An Artball® Origin:

How I found my life’s passion by smearing paint and ink on a baseball

by Monty Sheldon

If you happen to have a talented and focused child, say about 7 years old and all they want to do with their time is practice drawing, singing or even the tuba, maybe you don’t want to get in their way.   They just might be tuned into their life passions early and encouragement may be your best bet to help them flourish.

I regularly use my life as a cautionary tale, so case in point, yours truly.  Several years ago my father passed and as I was working with my brother and sister-in-law to clean out the barn and I found a small package wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag.  Within the package dwelled over one hundred hand-made sports cards.

Monty SheldonThe cards were mostly drawn on lined notebook paper and were crudely cut out in the shape of trading cards.   While inspecting the contents, I was instantly nine years old again, drawing whole pages like uncut sheets (I had no clue what an uncut page was at the time).  Wrappers were made out of construction paper and each pack contained seven cards and yes, a stick of gum (Juicy Fruit if remember correctly).

My marketing plan was simple.  I went door to door and sold them to friends for seven cents a piece.  Topps cards were going for about 10-15 cents a pack and as my early work was not as good, I figured half-price was a good deal.  I even went so far as to include inserts and coupons for more cards.

I drew cards from all sports, but mostly baseball, football and hockey.  I was however an equal opportunity artist so I included less well-known sports like curling.  Yes, you read that correctly, curling—that funny winter bumper shoot sport from way up north in the “olt” country.

I remember being happiest when I was drawing cards or creating my other passion—comic books.  I have been fortunate enough to achieve those goals I had as a youngster. Now, at 51 years old, I still create trading cards, hand-painted baseballs and other crafted memorabilia for collectors all over the world.  Sometimes your life’s passion is set at a very early age.

Phildelpia AsWith my current artistic endeavor, which first piqued my interest when my good friend Mark Macrae asked me if I had ever thought about drawing or painting on a baseball before (during a memorabilia show in Tacoma, WA, back in November, 1997), I have been able to combine my love for narrative storytelling and baseball into one object, the Artball®.

Since the very first baseball I ever painted on (Rube Waddell, January 10, Kansas City Monarchs1998), one of the questions most frequently asked is “How do you paint on such a tiny, curved canvas?”  The first step is research, research, and even more research.  I look at many images of the target player or team and when I think I have one I am going to use, I give it the one eye treatment.  Essentially I frame one of the panels on a ball with my fingers in a “U” shape, close one eye and “see” that image on the panel.  If an image passes the one-eye test then I move on to drawing on the ball itself.  One of the ways that I compensate for the size of the canvas and for the fact that the balls are round, is to create a 3-D image so that there is perspective and depth to the final product.  I want to fool the eye so that you see more than just a flat image.  I often use modeling paste to create raised images and to extend the image just slightly beyond the panel boundaries (stitches).

Monty Sheldon Pete RoseA good example of succeeding at this is the image I painted of Pete Rose sliding home, head first. I feel that he really looked like he was coming out of the baseball right at the viewer who held the baseball in his/her hand. I strive to repeat this as much as possible.

Often there are many twist and turns as you journey through this life. That is just a given. When you have a real passion for something though, that helps to soften those twist and turns a bit so you don’t feel quite like a pretzel at the end of the day.

Painting on baseballs has turned out to be my life’s passion and I often joke that my demise will come at the drawing table while working on them. I can think of worse deaths.

Monty SheldonMonty Sheldon – Artball® Painter, is one of Negro Leagues History’s commissioned artists. Please see his full bio here. You can find his professional work here.

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