodcut printing that I felt were fantastic, but very few people seemed to like them, so I have a massive horde of really cool handmade relief prints that will stay in my studio until I decide to try and sell them again. Right now I'm making these really cool HUGE cigarette cards that people seem to really appreciate. Most of my pieces will be in permanent collections, but people shouldn't get bored by seeing too much of my work out there.

“There isn’t really a certain thing that happened that I can pinpoint getting me interested in creating sports art. I've been interested in baseball my whole life and went to lots of games growing up—mostly Giants but also Dodgers, A’s, and Angels. I think the Internet has allowed for more buyers to be able to find certain artists they may have never heard of. Back in the day I probably would have had to put an ad in the newspaper or something.  Social media is great, although I only use Twitter and usually delete my tweets after posting them and then reading them over and over and becoming uncomfortable with them.

“My creative day will usually start at 9 AM, after I drop my daughter off at school. I'll usually have two or three pieces going at once. Some of these new huge cigarette cards take weeks of inking and distressing to get the finished piece. When creating art that needs to look, feel and smell over 100 years old, there are no corners that can be cut. The integrity of the creative process has to remain at a high level on every piece or the work will scream laziness. I have [actually] been secretly obsessed with art for quite some time. It is really gratifying to create something that I know the buyer will LOVE that is totally unique to me and the studio.

“Creating art is my full-time job. If you want it, I'll betcha I can make it!”

PAINE PROFFITT

http://www.paineproffitt.com/https://twitter.com/PaineProffitt

Proffitt is our overseas entry, growing up in the Philadelphia area but living and working in Stoke-On-Trent, England the last 15 years. His work is influenced by many art movements from the 1900s, as he will discuss, but I find his poster art and original pieces—if I may sound British for a moment—simply stunning.

How would you describe your design work?

I work in a few different styles and have never been very good at categorizing my work. My main style focuses on sports and lifestyle, usually with a nostalgic 1920s-1940s look and feel, combining cubism, angles, and movement, and usually has a sense of history, memories, or the past. I guess my work falls closest to the "Futurism" art movement in terms of style. I've also been very influenced by vintage posters, programs, advertising and Communist propaganda art, which has shaped my other styles of artwork.

How long have you been creating what you do?

I've been working as an artist since graduating art school in 1995 but have changed styles, fields, and directions several times since then. I've only felt comfortable and happy with my work and style since focusing on the subjects I enjoy painting—sports and lifestyle—which has only been in the last five years or so.

When did you first get interested in art and/or baseball?

I've always liked baseball as a kid but never lived anywhere that had a big league team until we moved to Philadelphia. The first day in town we went to a Phillies game and that's when baseball really took its grip and [I] started a love-hate relationship with the Phillies that has lasted to this day.

As for the art, I've always enjoyed drawing and painting as a kid but didn't get serious about it until I was 17. It’s all I've ever wanted to do since. Combining the two took me a ridiculously long time, and I've only been doing baseball paintings in the last year or two.

A few years ago I decided to leave my illustration career (which I didn't enjoy at all) behind and paint things that mattered to me and in a style that I was happy with. I did some poster-like soccer paintings for a while and then I saw a soccer painting called "Any Wintry Afternoon In England" by CRW Nevinson (as well as his WWI paintings) which changed the way I worked and the direction of my art. With that I started doing soccer paintings in a new style and when I felt I was ready this led to the baseball paintings, which I've really enjoyed doing.

Do you feel you would still be creating your brand of art if things like Photoshop, Illustrator and the Internet didn’t exist?

The Internet has been a huge tool in helping with my artwork. In looking for inspiration and reference it's brought a huge resource of images, information, and influence into the studio. I would still be doing what I'm doing without it, but I'd be limited to whatever books I could find locally and whatever galleries I chanced upon.

The Internet has influenced our art in so many subtle ways that we don't even notice—in everything from shaping the look and direction of the artwork to the ways of sharing it with the world. There's also a wonderful and supportive community of baseball fans, professionals, and extremely talented artists that I've connected with that of course is only possible through the Internet.

As for Photoshop and Illustrator .. I paint on canvas so don't use them much. I use a photo editing program to help scan my paintings and present them professionally, but don't really use the programs for much else.

An average day in your creative life?

I usually check emails and Twitter first thing, while I'm still trying to wake up. If I have to run errands.. I try to do it before I start painting. Otherwise I'll concentrate on whatever paintings I'm working on. I try to paint for long stretches at a time, breaking for reference checks, meals, and to see what's happening on social media. I'm in the studio working for 10-12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week.. I'll usually listen to music or audio books while working.. A piece usually takes 3-7 days, depending on size, how complicated it is, and if the painting behaves. I'll also sometimes work on several pieces at the same time .. jumping from canvas to canvas while paint dries on pieces. I've found that concentrating on one piece at a time usually works best but I don't always listen to sense.

After work I'll try to unwind by watching sports for a couple of hours or playing Tetris before going to bed. I'll usually watch soccer highlights or DVDs, or during the season I'll watch a baseball game. With the time difference a lot of the baseball games start between midnight and 3 a.m…just as I'm clocking off, which is nice .. but sometimes makes for late nights.

I'm doing the baseball paintings for the love of it, but I'm hoping to do more as paid work. I've sold a few originals and am sharing the work on social media, but I'm still trying to find a place for the artwork. I'm very new to the baseball art world and market, and am trying to build my portfolio, see what's out there and see how I can make the baseball stuff work. I'm only just now getting to where I'm ready to start looking for galleries, opportunities, or somehow working with people in the game.

I'm lucky enough to get by on my art at the moment, but it's been mostly soccer or non-sports paintings so far that's kept me going. Over the last five years I've been mostly working with English football clubs, working with their programs, club shops, retail, marketing, etc., and selling original paintings and prints. I'd really like to do a lot more with the baseball artwork, but I’m loving the journey so far.

***

Jeff Polman is a baseball writer based in Southern California. You should follow him on Twitter.

3 Comments

  1. Reply Post By Geoffroh Hill

    All these folks are great.

  2. Reply Post By Sean Kane

    Great profile of these artists celebrating the game!

  3. Reply Post By Mark Hoyle

    Great read. I wholeheartedly say if you haven’t added a piece from Gypsy Oak so so now. You won’t be disappointed

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