In the little downtime I have while the 1921 Orioles cards are at the printer, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about this series of twenty portraits. However, instead of just picking ones I am particularly fond of, I thought it might be more interesting to direct your attention to the small details that I think make these portraits memorable.
Back in art school, I had a painting professor who used a peculiar phrase to describe the little details that make a painting standout: “moments.” To illustrate what my professor was trying to describe, I’ll use one of my favorite paintings, Au Moulin Rouge, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
This is one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s master works, a dynamic snapshot of a chaotic evening out at La Belle Époque Paris’ most famous nightspots, Moulin Rouge. Looking at the painting above in its entirety, may I ask you to notice that there are small “moments” that Toulouse-Lautrec combined to give this painting the feel he desired, and make this the masterpiece that it is.
Notice the detail of the glasses on the table. The glint of the light on the bottle. Why two stirring sticks instead of one in the glass? I don’t know why, but for some reason the awkward juxtaposition it creates works in a small way to reinforce the chaotic emotion of the busy nightclub.
The background figures are almost as important as those that are the main subject of the piece. Notice the woman adjusting her hair in her reflection in the glass. She’s just an extra in this scene, but the bend of her waist and curve of her arms lead the eye back down towards the main figures in the scene.
The bottom left corner has a slash of solid color representing a railing. Even though there is absolutely just the bare details on this diagonal plane, the shape gives space to the hectic scene. Without it, a lesser artist would have just a crowded nightclub scene. With Toulouse-Lautrec’s expert weaving of “moments,” a painting becomes a story.
I’m going to cut you off right here and say that I am well aware that I am not on the same planet as an artist as Toulouse-Lautrec. Neither am I trying to equate sports art with the world’s great works of art. But, I will indulge my belief that all art, whether it be Au Moulin Rouge, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Portrait of Ducky Davis by Gary Joseph Cieradkowski, exists to both give the viewer an emotional experience and please the artist with an outlet for his or her expression.
When I was a senior, that same professor who introduced me to the “moments” of a painting, asked me if I was going to graduate with a painting or drawing degree. I said, “Neither. Graphic Design.” He walked away, never to speak or acknowledge my presence again. Even though I was ostracized from the fine art clique, I wholeheartedly adapted his theory on “moments,” and this is something that can be seen in my art to this very day. So, today, I’ll show a few of my favorite “moments” in the 1921 Orioles series that help make each portrait a little more interesting.
1. Jack Dunn’s Ballcap One of the things that can sometimes make or break the reason I decide on illustrating a particular player is the uniform. Depicting a Washington Senators player from the 1920s and 30s is snoresville due to the complete lack of creativity when it came to their uniforms. The St. Louis Cardinals or Browns of the same era is the complete opposite, full of color and contrasting graphics. It’s both a joy and challenge to illustrate those kinds of uniforms. Like the old saying, “dress for the job you want,” Jack Dunn outfitted his 1920s Orioles in uniforms that represented the ball club he envisioned: classy, professional, with a touch of colorful flair. The most distinctive element of their game day duds was the cap. Black brim and crown, the panels pinstriped with orange trim and a matching button on top. To complete this vividly colored cap, a large oriole bird silhouette was sewn on the front, the details of wings and feathers also stitched in orange, monotone, but at the same time quite dimensional. Worthy of any big league team, there was no other cap like it in baseball at the time. When I started working on the ’21 Orioles series, I wanted to make this distinctive cap the star of every portrait, and I think this is evident in all twenty, but especially in Jack Dunn’s.
2. The Scoreboard Anyone who’s followed my work over the years knows that I love to populate the backgrounds with different elements of a ballpark. Sometimes it is just a simple sky and trees, but other times I research what a particular ballpark looked like at the time. The Orioles payed in the old Baltimore Terrapins Federal League park. When Dunn returned to Baltimore in 1916, he bought the vacant park and spent several years enlarging and improving it. The early 1920s brought a large, state-of-the-art scoreboard. Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to find a great news photo of the team’s new scoreboard and squirreled it away in my files, waiting for a time when it could be of use. You’ll see my rendition of the scoreboard in several portraits, but I kind of like the way it’s shown in Rufe Clarke’s illustration the best. The church steeple sneaking in on the left side kind of makes it for me.
3. The Gloves and Mitts No 20th century ballplayer is complete without a glove. In every illustration, I try my best to research what the proper equipment is for the era I’m depicting, and gloves and mitts are especially essential. Unfortunately for me, they are also one toughest things for me to illustrate. Because they are soft and fluid, they sometimes create odd shapes which reflect light strangely. Using one of the vintage gloves in my collection and using my wife as a hand model, it usually take me a few tries to get the shape to where I want it. Then, once the shape is right, color adds another difficulty, as the leather is semi-glossy and reflects light more than cloth or wood. As challenging as the gloves and mitts are, when I get it right, it sometimes steals the show. I think this is the case with Lefty Grove’s glove. It features nicely against the black sweater, the color dashes showing the reflection of light, giving the medium brown leather not only dimension, but the illusion of softness.
4. Outfield Advertising As a graphic designer, I was always fascinated by the history of my craft. I avidly collected antique ephemera since I was a kid, studying the hand-drawn typography and illustration styles of the past. This love of old advertising is evident in the backgrounds of many of my baseball portraits. One of the neatest things about an old ballpark is the outfield ads. The Esquire Boot Polish in Ebbets Field, Gem Razors in the Polo Grounds and Crosley Field’s Hudepohl Beer are just a few of the ads that became synonymous with the ballparks in which they were found. Sometimes I show a sign in its entirety, while in others I show just a snippit, as in Ducky Davis’s portrait. This tight crop of an outfield or bullpen wall creates an almost abstract art piece from the letter forms, breaking the horizontal planes of a linear ballpark and giving the background dimension and space.
5. The Sweaters Back in the 1920s, ballplayers kept warm in the spring and fall with thick wool button-down sweaters, and the Orioles were no exception. Many of the old press photos I have of the team show the players wearing simple black sweaters. Artistically, I really liked the contrast against the snow white of the uniforms, so I knew I wanted to show several players wearing them. I think Jimmy Lyston’s portrait shows off this effect I wanted the best, especially set against the green and yellow advertising art in the background.
6. Harry Frank’s Glove and Cleat I already talked about the challenge I have illustrating gloves, but cleats pose the same difficulties. One of the illustrations from the 1921 Orioles series that I felt successfully nailed both these pieces of equipment was Harry Frank’s portrait. The odd angle of the glove was a doozy to get right, but I was pretty happy with the result and was glad I stuck with it instead of going to a different pose. Likewise with the cleat that is visible. This was a bit harder than the glove as it is in shadow which is one of the things that gives the illustration dimension and space. Because it is in shadow, behind the body, the colors I had to use were darker and closer in tone than I used on the glove, which is in the foreground and in sunlight. Once I got the color to where I wanted it, I added a slightly loose shoelace, just to give that small, human detail.
7. Bill Holden’s Nose The 1920s Orioles were a pretty well-photographed team over the course of the seven consecutive pennant seasons. Though you have to put in an effort to find them, you can come across photos of many of the stars during their time in Baltimore. It was a little tougher with some of the one or two year players, such as Bill Holden. Since he played in the majors many years before he came to the Orioles, there are newspaper photos of him in existence. However, like I said, this was years before, when he was a young man. By the time 1921 rolled around, Holden was in this 30s. Over the years I saved up several team shots and grainy newspaper clippings of his mug. Though none were perfect, I was able to cobble a handful together in order to give me the detail to create my own portrait of the older Bill Holden. I do this fairly often with the obscure players I illustrate, and I always get a kick when one finally comes together, revealing a portrait that deicts a ballplayer in a way you will not find anywhere else. My favorite example of this from the ’21 Birds’ series is Bill Holden. His nose was a particular feature that was tough to get right, but once I did, it brought the whole face together. The wrinkles, dimple in his cheek, blue eyes and cleft chin were the final details that completed this new look at the Orioles’ right fielder.
8. Joe Boley Boning His Bat One of these traditions that are long-gone from baseball is “boning” of the bat. Using an animal bone, horseshoe or Coke bottle, players would repeatedly rub the surface of their bats, sealing the pores of the wood and making a very hard surface with which to hit the ball. Players couldn’t afford the number of bats modern players use, so bat maintenance was a necessity of the game. Years ago I found a great shot of Joe Boley and two of his teammates performing this archaic baseball ritual. When it came time to tackle the 1921 Orioles series, I knew that this was the pose I wanted for Boley. Not only does it show a forgotten facet of the game, it also let me illustrate that great Orioles cap from a different angle. This is one of my favorites in the set.
9. The Pork Ad One of the ways I always amused myself as an artist and designer was to incorporate little inside jokes into my pieces. One of those can be found in the background of Max Bishop’s portrait. Looking closely, you’ll just make out the silhouette of a pig with “Famous Pork Sausages” written on it. Back in the day, Baltimore was known for it’s pork stockyards which where located right on the site where the current Oriole Park at Camden Yards stands. In fact, before the ballpark was built there, the neighborhood was disparagingly known as “Pigtown.” So, a port advertisement is not out of like for a Baltimore ad. However, if you look real, REAL hard, you notice to the left of the pig there is an “E” and “S.” That, of course, can be the last two letters of any name – but here is my little inside joke – this is actually a take on the Satriale’s Pork Store sign from the HBO series, “The Sopranos.”
I hope you enjoy this little up close and personal look at some of the “moments” from my portraits. If anything, it has been a pleasure to find an excuse to bring my favorite artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, into a post here on The Infinite Baseball Card Set. But anyway, this time next week the card sets should be finished and on the way to those who ordered a set.
You can see the whole 20-card index of players HERE.
The set of 20 art cards are available for pre-order HERE IN MY STORE